A Houston expert shares her pointers on navigating marketing and communication strategies for startups. Photo via Getty Images

Marketing and communications remain crucial to startups. Building a more cohesive team dynamic between marketing and communications can offer a young company purpose, direction and language to differentiate its product or service value.

While marketing and communications have distinct goals, magic happens when the two work together to enhance the company's business objectives. Clients often ask me the difference between marketing and communications and how the two can complement each other. Consider these thoughts and steps to better collaboration.

Communication 101

Startups need support for creating a company narrative to help employees tell the story and show company value to customers and prospective customers. A communications plan includes the strategy for meeting business objectives, the target audiences, and the key messages that will resonate with each audience. Communications plans also identify the best ways to tell the story, i.e., media relations, social media sponsorships, website content, and presentations. In-house communications professionals might consider building a team of strong freelance writers to delegate writing projects.

Marketing 101

Marketing promotes products or services to a specific audience, whether reaching new customers or retaining existing ones. A strong marketing plan includes strategy, competitive analysis, market research, and identifying industry trends. Marketers use communications to develop and share messages with these audiences. Marketers should consider engaging freelance writers to create content.

How do marketing and communications work together?

Close marketing and communications coordination can be an advantage for customer engagement. That strong team approach offers an opportunity to ensure marketing and communication efforts center around the customer. For example, marketers may leverage company blog content (written by communicators) in marketing efforts, i.e., sales pitches, customer outreach, and company webinars, to help generate leads, and make conversions. Marketing teams can then provide analytics or customer feedback to optimize future content.

Examples of successful collaboration include a customer featuring a company’s newly enhanced product at an industry conference after reading the recent product launch in trade media, a series of thought-leadership blog posts after the marketing team received prospective customer inquiries on a hot topic or a successful case study provided by marketing for communications to leverage on the website, whitepaper, and social media accounts.

Data, please

Take advantage of the data most startups have at their fingertips because data sharing proves important in developing compelling content. For instance, marketers benefit from sharing industry trends, customer demographics and behavior, market research and internal data (how customers use the product or service) with communicators to enable them to produce more engaging customer copy. Also, marketers and proposal experts often receive requests for information from customers or prospective customers. Those requests can also be helpful to communicators in writing content. Then, once published, communicators can provide data on engagement to ensure that content resonates.

Report efforts

Find ways to share reporting of marketing and communications efforts. For instance, during a recent meeting, did a customer mention a company-bylined article in a trade publication? Did marketing receive a request for information from a prospective customer after reading a company white paper? Did a company expert get invited to speak at an industry conference due to a blog post? All these shared results help to optimize marketing and communications efforts and inform strategy pivots, if appropriate.

Break the silos

Break any silos for improved marketing and communications collaboration. Consider regular team meetings or create a Teams site or Slack channel to exchange information often. For example, one client recently held a successful all-day brand and team-building workshop. Open communication between marketing and communications teams remains critical to executing a solid marketing strategy and achieving business objectives. For a more cohesive communications and marketing approach, know the business objectives, define roles, and responsibilities, meet regularly, share data, and report efforts for better results.

------

Melanie Taplett is a communications and public relations consultant for the technology, energy, and manufacturing industries.

Take the time to do your homework before jumping into launching a communications strategy. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert shares tips on understanding the science of communications

Guest column

Co-founder of the Hackett Center for Mental Health, Maureen Hackett, once told me, "Newman & Newman applies the science of communications." I had never heard our approach to marketing communications described that way, but I understood her point. Before we produce promotional materials, digital campaigns or social media platforms, we research answers to fundamental questions for delivering a positive return on investment.

So many leaders want to jump straight into producing tangibles. I understand, they want solutions they can see, touch and hear, and they want them now. It can be tough to employ thoughtful strategies when you're pressed for results. The good news is that research doesn't have to delay taking action, but it has everything to do with how successful those actions will be.

Investing in communications research

Just as you wouldn't hire a marketing communications specialist to design a medical device, founders of a life science company are rarely trained in the proficiencies of strategic communications. Clearly, they possess the vision, but translating that vision into compelling language, and ultimately impactful marketing tools, requires an applied science all its own.

In formulating communication strategies, we study what you do and why it matters, as well as the perspectives of your key audiences to better understand their motivations. Much like a life science engineer applies research findings to develop new products or processes, we use the results of our research to develop messages and marketing tools that connect the purpose and impact of your innovative device or service with the unique priorities, needs and concerns of each group you are targeting.

Though necessary, it requires skill and insight. In their Industrial Biotechnology article, Marketing and communicating innovation in industrial biotechnology, biochemist Hamid Ghanadan and co-author Michael Long wrote, "The challenge is that most life science products and services address multiple market segments, fit within multiple applications and workflows, and are sought by multiple types of audiences. Thus, marketing management has to create a chameleon that can be compelling and convincing on very targeted terms."

Targeting your message on their terms

Organizations sometimes limit the focus of their marketing communications to sources of funding, investors and clients who contract their services or products, and telling them why they should. To prevent missed opportunities, it's important to research the full spectrum of your company's audiences. For instance, what key influencers in the innovation ecosystem have the potential of facilitating valuable connections for you or represent strategic partnerships? If you're a B2B2C company, who are your customer's customers whose satisfaction, compliance and understanding of what you've developed can influence the future of that contract?

Once each key audience is identified, what does it mean to speak their language? Because when it comes to formulating audience-specific messaging, one size does not fit all. The more tailored your communications, the more you incorporate their vernacular into your story, the better the results. This too requires research for effectively connecting the solutions you offer with what's important to a given audience. Ultimately, it's a merging of your knowledge and intentions with the unique interests, concerns and needs of those you want to reach.

Every organization is founded on answering a need. It defines your purpose. What is the significance of your organization's purpose and how is it clearly communicated in messaging that influences opinion and motivates action in your target audiences? Answering that fundamental question is the first step in research that I've yet to see not reveal significant results.

------

Kelli Newman is president of the Houston-based communication strategies firm, Newman & Newman Inc., where she leads a talented team of marketing professionals advancing the success of their purpose-driven clients.

Should your business consider launching a podcast? This communications expert says yes. Photo via Will Francis/Unsplash

3 reasons why you should add podcasting to your marketing plan, according to this Texas expert

guest column

As business leaders or marketers, we're always on the lookout for strategic opportunities to reach our target audiences in meaningful ways and move them to action: To like a post, ask for more information, make a purchase and more. When we put a lot of thought, energy and resources into marketing efforts, we want – and expect – a valuable return on that investment. Incorporating podcasting into your strategic marketing plan can help you realize that return.

A few years ago, KGBTexas Communications began producing thePoint, an online video series featuring conversations with innovative leaders from across Texas. The point of ThePoint is for these leaders to share insights into how they are working to create positive consequence in our communities. Our videos feature highlights of these conversations, and given the visual nature, this content is typically short and yes, to the point. However, different platforms engage audiences in different ways, and we saw podcasting as a natural progression to deepen engagement with our audience. We evolved thePoint into a podcast, More to thePoint, which serves as an extension of our video series with the goal of enhancing interaction with listeners by providing more in-depth information and conversation.

Through our experience, we have learned the value of utilizing the platform as an innovative tool to deepen connections with our audience as well as our community. Below are three reasons why businesses should consider incorporating podcasting into a marketing or communications plan.

Showcase your expertise

As a podcaster, you can position yourself as subject-matter expert. Diving deeply into relevant issues can make you a trusted voice that others come to for insight and advice. In this way, podcasting also serves as an organic advertisement for your business services, product, passion or mission. According to Jennifer Moxley, the founder of Sunshine Media Network, "Podcasts can make you relevant; they're a reason for someone to talk about you, share your social media content, invite you to guest panels or highlight you in your community."

Reach listeners authentically

According to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, nearly 75% of podcast listeners tune in with the intent of learning something new. Listeners are choosing to connect with brands to receive valuable information. Additionally, the platform offers listeners the ability to tune in at their convenience, possibly while doing other things. Now you have the ability to connect with individuals while they drive to work, go for a walk or relax at home, rather than solely while they are visually connected to their computers or phones.

Low barrier of entry

In looking at a return on investment, podcasting can be a relatively inexpensive way to expand your marketing and engagement efforts. All you really need to start a podcast is a perspective, a guest, a microphone, (you can get a really good one for less than $200), and a hosting platform. Most hosting platforms will also provide you with statistics and data to help determine specific details about your audience, including the number of listeners, along with ages and locations. Knowing and understanding your audience is key, and podcasting can help businesses expand reach and track message reception at a low cost.

As a brand's authenticity and ability to connect with consumers becomes increasingly important for attracting and retaining customers, podcasting remains a largely untapped opportunity to build trust and strengthen relationships. When considering the low cost and high return, potential audience reach and boost to website traffic and SEO, it only makes sense to explore the benefits podcasting can bring to your business.

------

Katie Harvey is the CEO of KGBTexas Communications, one of the largest woman-owned, full-service agencies in Texas, with offices in San Antonio and Houston.

Don't miss a messaging or communications opportunity for your startup. Photo via Getty Images

Here's what Houston's innovation community is missing out on when it comes to messaging

Guest column

By definition, companies throughout the innovation ecosystem have a purpose-driven story to tell. As communication strategists who specialize in purpose-driven clients, we wondered if influencers of Houston's entrepreneurial community see any recurring communication challenges getting in the way of companies successfully securing funding, acquiring customers and even recruiting talent.

For two months we interviewed investors, accelerators, industry customers and entrepreneurs themselves, asking for missed opportunities they may be seeing in what and how companies are communicating. Below are our findings, with corresponding recommendations organized into four key points of action.

Distinguish yourself from your competition

"They may have an incredible concept, but terrible messaging," was a surprisingly common response to our investigation of communication obstacles.

Many innovators think that simply describing the inspiration for their company, perhaps the illness of a loved one or an observed struggle, is enough for explaining the Why of their story. In fact, investors, potential customers and even employees are looking for something more substantial.

First, what distinguishes your company from others like it? Regardless of how pioneering the solution you offer, it will be compared to whatever else is currently available to address the need, including nothing at all. Simply explaining how what you provide works is not enough. Our research substantiated the need for also addressing your company's relevance and differentiation. Characterizing the unique essence of your company is an important distinguisher from the competition that helps cut through the noise.

When formulating a client's organizational messaging we not only examine their purpose, we study their values and culture so that it is reflected in language the company uses to describe itself. Potential customers we interviewed said the compatibility of company cultures and values weigh heavily in their considerations for partnering. So, you're overlooking a key distinguishing strategy if you think target audiences are only interested in the nuts and bolts of what you do.

Speak the language of different audiences

More than the fundamental act of communicating, messaging is language specifically tailored to articulate an organization's unique purpose, significance, values, and culture. Messaging delivers the greatest impact when it functions as a tangible asset. In other words, a formal document of composed language that ensures continuity and is utilized as talking points for investor presentations, content on the company's website, themes reflected in digital advertising, etc. However, it should not be viewed as one size fits all.

Information with universal relevance, known as organizational messaging, is essential, but so is audience-specific messaging that addresses the unique perspectives, priorities and concerns of individual groups. The need for companies to recognize this important distinction was another of our findings.

While both investors and customers are interested in the viability of your company's technology or services, they each have very different needs and priorities. To motivate desired action, you must speak each audience's specific language, which means getting out of your head and into theirs.

If you're a B2B2C company, you may even need to speak the language of your customer's customer. Several research interviews expressed how companies shoot themselves in the foot when they don't take the long view of an audience's needs. If, for instance, your customer is having difficulty explaining to their patients how your innovative medical device works, composing instruction language and even producing patient education tools may be an added deliverable necessary for you to retain that contract.

Not recognizing employees as a key audience and overlooking the importance of strong internal communications was also identified as an obstacle to success. Clearly, attracting funding from investors and business from customers is a core objective of effective communications. However, employees should also be considered a priority with messaging that keeps them informed, inspired and on track. Afterall, they're the team that will take your vision over the finish line.

Connect on an empathetic level

Research participants emphasized the need for factoring in a discovery phase that not only involves learning how to speak an audience's language, but gaining an appreciation for the challenges, goals, protocols and culture of those they're approaching as well. It requires assuming a level of empathy and understanding, rather than a singular focus on "sales," that ultimately culminates in rewarding, long-term relationships.

Effective communication is not a one-way exchange. Listening is critical. When what you've discovered is reflected in your marketing materials, that demonstration of a genuine commitment to connect is reported as being even more impressive.

Avoid costly consequences of poor communications

Companies operating without a Strategic Communications Plan risk the expensive consequence of functioning in a chronic reactionary mode with scattered results and lost credibility through inconsistency.

Yes, flexibility is important, but the research we've conducted reveals a clear advantage for those who recognize the importance of effective communications, particularly growth-stage companies that have gained their initial footing and are ready to build on their brand. The key is putting a blueprint in place that connects the dots of what you offer and your distinguishing essence, with the needs of your targeted audiences, by speaking their language. If not, you risk missed opportunities for securing funding, acquiring customers and attracting the best talent.

Changing the world is your passion, helping innovative entrepreneurs effectively communicate that passion is ours.

------

Kelli Newman is president of the Houston-based communication strategies firm, Newman & Newman Inc., where she leads a talented team of marketing professionals advancing the success of their purpose-driven clients.

When it comes to setting up a PR plan for your startup, setting the right foundation is important. Getty Images

5 tips for establishing your startup's communications and public relations plan

Good press

Once you've had the idea to create and sell a product or service, secured the funding to begin production, and managed to launch the company, the next step is garnering the public's attention to compete in the marketplace. That's where a communications and public relations plan comes in.

Whether you are looking at traditional earned media or hoping to gain credibility through social media channels, the right PR tactics can help you gain the awareness and recognition you need to build your company's reputation and success.

Set the goals for your communications/PR plan
First, you need to determine what you want to accomplish with your PR plan. Your plan will help brand your company leadership, products, and/or services with potential customers, business partners, future employees, prospective investors, and other stakeholders. Once you have settled on your goals, you should begin outreach to the media.

Build relationships
As a start-up, you may not have relationships with the media yet. That's okay. The key is to identify the respective reporters, producers, editors, bloggers, and social media influencers who cover your industry and begin reaching out and building connections with them before you start to pitch your story. Traditional media outlets receive hundreds of pitches and emails each week, larger outlets receive hundreds each day. Having relationships with reporters will be key to telling your story. Think of it as a partnership with the media in which you want to tell your story and at the same time provide them with quality content.

Tell your story
As a new company, telling your story is important; it is unique to you. Yet, the narrative is irrelevant if it doesn't move the public to action to buy, use, invest, report, or click. A storyline looks something like this:

  • Here is the existing service or product.
  • Here is our approach.
  • Here is why our approach is better.
  • Here is why our team is better.
  • Here is why you should use our product.

Continue to pitch
Once you have told your story, keep reporters, bloggers, and other media contacts looped in as your project progresses or your service line grows. Today's media outlets have fewer reporters than in the past, yet there are more and more stories being pitched. You can help these reporters by providing them with quality, relevant information and facts making their job easier.

Emailing the media is an excellent way to communicate with them. But remember, they receive many emails each day. Make your subject line short and sweet, and incorporate action words to help your email stand out among the competition. Ensure the body of your email is quick and to the point, as well, using bullet points if possible. If your email contains too much text, it will be deleted.

Additionally, make sure the timing is appropriate when you send a story idea. Plan appropriately and pitch your story well ahead of time. Be aware of any internal deadlines the outlet might have. Don't send a pitch or expect much coverage when there are big events happening, such as an election, College Football Championship, or an unexpected weather event.

Think digitally
I have seen too many companies ignore the importance of social media and a useful website. These tools give your company credibility. A website need not be complicated or fancy, but it does need to be updated, relevant, and have the basics on your company and leadership. Additionally, customers will search for you on social media sites. It is not necessary to have a presence on all social media channels, but do choose one or two and make a habit of posting regularly.

As with all facets of launching a business, take the time to learn the importance of communications tactics and strategies and utilize them to help launch your company into a successful future.

------

Elizabeth Biar is vice president of Strategic Public Affairs, a government elations and PR/communications firm based in Houston.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

------

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.