Why building in public could be your best growth strategy

Sebastian Gierlinger, VP of Engineering at enterprise CMS Storyblok, discusses the benefits of constant customer engagement.

Tough economic conditions generally lead to everyone tightening their belts. This is just as true for established businesses as it is for those at the start of their entrepreneurial journey. Oftentimes communications budgets are the first to be cut. However, without marketing it’s very hard to generate meaningful sales growth. So how can you make these efficiencies without seriously damaging your growth potential? One avenue is through the concept of ‘building in public’. The idea is to use the development of a product or your business in general as the ‘story’ and, therefore, content that fuels your marketing campaigns. While it won’t fully replace a traditional marketing strategy it is a very cost-efficient way for many businesses to keep their customers engaged.

Getting started really depends on what stage your business is at. For brand new startups that are creating their first product for market the story essentially writes itself. Everything from founding the business, making new hires, coding the first iteration of your platform or app, engaging with investors and so forth can be part of the narrative. More mature companies may look at the development of a new aspect of their business, whether that’s an expansion to a new market, creation of a new offering or their journey pivoting or cutting costs could be the starting point.

No matter where your business is at, there are some universal truths about how you should approach executing the campaign:

First, understand that ‘building in public’ does not necessarily mean sharing everything. However, it does mean being genuine and more open than other traditional marketing campaigns. You do not have to share your financials or intellectual property but you do have to be comfortable potentially showing your failures, what you don’t know, and interacting candidly with your audience. The best public builds show the business, developer or founders encountering and solving problems.

Next, determine the best channels that you can engage with your intended audience. A general rule of marketing is that it is better to do a few channels well rather than do every channel poorly.

The channel you choose will also dictate the type of content you will need to produce. Creating and editing videos for TikTok may take a lot longer than a blog post for LinkedIn. You need to think carefully about what type of content you can sustainably produce and which medium will best tell your story. You are unlikely to get an audience overnight but you can help to get the ball rolling by targeting your existing business network and customer base.

A crucial element of this type of campaign is the engagement. By this I mean having an open dialogue with your audience. Not only does this help to make the campaign feel more genuine and interactive, it can also provide an invaluable source of intelligence that can inform your product or business development. Responses to messages or comments from your audience should be thoughtful. You want people to feel you are taking on board what they say and they are a part of your journey. Avoid stock responses and, if possible, address any negative messages you receive. 

It may seem counterintuitive but you don’t necessarily want this campaign to be too ‘polished’. High production values and slick marketing messages detract from authenticity. If your audience feels that the exercise of ‘building in public’ is little more than a marketing stunt it will be ineffective. To that end, you may want to consider who ‘fronts’ and manages the campaign. For businesses just starting out the founder(s) should be front and centre. Having a marketing or social media manager as the spokesperson can create a barrier between your audience making everything feel more managed and less personal. If you really do need to have a comms professional as the main point of contact with your audience you should empower them to be more candid and less formal than they may normally be.

Remember, this is often a great opportunity for your audience to learn about everything surrounding the development process - from scoping the initial build through to your first sale. Taking the position that your audience wants to learn will help you to decide what to share and stop you from falling into the trap of simply promoting what you are doing. You are after all there to actually build something. This will always be your priority and the marketing around it should not distract from that goal.

Finally, the idea of building in public can seem daunting to many business leaders because it can feel like you’re putting yourself, rather than your business on show. It may seem like a job only fit for extroverts. That’s far from the truth. People don’t want to see a performance, they want to see a journey that they can learn from and support. If you execute a successful campaign you won’t just have customers, you’ll have fans.