The Great Conflate: Why VCs Need to Market Themselves Just Like Other Great Brands (Or Better)
Published by Jon Samsel on 2012-03-28
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by Heardable co-founder, Gunther Sonnenfeld
Just this past Monday, we released a report on The Top 50 Leading Brands in Venture Capital. The report was a expansive look at how venture firms and other institutional investors fare in a marketplace dominated by voices that manage big digital footprints, and those who share content -- ideas, opinions, thought leadership -- as a form of business currency. The report basically points out what should be obvious: To be a competitive business today, you need to think, act and express your intentions like any great brand.
The impetus for the report was simple; we chose a category that most don't think requires a substantial digital footprint, let alone a marketing presence. We wanted to show the value of having a footprint, and how that footprint could be leveraged to reveal critical insights and competitive intelligence.
Here is an abbreviated ranked list of the Top 20 VC Brands (1000 possible)
1. Fred Wilson - 627
2. Andreessen Horowitz - 611
3. Venrock Associates - 603
4. Intel Capital - 602
5. Mayfield Fund - 592
6. OpenView Venture Partners - 591
7. Scottish Equity Partners - 583
8. DCM - 573
9. Benchmark Capital - 568
10. Sequoia Capital - 561
11. BFTP - 5603.32%
12. Trinity Ventures - 558
13. True Ventures - 537
14. Greycroft Partners - 536
15. Polaris Venture Partners - 534
16. Index Ventures 532
17. Lightspeed Venture Partners - 528
18. Betaworks - 520
19. Village Ventures - 518
20. JMI Equity - 516
Further, we wanted venture firms to understand the importance of investing in companies that could compete in their own categories; in other words, we wanted to give them purview into a tool that could help them manage their own portfolios.
The larger takeaway is this: Having competitive intelligence, and building strong content around that intelligence, leads to better business decisions, stronger relationships, and more importantly, more deal flow.
Think about it. There are any number of entrepreneurs out there with great ideas, who never get the chance to have those great ideas funded, let alone get in front of the right investors. There are a limited amount of venture firms in the market (we only listed the top 50; there are probably less than 300 in North America, and less than 700 globally), which means that unless you are an entrepreneur connected to the venture "inner circle" (or someone already with a track record), chances are your great idea will never see the light of day.
Conversely, if you are a venture partner, an incubator, an accelerator or a director of a company venture arm, you've probably seen just about every hot deal that's been exposed to the inner circle, and chances are you either can't beat out the bandwagon, or quite simply, you might have an appetite for a different idea, but don't know where it is or how to find it.
Enter digital and social media. And an opportunity in which sharing content and branding the business play such a vital role.
Think about what Fred Wilson does: He listens, he shares, he investigates, he challenges and he leads. He generates a ton of influential content. He speaks about his investments, and discusses important shifts in the marketplace. He even sits down with his competitors to cultivate insights you can't read about in the trades or hear about in the hallways of conferences. And yes, he does this via a plethora of online assets -- including engaging websites, immersive mobile applications, as well as editorials and commentaries that keep social media followers interested and enthused.
And by doing so, it's pretty clear that he also finds the best prospects and funds the some of the most popular ventures. Sure, the Fred Wilson PR machine is constantly doing its thing, but it's also pretty indisputable that Mr. Wilson has a stellar portfolio, at least on paper.
And there is an even bigger prospect looming here, which is the opportunity to use your digital footprint to build the markets of tomorrow.
No, we're not suggesting that everyone up their game to become altruistic (that would be impossible), but we are saying that scarcity economics aren't going to raise the awareness levels around the types of investment we should be making, or how innovation can be enabled at the geolocal level. We all know about the economic realities we face with respect to small business and corporate growth in America and abroad. This is about building and empowering communities of entrepreneurs who can see their ideas to fruition so that we can create real, emerging markets. For the most part, governments and institutional banks unfortunately can no longer do that with us, so the impetus is on us -- the folks in and around the investment communities -- to make it happen. And it starts with each one of us as individual contributors.
Still not buying it? Listen to what a few of the other top 10 VC brands are doing:
"Intel has long pioneered innovative social engagement programs," says Lee Sessions, Managing Director, Intel Capital Portfolio Business Development and Marketing. "At Intel Capital, we utilize events, marketing, press relations, and social media channels in a coordinated manner to tie our business interests with our outreach. Our goal is to publish quality insights and information in a way that attracts interest from new ventures while providing thought leadership within the broader vc community. We see tremendous opportunity in further optimizing the Intel Capital brand online and are continuously working to engage with entrepreneurs all over the world through various channels."
"Strong venture capital brands attract the best entrepreneurs who then build the best companies which creates a virtuous cycle for the venture capital firm and itâs brand," says Sean Marsh, co-founder and general partner of Point Judith Capital. "Today, these defining characteristics are conveyed to the entrepreneurial community through two primary channels: (i) word of mouth reputation in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in which a venture firm primarily participates and (ii) globally to any person who has access to the Internet and lands on the firmâs URL. The care and feeding of a firmâs brand on the Internet has never been more important."
"We are creating something really unique from any other venture capital firm," says Amanda Maksymiw, OpenView Venture Partner's marketing and content strategist. "Our content marketing strategy has positioned OpenView as a thought leader. It wasnât one tool, one piece of content, or one event. Collectively, we have been working to share the best new ideas through our corporate blog, content site, e-newsletter, and social media channels, and that has made the impact."
You can bet the farm -- and your next series of ventures -- on the idea that doing business in the 21st century means embracing a more open, collaborative and informative approach to networking, and a more proactive approach to building an emergent marketplace that can outlast, among many factors, a slumbering global economy.
It begins by creating an active voice, and developing online assets that can amplify all the things you do "in the real world." Funny thing is, the lines between what you do offline and what you do online are becoming more and more indivisible. This is a very good thing. It means that our actions -- business, cultural, philanthropic or otherwise -- can be socialized and spread to the right people, at the right times. It also means that we can educate, inform and support entrepreneur communities in ways we had never thought possible.
So, read our report. Better yet, use our platform on a daily basis. You can monitor the performance of your own portfolio companies, do comparisons between industries, and you can dive deep into the specifics of how a company's digital and social efforts impact the bottom line.
You might not only learn a thing or two about your category, but it might even spark some ideas for how you can grow your business, or how your business is having an impact on your local community. If nothing else, you'll see why so many companies, young and old, struggle in this volatile economic environment -- given that they often don't have the market context to understand what they're doing wrong, or what they could be doing better.
Gunther Sonnenfeld is @goonth on Twitter
Being Heardable, the Heardable Blog, is curated by Heardable co-founder and digital marketing veteran, Jon Samsel. Jon is based in Los Angeles, and Singapore.