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Securing $12M Funding for Lily AI with Brand Positioning & Marketing Strategy

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This project is of interest to early-stage startups trying to understand what role marketing plays in the organization. David helps companies clarify their position and collaborates with other freelancers to produce the right visuals
In this case study, you’ll learn how I shaped my client’s brand and created an initial marketing strategy that would increase their visibility to enterprise retailers.
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Flourishing brand personality
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$12M funding round
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Event program around women and immigrant CEOs

Young AI Startup Seeks to Impress Potential Investors & Customers

When I met the client, Lily AI had just started. They had a great product but hadn't figured out how to explain it to anybody. Importantly, they needed to be taken seriously by large companies willing to invest significant time and money in becoming customers.

To do that, they had to clarify what the product could do and identify the market opportunity.

Their existing logo had been created by the CEO in about an hour. There was no strategy for brand attributes, no style guide, or anything needed to build a brand presence.

The ultimate goal was to get Lily AI in front of more customers with a stronger value proposition and the impression that they were a stable and important company.

My work was to explain and visualize their ideas and develop branding on their website.

I understand how to help startups express the right combination of vision and reality. In this case, that expression had to reflect what's on the minds of Lily AI’s retail executive clients. I had been a retail analyst before and had experience in marketing, both as a freelancer and as a full-time CMO.

I oversaw the project and worked with two other freelancers on the company logo and collateral development.


Planning & Executing a Marketing Strategy

Defining the Scope of Need

I came up with several workstreams that involved defining the mission, vision, and positioning.

The point was to understand what the company were trying to achieve and what they had done historically in marketing, including whether they had any marketing collateral. I also wanted to know what unique attributes or assets made them interesting to their audience.

Lily AI had two objectives. One was to raise money for their next round of funding. The other was to be attractive to enterprise customers, who had very high expectations of the product. The goal wasn’t quantifiable in terms of leads, but rather to get the story right when introduced to prospective customers and investors.

I talked to the CEO at length to understand where she wanted to take the company in the next six to twelve months and decide what role marketing would play in getting there.

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Vision, Messaging, & Positioning

When you don’t yet have a product resonating out in the market, it's hard to discuss messaging. But we needed to overcome this hurdle to find a sense of direction when filling in the details of the brand positioning.

Through research with prospective customers and a facilitated workshop with the leadership, we were able to quickly and succinctly define the mission and vision, who the target customer was, and why Lily AI is uniquely able to capture their attention. All the fine-tuning happened via a Google Doc that became a living messaging document.

The output was messaging to customers in sales decks, the revised website, and a tagline that helped capture the company's goal as it related to the customer value proposition: 'Help your consumer see themselves'.

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Defining the Marketing Plan

Next, we determined what outputs were required to get the company visible in the market. For this, we created a marketing plan. The plan was focused on increasing visibility with speaking slots at events, bylines for industry publications, and interviews with reporters, as PR was the most important validator at the time.

We made contact with external industry leaders, kept feeding all our content engines, and gleaned an understanding of all the channels we wanted to use and what they cost to engage with.

We were also determining what we could leverage in PR through personal connections and social channels. I made sure the CEO was engaged with and building her audience via social media.

When planning our content, we took things like blog cadence and speaker opportunity schedules into consideration.

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Brand Identity

We developed a brand identity in the marketing plan to make it consistent and substantial. That brand identity was executed with a graphic design freelancer.

We took into account the CEO’s vision for the company and competitors’ design decisions to formulate a new company logo. It’s always a mistake to assume that a logo will be easy to create or simply doesn’t matter. Brand identity would help customers recognize the company when they are trying to evaluate whether to work with them.

I engaged somebody who was very familiar with the logos for both very large and very small companies in the market and had a clear process of exploring colors, fonts, and designs. He asked all the right questions about what the brand should communicate and accommodated the six-week approvals process with great professionalism.

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Marketing Collateral

We developed collateral material, which included the website, sales pages, and anything that would be used externally, like slides for events. In telling the story, we aimed to balance simplicity and interest to get people excited.

The most important piece of collateral was the sales deck and one-page overview. With a complex product and story, the first meeting is critical. The deck has to be simple and the story clear, otherwise, each page is a sign to the recipient that you are not ready to do business yet.

I did a lot of independent writing and thinking to formulate a strategy that suited the needs of the sales team. I enjoyed collaborating on building the website, since development is something I don’t usually do. In this case, I was involved in everything down to sourcing and selecting photos. The resulting site is streamlined and clearly defines Lily AI’s product offering.

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Activating the Marketing Plan

Finally, the website launched and we began to engage the press, sponsor events, and publish the content we had prepared. As in the early days of any company, there was a lot of trial and error.

The CEO’s story and reasons for creating Lily AI were powerful and she was able to speak on some big panels about what it's like to be a woman and an immigrant CEO.

It was very eye-opening to work with a CEO who was so engaging in getting consensus and didn’t always need to feel like she was right. However, getting her on stage, making her confident, and helping her stick to the party line was crucial.

When a CEO engages in public speaking, anything they say can be taken out of context and misconstrued. She could only say the things she was 100% confident should be said. This can cause tension with reporters, and we had a PR agency to manage this. But it also reinforced my role in carefully handling preparatory meetings for any conversation with the press.

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Funding Round Success & Brand Personality Flourishes

Thankfully, the client got the investment they needed right before the pandemic. In that time frame, they closed a big event series I’d worked on to help position the company for fundraising. They had a successful $12 million round of funding.

There was also significant press output as a result of this marketing initiative. The website we built worked in conjunction with this. Buyers will usually do research before accepting a call from the sales team, and our strong web presence allowed them to gauge their own interest in the company.

My involvement in building the website gave me some personal outcomes, too. I had no technical skills previously but found an effective platform for website building really developed that competency for the future.

Meanwhile, the whole brand personality started to flourish, which fed back into competitive positioning. We established a program around women CEOs and immigrant women CEOs that increased our visibility.

The effort to test and learn wasn’t just important once but is ongoing. Competitors emerge, pandemics happen, and customer insight and interest evolve. The company keeps rising to the essential challenge of saying the right thing to the right person.

I am a freelance CMO. I typically help a company at an early stage with getting the story straight, the messaging right, and the cadence started.