Startup Marketing: Does the Competition Matter?

Startup Marketing: Does the Competition Matter?

I have heard people make the argument that startups shouldn’t think about their competitors. I agree that many spend too much time worrying about how their feature set stacks up against another offering’s feature set. On the other hand, prospects are evaluating your solution against alternatives (which may not be products) and communicating how you are better than those alternatives is a key part of great startup marketing. Simply put – you should care about competitive alternatives if your prospects do. Startups are not Big Companies I very rarely see useful competitive analysis done by startup marketers, mainly because they are trying to do it like big companies do it. The big companies I’ve worked for have had departments dedicated to creating large detailed check mark matrices that showed how our feature set compared to competitive offerings. These matrices almost never included any feedback from customers. Needless to say, the products and their markets were very mature. This approach completely falls apart within the context of a startup. Your competitors, from a customer point of view are almost never so easily defined. For startups, your offering is often competing with “do nothing”, “hire someone to do it”, use spreadsheets/documents/paper, or some other solution that might be completely unsuited to the task but is free/easy/what has always been used. Comparing features of one of these alternatives to your startup’s offering to makes absolutely no sense in this context. A More Customer-Centric Approach In the context of a startup the only competitive analysis that makes sense is the one that is happening in side the heads of your prospects. The more you...

Startup Launch Marketing

I think there is a lot of confusion over what the word “launch” means and what marketing things a startup should be doing when they launch. I don’t believe that demoing at an event like TechCrunch Disrupt is equivalent to a launch. Nor do I believe that a launch ends the moment your product/service is generally available to the public. I’ve done a bunch of launches (5 at startups and 2 new businesses inside a larger company) and I’ve seen a lot of things that worked and didn’t work. In my opinion a launch is a multi-phase event that has distinct phases and there are different things you do at each phase. I was chatting with a startup founder about this last week and sketched this out. Here’s the picture I came up with: Note that every stage is inclusive of the previous stage – you continue to do what you were doing pre-release, after you have released, you just add a set of new tactics. The same happens when you move from release to post-release. Some notes on this: The idea here was to capture the purely marketing tactics that are executed at different phases of a launch. That doesn’t mean that these are the only things marketing is working on. For example, I would expect marketing to be involved in product development and definition (particularly pre-launch), pricing, channel strategy, etc. That said, I’m sure I’m missing tons of thing that should be on this graphic so please add them in the comments. I have some big catch-all categories in the graphic such as “outbound lead generation”, and “retention programs”...

A Startup Marketing Framework (Version 2)

I’ve recently published a new version of this Framework – check out the Startup Marketing Framework V3. Back when I was running my consulting business I published a marketing framework that I used as a tool to explain to startups the types of things that I could help them with.  I thought it would be useful for startup marketing folks as a guide and I think it has been – it continues to be one of the most popular posts on this site. Since then, I’ve gotten a lot of smart feedback on the framework and I’m also back to working inside a company again so I thought it would be interesting to revisit the framework. Assumptions As I explained earlier, this framework doesn’t intend to cover Product Management (the Pragmatic Marketing Framework does a good job of that) but rather the intention was to look at it from a purely marketing point of view.  This Framework makes the assumption that you have a product in market, you feel fairly confident that you have a good fit between your market and your offering and you are ready to invest in lead generation. If you aren’t there yet, there is a lot here that you won’t need to (and more importantly, shouldn’t) worry about yet.   Lastly, my background is more Business to Business marketing so like everything else on this site, this has a B2B slant to it.  That said, I think most of it is very applicable to a B2C startup. Market Knowledge Segments – Based on your interaction with early customers, these are the segments that have the...

How to Establish a Solid Marketing Foundation

My Goodness! A Guest Post!  Today’s post is from Stephanie Tilton, a marketing consultant and one of the amazing bloggers behind the Savvy B2B Marketing blog, one of my favorite blogs for B2B marketing advice.  Enjoy! In their rush to churn out content in support of product launches, many start-ups fail to strategically address their content requirements. As a result, they struggle to nurture prospects throughout a buying process that can extend for many months. Let’s say you produce only a white paper or brochure. What are your prospects supposed to do next? It’s highly unlikely they’re going to call in their order after reading a single piece of information from your company – especially if your product costs thousands of dollars. Your potential customers need many questions answered along the path to purchase and your content needs to provide the right answers at the right time. By adopting best practices around content marketing, you’ll establish a solid foundation for marketing your offering and engaging prospects throughout the buying cycle. Step 1: Understand your prospects’ concerns and preferences. Before you develop any content, conduct research to understand what your ideal customers care about and how they go about making a buying decision. Hopefully you uncovered this while performing the market research that helped shape your offering. If so, you will have found that buyers don’t want to hear about your product at the beginning of the buying cycle. Instead, they want to understand industry trends, options for addressing the challenges they face, and recommended best practices and approaches. Later on they’ll want to know the ins and outs of...

Selling vs. Buying: A Marketing Wake-up Call

Last week I posted a New Marketing Framework which sparked a set of interesting conversations about how marketing is changing.  I believe that marketing needs to shift its focus from selling to helping customers buy and product marketing has a big role to play. The categories of marketing we’ve used traditionally have been very focused on “selling”.  The big 4 marketing groups-Branding, PR, Communications, and Product Marketing, reflect this inside-out, sales-oriented thinking.  Even at startups traditionally “marketing” has meant communications.  PR was outsourced to an agency and product marketing was assigned to product management where it was generally ignored.  Helping customers buy has not been a major focus for marketing. The world has changed a lot, particularly around how customers discover and evaluate products.  The result is a big shift in control of the sales process toward prospects and away from companies. For this reason marketing now has to shift from selling toward helping customers buy.  Here’s what’s changed: We don’t believe advertising (in fact we don’t believe much of anything companies tell us)- There was a time when if a company said they the best at something, we believed it.  But those claims weren’t always true so now we don’t believe what companies tell us anymore. Customers can broadcast to the world – They might be happy, they might be upset but they now have a way to broadcast their stories without going through any media gate-keepers. Prospects can easily communicate with each other – Before, during and after the sales cycle, potential customers can ask each other questions and learn about your offerings and your company in...

A New Marketing Framework

***Please note: I’ve released a new version of this framework: A Startup Marketing Framework V2*** Most product managers and product marketers I know, including myself have studied the Pragmatic Marketing Framework.  I first did over 10 years ago and it continues to be a very useful tool for explaining what product management is all about.  As I’ve been working with companies on product marketing plans however, I’ve wondered what something similar to the Pragmatic Framework would look like from a purely marketing point of view.  I took what I’ve done with companies and what I’ve seen smart product marketers around me doing and constructed a marketing framework that looks like the diagram below.  Also, you lean startup types should note that this is applicable for companies that are beyond product/market fit.  Feedback is appreciated! Segments – Based on your interaction with early customers, these are the segments that have the most affinity for your offering and are the target of your marketing efforts.  These need to be well defined and very specific and includes personas. Market Needs – From your experience with early customers you will be able to articulate the unmet needs in the market related to your segments (and beyond). Key Points of Value – These are the most critical key differentiated points of value that your product offers.  This is not a long list of features but rather small number of key attributes that customers in your segment love about your product. Competitive Alternatives – These are the alternatives ways that customers can attempt to service their needs.  These may be competitive offerings, features or pieces...
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