Siok Siok Tan: how marketing makes a difference for startups

Filmmaker and entrepreneur Siok Siok Tan shared her tips on how startups should market themselves at Lean Startup Beijing’s March Meetup. Tan runs a social video platform in China called Kinetic One. As a visual storyteller, she has handled marketing for herself and her company in a subtle way, a practice that eventually helped her land speaking engagements everywhere including the World Economic Forum. Below are five of her marketing tips.

1. Marketing is reminding people that you exist.

Tan said everyone is constantly telling a story about themselves, and entrepreneurs should always think about how they want people to remember them. For instance, Tan always introduces herself as a filmmaker and an entrepreneur. She said it’s a rare combination in the tech community in China and that’s what people remember about her.

2. Differentiate or Die.

Tan recommends thinking about your startup as a superhero character. What superpower do you have that others don’t? Tan said it’s important to emphasize your value and remind the community about your business visually and verbally. As a visual example she cited Steve Jobs’ signature black turtlenecks at presentations and how Mark Zuckerberg always wears a grey shirt.

3. Help people to remember you by taking a series of actions.

She said everything she does can be translated into her story. For example, as the only female speaker at a male-dominated tech conference, she once presented about robotic arms. Although it wasn’t directly related to her field, she did it anyways so the geeks at the conference would remember her. But for entrepreneurs, she said they should borrow the concept of how Pixar movies can be summarized in six sentences.

“Once upon a time…” (our startup story begins)
Every day…” (pain point)
“One day…” (our product/solutions)
“Because of that…” (value proposition to consumers)
“Because of that…” (value proposition to partners)
“Until finally…” (value creation = problem solved)

4. Share something small every day.

In the age of social media, she said it’s easy to connect with people. But how she keeps her connections engaged is by coming up with a daily dispatch to remind people she exists. She has this habit of sharing a daily street photo of her commute to remind people that she is a visual storyteller. After capturing the photo from her iPhone, she shares it at 8am every day. This habit so far has earned her a deal with a literary agent for a standalone photo book.

5. Instead of worrying about imperfection, start practicing right away.

This tip is hard to digest for perfectionists, but Tan said sharing the progress of a product or service has become a business strategy for some startups. She cited the case of 28-year-old YouTube sensation Michelle Phan, who is listed on Forbes’ 2015 30 Under 30: Art & Style list. Tan’s early videos made with imperfect lighting conditions are still available on her YouTube channel alongside her more recent videos produced with better lighting and visual effects. Users can clearly see the progression in her production ability. Phan’s success on YouTube has turned into a business of selling a monthly subscription service of “Glam Bags” to members on ipsy. She raised USD 100 million in Series B funding from TPG Growth and Sherpa Capital last September, according to Forbes.

Tan concludes that startups don’t always last long. She suggests entrepreneurs go and talk to the people who rejected them every six months to serve as a reminder that they still exist. In short, she said the time will come for the product or service when it’s right for the market.

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