Almost every bootstrapped startup is faced with the same problem: “How do I tell the world I exist without going over budget?”
This problem has many solutions, though it is not the problem startups should attempt to solve. Instead of trying to tell the world they exist, startups need begin by focusing on telling their audience they exist.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Ok, I need to target my marketing efforts to my audience. That’s nothing new. What will this article teach me that I didn’t know before?” To answer that, I need to introduce myself and what I do. My name is Simon and I am the founder of Graffmap, an app to discover and share street. Despite being a street art startup, I am not a street artist. I simply love street art and want to share my passion with others.
Earlier this year, we ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to build free iOS and Android applications. When we tried to tell the world about the campaign, our message got lost in the noise. In fact, we mostly received two types of responses. People either associate street art with vandalism or were are afraid that by helping users find street art, the police would come down on the artists and arrest them after erasing their work. We were blasting our message and the wrong people were listening. We ended up reaching our Kickstarter goal and the app is currently available for download.
Acknowledging our misstep, we shifted the problem. It was no longer about telling the world we existed, but rather reaching the people who would be interested in discovering and sharing street art.
When we shifted priorities, I discovered that I didn’t truly understand the motivational forces driving graffiti artists. While Graffmap’s focus is street art and murals, graffiti plays an integral role in urban art. I received a surprising amount of criticism from graffiti artists who though Graffmap would destroy their subculture despite my goal being to promote and encourage street art. To understand how I could dispel this misunderstanding, I met with some of Montreal’s foremost graffiti artists to learn more about the people behind the names. It was suggested that I try going out and painting to understand the feeling of putting your name on a wall, but more importantly, the moments leading up to it. I took this advice and reclaimed a few small pieces of public space. This provided me with a completely different perspective on the marketing which I applied to Graffmap.
Despite its pervasiveness, graffiti is a strikingly misunderstood movement. The idea of writing your name on a surface is not motivated by a desire to vandalize, but rather to be part of a community’s conversation. In other words, the motivation is to make a name for yourself. The most popular example of this is the OBEY brand. When Shepard Fairey started putting up images of Andre the Giant with the OBEY tagline around the world, he wanted to see if he could create something that would go beyond the street art world and become a brand without a product. There is a certain irony in using street art, which has tends to be antiestablishment, to create a corporate brand. Despite the irony of using street art as a marketing tool, as works by street artists proliferate, they are promoting their brand.
This is the lesson that can be learned from street artists.
By placing your brand in the right place and by exposing yourself to the right audience, you can create something from nothing (and for cheap!).
How does this concretely apply to marketing your startup? It is about finding your message, your audience, and your voice. When we started marketing Graffmap, we made a simple five item checklist to ensure we found the right conversation and joined it effectively.
– Who is your audience?
Ex. Graffmap’s audience is people who pays particular attention to their urban environment. People who enjoy noticing sometimes hidden artistic facets to cities and who like experiencing cities from a different perspective.
– What is your message?
Ex. We wanted to communicate that Graffmap understands the language of street art and its artists. It was especially important for us to show our respect for this subculture through our actions.
– How will you communicate it?
Ex. The easiest way for us to reach our audience was to use stickers. Stickers are cheap and can be easily deployed, but they are also sharable. We offer stickers to whoever wants them. By sharing these stickers, Graffmap users from around the world can add their voice to the brand.
– What is the appropriate medium and space?
Ex. To join the conversation with stickers, you need to first understand where the discourse takes place. Placing a sticker on a random building or in the middle of the road is ineffective. Integrating it on a sign next to street artists and other stickers shows awareness which helps make the brand’s voice heard.
– How will you join the conversation?
Ex. Once you have your medium and your message, find the best way to speak with your audience. What do you have to say? For us, it was simply to get the logo out on the street for our audience to see it. It wasn’t the name that was important, but rather for the logo to be seen on the street and for it to be associated with the experience of walking around the city.
With these five steps, you can find a new approach to reach your audience without wasting resources blasting your message to people who don’t matter. Remember, no one like to have a speak with someone who yells.
How will you make a name for yourself?