9 Lessons Your Startup Can Learn From Big Brands

Every startup and small business should make learning from the biggest brands a priority.

After all, these brands started in the exact same place.

It is often thought that, even with these lessons in hand, startups simply can’t compete with what big brands are doing. They just don’t have the resources.

The reality, however, is that many of these lessons are actually not out of reach for the average startup.

We’re here to show you nine powerful marketing tactics that big brands have done and how startups can incorporate these very tactics into their business as well.

1. Video Marketing

We likely don’t need to tell you the importance of content marketing – you know that already. But what you might not know is that the future of content marketing is actually video marketing.

This is where you need to direct at least some of your content marketing efforts as a startup or small business.

Indeed, you can probably conjure up thoughts of your own favourite viral video that has made its rounds on the web – evidence of just how effective video marketing can be.

Sure, you might not have the budget to produce a viral video, but incorporating video into your strategy can still be very powerful in terms of conversions.

Here’s a look at a few compelling statistics:

The great thing about video marketing is that you don’t need expensive equipment to produce video content – in fact, you can record videos on your smartphone if you wanted to. There are also tons of free video editors out there as well.

The rise of live video, in particular, has made it increasingly acceptable for videos to have less production value as well, which also increases the accessibility factor for startups and small businesses even further.

2. Influencer Marketing

Marketers have long known the power of putting a celebrity on the front of a product in order to increase sales.

Influencer marketing is the latest extension of such thinking.

Influencers are Internet personalities who have cultivated an online following, whether through various social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram or through blogging. These are everyday people but are also celebrities in their own right.

The reason why influencers can be a such an asset to businesses is because people view them as trustworthy. They are relatable and, again, viewed as trustworthy by extension.

Twitter conducted its own survey and found that 49% of Twitter users rely on recommendations from influencers. Moreover, 40% of Twitter users say they have actually made a purchase because of an influencer recommendation as well.

And big brands are leveraging this opportunity. 

Audible, an Amazon company that offers access to audio books, has partnered with many YouTubers to spread the word about its service.

The great thing about influencer marketing is that this is a type of marketing that even startups can take advantage of it – especially considering that a bigger following (which would presumably require more funding) is not necessarily better.

A study by Markerly found that micro influencers – those with a follower count of between 10,000 and 100,000 had the most engagement.

Whether you send out free products to influencers or you even pay them, influencer marketing can easily be in the hands of startups and small businesses.

But, if you want it to work, you have to ensure that the influencer aligns in some way with your brand – this is the key.

3. Building An Audience (Content Marketing)

Content marketing is nothing new but yet remains one of the top marketing strategies out there.

Content marketing is easily within grasp of every startup. The problem is that many businesses continue to struggle with seeing results from their efforts.

When Content Marketing Institute examined the most successful content marketers, they found that they all had one thing common: they were focused on building audiences.

Ultimately, your audience is one of your business’s valuable assets as it can be monetized over time.

It seems simple, but many businesses – especially smaller ones – tend to miss this. It’s no longer enough to just produce content – you also have to build a loyal audience alongside that content.

Neil Patel is a great example of someone who has successfully built an audience around content marketing for four multi-million dollar businesses, including Quick Sprout, Crazy Egg, Kissmetrics and

Patel’s strategy was to focus on high-quality content. But, in order to make that happen, he then outsourced his content to maximize his return on investment. This was the foundation.

Ultimately, however, there is no tried-and-true method for developing an audience or a loyal fanbase, but it’s something that startups and small businesses should think about working toward.

4. Emotional Marketing

Although humans claim that they are logical beings, studies show otherwise.

As you will see below, humans make decisions primarily on emotions and that is certainly true when it comes to figuring out how they feel about particular companies and brands.

fMRI neuo-imagery shows that when people evaluate brands, they primarily do so via their emotions and not through objective information as you might think.

That’s why it can be so valuable for businesses to tap into this. In fact, businesses are doing just that.

It’s called emotional marketing.

Interestingly, brands haven’t always tapped into emotional marketing; in the 1990s and 2000s, for example, advertisers would rely on humour and sarcasm instead.

But, how effective is emotional marketing?

A Nielsen report found that ads that delivered the most effective emotional response had a 23 percent increase in sales.

Emotional marketing is perhaps a bit more abstract than other ideas on this list, but if your startup can tap into emotions like happiness, surprise and even sadness in your marketing and advertising efforts, the results can be powerful.

The reason why emotional marketing is so easily within a startup’s grasp is because emotional marketing can be applied to any aspect of your marketing efforts – even your Facebook ads.

Ultimately, emotional marketing is all about connecting with your audience in a way that is both human and personal.

There are four basic emotions: happy, sad, afraid/surprised and angry/disgusted (not six different emotions as previously thought). Even seemingly negative emotions like sadness can be just as effective.

You can likely think of many Super Bowl commercials that have brought a tear to your eye over the years.

However, if you’re incorporating emotions like sadness into your marketing or advertising efforts, it’s important that you offer a solution to that negative emotion.

For those who want to go down the positive route, it’s important that the ad feels authentic.

One of the most shared videos of all time was actually Android’s Friends Furever video, a video about unlikely friendships between animals.


5. AR

The best brands are always on top of the most recent trends, especially when it comes to technology. One of the hottest topics of at the moment is AR – augmented reality. This is the technology that made Pokemon Go possible.

AR, in brief, is all about superimposing objects onto the real world.

When brands are on top of new technology, they have an advantage. It’s a novelty. Pepsi Max’s #LiveForNow Campaign is a great example of how using new technology (AR, specifically) was able to garner them a lot of attention.

At the time of this writing, the video currently has almost 8 million views on YouTube.

Pepsi Max used augmented reality to project unexpected images (like a tiger and an alien tentacle that looked like it was pulling people into the street) onto a bus station wall.

It caught a lot of people by surprise (you can see here that Pepsi Max also tapped into emotional advertising as well).


Although startups obviously don’t have the budget of a powerhouse brand like Pepsi, the point is that technology can still be used to garner attention on a smaller level. You just have to get creative.

AR can also be used to enhance your business in other ways as well – and, again ways that even businesses with a small budget can tap into.

Companies like Ikea are using AR to provide a better customer experience.

For example, IKEA recently released its augmented reality app that will allow users to see how a piece of furniture will specifically look in their homes – before they buy that piece of furniture, of course.

6. Simple and Relatable Copy

What can Apple, one of the most powerful brands in the world (holding the title for 5 consecutive years before they finally lost out to Google) teach you about marketing?

As it turns out, a lot.

And a lot that small businesses can easily apply, too.

One marketing tactic that Apple has done particularly well (and that few other businesses have still not caught on to) is using language in a way that users both understand and can relate to.

When you take a look at their website copy, there is a distinct lack of discussion about the specs of the phones – sure, these are mentioned, but it’s not the focus.

Instead, their copy is simple.

It focuses on how the product solves a problem in the user’s own life – this was especially the case at Apple product launches in the past.

This simple, everyday copy that users can also relate to is what startups can focus on when writing their own copy for their website. 

In other words, don’t focus on how great your product or service is – focus on how it benefits the user. And make sure you say it in simple terms. Don’t get lost in industry language.

7. Developing Your Brand Early

While many startups and small businesses often have lofty goals of one day becoming a big brand themselves, they often overlook the importance of developing such a brand in the early stages of developing their business.

Remember: a brand isn’t just a logo; your brand will also drive how you approach every facet of your business as well.

Tom Shoes is one example of a company that thought about their brand from the very beginning. Early on, they established that part of their identity would be doing social good. 

Inspired by the difficulties of children growing up without shoes while travelling in Argentina, founder Blake Mycoskie bought a pair of shoes for a child in need for every pair of Tom Shoes that was purchased.

From the very beginning, Tom Shoes was able to differentiate itself from its competitors, even though its shoes were not all that different from others. Tom Shoes tapped into social goodness with its compelling brand story and did so from the very beginning.

The reality is that many startups and businesses are hyperfocused on getting their product to market that they fail to think about positioning (that is, where their product or service stands in the market in relation to their competitors) and, of course, brand itself.

If startups and small businesses want to develop their brand, they have to start thinking about it early – that is, they have to think about how they can develop their brand alongside their business.

We understand that you don’t have much of a budget (if any at all) to invest in brand development right away, but it’s at least important to begin thinking about it.

When building a brand from scratch, here are some key considerations: who are your target demographics? Once you know this, you can figure out what they want, what they like and how you should talk to them.

Next, give some consideration to the brands of your competitors. You don’t want to duplicate what you’re seeing, but rather to understand why they made the choices they made.

After you’ve done this, you should start thinking about what makes your brand different from the rest. Who is your brand as a person? For Tom Shoes, that was about helping others in need.

All of these elements can then be applied to various aspects of your marketing, from the colours of your logo to your content and to the way you conduct customer service as well. Again, branding affects so many decisions, which is why it’s so important to have this solidified early.

Brand building in the early days is an internal process, but it is a process that shapes your actions and provides a solid foundation moving forward.

8. Chatbots As Promotion and Customer Service

Just like video, it has been posited that chatbots will be the future of marketing. Indeed, chatbots are a hot topic at the moment, especially once Facebook officially allowed branded chatbots onto Facebook Messenger.

So, what are chatbots?

Chatbots are nothing more than a simple computer program; advancements in artificial technology have now made it possible for bots to answer customer service inquiries. The more advanced bots are even capable of personalizing messages.

The point is that many brands are already using chatbots in their marketing and small businesses can take note.

National Geographic is a great example. They used a conversational chatbot, who spoke like Albert Einstein, to garner attention about their new show about Einstein’s life.

Essentially, visitors could learn more about Einstein by talking to the bot while also learning more about the show itself.


And, again, chatbots are not out of reach for the average startup or small business.

In fact, some might argue that chatbots are a necessity, especially when it comes to customer service. Small businesses don’t have a lot of time, so automating as much as possible is often the key to growth.

9. Be Data Driven

We will end our discussion of powerful marketing tactics not with the glitz and glamour of video marketing, chatbots and AR but with a solid tactic nonetheless: being data-driven.

Take a look at one of the most data-driven companies out there: Netflix. When it made the decision to earn the rights to House of Cards (which cost them over 100 million dollars to do so), it wasn’t because they had a hunch that viewers might like it.

Instead, Netflix dug deep into their customer data.

They knew, for example, that a lot of their users watched David Fincher’s The Social Network and that the British House of Cards was also watched a lot.

That’s exactly how the U.S. version of House of Cards ended up on Netflix. It was a move that put Netflix on the map.

Ultimately, if you understand your customers, you can give them what they want.

The Bottom Line

Startups and small businesses should always be paying attention to what the biggest brands are doing. Even if they can only apply these marketing tactics on a small scale, the results can still be powerful.

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