By Aman Gupta, Managing Partner SPAG Asia
Over the last one year, investments in startups have spiked in the APAC region. Malaysia, the Heart of Digital ASEAN, is ideal for startups across Asia and the world. With an expected GDP contribution of RM30.8 billion by 2030, the importance of the startup ecosystem to the nation was further emphasized in MyDigital – Malaysia Digital Economic Blueprint that aims to catalyzed 5,000 startups in the next five years and attract two unicorn startups by 2025. However, this brings to the fore certain challenges too. As the ecosystem continues to flourish, startups must ensure that they are strategically and firmly positioned in the market.
In developing a market strategy, an entrepreneur must consider factors such as funding and investment, customer acquisition, and talent attraction, to name a few. A successful startup journey must be backed by a robust and effective communication plan, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Brand visibility and awareness are the first steps to ensuring startups’ survival in a crowded marketplace. Being an integrated PR & Advocacy firm in APAC, we at SPAG recently launched a report called ‘Igniting Startups with Investor Insights’ that stressed upon entrepreneurs telling their brand story from Day Zero and staying consistent throughout all business growth stages.
Our report categorized startups’ journey into four stages with the idea that startups should adopt different approaches to their storytelling at each juncture of the growth journey
Stage 1: Nailing Your Proof of Concept At this stage, understanding what your stakeholders look for in a pitch deck is important. We shared in our report that product/service necessity comes at the top of the list for investors, followed by innovation and marketability. Investors also look at the team behind the idea – attitude and personality, expertise, and complementary experiences. This goes to show that communication style is equally essential with product functionality information during this journey.
The pandemic has made it more challenging for startups to get noticed by investors with the absence of physical networking events and face-to-face meetings. At SPAG, we believe that every brand needs a ‘face’. We advise founders to take the lead in communication at this stage. Catch investors’ attention with engaging, consistent content that demonstrates your passion and confidence in your business. These contents can be shared via social media and even newsletters.
Stage 2: Launching Your Business: As communication experts, we advise startups to chart their brand narrative from the get-go. More than just a story, a narrative is a comprehensive document that captures your company’s vision, purpose, and offerings. Your narrative should be flexible and adaptable to various marketing strategies.
Exposure doesn’t happen by chance. At SPAG, we advise our client partners to build an ecosystem of content at the start of their business journey. The best way to do this is by plug and pull their narratives across all channels – social media platforms, traditional media, and even community forums. LinkedIn and Facebook are great platforms to start engaging your stakeholders and build brand awareness. Remember, branding isn’t a one-off thing; it spans throughout the lifetime of the business. So, start now!
Stage 3: Scaling up & Beating Competition: Startups are growing in the market acquisition and the team. Based on our conversations with business leaders, it is crucial that marketing and communication efforts work in tandem to business growth strategy. At this stage, we at SPAG advice startups to look from inside-out. One of the best ways to tell your brand stories are through the people who know you – your employees. Startups can engage employees on various internal and external communications, be it by celebrating employees’ wins on LinkedIn, or by featuring their experiences on media engagements. The same stories can be mirrored on other communication channels like newsletters or email updates. A great tip to keeping your brand narrative unison and maximize its reach is to take a message/story and tweak it to suit other channels and platforms.
Stage 4: Gaining Market Leadership: As customers ourselves, we are hit by many brands and products, each shouting its own USPs. It has become increasing difficult to get customers’ attention and trust. At this stage, we advise startups to carve a space for themselves within the market by positioning the brand as thought leader. Our report highlights that establishing thought leadership involves a synergy of three elements – awareness, credibility, and consistency. SPAG holds closely to the notion of being real in all that you do. So, share as much information about your company, the product and the team, as you can, while keeping to true to who you are as a startup. Customers in the world today are smart and savvy; they are attracted to brands that ‘walk-the-talk’ and can detect ones who don’t from a mile away. So, align your brand narrative to your values, and stick to it.
While the nation provides startups with a conducive environment – easy access to high-quality talents and infrastructure, diversified testbed community, and affordable cost of living, startups must not neglect the other success factor – communication. It is an essential ‘puzzle’ to a successful startup journey. Behind every great brand story you see in the media is a great communication strategy. Start shaping your brand narrative and persona from the very beginning as it is an essential survival kit in this ever-changing marketing environment.
I recommend that startups seek support from communications experts to help bring-to-life the brand narrative and reputation. To us at SPAG, our clients are our partners – we are invested in their business growth just as much as they are. This outlook has helped us shape stronger brand narratives that are both impactful and compelling.