With the rise of innovation, marketing strategies are being reinvented. We often say trust is the ultimate currency. Customers have many concerns about privacy, security and always-on technology. How do new startup brands earn their trust?

Entrepreneurs have this incredible opportunity with digital communications to have an intimate relationship with their audience and to actually be far more emotive than in the traditional advertising world. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to start those relationships.

If the success of a new innovation must be earned (not bought), what does that look like from a marketing tactics perspective? How can a startup with a breakthrough product move in the right direction with its global audience and build trust through a communications strategy?

We recently caught up with Jason Kinnear, senior vice-president and national sector lead for technology at Edelman Canada, about how startups can shake things up using a great communications strategy.

Q&A with Jason Kinnear of Edelman Canada

Aislinn: In the era of disruption, how can startups build an innovative communications marketing strategy?

Jason: To answer this question, you need to first understand how this “era of disruption” has directly impacted the way consumers and customers—both B2B and B2C—are getting their information in general and, more specifically, about your business.

We live in an age of information abundance. In 2009, there were 300 million photos posted on Facebook every month. Today it’s over one billion per day. The problem is that, while content continues to scale infinitely, our own attention spans can’t scale. They are finite.

Related to this is incredible fragmentation. With all of this content surrounding us, it can be very hard now to see the full story or even to find the story. The “traditional” media, like the Globe and Mail and CBC, and digital native upstarts like Buzzfeed or Mashable, digital influencers that publish on YouTube, Vine, Tumblr and LinkedIn on brand/company-owned experiences and “content marketing,” can make a story or narrative more fragmented than ever before.

Increasingly, we now discover all this news and information at the platform level. Search engines like Google and Yelp, the social networks like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn and the syndicators like Apple News, YouTube and Flipboard influence what we see. According to Pew, nearly two-thirds (63%) of Facebook users and the same share of Twitter users get news via each of the social media sites. This is up substantially from 2013. Mobile is a big driver of this. News is now filtered through the lens of our friends. It’s not consumed the same way as it was when we grew up.

In a recent Edelman survey, which I mentioned in a previous post, 76% of journalists told us that they are feeling more pressure to get their stories shared. You need to adopt a social-by-design approach to every campaign and piece of content to ensure that: a) your story will be of interest to the media; and b) it will travel along the key routes that people now take to news. Ideally, every program needs to bake in paid, earned and owned assets, with each building off of the other.

So when building an innovative communications marketing program, we need to see the ecosystem as a whole and deeply understand the target audience and the pathways they take to news, content and information.

Aislinn: Standing idle is not an option. What’s crucial to get right first when telling your product story and starting marketing?

Jason: First and foremost, you need to understand your customer. And by understand, I don’t mean have a vague notion of who they are. I mean really trying to understand their day-to-day reality, what their real needs and wants are, and how they consume information. It may seem daunting, but conducting market research on the people you’re ultimately trying to sell to should be Step 1.

From there, you must build a compelling and credible narrative. This can only be done by understanding your customer, the broader environment you’re working in, the tension points (good and bad) this environment has on your customer, how you are solving this tension for them via your product or service, and the proof points you can show to demonstrate that your solution actually works.

Aislinn: What has Edelman’s research shown?

Jason: In terms of framing your story, a recent Edelman survey titled Innovation and the Earned Brand should be of interest—particularly to entrepreneurs who are building products and services that literally haven’t existed before or are disruptive leaps from the norm. It is a global survey of 10,000 consumers in 10 countries that examines consumer attitudes toward brand innovation.

Our research showed that:

  • By a two-to-one margin, people feel that the pace of change is too quick.
  • Two out of three consumers believe that the motive for innovation is greed and corporate profit.
  • Two out of three are nervous about privacy and security.
  • Three out of five are anxious about the environment and over-consumption.
  • Half are concerned about having to “be on” all of the time.
  • One in three consumers wants to be “inspired,” while more than two in three want us to “reassure” them.
  • 87% of consumers said they will stop buying innovative products and services unless companies address these concerns.

As marketers, we need to be aware of this new reality. There’s a level of skepticism and anxiety out there that you may have to address in order to gain the trust of consumers to turn them into customers. The study concludes that smart brands must exhibit four important characteristics:

  1. Inform and educate customers and those whose opinions they trust.
  2. Have a purpose aligned with a social meaning.
  3. Make a mark by standing out and solving problems in an unexpected and refreshing way.
  4. Encourage customers to participate—and engage meaningfully—with them.

JKinnearJason Kinnear is senior vice-president and national technology sector lead for Edelman Canada. He is a regular advisor to startups and a frequent guest at MaRS. Reach out to him on email.

Build your own communications strategy.

If you’d like to start building your communications strategy check out the Startup Marketing Collection, the newest addition to the Entrepreneur’s Toolkit.


Aislinn Malszecki

Aislinn is a strategist, designer and education producer for entrepreneurs that seek practical lessons to grow their startup companies.See more…