Start-ups: Connect your Strategy with Design

Recently, an associate asked me to provide some consulting to a promising start-up company that needs “PR help.”  Experience indicates that this request for tactical communication assistance really means the organization needs strategic help that may, or may not, ultimately lead to some public relations tactics.

So, after confirming an appointment with the firm’s president, it was time for a visit to the company’s attractive web site, where my suspicions were confirmed.  Among the concerning highlights (or lowlights), a list of “benefits” of the organization’s services – all of which were features of the offering, not the value those elements bring to potential customers.  There was a list of actual benefits, but it took a couple of clicks to find.

The glaring miscue lay behind one of the five main navigational links on the home page: “PRICING.”  Landing on the PRICING page, the visitor is greeted with this statement, “Currently our pricing structure is not public. Please contact us for details.”  Immediately following the caveat is a standard name and address form.

When facing competitive pressures there may be times to keep the price list off the Internet, but in those instances maybe the link to pricing should be less prominent – or non-existent.

The fundamental issue here is a common one among early-stage firms bootstrapping to get market traction – using the spouse or cousin of one of the founders to build an online presence for the firm.  Attractive design, but disconnected from the strategy of the firm.

Instead, getting an advisor for the firm that has marketing and communication expertise should be as important as finding a good IP lawyer, CPA or well connected angel investor. A little advice and direction doesn’t have to break the bank… just offer some options on shares that will never be exercised if you fail, and will be diluted into oblivion if you succeed.  You might even get a good baseline in an hour over lunch… so spring for McCormick and Schmicks, not Taco Bell.

In this case, the firm founders got some input without even the cost of coffee.  How very frugal of them.

Dr. Michael C. Porter, APR is the director of the UST MBC program.