Startups are not corporates: how to make the most of above-the-line marketing

July 20, 2023


min read

At German Media Pool, we’d be the first to defend the benefits of above-the-line marketing for startups on the cusp of scaling.

But there are huge differences between the media requirements of startups and corporates.

Above-the-line marketing can only be successful when startups and their agencies understand what works for them, rather than assuming they should run their campaigns as though they’re Unilever or P&G.

Here are the main differences between startups and corporates that we’ve noticed over the past decade of working with our portfolio companies and media partners.

1. Focus on the number of unique viewers, not GRPs

Corporates measure their media value in GRPs (TRPs in the UK), which is a function of the percentage of the target group reached by a particular ad and the frequency in which the audience views this ad.

GRPs are a tool for established brands to work out to what extent they are reaching their target group compared to their competitors. To tweak out the last reach percentages, most corporates require a full media plan including all possible channels.

But for startups, the absolute number of unique viewers is far more important than a reach percentage. They’re concerned with milestones like reaching their first million impressions and converting enough of these into paying customers. This allows them to work with a more narrow media plan.

2. Seek out higher frequencies

Frequency is the average number of times an ad is seen by a given viewer. Whether run by a corporate or a startup, an ad needs to be viewed several times by the average viewer before there’s any chance of consumers remembering their brand.

Startups need to aim for higher frequencies — in the range of 5 to 8 — than established brands.

That’s because, for startups without a long history of ongoing touchpoints with consumers, advertising is not only a matter of being recalled, but the story behind their brand being understood as it’s being told perhaps for the first time.

3. Experiment to optimise ad context

Some startups assume that the cheapest, peripheral slots — think early afternoon advertising in TV — give them the most bang for their buck because these are overlooked by corporates who prefer to run ads during primetime.

This logic certainly applies to price comparison sites or other businesses who pride themselves on being money-saving tools. But because an ad’s context signals value, this strategy may in fact backfire for those who seek to build trust in areas such as insurance, health or food.

Finding out which context works best can be a case of trial and error. Media-savvy startups continuously monitor the results of their ongoing campaigns to identify the best-performing slots and adjust the media plan in flight accordingly.

4. Be careful with product placements

For every great startup success story built around product placements, there are just as many failures.

Sponsorships and product placements can work well if a startup’s brand is already well-known — as is the case with corporates, who routinely embrace this strategy.

But for startups focused on telling their stories and establishing a brand in the first place, a standard TV, radio or out of home ad format works much better than merely emblazoning brands across caps and shirts or showing them below a TV show’s title.

For all these words of caution, running a media campaign remains as much an art as a science. As our partner JvM START — the leading creative agency for entrepreneurs — likes to point out, powerful creatives remain the best way to stand out regardless of unique viewers, frequencies or context, as long as startups dare to be different.

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