Standing Out: Battling a Trio of Goliaths

How do you make your company stand out when its competitors are big names like Google, Microsoft and Apple? Drew Banks, head of marketing at San Francisco-based presentation software startup Prezi, encountered this conundrum when he joined the company in 2010. Prezi had an avid user base with a strong growth rate, but competing with PowerPoint and Keynote meant reaching beyond traditional online marketing techniques. So, what are best practices for battling a trio of Goliaths? Banks explains:

When I joined Prezi in January 2010, we had just over a million users and a marketing staff of three (including me). I was confronted with a unique marketing challenge: fuel awareness for Prezi in an established space where the primary players are Microsoft, Keynote, and Google. There was no way to out-advertise these guys, so I had to think beyond traditional online marketing techniques.

I quickly discovered how much the Prezi early adopters loved the product. I’m a big believer that recommendations from trusted customers carry a lot more weight than paid marketing. Such customer advocacy is particularly relevant for a company like Prezi that’s hugely disruptive and in a space—presentation software—where the world has waited decades for disruption. Then, there’s also the personal nature of Prezi. Our customers use our product to develop and share their ideas. In evangelizing their ideas, they evangelize Prezi.

When I saw the natural advocacy within the Prezi customer base, I launched three targeted evangelism programs. While some aspects of these programs are specific to Prezi, the core concepts are widely applicable.

Help key influencers influence: Prezi’s key users and most influential user base are professional presenters. Over the past two years we’ve worked with influential speakers and organizations to help design more than 150 custom Prezis. The program created a win-win-win for all stakeholders: speakers received Prezi design help, audience members saw a more visually compelling presentation, and we were able to demonstrate Prezi’s potential.

Invest in education: Educators and students are often more tech-savvy, and are natural advocates for new and exciting technologies. We developed and launched a global Campus Ambassadors Program for college students, in which over 50 ambassadors (chosen out of more than 500 applicants) promote Prezi usage on their campuses. In return, they get valuable entrepreneurial experience and free swag, as well as the opportunity to apply for summer internships at Prezi.

Establish a marketplace: Our third initiative was to build a marketplace of Prezi Experts—independent Prezi design and training professionals. Not only do these experts promote Prezi via their services, they also help onboard new users and create great exemplary Prezis that we showcase on to attract even more new users. Another great win-win.

During these two years, I haven’t ignored traditional online marketing, but even here I lean toward win-win advocacy programs, like our referral program, that facilitate the customers’ intrinsic desire to tell family and friends about this cool new app they just discovered. This program now generates a healthy daily bump in new registrations.

Lessons learned: There’s no silver bullet; no one-size-fits-all answer. Marketing is an ever-changing field, as are the businesses and products you are marketing. Yesterday’s social media is today’s integrated marketing. To remain relevant as a marketer, first be an entrepreneur. Start by understanding your business goals and customer needs. Stay vigilantly aware of your competitors and never become complacent about their threat to your success, no matter how far ahead you think you are. Finally, build an entrepreneurial marketing team that is aware of current trends and best practices, but, more importantly, also know how to think for themselves and create future trends and best practices.

Drew Banks is head of marketing at Prezi. After treading across NC State’s “Brickyard” plaza and down MIT’s infinite corridor, Drew cut his entrepreneurial teeth within game-changing companies such as SAS and Silicon Graphics. Hooked on disruptive innovation, Drew co-founded Pie Digital in 2005 to make home networking easy as Pie! At Prezi, Drew returns to his SGI-spawned passion to change the world through visualization.

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