Startup Marketing: The 3 Most Common Questions Answered
As a startup you face unique constraints that separate your marketing strategy from that of a standard small business.
Aside from pulling the requisite rabbit out of a hat by building critical mass around your product from nothing, startups often end up competing against virtual giants in whatever space they compete, not the restaurant down the block.
And for the cherry on top? Sometimes you’re defining a completely new market altogether. Not only do you have to get an audience interested in your product, but you also have to teach them what it is first.
While most of us would like to assume that potential buyers will see the same intrinsic value in our products as we do (there’s actually a psychological term for this called the ‘False Consensus Effect’), the tough reality is that it usually takes some convincing.
The ability to grab a toehold in your space and leverage it to grow your wider audience through great marketing is going to be mission-critical in accomplishing that.
As startups, most of us can’t simply rely on a good reputation or existing goodwill, however. That’s why it’s important to know your audience, set a goal and maintain a laser-like focus.
Where do I get started?
This is an interesting one and a little difficult to pin down without a specific use case – no two businesses are alike. That said, there are a few very common factors that are major contributors between all startup businesses.
Build a Brand
Your brand is not your logo. Your brand is how people feel about your logo. Sure having a brand identity (or logo) is key, but there are gobs of organizations out there with perfectly awful logos that do billions of dollars every month. That’s because people know what they stand for.
So, step one is to really dig in and define your values, voice, and vision. It’s why people buy.
This often gets left out of the branding process and it shows with startups in confused messaging and brand entropy.
Define Your Audience
When building your product, it can be incredibly tempting to try to form-fit it around your customer’s most recent requests or passing opportunities in the marketplace.
I’m not going to tell you not to do this because as a startup, we’ve all been guilty of it to some extent. When you’re trying to earn those first customers, you do what you have to.
I will reinforce how important it is to keep your products tightly focused, solve your audience’s challenge, and grow from there… This is going to be critical to developing a usable toe-hold.
One of the biggest mistakes startups make is going after too large of an audience. It takes the average buyer five to six times seeing something before making a purchasing decision.
You can spread your limited resources among six audiences who only see your message twice, or a highly relevant core group who will become your advocate base. Start small and move out from there.
Refine Your Message
Get to the heart of what your product delivers. Just because you built a widget, doesn’t mean you’re selling a widget. You’re selling the capacity of a widget to make your customer’s lives easier, better, funnier, to improve their day in some way.
As a startup, you generally have to do a little explaining around your product. Define your message then cut it in half. Remember that time is today’s most precious resource. What are you really offering?
Once you’ve defined these core components of your marketing strategy there are a number of directions you can go that help to spread that message.
Having a website that clearly defines your value proposition, building a sizzle reel, social ads, email marketing, and inbound are all critical components in a great marketing mix.
The important thing to remember is that none of them will work without having defined your brand, your audience, and your value propositions first.
Should I hire a marketing professional or even go straight to an agency?
In the end, It turns out that the best answer maybe a little of both.
First, let’s pause and talk about the other option – DIY Marketing. And I don’t want to understate this: There are some important aspects of marketing your business that you’re perfectly capable of (and may actually be pretty good at) handling yourself.
In fact, this may be an important part of your early-stage marketing strategy. If this is you, great. I’m not an accountant, but taking a couple of accounting courses may be one of the most important things I did in college and has served me many times throughout my career.
As you begin to scale, it’s vitally important to keep assessing where your time is best spent? Marketing is a big job and a few years of experience can really be a night and day difference for startups.
There’s really nothing comparable to having a well-versed director of marketing, CMO, etc. The reality is that most marketers – even those calling themselves ‘full-stack’ (like me) – will likely have more of a cursory experience in some areas vs deep insights all the way around.
The best marketing managers are adept project managers as well and what you really want someone in this position to be doing is digging into your numbers and making decisions about where to focus your efforts.
Where marketing managers often fall short is where great integrated marketing teams can usually fill in the gaps. That is by providing a range of scalable services that allow your DoM or CMO to manage strategy and to reach out for expertise as needed.
You can often think of partner agencies as marketing mercenaries. They’re generally staffed by experts in their field who can advise and deliver various marketing services at scale without the commitment of hiring in your own full-stack employee or marketing department.
Integrated agencies like 1205 have the added benefit of providing a cross-channel marketing expert who can take the role of project manager and advise on an omnichannel marketing strategy. This helps avoid a duct tape agency relationship wherein you manage three to five independent agencies.
Using this blended model can help deliver the most marketing punch for your limited dollars. As you begin to grow, you’ll likely start filling in the gaps with creative team members, eventually moving to your own full-stack marketing team.
How do I leverage my startup marketing plan to get me to the next phase of growth?
Early-stage startups have the unique challenge of marketing to investors as well as their general audience. You want potential investors to be able to see your vision, as well as your plan for implementing it.
So what are they looking for and how do you attract more of them? Generally, a use case. They want to know that you can scale it. That is, if you can drop $5 into marketing on one side you can get $20 out the other.
The only way to do that is a strong measurement strategy, which means data.
We’ve all heard a lot about data in the last couple of years. And as intimidating a mistress as it can seem, it’s an incredible way to tell a story about the progression of your business and marketing efforts at large.
Understanding your historical data is really the only way to scale with any amount of certainty. Google Analytics is a great and free resource here. Setting up an account is easy and there’s plenty of documentation to get started.
Most marketing professionals will be at least partially versed in analytics. If you’re going it alone, any digital agency can also give you a hand with the basics.
The Role of Advocacy
The most important lesson for startups to understand is that ALL new businesses, no matter the type – are built on advocacy. It’s the great equalizer and evangelism should be built into your startup marketing strategy at every level.
Marketing and advertising are great ways to get the ball rolling, but to build the momentum you’ll need happy customers talking about your products.
No amount of marketing from me or anyone else will make up for the amount of business a happy customer will bring. Focus on building happy customers and marketing your startup business won’t seem like that much of a challenge.