Y Combinator founder Paul Graham is often cited for his essay “Do Things that Don’t Scale.”
This is rightly a great mantra for the initial growth strategy of any startup. And often what doesn’t scale is found offline.
Yet, if you take a look at any of the thousands of lists of best growth hacks or top marketing tactics, one thing you’ll seldom find on a list is any mention of offline channels.
It makes sense, offline tactics are not as “sexy” as implementing a viral loop that results in a huge explosion of growth like Dropbox.
If you can guarantee 100x return on a digital channel that can easily scale up, then of course it would make sense to pursue it.
But nothing is guaranteed, and you could be missing out on a viable growth opportunity if you don’t take a look at offline channels, especially for B2B startups.
The problem with common growth strategies B2B startups use
It seems that all B2B startups are trying to do one of three things when it comes to levers for growth.
Some try to use content marketing to drive traffic and capture emails to create a triggered email marketing campaign that can help bring people down the funnel and convert into leads.
Others may have a great product they try to leverage in a bottom-up approach with freemium models to drive adoption.
If the LTV is high enough, other startups employ sales teams to do outreach.
Each of these strategies are great and you should try them if it fits your startup’s product and distribution strategy.
But the problem with doing what everyone else is doing, is that you can get lost in the noise. So why not try something different to stand out? Especially when it can lead to big gains.
Fake protesters and spam musubi
Although I don’t think any publicity is good publicity, being creative with publicity stunts can be a great way to get your brand out there.
Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce, is famous for his guerrilla marketing tactics, one of which included fake protesters that resulted in police being called in. There was tremendous PR generated and the famous “No Software” logo was also born.
At Paubox, we’ve pulled off smaller scale stunts. The last one we did was to celebrate our acceptance to 500 startups by distributing 500 spam musubi.
This got us a decent amount of PR, including social media shoutouts from the David Ige, the Governor of Hawaii. But even more than backlinks and branding, the coverage was seen by an investor who was prompted to write a $25,000 check.
At HIMSS 2016 (one of the largest healthcare conferences), Paubox founder/CEO Hoala Greevy dressed up as a politician advocating for the end of email portals. We had a fake camera crew following him around and “interviewed” other attendees to strike up conversation.
Rather than just leaving it as an interaction and photo op, we drove attendees to attend our social mixer. Which brings up the next offline hack.
Offline event hacking
No one likes a party crasher, unless you’re the party crasher.
At HIMSS 2016, we couldn’t afford a booth or sponsorship (though we did pay for badges) to network with potential partners and customers, so we did the next best thing.
We held our own Paubox social mixer in our hotel suite and invited HIMSS attendees to come check it out. Never underestimate the lure of free food, alcohol and door prizes. That was our first try at it and we’ve been improving the mixer along the way, with some exciting changes for the next two we plan on hosting at 500 Startups.
The result of that first mixer was an introduction to a lead that ended up choosing Paubox to secure his hospital’s email which is a huge contract.
But when you’re doing an event, it’s important to be different. Although we started with the basic idea a lot of B2B companies use to network, we’re iterating and taking steps to stand out more.
One key way to stand out is to make sure you know your audience.
A friend of mine runs a commercial furniture business called Infinium Interiors here in Honolulu. The market is small and competitive for business with every dealer trying to network with architects and taking them out to client dinners.
To stand out from the crowd, they decided to host a wine and paint night instead. They knew their customers were creative and gave them a unique experience that no other dealer had provided. The result was a new contract just two weeks later.
Testing offline channels can be a great way to give your brand personality and put faces on your emails.
There’s a reason why networking events have been a driver for B2B companies for years. But you don’t have to be the size of Salesforce to implement them.
Understanding your customer and what interests, events and offline things they enjoy can help you create a unique experience that enhances your brand.
Take advantage of opportunities to generate buzz, whether it’s through publicity stunts or philanthropic gestures in order to maximize your reach.
Growth can come from anywhere, but you’ll never know unless you try.