On brand

3 best practices for creating a business that resonates with clients

Creating a company strategy might not be as easy as it looks. Here are three things to think about before you dive in. Rawpixel.com from Pexels

In theory, creating a company from scratch should be easy, right? Your startup identifies a gap in the marketplace and develops a product or service that directly addresses the need. The target audience immediately sees how your company fulfills their specific concerns, and you start to turn a profit. Voilà!

If only the real world was so simple. No matter how world-changing your product or service might be, if your customers have never heard of it or you, they won't be buying any time soon.

Below are three important things to consider when building a company to stand apart to investors, customers, and the media.

1. Have a great name

Don't get cutesy — get clever. You want your company name to be memorable and easy to spell. This is important for both your audience and the Internet, because if people can't find you, they also can't refer you. We like it when your name actually means something — as an example, "Integrate" is indicative to the way we work with our clients and also essential to our company culture. Everything is integrated.

Once you have a few ideas, narrow your list down to your top three and start the research to make sure no one else uses them. Additionally, you want to check different domain names to see what's available and to ensure you have no immediate competition. The key exception is a company using a similar name, but in a different field and in a different region; e.g. your Houston marketing agency can have the same name as a London law firm.

Once you choose your company name, secure a unique domain for your website, including all related variations of your name to discourage people from finding the wrong company. You should also be sure to stay away from hyphens and special characters — Google doesn't like punctuation marks.

2. Stay true to your values

A crucial aspect of determining what your product or service does, lies in hashing out exactly how and why your company exists. How will you meet the needs of your core audience better than the existing market players? At the start, you need to be clear about who you are — and who you are not. Your company's brand values should be lived out daily by leadership and employees, and company culture should directly reflect company values.

3. Create and deliver value

Hopefully, the product or service you created will be valued by the targeted audience, but you also need to develop unique messaging about the product and your brand to connect with that audience. You must always craft relevant content that addresses exactly how it will make a difference in their lives.

This process begins and ends with telling a relatable story. Just like any good author, you have to show and not tell — people don't want to hear about your product, they want to hear about themselves and how their lives will be changed by your company and product.

As an example, Integrate has a client who provides financial services exclusively to restaurants. The company places high value on personal interactions, strong internal processes, and big data insights. But instead of trumpeting what they do compared to a generic big-box competitor, they showed establishments exactly how the company could assist with their liquor licensing concerns and exactly how various restaurants changes their businesses with this service. Case studies, infographics and video testimonials put the content in relatable terms that changes the narrative from a "push" to a "pull" type of message.

At Integrate, we believe in a completely integrated marketing approach, sharing our clients' stories wherever their target audiences may be, whether it's online, in the real world, or a specific combination of the two. The most important thing: connect with consumers in ways that are meaningful to them, and don't waste money on ineffective channels just because "everyone else is doing it."

For your startup to find success, you must take the time to create a worthwhile story. When you secure a recognizable name, surround it with tangible values, and connect your customers to meaningful content, you can quickly grow your business and drive meaningful results to your bottom line.

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Allie Danziger is the founder and president of Houston-based Integrate Agency, which focuses on digital marketing and public relations.

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Auburn University's SwiftSku took first place in this year's virtually held Rice Business Plan Competition, but it was the second place company that went home with over half a million in cash and investment prizes. Photo via rice.edu

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

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