If you’re a startup based in Vienna or Bratislava, here’s an opportunity to learn more about market positioning from one of Slovakia’s best, Jan Sifra, whose leadership experience with marketing agencies in Eastern Europe, as well as with his own city-bicycle business, makes him a trainer to look forward to meeting. Sifra gave inventures.eu a sneak preview of the themes he’ll raise at the upcoming workshop, “Gearing up for marketing success,” which will take place in Bratislava on 4 November as part of the Twin Entrepreneurs initiative, organised by the Vienna Business Agency. Space is limited, so apply now!
Tell us about your background. How does it relate to the topic you’ll be talking about in the workshop?
After studying marketing and communications at the University of Bratislava, I’ve been working full-time in several different marketing positions and I have become a go-to person for all things digital. In 2007, I started to work for Etarget, which was an advertising network doing business in several Eastern European countries. We had over 5.000 small-business clients whom we helped with marketing and online advertising. I learned a lot about small-business marketing and came to understand the regional differences in marketing strategies for each country. My main focus was on the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, then later we started up our business in Serbia and Croatia, where I helped set up their online-marketing departments.
Around four years ago, I decided to completely disappear from the marketing scene and start my own bicycle business, Modrofúz. At first we started with nothing but a Facebook fan page announcing that a bicycle shop was coming. “Fake it as you make it,” as they say. Eventually, we were eager to export our bicycles, so I started my own agency [Magazine] to handle this. When I realised what kind of a team was required, I knew that it couldn’t be supported by the bike business alone, so we took on additional clients and now the agency business has grown much bigger than the bicycle biz.
According to the workshop description: “target-market-oriented communication is an important core task which can mean the difference between success and failure.” How will you communicate this in your workshop?
I’ve been working for more than 500 small and big businesses and 90% of the time, the core business problem wasn’t the form of marketing they were doing or the logistics, but rather a poor definition of what the company actually does and who is the target. The biggest thing a company can do when trying to reach new markets or a bigger customer base is to look into positioning – how you define yourself as a company. At the beginning of every workshop, I try to define, from as many angles as possible, who is the actual customer for your current products. From that point, we try to figure out if your product is actually good for the person you are trying to reach. I would say that 80% of the cases realise that they either have a bad audience, or a good audience with a poorly defined product.
I usually push my clients to launch several, narrowly focused brands to be targeted at different audiences. For my bicycles, I’m launching two or three different brands. Even if, from a production standpoint, it is pretty much the same black bike, the way I position it is going to determine whether it sells for 300 euros or 1.000 euros.
Will you be talking about pricing strategy in your workshop?
Only if it is the main means for positioning a product, which is much more important to me and is the core of what my workshop will deal with.
A nice example from the 1970’s was the soft-drink brand 7UP. Their marketing managers first thought about how to get a bigger share of the carbonated soft drink market. But when they positioned the product as the ‘Uncola,’ they reached the huge market of thirsty people who didn’t want to drink cola [as opposed to only people who wanted a bubbly soft drink]. With such a simple step, they multiplied their market share five-fold.
What advice will you be giving in your workshop to get the attendees to examine their positioning strategies?
First, I will draw lots of pictures – I’m a very visual person! [Sifra starts diagramming as he continues] One of our clients, a software company, feels they could have much bigger revenues if only they could define themselves in a different way. Their software has various features, each one appeals to a different kind of audience. Is it enough to communicate these two principle features to only a handful of relevant company COOs, or can you take these other features and communicate them to a much different, perhaps even bigger audience?
One easy way to define a niche is through market segmenting – to be the market leader for e-commerce or hotels, for example, but this is risky without having in-depth market research about that segment. Or you can go another route, by isolating a specific function of the software – live analytics for example – and market that across various segments. Within one month, it could be a totally different product – not in terms of features, but rather in how it’s being communicated.
Many of the startups attending your workshop are at the beginning stage of defining their product and market. Will you be pushing this redefining concept to them, as well?
Yes, [the beginning stage] is the best time to be considering this. It’s like playing chess: you have to always think several moves ahead and simulate several scenarios.
When I started my agency, I tried to define us as a digital agency, as a combination digital and offline agency, as a full-service ad agency, as a PR agency… Eventually, I decided to define it as an export agency. That had a huge impact. Suddenly people noticed us because it was something so clearly defined and easy to understand.
I’ll be able to cater the workshop to the specific cases of the participants. I won’t be using general case studies. Hopefully, most of the workshop will be practical, not theoretical.
What up-and-coming CEE startups are, in your opinion, demonstrating excellent marketing practices?
There is a company in Slovakia called Pixel Federation. Their strategy, like many gaming companies, was to develop many different games for many different audiences and hope that one sticks. One of their games [Trainstation] is one of the top-ten played on Facebook. It appeals to people who loved to play with toy trains as kids. By clearly positioning their product they don’t have to invest so much in marketing activities. They can focus on developing the game and keeping in contact with its community, which is spreading like wildfire.
Twin Entrepreneurs is a cross-border initiative aimed at providing practical assistance to startups from the area of Vienna and Bratislava that want to make the second step – sustain their business and expand abroad. The series is organised by the Vienna Business Agency, the European National Agency for Development of Small and Medium Enterprises and the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Slovakia.