Case study: the fall of a start-up

fall of startup

Recently I have been called to the rescue of a start-up that was in need of a more effective marketing strategy. Unfortunately, by the time I submitted my proposal the founder had already decided to give up on his project, despite the significant amount of money invested.

Nevertheless, I believe that this missed business opportunity for KnowThyBrand can be a useful learning opportunity for other start-ups.

Like I do for every other prospect, prior to submitting my proposal I spent some time researching the start-up’s business, their market, their brand, and their marketing tactics. Here is a summary of the findings:


The positives

What immediately struck me about this start-up was their very innovative approach. Leveraging the latest technology, they were offering fast, affordable, and reliable legal services through an online platform.

Also, the brand visual identity was striking and memorable.


The less positives

The value proposition, the thing that should have made them stand out from the crowd, was not clear. They were not the first company to offer this service, although they were still among the pioneers in the field, and they were not the cheapest. What was making them different? Why should people choose their services?

They were competing against a strongly established law firm but were not able to articulate why prospects should prefer them, a new firm, to the most recognised and trusted firm.

In addition, the website didn’t live up to the strong brand identity.


The negatives

A critical aspect for this start-up to succeed was the recruitment of enough layers that would subscribe to the platform and provide advice to customers.

Once the platform was launched, the only marketing tactic employed to attract lawyers was Search advertising.

Without any proper marketing strategy, nor clear messaging, the founder invested a significant amount of money trying to recruit lawyers to his platform.

Google ads were designed to drive potential members to a landing page. The page was well designed but its only message was the ability to join the platform for free, which had a triple bad effect:

1) The platform didn’t appear genuine or trustworthy. This is a critical point because the objective was to attract lawyers that would put their reputation at stake by joining the new platform so they needed to be reassured that this was a genuine, reliable firm. Should they have joined an online platform just because it was free?

2) It didn’t offer any benefit that the main competitor wasn’t already offering since they were also offering free membership. Critically though, the competitors were not making that their selling point.

3) It didn’t offer a reason for the lawyers to join the platform other than the fact that it was free. What about raising their profile? Increasing the number of customers? The opportunity to turn a query into a full paying client?


A different approach: giv’em a reason!

Arguably, a key element in the fall of this start-up was the lack of a clear vision. In the mind of the founder, the benefits for the lawyers to join were multiple and valid, but at no point were these made clear to the target audience: the lawyers themselves.

The first thing that any start-up needs to do is to define a clear brand with a well-conceived, easy to articulate value proposition. In this case the start-up had a double audience: the lawyers needed for the platform to work, and the customers who would pay the lawyers’ fees. The value proposition, together with the other elements of a strong brand (see Why Branding Matters) would have to be meaningful for both.

This value proposition would have then driven a clear, separated messaging for each target audience.

In turn, the messaging for the lawyers would have formed the basis for any marketing strategy that, rather than focusing solely on Search advertising, would have incorporated a mix of traditional and digital tactics and, first of all, content marketing.

By providing useful, punctual, relevant content, this marketing tactic would have helped establish the new firm as an innovative leader in the field, strengthening reasons for lawyers to join the platform.

Content marketing is not fast, and it’s easy to fall for the lure of what is perceived as a quicker way to reach out to your target audience through means like Google ads. After all, aren’t we spending a lot of time on Google? But the truth is that without a reason to trust you, whichever business you are in, your audience won’t buy your product or service. Putting yourself in the clients’ shoes, I’m sure you wouldn’t trust an ad on Google if you didn’t know the source and if you didn’t perceive the need or value in doing so.

If you are a start-up looking into launching your marketing tactics, here is a collection of articles that I hope you can find useful:

9 weapons to win the Content Marketing battle

Blogging tips for SMEs

Tips for companies approaching marketing for the first time, and a good reminder for MNCs as well!

Please note that details of the start-up in question have been modified and/or omitted for privacy reasons.


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