No-budget marketing for small companies

by Robin Harris on Wednesday, 13 May, 2015

You are a small tech company. You have a marketing guy but it’s largely engineers solving problems that most people don’t even know exist.

How do you get attention and respect at a low cost? Content marketing.

When most people think about marketing, they think t-shirts, tradeshows, advertising, telephone calls, white papers and brochures. Those are tools of traditional marketing.

It’s assembly-line marketing. You get a lead from handing them a t-shirt – a phone number or email – and then you contact him to see if they’re interested in your product and what the application might be.

You gather leads at the one end of a large funnel and over time, through repeated contacts, you keep narrowing the funnel from leads to suspects to prospects and, hopefully, customers. This works, but it is expensive.

If you are large enough and have the resources, go for it. But many small companies do not.

Content marketing is an alternative. You share what you know to help other people. Some of those people will discover they want what you have to sell and you’ve won a pre-sold prospect.

Backblaze
Backblaze, the consumer online backup service, is an excellent example of how content marketing can drive visibility and business. In pursuit of low cost storage they built their own high-density storage array. And open-sourced it.

The total price for a fully loaded array was a fraction of legacy vendors and their work went viral – (see Build a 135TB array for $7,384 for one example) getting them way more exposure than they could ever have afforded.

As they noted in their blog

Om Malik wrote about it at GigaOm, as did Robin Harris at StorageMojo, and Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing. Soon after, CrunchGear, VentureBeat, ZDNet, Mashable, TUAW, Electronista, MacWorld, Vator.tv, NetworkComputing, On-Storage, PSFK, Enterprise Storage Forum, eWeek and dozens of others picked it up. . . .

In the UK, The Guardian and the Inquirer wrote, but so did news sites in Africa, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, and Sweden. . . .

Bottom line: a single act of sharing put their name in front of millions of people. For free.

But Backblaze didn’t stop there. They were also keeping track of their disk drive experience. Since they bought on the open market, they had no confidentiality agreements with drive vendors and could share their results.

Backblaze dripped out drive life info every few months to create more buzz. Google “drive reliability” and guess who’s on top?

Did it work? Backblaze is profitable, growing and they bootstrapped themselves until they took their first funding in 2012. Yeah, it worked.

Bad example
Then there’s Company C (CC). Stellar engineering team, deep expertise, some very impressive tech. A publicly-held company that is struggling.

Why? Because no one knows who CC is and what CC does. Including me.

I buttonholed their CTO at a conference for the elevator pitch. I realized that millions of people would love a simple utility – using their core expertise – that you would get them lots of free publicity and a healthy search ranking.

I knew this was true because I’d written about the topic. It was one of my most popular posts for years! I explained that to the CTO.

I offered my help for free because getting this utility out would help millions of people with a common storage problem. We exchanged cards, he promised to call.

Still waiting. And CC’s business is still sucking wind.

Clearly, CC – and their marketing guy – doesn’t get content marketing.

The StorageMojo take
Many engineers have a long-time disdain for marketing and marketers. At the same time they also have products and services that have earned their strong loyalty, not realizing the role that successful marketing has played in making them happy customers.

Connecting technical abstractions to people’s lives is an art, not a science. Hundreds of millions of computer users know almost nothing about computer tech, so if you want them to care about your company you have to reach them where they live.

Backblaze has earned millions in free publicity by using what they knew to reach millions of techies. The kind of people other people ask for advice.

What do you know – and probably take for granted – that other people might care about?

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Maybe if I had told CC my help would cost $25k. . . .

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: