How product framing can help grow your startup (or kill it)

How product framing can help grow your startup (or kill it)

I frequently talk to startup founders with innovative products that struggle to explain why their offering is really exciting. I frequently think the problem is really one of improper context setting or framing as I like to call it. What’s framing and why should you care? Framing is the act of providing context to help prospects understand what you are and why they should care. It works much like the opening scene in a movies does. In the opening scene of Apocalypse Now we see Martin Sheen punching a mirror in in filthy hotel room full of empty booze bottles and we have a pretty good idea about his emotional state of mind before we’ve heard a word of dialogue. Framing helps audiences quickly get oriented so that they can understand what’s going on and focus their attention on the action. New prospects are like people watching a movie. If we don’t let them in on where we are, who we are, and what we are about to show them, they might be left feeling confused, or worse incorrectly guess the answers to those questions. In general, startups are bad at framing. In some cases they don’t provide a frame at all, instead focusing on features or technology before they give prospects a clue about what they are in a broader since. More frequently however, I see startups provide a frame, just not a very good one. Startups will often place their products within a frame that fails to highlight their strengths and often puts their competitors at an advantage. This weak framing is often done unconsciously because they believe that there is only...
Leaky Buckets, Death Stink and True Love

Leaky Buckets, Death Stink and True Love

The past 8 months has been a whirlwind of action for me. In October I acquired Sprintly – an agile project management tool for startups, along with the original founder, Joe Stump. It’s been an incredible experience so far and definitely the most fun project I have worked on in my career yet. As part of getting Sprintly re-started, I’ve been out doing some talks and podcasts about my experience in running the business so far and I thought I should share those here for folks that have been wondering what’s new. A few weeks back I gave a talk at TechTO called Leaky Buckets, Death Stink and True Love – it’s a quick talk on what I’ve been focused on in the early days of running Sprintly. TechTO is a really fun event and part of what makes it so interesting is that the speakers only get 5 minutes to present. I cannot do anything in 5 minutes. I went a weeny bit over (ok, ok it was 6:30 and I spoke as fast as a chipmunk) but it was a hoot.  Here’s the video. I also did an interview with the folks at Funnelcake where I talked a bit about Sprintly stuff, positioning and other startup marketing things. It was a fun discussion. You can check out the transcript of our discussion here and if you haven’t been reading their blog, it’s a great resource for marketers of all stripes – check it out here – April Dunford on Positioning.    ...
Your B2B Startup Needs a Buyer’s Guide

Your B2B Startup Needs a Buyer’s Guide

One of the big differences between selling to businesses vs selling to consumers is the buying process. Most Consumer products are lower priced and purchased quickly because if you make a poor choice, you aren’t out much more than beer money. In B2B not only is there more money on the line, buyers often have to justify a purchase to their boss. A poor choice can cost the company big dollars and (often more importantly) damage the buyer’s reputation. This is precisely why a Buyer’s Guide is such a powerful piece of marketing content. It is designed specifically to meed the needs of a prospect that has been tasked with making a purchase decision. It’s a piece of marketing content aimed directly at the hottest prospects in your pipeline. The Buyer’s Guide is Targeted at a Critical Stage in the B2B Buying Process For B2B purchases, the buying process usually includes a stage where prospects try to figure out what their options are and which ones are best suited to them. For startups selling to businesses, this stage is particularly important. Often the solution is in a new or shifting market space and figuring out the competitive alternatives is a task in itself, nevermind trying to figure out which option offers the best combination of functionality, features, support, community, etc. For enterprise products, the evaluation phase might be a months-long process that includes a formal RFP process and/or a Proof of Concept. However for many lower-priced B2B solutions, the evaluation process is much more informal and looks more like a manager saying “Go figure out what we should buy and come back...

Marketing Strategy Hacks Presentation

I gave a talk at the Unbounce Conversion Road Trip this week. It was an awesome event with amazing speakers. I decided to go a bit deeper into my thinking around how you would test the underlying assumptions in your marketing strategy, in particular which buyers you are targeting and what market you are positioned in. There is a bunch of new content here that I’ll blog about in the future but in the meantime, here’s the deck. Marketing Strategy Hacks from April...
Components of a Startup Marketing Plan

Components of a Startup Marketing Plan

When I ask startup folk if they have a “Marketing Plan” I get a range of reactions from a slightly embarrassed “Yeah we probably should have one but we aren’t doing much marketing so…” through to the more assertive, “Dude we don’t do plans, because we’re like, you know, a startup!” At my first startup we didn’t have a marketing plan. We were a small team working on short-term tactical projects. Those tactics changed every couple of weeks and we didn’t see a need to document anything. My first encounter with a marketing plan came after we were acquired by a global company. The experience was awful. The plan was done yearly and had 50 sections, starting with a (completely arbitrary) revenue goal and drilling all the way down to every specific tactic (including PR, email, advertising, events, everything) to be executed across the entire year. The most frightful thing about the Marketing plan was that it wasn’t approved until March, and by June we’d started building the plan for the following year. The exercise seemed pointless to me. At my next startup however, I found that there were moments when I missed pieces of that marketing plan. I missed having a work plan that tied the schedules for content creation, campaign execution and sales enablement together. I missed having the clarity of approved campaign components like target markets, messaging and goals (at least for the next month or so), and I found I needed a revenue model that mapped my lead generation plan to expected revenue. I wanted a plan that kept the good bits of the big company plan and...
Marketing Strategy Hacks for Startups

Marketing Strategy Hacks for Startups

I do a lot of coffee meetings with founders looking for marketing advice. Most of the time people have a specific marketing problem but occasionally I meet with frustrated founders complaining that everything they’re doing on the marketing and sales side just simply isn’t working. Let’s put aside the very real possibility that there is a fundamental product or product/market fit problem (a big assumption but work with me on this one) – is it possible your marketing/sales strategy is getting in the way of the success of your company? In my opinion, yes that’s very possible. Can you hack your way out of this mess? Yes, again. OK, not always, but it’s worth poking around at a few things to see if it’s fixable.  If I was in charge of marketing for a company in that situation, here are a few things I would try: Hack the Definition of Your Buyer If you are selling to businesses there is often a separation between users, economic buyers and executives/approvers. Sometimes selling to the folks that hold the budget is the easiest way to get a deal done, but often it can be easier to either sell to the end users (who feel the pain most acutely and can champion your solution to the economic buyer), or the executive team (who might better understand the overall ROI of the solution across the organization). For example – at one company I worked at we started out targeting buyers in IT because they would ultimately be responsible for maintaining the integration of the solution with other systems. However IT saw the solution as risky and...
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