AR can provide startups and scale ups an unfair advantage. It can play a key role in building investor confidence and increasing early signups. It can do this by developing long-term relationships with the people who influence industry buyers more than any other group: analysts.
In the following Primer, we break down how an AR strategy can help a startup, why AR is not PR, and how to overcome the many obstacles that await an AR professional in the world of startups and scale-ups.
1. How can an AR campaign help a Startup?
Find, understand, and build a customer base. Analysts can help startups speak to their customer base, understand their needs and build products that fit those needs.
They can build ‘buzz’ quickly to attract funders and build interest and confidence in a solution that is, by definition, new and often untested.
Analysts can be the trusted, independent voices startups need: speaking out on their behalf, outlining the possible uses, implications of, and reasons to have confidence in a new product or technology. Technology startups need Analysts.
A competent and well-organized AR campaign can help build interest, positive ‘buzz’, and initiate the production of objective analysis for startups, helping them in funding rounds and building a user base.
AR is a two-way relationship. Unlike with PR, startups can benefit greatly by building close connections with analysts because of the market knowledge they can bring to the table, coupled with an outside eye.
Analysts can give feedback on, and influence the development of, the product roadmap – and help key developers and product managers into the key differentiators the market demands. Understanding the market and predicting movements within it with confidence is an analyst’s stock and trade, so taking them through a briefing can save months of pointless development and investment.
Following the AR Compass framework – projecting its aims and potential aims through the needs of Strategy, Opinion, Sales and Marketing allows a startup to quickly establish the potential benefits of AR and create a plan of action to help develop analyst relations to achieve concrete business goals.
2. AR is not PR – Understanding the difference
AR and PR share some superficial similarities: they are both based around relationships, both depend on improving outside perception of the organisation, and both are looking for coverage. This can result in AR responsibilities being given to PR professionals –this is a mistake as I explain here.
PR is governed by a faster news cycle, a journalist’s need to create fresh ‘angles’ on problems and issues, and the desire to find a ‘juicy’ headline, which often is written for effect, rather than any relation to the reality experienced by its readers. Early coverage in the media can help build interest, but good coverage often still costs money.
An effective AR function can help their organisation achieve a deeper understanding of the needs of customers and a longer-term outlook by building good relationships with analysts. The best analysts will challenge your team with searching questions and insights about your target market. They care about real value for the end user, cost savings, and how your product gives clear strategic advantage over the competition.
Use AR to build a deep understanding of your customers needs, and build a roadmap that solves their problems whilst building a good reputation with the people who matter.
3. The power of Analysts: Accelerating growth
Analysts can add massive value to any business: For enterprise-level businesses they can help to give the C-Suite confidence a large tech purchase, and give IT management the tools they need to create a compelling business case for a procurement. SMEs can use the knowledge of analysts to choose technology that will allow them to scale effectively, supporting their business roadmap.
For these reasons, good analyst relationships can be vital to the very existence of startups as they go to market, trying to match tough VC targets.
Getting on the Radar
The main challenge for a startup is simply being noticed: being part of conversations about possible solutions for the problems your (potential) customers are facing. This is especially true of a new company moving into a mature market, or pitching a product that sits across well-accepted market segments.
Good analysts have the ear of important market segments – they speak and the market listens. A good AR function has to get in front of the ones that matter in their market, and outline the problem they solve and how that solution is differentiated from the competition so the right analysts talk about their product, raising its profile.
Working with analysts can create a direct line to potential customers and CXOs with buyer influence.
They can also help a startup craft its go-to-market. Through briefings and feedback sessions, a good market analyst can help create a better sense of your customers’ needs and give detailed competitor analysis, helping to craft and even pivot a flawed roadmap.
Scale your AR efforts sustainably. In a startup’s early days – briefing analysts so they understand your roadmap, underlying technology and funding status can help them to give the right type of coverage – ‘cool’ trend reports, a startup profile or even a ‘sneak peak’ blog – can build buzz without revealing too much about your technology or proposed GTM strategy.
When the time comes to launch, look after the analysts who have supported you early on, and have confidence to cast your net wider with others to create a much bigger impact.
Breaking into mature markets.
Sometimes the difference between scaling and struggling is convincing enterprise-level customers to invest in your product. Just making the list for RFPs for larger corporations is a massive challenge. Established and well-tested solutions have the backing of case studies, multiple MQs, and the support of analysts. Breaking into this exclusive club can seem an overwhelming challenge.
It’s vital to show your solution can compete in a tough market. Focus your campaigns on creating opportunities to compare your solution to the existing players in the market, with credible analysis showing its qualities. This could be through an MQ or real-world benchmarks from an independent source.
If your company is breaking ground in a new category – combining several capabilities in a single platform for the first time or solving an old problem in a completely new way – it is both a curse and a benefit. The challenge is defining and justifying a new classification of product in the eyes of the market.
If you achieve that goal, your company will be perceived as a pioneer and innovator, whilst potential competitors scramble to reposition their solutions so they don’t seem out of date, or to copy the native features of your product to offer similar benefits.
Defining a new category is the holy grail for AR professionals, but it can only be done in collaboration with analysts with far-reaching influence. Identify the right targets, Invite them to briefings and exclusive events, cultivate your relationship with them, and work to define your vision for your product’s uniqueness, and its effectiveness.
4. Time and Money
Understand and communicate the value AR brings. AR faces a huge challenge to justify the costs it incurs no matter what size of organization it’s working in – but in a startup, especially one supported by VC capital, the pressure is on to account for every cent and dollar spent.
This puts a huge amount of pressure on the AR function to get results quickly and also puts it at risk of ‘measurement fatigue’ when trying to pull together metrics to point to its success, stopping it from building the relationships that would lead to real-world success.
In a slow industry, it pays to move fast
Secure early wins with future-focussed analysts. AR is a long game – it takes time, patience, and deduction to understand first the market, then the analysts that cover it, and finally understand the analysts that influence the market significantly.
Focus your efforts on analysts that not only work in your market, but that concentrate on emerging companies and startups specifically. These can be the first of many long-term relationships that help you develop your AR function and garner the right type of early coverage, help you develop a greater understanding of the market, and connect with analysts that could help you in the next stage of your AR journey.
Startups often have a new product (or no product at all) and low name recognition in the market, which means every campaign requires more effort and costs more money.
Securing a budget is always a struggle, but it’s vital to get insights from analysts. The costs associated with analyst subscriptions plus the bandwitdth require to leverage them can quickly rack-up and add up. And yet, spending time with analysts and reading research can save both startups and scaleups time to market and avoid costly mistakes. For instance, positioning your firm in the right category can become a competitive unfair advantage.
Manage internal expectations. Even with a well-developed strategy and dedicated resources, it can take 12-18months to achieve significant mentions. This is a long-game strategy, which can have very positive (and profitable) results, but managing internal expectations can be a significant part of a startup AR function’s role.
5. When is it right to start an AR campaign?
It is never too early to start to reach out to analysts in your field. Market and competitor intelligence at an early stage can be invaluable and help focus priorities on a roadmap like nothing else.
Reach out early and often to build relationships with the key voices in your market and present to them as regularly as they will allow, taking careful attention to their feedback and especially any weaknesses in your product and address them.
This will improve the product and cement your relationship with the analyst. If they can see their influence helping to improve your product this will endear you to them and make recommendations more likely.
Facilitate these relationships by working closely with your development and sales teams. The development team needs to be on board with taking on the external criticism and allowing it to affect their roadmap, and sales need to know what is coming down the pipeline for their conversations with potential customers – showing they understand the market and the challenges customers face.
Bottom line: startups should start early engaging with industry analysts.
Working at a startup can be exciting, challenging, and full of fast-paced change. Creating an AR function, which requires longer activity cycles and the development of in-depth relationships with analysts, could seem to be at odds with this culture.
However, with the right strategy, based around business goals, an AR professional can make a huge difference in a startup by helping to shape its understanding of the market, competitors, and the shifting needs of customers, through the help of analysts. An AR function, through its long-term relationship building, can help to create a better product and a more successful company.
- Connect with your development and sales team with analysts to gain roadmap and customer insights that will improve your product and go-to-market.
- Focus your internal communications on the value of analyst interactions
- Understand which analysts are focussed on companies at your stage of development, getting the right guidance and coverage at the right time.
- Start your outreach to analysts as early as possible
- AR is not PR – a longer story-cycle and greater – long-term – value
- Webinar slides: Ten truths on analyst and B2B influencer relations for startups (and scale ups!), Digital 4 Europe, 20th May 2021, Ludovic Leforestier (@lludovic, LinkedIn) / Founder Starsight Communications, IIAR> Co-founder and Board Member > link for IIAR> members
- Interview on page 91, The European E-Commerce and Digital Marketing Week Special Edition Magazine, Digital4 Foundation, Ludovic Leforestier (@lludovic, LinkedIn) / Founder Starsight Communications, IIAR> Co-founder and Board Member > link to online magazine
- IIAR> Primer: What is the Analyst Relations (AR) role and the AR job description?
- IIAR> Primer:Who are industry analysts and what do they do?
- IIAR> Primer: Analyst Relations and Industry Analysts – The 7+7+7 Golden Rules of Engagement
- IIAR> Primer: Future Shock: The Coming State of Analyst Relations