Photo of Argentina's Mars-like Red Moon Valley (with Venus and the moon on the right) by Luis Argerich via Creative Commons

Brands Are From Mars, Startups are from Venus (And Why SXSW Is The Perfect Venue For Connecting Them)

Visa’s SVP-global head of digital and marketing transformation Shiv Singh recently told AdAge, “Big brands speak French and the startup community speaks Mandarin. Sometimes, for the sanity of either side, you need translators.”

The acute divide between brands and startups is reminiscent of John Gray’s blockbuster self-help book from the 1990s, “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”, which explained why people have a hard time understanding the opposite sex: they have different needs, desires and behaviors.

What it takes to run a massive, global-scale business is directly opposite of what it takes to run a scrappy, fast-growing startup. They have different needs, objectives and behaviors. And because of those differences, disconnects happen. Let’s take a look at the challenges and why events like SXSW help to bridge some of the gaps.

Top Three Brand-Startup Disconnects

1. TIME: Large companies deliberate over decisions, often requiring gates and layers of review and approvals. They need to thoroughly evaluate a proposal or program, ensure they have stakeholder buy-in — and then get it approved before moving forward.

But time is a startup’s most valuable resource. There’s a Valley axiom: “quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’=great; ‘long maybe’=death.” Waiting months for a deal to be signed can be disastrous for cash flow. Startups need numerous deals in the pipeline to cope with such uncertainty.

2. CORPORATE STRUCTURES/HIERARCHIES: Sometimes, brands hear an amazing pitch and think the startup’s solution is ready to go — that is, until their company’s legal, communications, security or IT department says it won’t work for [fill in the blank] reason.

3. EXPECTATIONS: And sometimes startups over-promise and can’t deliver despite being lean and resourceful. Such situations can set back progress and damn an entire category for a brand for some period of time (think “social isn’t ready”), locking out similar startups from getting a deal for a year or maybe even a “corporate generation.”

Since KITE’s platform and solutions are designed to connect brands and startups for partnerships, we’ve become one of those translators, regularly connecting Mars and Venus to get to great outcomes for both.

Big Company Marketers Are Key

In the process of forging partnerships between brands and startups, we’ve found that marketing departments of large companies, which run hundreds of campaigns every year, are key to driving these connections forward.

First, they have budgets and ongoing needs.

Second, they have methodologies in place for testing and learning their way to outcomes.

Third, if a test outperforms current activities, they usually have the resources to fuel the fire for scaling successes.

Pilot Programs Work Well For Brands and Startups

One of the main ways to connect Mars and Venus is through a pilot program, which allows the startup to get inside the business, and allows the business to test-and-learn in real-time.

We have consistently seen that when a startup exceeds expectations during the pilot, it usually realizes follow-on revenue and a deeper relationship ensues with the brand and its portfolio. That’s exactly what happened when YouTube marketing startup Channel Factory piloted with companies it met at PepsiCo’s Digital Summit in 2014.

So how do we get to a pilot program? The KITE marketplace has tens of millions of dollars in pilot programs available for big brands using its platform. Agencies are helpful at shepherding these pilot programs to fruition. And, very often, the pilot comes through a pitch competition with a set of carefully curated startups, either behind closed doors or in a public venue.

For the same reason a 90-day accelerator has emerged as the ideal unit of time and effort to mentor startups to their next phase of growth and maturity, pilot programs are an ideal unit of value-exchange for big companies to trial solutions from startups. These happen during the course of business throughout the year, but events like SXSW are especially good at driving outcomes.

Why SXSW For Pitch Competitions

SXSW is a great venue for pitch competitions because it attracts hundreds of startups and brands. Marketers spend millions to have a vibrant presence in Austin and discover new technologies. It’s a lean-in environment where apertures for consideration and connection are open.

You need look no further than the volume, scale and resources dedicated by brands at SXSW to find evidence of this pent-up demand.

This year, over 80 startup pitch competitions took place during SXSW, and that number doesn’t include every off-site or private event for brands and startups.

KITE alone was involved in pitch competitions for McDonald’s and Visa, and brought multiple startups to the members-only CMO Club as well as showcased five startups at our pitch competition for brands in the Startup Village.

Outcomes from SXSW 2015 (So Far)

Visa awarded a $30k pilot to YouTube influencer platform Reelio as part of its Everywhere Initiative. Two other brands in the room have told us they want to work with Reelio and possibly some of the other startups that pitched Visa. In one afternoon, McDonald’s selected three startups to pitch executives at their Chicago-area headquarters, an opportunity that could change those startups’ trajectories.

Unilever Foundry’s Jeremy Basset, who judged our SXSW competition, has already followed up with each founder and introduced them to different parts of the organization where pilots can happen. Because of the Foundry, which has institutionalized Unilever’s innovation process, Unilever is far ahead of other marketers and prepared for the future.

Other companies that understand how to connect with startups and were active at SXSW include Anheuser-Busch/InBev, Coca-Cola, Diageo, GE, Heineken, L’Oreal, Miller-Coors, Mondelez, PepsiCo, Pernod Ricard and UnderArmour.

How You Get Involved

Mars and Venus remain separate worlds, and KITE is working hard to bring their orbits and languages in line to achieve even more outcomes. But we can’t do it alone.

If you’re a startup, make it easy for brands and agencies to know more about you and what you offer by claiming your KITE profile: (and follow these helpful hints).

If you’re a brand or agency, start by learning from Unilever’s Go Global experience — in which they found seven partners for seven brands in four months — here. Explore the website of Heineken’s Frontier program. And feel free to contact us directly with your questions.

Startups, sign up for our monthly newsletter offering tips for marketing your startup to brands, and info on paid pilots and other opportunities with brands and agencies. All value, no fluff — we promise. Sign up today to start unlocking revenue!

Photo of Argentina’s Mars-like Red Moon Valley (with Venus and the moon on the right) by Luis Argerich via Creative Commons.

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