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Lioness Experts: Orly Zeewy on the Value of Marketing for Startups

Orly Zeewy shares crucial branding tips from her book "Ready, Launch, Brand: The Lean Marketing Guide for Startups."

Consultant Orly Zeewy knows that the startup survival rate is low – roughly eight in ten businesses fail in the first five years. To stick around, companies need more than an amazing product. They need a strong foundation of branding. Zeewy calls herself a brand architect, working with businesses to create those fundamental building blocks. Drawing from her experience and interviews with founders, Zeewy wrote “Ready, Launch, Brand: The Lean Marketing Guide for Startups.” The book is for the business owner who knows that brand identity is crucial from day one, even for companies with limited resources.

“Marketing is how you build your business. I’ve heard so many founders say, ‘we’ll start marketing when we have the money for it.’ In all the years I’ve been working, that has never happened,” Zeewy said. “Marketing is how you get money to pay for it.”

A peek into “Ready, Launch, Brand”

For Zeewy, the book is a labor of love. She spent five years conducting interviews, developing exercises and finding the best avenue for publishing. From the beginning, her goal was to write a reference guide meant for anyone starting a business.

“There are so many books on branding. The problem is that a startup can’t handle all the advice in those books. Most of them aren’t tailored to a startup in the first year of business, which is what I’m focused on. That’s why it’s a lean marketing book.”

Why you need to focus on branding

Some founders see company branding as an optional project. It’s something to revisit when they have time, money and resources. According to Zeewy, that is a mistake.

“I wrote this book because I keep seeing the same problem over and over again. Companies will be three years into operations and realize no one knows who they are. Their salespeople are floundering because they need an hour to explain what they do. People land on their website and can’t even tell what their industry is,” said Zeewy. “If you don’t know who you are, no amount of marketing is going to magically get people to come to you. You haven’t figured out why they’re visiting.”

Takeaways from Zeewy’s guide:

How to build a startup team

Zeewy suggests starting a business with co-founders – doing it all by yourself is overwhelming, and it’s helpful to have a second opinion. Still, you do need a CEO or someone who operates as one. They can develop the company’s vision and keep the team on track without doing everything themselves.

Zeewy notes that most startups hire employees focusing on IT, legal services, accounting and development. Marketing is often left out of the equation. Instead, she recommends hiring someone who understands money and someone who understands marketing.

Why do startups fail?

She outlined a few points:

  1. No market need
  2. No money
  3. Having the wrong team

After all, hiring goes beyond picking talented people. If they aren’t aligned with your company’s vision and value, the group will fall apart.

Startup statistics to consider:

Everyone wants to start a business

The numbers on new businesses aren’t encouraging – half a million companies are launched every month in the United States. That was pre-COVID. In 2020 alone, there was a 24 percent uptick in new businesses. That means there’s plenty of competition. Don’t give up hope yet. Zeewy says, “If you make it to five years in operation, your chances of success grow exponentially.”

Millions of websites abandoned

Zeewy estimates the number of websites in the world is 1.8 billion. The vast majority get no visitors. At all. Without a compelling reason to visit, no one will find your website. Traffic won’t magically appear. You have to lead them.

You don’t need social media? Think again

Zeewy’s has plenty of experience talking with founders who don’t want to deal with Twitter, Instagram, or other platforms. She points out that roughly 49 percent of the world uses social media. That gets their attention.

Read our four tips on how to maximize social media efforts for entrepreneurs.

Why you need marketing, no matter your budget

Sometimes, entrepreneurs think of marketing in a limited way. They say, ‘if I spend X amount, I should get X email signups.’ Zeewy stresses that the process takes time and isn’t so formulaic.

“Marketing is the engine that makes your business succeed. It should be seen as an investment for your business. It’s not something to ‘get to eventually,’” she says.

Her rule of thumb: spend about 10 percent of your income on marketing.

Of course, the type of marketing will vary depending on your size and budget. This is where lean marketing comes in. Traditional methods like TV commercials are meant for companies with a large following. When you’re a startup, you need to let people know you exist. You need brand advocates. No brand, no advocates. This is why marketing and branding need to be priorities from day one.

Final thoughts

When asked what a startup should do throughout their first year, she emphasized:

  • Develop your brand identity and value proposition
  • Figure out your story and why the business exists
  • Think of your ideal customer

To hear startup stories from “Ready, Launch, Brand” and learn about the art of attracting the right customer, be sure to watch the full interview!

About the author

Laura Grant

Laura Grant is a recent graduate of Western New England University with a bachelor's degree in English Literature. She spent her undergraduate term developing her writing and communication skills through internships, tutoring, and student media involvement. Her goal is to publish a novel one day.

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