Everything I needed to know about Entrepreneurship I learned from a Comedy Troupe: Branding

I consider The Callbacks, the comedy group I founded at BU to be my first successful startup.The following posts is a series of lessons I learned while leading them:

Building the Brand (2 of 3)

I’ve never met someone working on a startup that didn’t think their product was innately better than their competitors’, but I’ve often met entrepreneurs having trouble raising awareness and elevating their startup’s brand. When I started The Callbacks we reviewed the strengths and weaknesses of our competitors and decided our values would differentiate us from BU’s other comedy groups. The following are lessons I learned while building that brand:

 

Positioning:

All of the comedy groups at BU had been around for several years and had the brand recognition we lacked. In order to gain traction we decided to differentiate ourselves in every possible way. We created a list of core values including but not limited to: being funny, being hilarious and making people laugh out loud. We tailored our shows to the college audience and constantly sought out new approaches to our shows. We’ve done sketches on famous literary figures, political satires, frat boys, familial relationships- you name it. One time we even decided to recite Shakespeare. Our tagline- “We’re not just sketch, we’re not just improv, we’re just funny!”

Lesson Learned: Differentiate yourself from the competition as early as possible and never stop. We’ve never had a show that was just like the one before it and as long as we are innovative and perform quality material we will be valuable to the customer. It’s important to create a list of core values early on so whenever you’re faced with a tough decision you have guidelines that will maintain your brand.

Selling to a Niche Market

We were competing with groups that had been around for 15+ years. They recycled sketches almost every show from a bank of 10+ years of sketch writing. We didn’t have that luxury and quickly decided we didn’t need it. We knew that BU students were diverse and modern.They didn’t want to see the same sketches over and over again. So we vowed never to recycle sketches in a show and instead to host videos on our youtube channel where they would be immortalized. People responded to it really well and we quickly began to get attention.

Lesson Learned: Niche markets get used to the way things have always been done. If you want to be disruptive, you must have the courage to do something different and innovative enough to keep them interested. People will recognize the unique value your company has and will become attracted to it. Once you’ve created that brand image continue to improve it and never settle.

Building Awareness

In our first four shows we were getting 100+ people which was great for just starting out. However, our competition was used to getting twice that amount. We found it incredibly frustrating that people going to both shows liked ours better yet we weren’t getting the same crowds. So I organized the Boston Funderdome: Boston’s first student sketch comedy competition. I brought in groups from all over the Boston area and challenged our rival group as well. A Tufts’ group ended up winning the competition (deservedly of course), but it did wonders for our credibility and brand awareness on campus.

Lesson Learned: You may have the best product in the market but if people are already familiar with your competitors’ and aren’t aware of yours it doesn’t matter. You should market your product as best you can and never be afraid to try something new. Build your product and then put it alongside your competitors in the eye of the consumer. If you differientiated yourself properly then you’ll reap the rewards. If not then iterate it and try again.

There’s no right answer on the best practice for positioning and marketing. At the end of the day you have to make the tough decisions on what’s best for you, your employees and your company. But never be afraid to be innovative, take risks and make mistakes. As long as you maintain your core values and keep your brand image strong the rest will follow.

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