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  • Kelli Sue Pettigrew

Collaborate to Innovate - what start ups and marketers can learn from each other

Collaborate to Innovate – what startups and marketers can learn from each other.


I recently attended the D2 Customer 1st Digital Marketing Event in Cincinnati, sponsored by the AAF Cincinnati.

In a panel discussion entitled “Collaborate to Innovate: What Startups and Marketers Can Learn From Each Other, three executives gathered to discuss startups and brand marketers and what we can learn from each other. One of the panelists was a digital strategy executive from Scripps Media (J.B. Kropp), one was a former brand marketer turned entrepreneur (Bob Gilbreath), and one was a start up entrepreneur (Anthony Nicalo).

The premise of the panel was that start-ups are playing an ever increasingly important role in connecting brands todayto consumers in the digital space. While entrepreneurs are building tools to help marketers engage more efficiently and seamlessly with consumers, there is a lot that can be learned on both sides to, ultimately improve communication which

will improve outcomes – not just for the brands but for the end consumer as well.

The take-aways for me from this panel discussion were simple in truth:

  • Be Passionate: Start-ups provide much needed out-of-the-box thinking, passion and conviction. Entrepreneurs need to let their light shine through and harness the power of all that creativity and energy without sacrificing the need for a well thought-out plan. I’ve seen great ideas fail, both from a creative perspective and a deliverable perspective, because the person did not see the need for a true plan.

  • Be Transparent: Know before going in what you want from the brand. And just as important, what do you have to offer the brand?

  • Be Tenacious: Great relationships are not built in a day. They take time to cultivate. Talk to the brands when you have nothing to sell. Be tenacious and consistent in your communications. I recently sat in a meeting with my Executive team and a prospect I had been courting for over a year. The prospect told our leadership that we were there for one simple reason – I had been tenacious. Don’t give up and don’t be one-sided. If your heart is in the right place, people know it.

  • Be a Good Listener. This is the MOST IMPORTANT one! I know so many entrepreneurs who are convinced they have created the better mousetrap----and maybe you have. But if you don’t take time to listen to the audience you will miss the most important part of the dialogue. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

  • Be Honest: If you don’t know something, say so. Don’t pretend that your solution is perfect. Brands are savvy and have savvy marketers that understand consumer behavior and have a ton of research. If a brand asks a question you haven’t considered or don’t know the answer to (or a client too) – then say so. And commit to consider their feedback or find the answer. Honesty is always the best policy and you can thank my grandmother for drilling that into my head!

  • Set Mutual Expectations: Define what you are hoping to get up front. And marketers – you do the same. Don’t lead entrepreneurs on if you aren’t interested.

Innovation and collaboration are wonderful actions. And digital is a wonderful platform for communication and exchange. But we know that for every $1 spent in mobile/e-commerce purchase, consumers still visit retailer’s store locators 63 times which highly suggests they are still using the in-store experience. Use digital as a launching pad for the discussion but don’t forget the other channels as well. There is plenty of opportunity to collaborate with brands to bring digital in-store as well. At the end of the day, we all win, entrepreneurs, brand marketers and consumers alike when we recognize that we are all really consumers and we follow the Golden Rule – treat others how you wish to be treated.

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