How Should You Market Your Startup? The Definitive Answer

The most common question I get from early-stage startup founders is “How do I market my startup?” Experts are full of answers to this question telling startups that for great marketing all they need to do is social media, inbound marketing, SEO, hire a better sales team, build a better website, build a better product, do better media relations, get more customer advocates, or be more likable/remarkable/authentic. Every day I read a blog post telling startups there’s a simple key to revenue growth and oh by the way that simple key is different from the previous 20 simple keys I just read about. You don’t have the resources to follow all this advice and even if you did not all of it applies to your business. But what if you’re not a marketing expert – how the heck are you supposed to know what pieces DO apply to you? So you call someone like me who’s run marketing at a bunch of startups and you ask me the question “How do I market my startup?” To which I respond – “I don’t know.” Yeah, that sucks. It’s not the answer you want to hear. But it’s the answer you need to hear. The reason I don’t know is not because I’m an idiot (at least not all the time) so stick with me and I’ll explain. Tactics are just Tactics Most of what we talk about in marketing is tactical and there are many folks that are experts in certain tactics. I’ve got some experienced opinions about content, email, inside/outside sales support, strategic relationships, messaging, and some other stuff. If...

6 Elements of a Startup Marketing Plan

I recently wrote an updated version of this post – check out Components of a Startup Marketing Plan Most startup marketing plans are useless static documents. A great startup marketing plan is a dynamic operational blueprint that drives everything marketing is doing. It won’t be a single document but rather a set of documents used to actively manage marketing projects as well as acting as the current record of inputs, assumptions, metrics and results related to the work the marketing team is doing. In my opinion a great startup marketing plan has these key elements 1/ A Detailed Target Customer Description  – the definition of the current target prospects, and a detailed description of their relevant characteristics (i.e. education, habits, goals, or other things that make them special), a list of places they gather (social networks, forums, clubs, events, associations) and anything you know or are assuming about how they make purchase decisions related to offerings like yours (where they go for information, who they ask, who they read/listen to, how they do research). 2/ A Detailed Offering Worksheet – this will describe from the point of view of your target prospects, what the offering is, the market the offering is in, what they key value points of the offering are, and what the competitive alternatives are in the minds of prospects. Again any assumptions here must be highlighted. 3/ A Documented Customer Buying Process – This documents your understanding of the stages a prospect goes through from understanding they have a need for your offering, evaluating offerings, purchase and renewal. For each stage there will be factors that will move...

The Difference Between Good and Bad Marketing

Marketing is such a misunderstood term because it can be defined so many different ways. Marketing can mean branding, PR, lead generation, inbound, advertising, SEO, Product Marketing and a dozen other things. In larger companies all of these functions are done by separate people in separate groups and when you split them all apart it can be easy to forget why the overall marketing plan existed in the first place. For startup marketers, the biggest problem is staying focused on the things that matter and forgetting about the million things you could be working on that don’t matter to the business. What is the difference between good and bad marketing? Good marketing drives revenue. That’s it. It’s as simple as that. You would think this is obvious to everyone, particularly cash-starved startups but I still see marketing plans going completely off the rails where marketers have lost sight of the real prize. Examples? I’ve seen marketing plans with a large amount of budget dedicated to participating in trade shows that have consistently produced few if any opportunities (“…but it will send a bad message if we don’t show up”). I’ve seen teams dedicate large amounts of time and effort into building social media followings without any plan to drive revenue from that (“…our competitors are doing it”). I’ve seen large amounts of money spent on PR that doesn’t reach the company’s target market (“…but all of our friends read TechCrunch”, “…my mom was so proud when I was in the newspaper”). I’ve found that focus on revenue is also a good benchmark to use when hiring marketing folks. When...

Tracking and Adjusting Startup Marketing Assumptions

A good marketing plan is based on deep customer understanding – who they are, how they view solutions and how they buy. That said, I’ve never built a marketing plan that wasn’t based on at least a dozen different things that I didn’t know and simply had to assume were true. Early in my career I didn’t worry too much about those assumptions as long as I had marketing tactics that seemed to be working. Until they stopped working. Then I worried about them a lot. Now I find I spend a lot more time exploring what my key assumptions are up front and then looking at what clues my metrics give me about how those assumptions might be refined or shifted. Here are some examples: Target buyer assumptions – You might have assumptions about who your target buyers are. For example, I’ve built programs aimed at business buyers where we made an assumption that IT would be largely in charge of the purchase and would be the budget holder, while line of business folks were merely influencing the purchase. One of my campaigns – a combination email and inside sales call-out campaign showed that business buyers were increasingly becoming the budget holders and we needed to shift our list building efforts, programs and tactics. At another company we assumed that buyer persona’s in one vertical were similar to those in another. After a couple of fairly unsuccessful campaigns was discovered that smaller companies in the new vertical used completely different job titles and we were often targeting the wrong person in the organization. Messaging/Offering assumptions – You will...
Startup Marketing: A Systems Approach

Startup Marketing: A Systems Approach

I gave a talk last week at The International Startup Festival on startup marketing. I’ve been thinking a lot about how many startups I see that are extremely tactics-oriented in their approach to marketing. My worry with many of them is that rather than starting with an exploration of their target customers (who they are, how they view offerings, how they buy), many marketers are jumping straight into tactics (i.e. choosing to focus heavily on social media or inbound marketing and excluding other potential tactics). It’s not a bad approach per se, particularly if you are measuring results and culling out the bad tactics and doubling down on the good ones. That approach does however lead to a few bigger problems in the longer term. First, the tactics tend to run independently and as a result lack consistency. Secondly assumptions are often not tracked across tactics and when they are, the measured results of the tactics are rarely used to re-asses those assumptions. Thirdly, because tactics were somewhat randomly chosen rather than chosen based on where the friction or best potential accelerators are in the buying cycle, any new tactic suggested is just as good as any other until you test it. Here are the slides Startup Marketing: A Systems Approach View more PowerPoint from April Dunford I had an amazing time at the conference. The speakers were great and I literally lost my voice chatting with startup folks in various tents including the speaker tent, the FounderFeul Mentor tent and the Women in Tech tent. If you didn’t go this year and get a chance to next year,...
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