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Sara Bean Duncan: Exploring the Intersection of Marketing and IP

by Patents Integrated
April 8th 2021
While IP and marketing might seem like opposite sides of most startups' back-offices, they are actually more closely related than many founders think. Typically, intellectual property c... More
Hello and welcome to the novel and non obvious podcast where we discuss the intellectual property topics impacting the startup world. My name is Yoriko mori to the host of this podcast and founder of patents integrated today we welcome Sarah Bean Duncan, founder of On the Bit Strategy, We'll be discussing I. P. Issues related to digital and traditional marketing for startup companies. Welcome Sarah, thank you. Thanks for having me. I'm very welcome. So one of the things that I didn't want to ask you right from the start is the name on the Bit Strategy. Where does that come from? That's definitely a question I get a lot. I I originally had the same issue. I think a lot of founders have was trying to find names. I played with my last names, I played with a lot of things and then realized that part of my background and hobbies is in the equestrian and horse sport world. And so being on the bed is a term that's used a lot in equestrians pick your sport like from western to english to probably even endurance and it's really misunderstood.

There's ways to force a horse to be on the bit that is um you can use all sorts of gimmicks. You can lose a lot of pressure and you can get a horse to look really nice and be technically on the bed, but it's forced, it's going to damage you. It's going to damage a horse in the long term, but really putting in the work to make a horse truly be free flowing, free moving and on the Bit takes a lot of skill and expertise in hours and that really connected with what I like doing with marketing and my approach to marketing, There's a lot of quick fixes out there. There are a lot of people that will pepper your inbox with. This is how we can quickly fix this is how we can force this to make it happen. But all of those kind of solutions usually lead to a quick win in 30 to 60 days but really damage either a brand, a product launch or a company in the long term. So being on the bid and talking about how that's something that is very much a goal of a lot of writers, it's a goal of a lot of equestrians and competitors, but it's something that he forced it, it's not going to turn out as well as if you put the time and work in your fundamentals and foundations to get there.

And so the name is something that I was having a conversation with my best friend who's also my horse trainer and we kept coming back to that idea and that's exactly what I do at marketing is really focusing on, how do we make it. So it's something that is replicate Herbal. That is, it feels good, that doesn't feel uncomfortable for founders and for companies and something that's going to positively contribute to the growth of the company overall, not just deliver some quick flash in the pan win and leave. So that's where the name comes from. That's really cool. So that, that really comes back to your background and your passion. So you've kind of married the two together with your marketing background and your equestrian passions and so the name says a lot. So that's great. You know, naming a company is definitely something that can be fraught with a lot of pitfalls in that, you know, picking that name can be really hard. What are the different ways that you work with your clients?

That's part of it? I have, I work with some clients to even talk about naming and we talked about just like a lot of the different fundamentals that go into picking a good name or picking something that is remarkable and memorable but not so wild that no one can ever spell it. I have one client that I worked with, its name is a misspelling of a common word, which I do not recommend, but with clients like I always come in in a moment of either worry, stress or panic. And part of that comes back to before working on marketing, I worked in political campaigns and so coming into organizations in a moment of stress feels really natural to me. So I came in when either our company has said, we know we should be doing more, but we have no idea what to do or especially for solo founders, I can't do this all myself or we've been doing things for a while, we don't know how to measure them and we know we need to grow, but this is a limiting factor and so by coming in at that stage of either crisis or even just worry, I'm able to work with companies to develop strategies and marketing plans that help them reach and connect back to goals in their business plan and other strategic goals or come in and just provide extra tactical and resource support.

Um I I work with a very small team that's based all around the country and we bring sometimes we just need to bring in tactical support of this is, you know, this is something that's working, but a founder needs to focus on raising around or dealing with expansion rather than what kind of contents going up on linkedin or instagram. And I really like working this way because it lets me see more than, you know, similar to the what's behind the name. I don't just like coming in and fixing a problem with a lot of duct tape and then heading out, I'd rather work with clients to help them create something that eventually can be scaled into a full time in house team or something that can be scaled in such a way that they can see their marketing efforts pay off, not just from a dollar side, but from a hour spent because I feel like there are very few startups out there that truly have unlimited staff budget and unlimited time. So I work very closely with all of my clients and just have a pleasure to get to do a variety of things and a variety of industries every day.

So then as far as your work with all of these little startup companies that are in crisis or stress, have you had instances where intellectual property comes into play? I've noticed from both the product side and also more service based companies will use one of the product ones as an example in the apparel industry, especially there's a fine line between things that are very on trend and have a certain look because that's what's trendy that season or previous seasons and designs that truly are, are knockoffs. And with one of the companies that I work with, they had a product launch where they're really excited. They were doing something that to them felt very on trend and just felt like, oh yeah, everyone's selling this kind of shirt this year. But as soon as they launched it, they got a tremendous amount of blowback online from people saying, oh, this is just a knockoff on this other companies product. And to me it was fascinating is I always approached this from the marketing side.

It's like, well is it like what's public perception is that something we can weather? But for them, they had to go back to their internal team and say like, hey, it's, did we mess up, was there a specific feature that could actually be legally protected? And also from the naming side that was something else that comes up a lot of the, is our name similar enough to a competitor or is it so similar that as a smaller company grows the larger competitor on there, well heeled legal team is going to be coming in and saying no, you can't actually call it that. The other thing that I see a lot is around digital images and digital collateral, especially on social media where every industry is a little bit different in terms of how they treat permissions with user generated content while there's definitely best practices out there to, you know, ask permission first and to do things like that, there are some industries where there's not really that workflow and so sometimes faced with photographers saying, hey, I know you shared this image on your social from, you know, this random person who reposted my photo, but that's actually my professional photo and you need to pay it or take it down.

I would say a lot of the issues that I hope with are much more in the day to day and much more reactive than proactively trying to protect something. Okay, so then in those reactive situations, what do you advise your clients to do? Well the first thing is to take a really big deep breath. One of the biggest footballs I've seen with a lot of companies that I work with is that because we're so emotionally invested in these products, these ideas and these startups that it's really easy in these situations to immediately feel personally attacked. So the first thing I advise is like, don't get in the comments and start fighting. Don't start um you know, a big online campaign about why this company stole your idea or something like that. But instead to really do, I always say like a two part test, the first is do you have the resources to hire the appropriate legal help to get this even if it's, you know, a friend of yours that's a a lawyer that's not even a specialist that can have that first conversation with you. And the second part is, is fighting something like this mission critical.

Um, so using the online images example I had a client I worked with who had a website that had been developed before I started working with them on their strategic plan and we got what looks like the general spam emails that come very often on these websites of you stole my image, You need to take it down or something. Something I'm going to do something bad to you. But then we actually got a real one from someone saying that's the professional image I took at this event. You need to take it down. Like you can't even pass for it anymore. You need to take it down like you're using it without permission and that client got very frustrated like well we'll be using this and we love this image like is it mission critical to have this exact image on the front page of your site, Is that worth fighting and finding legal fees and really making this photographer in your industry super angry at you and potentially taking legal action and if the answer that is no, which thankfully for them it wasn't they? But cooler heads prevail, that's the other part of it is that it's if it was someone going after a product that they had patented a specific feature of, that's one thing.

But I always tell clients that do you have the resources to fight it and to get the right advice because I tell the boston, I have lots of opinions but I am very much not a lawyer and have no legal background and is it something that is mission critical to organization? Is it something that if you didn't just make okay and take an image down, change design, change the way your positioning and image. Is that something that is going to cause irreparable harm to your business? And so those are the two ways that I really tell companies to approach it because that usually takes, allows them to take a step back and go from the immediate anger and frustration and feeling attacked by this kind of situation and instead really look at it from much more of a logical and business standpoint. Yes, it seems like you're looking at these things as really crisis management is kind of what you're, what you're talking about here in the example that you gave with your apparel client when they were thinking about, well, how do we protect our product and how do we protect our look and feel?

What sort of solutions did you provide for them in that discussion for them? That was a tricky situation because they actually had patents on the items that they're noticing. A much more well funded competitor was knocking them off essentially. Like they saw them. They're like, oh, this is this great, you know, upstart in the market. We're just gonna knock off the thing that makes them special. And so for them, the first thing was to really go back to like their patent attorney, like you need to talk to a lawyer, you need to talk to them about like what legal recourses are here and then from a marketing side there, rightfully after spending many, many years in research and development on this unique feature. Pretty frustrated and angry. So it's like we can't, that's not our marketing message. Our marketing message isn't, I'm so mad at them. Let's fight against them and you know, by my project instead. So what we did is we actually, um, we did a series of videos, we changed our website content and based on influencers, we used ad just like general reviewers really pushed out the message of, hey, we really want to know how this one feature, how you like it.

And we were able to really use that messaging and say this is why this feature is so unique to us. So we never had to say it's unique to us and that's why these people are copying it. We turned it into a major selling feature across all of our content, all of our properties to really highlight it. So then we actually had a couple, a couple of customers comment on our competitors post and like not prompted by us because this is not our style, say, hey, this looks just like our product, this looks just like this, or I've seen this before, which to me is a nice marketing win because it puts that company on their heels to say, well, okay, how did you come up with this? Because we have a whole founder story of how we came up with it. Did you guys go into R and D and with one of our products and that's one of my fundamentals, is that if it is something that makes you special, if it is something that you have some brand loyalty around, like really promoting that and pushing that is going to pay better dividends, then starting to really lead with that, this is so popular that we're getting knocked off kind of message, I love that.

And so you've kind of turned possibly a bad situation into an exercise and actually building your brand equity. So I think that's great. Um we've talked a lot about how you come in and fix problems for your clients. So let's think about it the other way. So for those in the audience that are starting their own companies that are just getting started, if you could do everything right, if you could advise these startup clients just right up front before they get into trouble, what are some things that you would advise these startup clients as they are starting to build brand equity, their name, their product, you know, their market niche, that sort of things from your perspective, what's some advice that you would give a startup client that's just getting started. First of all, how much time do you have? But I think from a really over our tv is the first is to uh, I mean there's, there is a reason that start with why that like Simon says next video has been use like everywhere.

There's a reason there's a whole empire around that your start with, why is not just about your product. It's also about why you are building your company and why you are launching this idea into the marketplace. One of the biggest things I've seen from startups is they have a really cool idea. The, you know, late night, someone should really build a company around this type idea. They have a couple of friends that tell them, oh my gosh, you should do this. And then they just dive in and in the midst of diving in, they haven't stepped back and said, why am I uniquely qualified to solve this particular problem and why am I the one that's going to bring this to market? And that doesn't have to come from a, you know, I don't want to say like oh it's like an egotistical thing of like I want to be the best and I'm the best person to bring that. Like that's something that is actually true. I have a lot of plants too. The reason that they started their company is like they fundamentally believe that they are best suited to solve this problem and that's what they run with. And so really knowing the why of why you're building a company.

I mean even if your reason is I think I can make a lot of money with this idea and I have the resources to be able to fund it and move forward. That's one of the things that's key because how I've seen that impact a company later on is two and three years down the road. They brought in someone like me to talk about brand building or talk about news reject large and when I asked them things like, well we need to tell the story of your company and story of your product. So why did you create this? And there's this really awkward silence and it's really uncomfortable because they don't have a, oh I don't have this and especially as you look with product based marketing where so many things have stories now, they have a, not only just a use case, but this is why we do this, this is why we brought this in and so not having a clear grasp of why you're starting your company and why you're bringing this idea to market is something that can really hurt later on. And I'm not saying that your first step as a company needs to be doing a whole brand audit and brand discovery experience, but just having at least some grasp of why you're working on this idea, why you think it's important to your target market, Why is it important to you?

Is something that's going to help prove to be the foundations And it will also help you when you started to get the full like launching commit stage two decide well is this a potential partnership opportunity that fits Ry, is this a event That makes sense? Is this a marketing tool that I want to purchase because I think it's actually going to move our company's goals and Ry forward rather than something that was cool that I got sold on at an event. So really having that clear understanding of the why of your company and the why of the products you're bringing in can help become a almost like a smell test of everything else that you're working on because if it doesn't pass the why it's not something that you should be engaging in, especially in the early stages. That's great. So really the fundamental core why you want to build this business in the first place comes into everything from marketing strategy and product strategy and all of that. So that's great. So then assuming a startup company comes to you and has that, why has that compelling story?

What are things that you would advise them to do in order to de risk their business so that they don't get into some of the situations that you mentioned earlier where they get a cease and desist or you know that sort of things. What are some things that you would recommend? The first is I as much as I make jokes about the number of attorneys in my family, um having someone, even if it is a friend who does a sliding scale building for you, having legal help at least a phone call away is really important. I've seen a lot of companies come in and the risk they take on is because they get their first legal nasty gram for lack of a better word and freak out. Like all of us would and then react to it in a way that is going to harm their business or a way that just shows that that was a really, that was just something of intimidation by a competitor by a former vendor, things like that. And then the next thing I would say in terms of de risking is to have a really good policy in place to I call them like don't create any unforced errors and that's how I am with a lot of especially digital material is yes, could you grab a photo from a website and put it on your own and probably be okay.

Even with reverse image search probably my advice would never be to do that. My advice is that's something that is an unforced error that's going to come and haunt you later on. You know buying a stock photo subscription or even just using pixels or a free search for free, you know likened splashed that kind of work in the beginning when you're throwing that first website together. That is a contact us page and a big image. Those are some things from your digital presence that can really help so that later on people don't find things to pick on. Also with social content having a policy in place from day one that is we are going to proactively reach out to users and say can we use this, we're going to practically reach out to the photographers that are going to be at an event that we're sponsoring or co hosting and ask them for permission first those are some of the things that can really help strengthen where you're at online from your present side because those are super low hanging fruits from someone wanting to be a jerk on the internet. And then the other part two is from a physical product development side.

Do your research not sit like there's no truly unique good ideas left because I if I didn't believe that those kind of ideas are still out there. I wouldn't be marketing to startups but do some research if you're like, oh, this is a really cool thing and I have a physical product that reminds me of what I'm trying to create. Look what else in the market. Look at your competitors by your competitors. Products, go to a physical store and feel them and see them and take some ownership of the fact that if you're going to go out there and make really bold claims that this is the first time something has ever been done, know your audience an example I like to use there is that there was a larger apparel company that, so this is the first time we've had stretchy material in the side panels of this shirt and three small businesses that have been doing some sort of stretch for years just absolutely dragged them and then they looked bad because it looked like they were knocking off small businesses and it looked bad because they weren't actually first. So making sure you do the research, making sure you've checked any sort of digital, you know whether it's images, whether that's a user generated contact, whether that's a cool pattern that you saw on Etsy that then inspired something else that you worked on by having that kind of research that you've done about what came into building your product can really help the risk and help help you be in a stronger position.

So when someone does come up and say, well you've knocked off my idea, your first gut reaction isn't my world is ending. Its okay. I'm gonna call this lawyer friend of mine and ask what this means and see if I need a referral to someone that specializes in actual Pat Moss or is this something that, oh I know this person also created this similar kind of product because I've researched them. Here's how ours is different. So doing that research and also means having at least a lawyer friend that you can call to say do I need that hire someone else. Those are ways that can again like make it. So if you're in that moment of crisis of someone's coming after my business, you've already created what the next three steps are after those types of incidents occur. So you don't have to feel like this came out of nowhere and dropped out of the sky and now you have no idea how to handle it in working with my clients to, so they're a little bit and a different business area. But with a lot of them, it's not paying somebody a lot of money to create an I.

P. Strategy that's really important with your clients. It sounds like really it's just understanding that yes this can be a legal issue. So having that lawyer in your back pocket or just having that resource in your back pocket as well as acting with integrity and not ripping off other people and you know doing your best to do the proper attribution and making sure that when you do make claims that you can back up what you say. So I'm sure that comes in a lot with things that you say in marketing as well as doing that research. You know, and that also goes back to what you were saying earlier about the why. So then if you know the why of why you're starting this business then you should have done some kind of research to say why the solution doesn't exist and why am I the right person to bring it to market, You know, those sorts of things. So I think it all comes together.

That's great. Um Any final pieces of advice that you might give a startup company that's just getting started with marketing. I think the last piece of advice in terms of that is that marketing is something that unfortunately really easy to spend a lot of money on and also something that feels like it has to happen first. But I would caution any company just starting up that If the first thing you're buying is a $10,000 a month contract with an agency that that might be something to pause on because the best marketers in the world still can't sell a product that doesn't have a supply chain figured out and doesn't have resources. You could have a really wonderful pr campaign and get on good morning America and not have the resources to be able to fill orders because you've never actually set that part of your website up. So focusing on the fundamentals of how a product, especially for product marketing, how a product goes from your brain into the hands of a customer is something that's really important.

And taking a step back to say, am I spending on marketing first because I have the resources for it or am I spending on it first? Because I watched a couple too many youtube videos of people saying that if you don't do this, you're, your company is going to die or something like that. So just taking a step back and making sure that your emotions and your desire to look like everyone else's work isn't harming your business or costing you enough money that you, you know, for example, it's like can't pay a lawyer when you get your first, your first season is this letter. So, um, I'm I always advise that kind of caution and ability to take a moment back and again go back to the why you're doing something, the business fundamentals always so important. Cool. So to wrap up, I just want to bring this back to your company. What is the one thing that you could use right now to take your company to the next level? Oh gosh, that's a um that's a hard question mostly because I was incredibly fortunate that when I decided to move from being someone did white label work and a freelancer into becoming our own agency, I've been able to work on a referral model for all the work we've done, but I will say my own online presence is significantly worse than I'd say all of my clients.

So I think probably the since, unfortunately unless you are truly magical, adding an extra day each week to just work on my own business will probably be the most helpful thing to take it to the next level. But really for me it's, it's opportunities like this, it's being able to talk about my favorite thing I think in the whole world, which is what I do and getting talking through solutions and marketing problems. Um that's my bread and butter and so any other opportunities like this, I'm always happy to be a phone call or a podcast microphone or hopefully at some point a cup of coffee away from, from really talking to anyone in any stage of they're startup journey to say, hey, I just need to talk to someone who's been there before and someone who can tell me if this makes sense for now. So um I think that's my roundabout way of saying just more people and conversations and opportunity to do what I love to do. It sounds like you've been listening to your own advice about the why. So that's strong for you. So today we've been talking with Sarah Bean Duncan, founder of On the Bit Strategy, thank you for being such a wonderful guest.

Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. You're very welcome. We hope you enjoyed this episode of the novel and non obvious podcast. Feel free to send us comments or suggestions for startup in I. P. Related topics you'd like us to discuss on this podcast. At info at patents integrated dot com. Our producer is Joel Davis of analog digital. Our marketing specialist is tim Sprinkle of Layup content. Our theme music is Workday Takada from a Life in a Day. Used with permission composed by sherry slider and performed by Michelle Stanley and flute, Jeff le Quattro Indycar and yours truly on cello. The novel and non obvious podcast is a production of penance integrated and all rights are reserved and here's our obligatory disclaimer. The content of this podcast is informational only and is not intended to be legal advice. We'll see you next time. Mm hmm

Sara Bean Duncan: Exploring the Intersection of Marketing and IP
Sara Bean Duncan: Exploring the Intersection of Marketing and IP
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