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Founder-led marketing: what is it and how can you apply it?

Founder-led marketing has been the backbone to the growth of many successful businesses, from Electric Car Company - Tesla to American Underwear Company - Spanx. But what exactly is it, how can you apply it and what are the pros and cons for your business? We spoke to Richard Scutt - Head of Incubation at STEAMhouse to get his thoughts.

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Founder-led marketing: what is it and how can you apply it?

Founder-led marketing has been the backbone to the growth of many successful businesses, from Electric Car Company - Tesla to American Underwear Company - Spanx. But what exactly is it, how can you apply it and what are the pros and cons for your business? We spoke to Richard Scutt - Head of Incubation at STEAMhouse to get his thoughts.

What is Founder-led Marketing?

So what is it? “Founder-led marketing is when the founder of a company takes a hands-on approach to developing the business’ marketing efforts.” according to Richard Scutt, Head of Incubation at STEAMhouse.

“This differs from traditional marketing, where marketing is often managed by a dedicated team or supported by an outside party.”

Founder-led marketing approaches tend to focus on the founder’s unique personality representing the brand. Whereas traditional approaches tend to be more formulaic and based on mass-market appeal, founder-led approaches tend to showcase the founder’s unique perspective and passion.

Applying Founder-led Marketing

When applying founder-led marketing across all channels, remember there are rules.

“The main rule is to make the content personalised and vision focused.” says Richard.

“On social media this can often mean leading with the founder’s personal channels – sharing personal stories and insights, showcasing the founder’s vision and values and developing a brand by engaging with followers regularly.”

Gary Vaynerchuk – CEO of VaynerMedia and Richard Branson – founder of Virgin are well-known examples of this – regularly using video on their social channels to share announcements or record wisdom they’re sharing to their followers.

“Events and exhibitions can be a great opportunity to apply founder-led marketing as your potential customers can get up close with the face of the brand – asking questions or hearing from the founder through roundtables or speeches. It can also offer a great opportunity to take recordings of that content to use across your digital social media platforms.”

Being known for your own personality means you can make greater use of that when connecting with other individuals through influencer partnerships.

If you ever establish new relationships with other businesses or partners you can make use of your founder-led marketing to leverage this – whether through photos in press releases, videos or other marketing material. There’s greater opportunity for when you both collaborate with your expertise.

The Benefits of Founder-Led Marketing

Founder-led approaches across sales and marketing, have been credited with being more open to growth and generally more innovative. According to a Harvard Business School report, S&P 500 companies where the founder is still CEO and engaged in business functions, were generally more innovative, generated 31% more patents, create more valuable patents and more likely to make bold investments to renew and adapt.

Founder-led marketing approaches are also more likely to drive greater brand trust and engagement due to their authenticity and focus on personality. Sproutsocial’s 2022 report on brand authenticity stated that 40% of social media audiences were more likely to trust a brand that aligned with personal values.

Melanie Perkins, Co-Founder and CEO of Canva – the online design platform and one of Australia’s fastest growing start-ups uses this to great effect when telling her brand story and sharing her teaching practices. She regularly appears across the content marketing the company delivers.

The Pitfalls of Founder-led Marketing

The initial challenge with founder-led marketing is that it can rely heavily on personality and fame to develop your brand exposure so initially may be slower path to growth than a standard brand – even if in the long-run it can add to greater long-term growth.

You also risk the your own reputation being linked to that of your brand, which can help but also hinder your brand, particularly when mistakes are made. Elon Musk’s social media presence is a prime example of this, where his actions shared on social media can have profound impact on his companies’ share prices.

Should you invest in this approach?

“Adopting a founder-led marketing approach, is truly dependant on the personality and character you want to give to your brand.” says Richard. “Regardless of the approach you take, any type of marketing comes with its challenges and opportunities. Along as you plan and devote enough time and resource to marketing and understanding your audience you can have success in a variety of ways.”

There you have it. However if you do decide to dive into founder-led marketing, make sure you’re aware of all the positives and negatives it brings.

Interested in launching marketing in your business? Find out how a business incubator can support you.

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