How do you connect startups with brands?

This sponsored post is produced by Mark Evans, a cofounder of BrandGarage, a new platform for connecting brands with startups. He is also Managing Director of Converge Labs, which puts on industry thought leadership events Mobile-Loco and Social-Loco.

When I kicked off my conference business to bring thought leaders together onto one stage to discuss the convergence of social, location, and mobile, I knew we were just scratching the surface. Through Social-Loco and Mobile-Loco I have watched startups and big companies take the stage and make their predictions about where the market would go. Over the years, I saw more brands, agencies, and retailers attend the events and engage with startups. It was frustrating to watch people from different industries trying to communicate — it was as if they were speaking two different languages. Brands needed scalable technology solutions that could deliver the holy grail of 1:1 consumer engagement. Startups needed to monetize with brand dollars but only had a few million users (at best). Brands ultimately went back to Google and Facebook as they realized startups didn’t have the ability to deliver solutions that could scale or provide the perfect market fit.

Last year, I partnered up with BlueRun Ventures Operating Partner Cheryl Cheng to launch BrandGarage, an open platform for brands and startups to engage and start testing concepts and working together. Our goal is to provide opportunities for brands to work with startups through deploying test budgets for proof of concepts and rapid in-market tests. We work with a wide range of brands and retailers.

Sears, for example, has invested both internally and through BrandGarage to drive innovation in mobile commerce. Its new mobile strategy group is led by Andy Chu (formerly of Microsoft). It will reintroduce six of its mobile APIs this month at a brand challenge geared towards engaging startups and developers. (You can find event details for the August 24-25 developer challenge here). Instead of traditional hackathon-type prizes, Sears has committed a marketing budget ($40K to start) to bring an idea to market for this holiday.

We’ve learned a few interesting things this past year:

1. Brands are all over the spectrum in terms of how equipped they are to work with startups. Some have investment funds, incubators, APIs, etc. Others have nothing. Regardless, every brand and retailer’s board is asking them the same things: What are you going to do about mobile? Big data? Cloud? Understanding the key business questions facing each brand is critical to its success as they adopt new technologies and strategies to stay current or try to carve out a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

2. Analytics and data is king. Although brands say they want to invest more in mobile and social, they need to justify the spend vis-à-vis traditional marketing dollars. Startups need to be armed with the analytics that can help them make those comparisons and trade-offs.

3. Solve the business problem. Every brand has a pretty specific business problem that it is trying to solve: general category sales decline, maintain market leadership, explain new product benefits, etc. The startups that we have seen get “fast-tracked” with brands have solved business problems and used their technology platforms to show measurable business results.

Brand dollars are definitely moving more and more towards new and emerging digital media. Startups and brands should be ready to roll up their sleeves and do some testing to find those next platforms that can really reach and engage customers.

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Social Media Tips – Expand The Voice Of Your Business

The world of social media is ever changing and is very fast paced. To use the social sites available for your business here are some social media tips for you to get you started. Keep reading as there’s some great stuff for you if you’re starting out

1. Firstly you need to be yourself on social media. Just because you are a business doesn’t mean you have to be corporate. In fact, on social sites people are looking to connect with people. They want to know who is behind the business and not be faced with some faceless corporate entity.

2. Here’s one of the most important tips of all. Listen to your customers. They’re making the effort to be on social media. They’re looking at your stuff, they’re obviously interested and social sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter are fantastic sites for you to find out what they’re saying. Look at their posts, read their comments, and above all else take action on what you learn. They can be your biggest advocates so treat them like real people and listen to them.

3. Social media is a long term game so you need to be patient. It takes time to build a brand, but because of the reach of social media, once you’ve got your name out there, it’s very hard to hold back the floodgates! (If you do it properly). Give helpful tips about your niche, interact with people and that will go a long way to building and establishing your brand.

4. You need to make the most of every opportunity to get your name out on social media. There are many different social media platforms and if you’re serious about building your business using social media, then try to structure your posts to the various platforms. One of the most important tips is to have a schedule of what you’re going to post and stick to that schedule. That way you’ve got a plan of what you’re going to say, it prevents you going off on tangents, and will build a better brand for you in the long term.

5. We said above that social and online media is forever changing and that means you need to be flexible. Websites change all the time, Facebook is forever changing and new players are constantly coming into the market, so you need to be nimble enough to allow for these changes. Post great content and you can’t go wrong.

6. Collaborating with others is key to your success. Don’t think of your competition as competition. Think of ways that you can work together to spread both brands. Social media makes companies very transparent and if you’re a small business collaborating with other similar businesses is a great way to get your name visible and noticed.

7. The last of our tips is to be humble about your achievements. You need to let people know what you’re doing as you can be sure your competition is doing exactly that (but read point six above!). But you don’t need to blow your trumpet from the rooftops. Just be subtle and quietly let people know about what you’re doing and if you treat people with respect, and show them your successes you will find your social media marketing to be much more effective.

These seven tips give you an overview about how you should treat your social interactions. You use social and online media to keep your business and brand ahead of the curve and to give yourself high visibility. Use these easy ideas to turn marketing strategies into a successful brand.

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