Whether you work for a brand new startup or a well-established corporation, one challenging task is to build hype for your business. Regardless of your sector, the market has become increasingly competitive. All the time, companies are flooding Twitter, YouTube, and other channels to try to build enthusiasm for their products.
Yes, the task may be slightly easier for a startup. Startups are young, exciting, and often have a brand new story to tell. They may have exciting origin stories that they can leverage when trying to generate enthusiasm for their product. Older corporations—especially in commoditized businesses—may find it more difficult to get customers excited about an existing or current offering.
This isn’t an excuse to simply give up and place this task at the bottom of your to-do list. Effectively building hype for your business can provide massive benefits—so long as the hype matches (or exceeds) the value that users obtain from your business. It can propel growth and generate positive momentum that you can use to find new customers, gain new media attention, and recruit talented people.
Building Hype: A Vignette
To illustrate the power of hype, I want to share a story from my own life.
Along with my Dubb cofounder Shannon, I live in Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles is known for many things. Quite obviously, it is a beacon of the entertainment industry. It is a place where people travel to achieve “success”—however they define it. It is even known for its outstanding weather.
But that said, one of the iconic symbols of Los Angeles is the Hollywood Sign. Located on Mount Lee in the Santa Monica Mountains, it is one of the most famous (and recognized) symbols in the world.
Simply put, it is a metaphor for ambition and success. It is a symbol for people who courageously leave their world behind to pursue their dreams.
While all of us who live in Los Angeles see the Hollywood Sign, we often don’t make the trek up Mount Lee to see it up close. It is so easy to be consumed with our day-to-day lives that doing something touristy in a city like Los Angeles is often out of the question.
Shannon and I decided to make one exception. We had heard about how cool it is to see the Hollywood sign up closes and to take in the view of the entire city.
As we climbed the hill up to the Hollywood Sign, we started getting excited. We realized that we were traveling to one of the most iconic landmarks that represent success. After arriving, we parked our car and took in the views.
Of course, they were outstanding.
But it made me realize how much of Los Angeles is a starstruck town. There is a significant amount of hype in life. It is all based on public perception. When you actually go and experience something, whether it’s a visiting the Hollywood Sign or even taking a test drive of a new vehicle, you start to realize that hype may exceed your expectations.
At the end of the day, though, life is what you make of it. Simply traveling to the Hollywood Sign isn’t going to make it great. What makes it great is what you do during the experience and how you reflect on the experience.
So yes, hype can get you to act. It can help your business find new customers. But having said that, hype without real substance behind your offering is going to lead to many disappointed customers. And if this happens, it becomes much harder for you to build hype for future products or services, as customers will become increasingly skeptical—even if your product or service is the best in your market.
The Power of Scarcity
With that story in mind, let’s talk about actually building hype for your business. There are some best practices here. But from these general principles, we encourage you to experiment and try new things.
You never know what is going to click with your audience.
That said, one of the best ways to build hype for your business is by leveraging scarcity.
On first thought, you may think that scarcity is actually a negative for your business. Why would you purposely limit the supply of your product? Doesn’t that lead to lower profits and less user growth?
While it may initially be counterintuitive, scarcity prioritizes our choices. It creates an urge to buy because we want to avoid the dreaded FOMO—fear of missing out.
I saw this on my trip up to the Hollywood Sign. As Shannon and I were driving, we noticed that it is fairly difficult to reach the sign itself. Along with this, there were many signs explaining what visitors couldn’t do. These obstacles, barriers, and removed location make it more difficult for vast numbers of tourists to visit. This scarcity—whether artificial or not—increases demand and increases the value for those who are actually able to visit the sign.
We can also see the effectiveness of scarcity in the startup world. One great example of the power of scarcity is Gilt Groupe—particularly in its early days. For those of you who don’t know, Gilt Groupe is a startup that launched in 2007. It was focused on selling women’s clothing and accessories through a “flash sale” model. Every day at a specific time, Gilt Groupe would sell a limited number of luxury designer items at steep discounts. Users rushed to the site once the sale was live, as they understood that if they weren’t quick enough, they wouldn’t be able to purchases from Gilt’s limited supply. Even though Gilt was acquired for less than the amount of capital it raised from investors, Gilt was able to leverage scarcity to drive significant growth in its early history.
So remember: scarcity can generate significant hype for your business—whether you are a small startup or a larger enterprise.
The Dangers of Hype
Generating real, authentic hype about your business can be tremendously exciting. Hype leads to significant attention, whether it is from the press, the media, or even potential investors.
But there is a hidden danger to business hype. I alluded to it earlier in this piece.
That is when businesses pursue hype for the sake of hype. They aren’t as interested in delivering a terrific experience for their customers or clients. Instead, they are focused on continuously generating hype—whether that is to fulfill their own ego or whether it is to cover up defects in their product or service.
There is one classic example of this phenomenon. As Shannon and I were driving down from the Hollywood Sign, we noticed a billboard advertising a new documentary for HBO.
You may have seen it. It is called The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley.
The Inventor tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes, a 19-year-old dropout from Stanford University who founded Theranos, a startup that could allegedly take several drops of your blood and deliver a wide range of blood tests.
The hype around Theranos was significant. Instead of having to go to a lab and undergo an intravenous blood draw, Theranos technicians could simply prick your finger and gather a few drops of blood. The company prided itself on its proprietary technology to accurately deliver these tests—even though some in the medical community questioned whether Theranos’ technology was actually feasible.
Nevertheless, Holmes and Theranos generated a tremendous amount of hype and press attention for this vision of pain-free blood tests. Along with profiles in renowned publications like The New Yorker, the company had many distinguished luminaries on its board, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Oracle founder Larry Ellison.
All of this hype was for naught, however. The company’s technology simply didn’t work. Holmes was charged with “massive fraud” and the company essentially disappeared.
While there are many lessons from the Theranos experience, it is obvious that this is a case of hype gone wrong. The product simply couldn’t match or exceed all of the enthusiasm and expectations of the public.
The bottom line? Make sure that you have substance that you can hype up. Hype in and of itself isn’t enough—no matter how good it may make us feel. Your company must be able to deliver.
Build Hype, Carefully
Building hype for your business is a necessary component of any marketing strategy. You need to get customers and potential customers excited about what you are releasing into the world. Scarcity is one way to build hype, but there are countless other ways. Whether you study how other businesses have successfully built hype or look at your prior successes or failures, it is worth spending time strategizing on how you are going to build hype around your products.
But that said, make sure that you aren’t generating too much hype. The corollary to hype is expectations, and expectations need to be met. Therefore, just keep this in mind as you are building hype for your business.
Ultimately, you are writing a check that you will eventually need to cash.