Avoiding the Number 1 Startup Marketing Mistake

The past 2 days I’ve answered a bunch of marketing questions from entrepreneurs on Sprouter‘s new Answers forum for startups (more on that later).  There were a few themes that emerged but one really came into focus when I got this question: What is the number 1 startup marketing mistake? My answer?  They try to market to everyone. I understand how startups get there.  There is a sort of straightforward logic that says that the more people that are aware of your product, the more will check it out and ultimately pay you for it.  This would work if your product was suitable for everyone (it isn’t) and you had a marketing budget big enough to reach everybody (you don’t).  The trick to effective marketing is focus your efforts on the segments that are the best fit for your product.  Those segments have the strongest need for your product and the best understanding of the value you offer.  By marketing to everyone, you run the risk that the folks that are the most likely to buy from you either never hear about you or when they do, can’t recognize the great fit your product is for them because it appears to be built for “everyone”. Here are 4 reasons you should focus your marketing efforts on specific segments: Targeted Messaging and Offers are Always More Effective – If you are selling t-shirts for fashion conscious 20-something’s you will probably emphasize the styling.  If your business is selling t-shirts to kids sports teams you might emphasize the durability of the shirt or the low cost.  If you are selling t-shirts...

Value not Features – 2 Stories from the Trenches

Product Marketing and Product Management are disciplines where the theory is easily understood but practical execution is really hard.  I asked Tim Johnson, (who frequently leaves smart comments on this blog) to share a couple of his “from the trenches” stories.  What I love about both of these is they illustrate perfectly how shifting the focus from “product features” to “value to the customer” can make a huge difference.   Enjoy! If you are like me, you hate getting into price wars with your competitors – or letting your sales people get into them.  When you have a similar  feature/function set, it’s hard not to fall into the trap.  The best way to avoid ‘buying the business’ is to keep the conversation focused on what is REALLY driving the buyer: the pain they are experiencing, how that is disrupting their business and how it impacts them personally. You will have a different, more significant conversation with your buyer that gives you an advantage and will help preserve your profitability. Know your buyer’s metrics and you will know what you have to say to them. I know this is Buyer Persona 101 stuff for a lot of you but I will illustrate with a couple of stories – and I love telling stories! Story 1 – Focus on Value to Stop Going over the Discounting Cliff Back in 2002, I was a solution architect for one of the big systems management companies.  The SA group was a tiger team that was called in to help close and architect significant deals.  I was the only non-techy on the team because I...

Vertical Marketing 101

I had two conversations last week with CEO’s about marketing to a vertical segment (such as retail banking, healthcare, or manufacturing).  It got me thinking about my experiences doing vertical marketing and what did and didn’t work.  In my mind, great vertical marketing comes down to executing well in three areas – Messaging, Content and Sales Enablement.  Here are a few tips: 1/ Messaging – Taking a horizontal product and putting a light coat of vertical paint on it is rarely effective because customers won’t find it credible. The best products for a specific segment were designed from the ground up for those segments.  That said, in my experience it IS possible to take what is essentially a horizontal product and market it to a vertical successfully if you are prepared to go very deep into specifics of how the product addresses the unique needs of the market.   If you value statements are things like “lower costs” and “ease of use” you aren’t there yet.  If you start getting into things like how your product can help companies be compliant with their industry regulations (such as HIPAA for healthcare in the United States, Basel II/III for banking in Europe, FERC regulations for energy companies in the U.S., etc.), how your product can deal with a particular problem common to the industry (such as managing a large number of part time employees in retail apparel or reducing carried inventory for manufacturing), you are getting closer.  Not only do you have to illustrate this in your messaging, you will need to prove your deep understanding of the segment in your...

Content Marketing and “Trusted Advisors”

In many larger organizations, professional services consultants and sales folks are trained to become “trusted advisors” to their accounts. To attain this status, account managers need to demonstrate a deep understanding of the customer’s environment and pains and offer valued advice and support.  It strikes me that this is exactly the goal of a great content marketing strategy. Why? Because Lead Development is Happening Without You Traditional lead development is a process where prospects are ushered along a path where they are fed increasingly detailed information about a company’s offering until they are ready to make a purchase, at which point they are handed over to sales. The problem with this process however is that people don’t like to be sold to and traditional lead development looks an awful lot like selling. So prospects avoid coming to vendors for information as much as they can, and today, getting the information they need (from forums, blogs, through online networks of their peers, independent review sites, etc.) is easier than it’s ever been.  In many cases, prospects are entering the lead flow process far more sales ready than they’ve ever been, which begs the question – how many opportunities for lead development are companies missing altogether? The Trusted Advisor Approach and Content Marketing How do you do hands-off or low-touch lead development?  The same way sales has been doing it through becoming trusted advisors.  Rather than selling to prospects, you help them. Prospects have problems to solve.  They are looking for information that helps them understand what their options are.  They need to learn the different approaches to solving the problem. ...

How Do CMOs Define Product Marketing?

I was honored to be asked by the folks at Forrester to speak at their first ever Product Marketing Summit this week. Forrester runs a set of Technology Leadership boards that allow very senior marketers to network together and share best practices.  This meeting was unique in that the group consisted of CMO and VP level leaders at B2B tech companies that are responsible for Product Marketing. We kicked off the day with a discussion around how we each would define Product Marketing.  To illustrate how poorly most people understand Product Marketing, the Forrester folks put up the Wikipedia definition: Product marketing deals with the first of the “4P”‘s of marketing, which are Product, Pricing, Place, and Promotion. Product marketing, as opposed to product management, deals with more outbound marketing tasks. For example, product management deals with the nuts and bolts of product development within a firm, whereas product marketing deals with marketing the product to prospects, customers, and others. Product marketing, as a job function within a firm, also differs from other marketing jobs such as marketing communications (“marcom”), online marketing, advertising, marketing strategy, etc. This so-called “definition” is not only laughably vague but the idea that a tech product marketer doesn’t have to worry about stuff like “Place” and “Promotion” was enough to get some belly laughs out of a room of senior product marketers. To facilitate coming up with a more complete definition we did an exercise where the attendees wrote down list of things they are responsible for and then we broke those up into categories.  The categories we used were taken from my Product...

Product Marketing & Social Media Skills: Talk is Cheap

Question: I’m hiring a product marketer and I want great social media skills.  All the candidates tell me that they have those skills but most of them don’t have much of a presence online.  Does that matter?  Do you need to be a heavy social media user in order to really understand it? The Short Answer: Yes you do. The Longer Answer: You do because: A/  Marketing execution is much harder than theory. Social media isn’t much different from a lot of other classic product marketing skills – the theory isn’t all that tricky, it’s the execution that’s hard.  If you wanted to hire someone to launch a new product into market, you’d talk to people who have done it before.  Taking the course or reading the book doesn’t count for that much.  Practical experience in product marketing counts for a lot.  I read an awful lot of press releases before I started writing them and I was still lousy at it until I’d done it a few times.  My first couple of integrated marketing campaigns were, ah, shall we say, less than perfect. Social Media isn’t any different.  I thought blogging was pretty easy until after my first (largely failed) attempt at running a group blog for a previous employer.  I’m a better blogger now than I was even a year ago (I’m not saying I’m great, wise-apples, just better than last year).  I don’t think I would have wanted to follow me when I first started using Twitter.  I understood Facebook much better after my first attempt to do a company fan page and many of the...
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