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 Planning for Startups

I gave a talk a few weeks ago at OneEleven in Toronto. The audience was mainly early stage startups looking to learn a bit more about marketing and sales. I covered some of what I consider to be the bedrock underlying principles of building a revenue or growth engine for an early stage startup. You can scroll down for the slides but I wanted to give some color to the slides here in the blog. You Can be Awesome At Tactical Execution and Fail There is no shortage of great resources that explain how best to execute a particular tactic. If you Google “How to run a great adwords campaign” or “Guide to Facebook ads” or “How to market using Twitter” you will see millions of articles, guides and how-to manuals. But flawlessly executed tactics do fail – and they fail often. Sometimes because it’s the wrong tactic for your market, sometimes it’s because the messaging or call to action for the tactic isn’t compelling, sometimes it’s because there are simply better tactics. Sure, we are all smart enough at this stage to be measuring and testing so we know when they fail, but there is a very real cost to endlessly testing and rejecting failing (yet perfectly executed) marketing and sales tactics. Obviously we all need to keep sharp on how best to execute tactics but tactical expertise alone won’t get you to a great marketing and sales engine for your business.  Worse still, starting a marketing plan with a tactical plan can lead you into a spiral of wasted time, money and effort. Detailed Customer Segmentation Comes First So...
Addressing the 3 Root Causes of Bad Marketing

Addressing the 3 Root Causes of Bad Marketing

I did a workshop at Communitech (where I’m currently serving as an EIR a day or two a week) on startup marketing and in particular how you would design a marketing plan and programs in a more strategic and less tactical way to address the 3 root causes of bad marketing. If you have been following my presentations over the past year you will recognize some of the content here but are some new additions and refinements from previous decks.   Startup Marketing: A Systems Approach from...

A Startup Customer Worksheet

I’ve been blogging a bit about how to build a startup marketing plan, including some thoughts about an overall approach to marketing planning and execution, modelling the customer buying process and creating value propositions. The first step however in developing a great marketing plan is understanding the customers you are targeting. This might seem obvious but in my experience this is often a difficult process. In every startup where I’ve been the head of marketing, getting a crisp definition of our targeted buyers was a process of discovery, testing and revision. I realized that it was very important to capture what we knew and what we assumed about our target buyers so that we could have a working record to guide our marketing efforts. Below is a generic version of the customer worksheet I’ve used for years. What This Template is Not This is NOT a buyer persona exercise which some companies do as part of their product management process. I believe in marketing doing a deep dive on personas in some cases, (where you sell to complex buying teams or you have a large marketing team that doesn’t have deep customer knowledge). If you want to learn more about personas I highly recommend you check out Adele Revella’s Buyer Persona Institute where she has a ton of resources available and knows more about that stuff than you, me and everyone we know piled together. A Worksheet for Startups to Document Assumptions and Focus Their Marketing Efforts The context here is to think about buyers purely in terms of what you need to understand in order to build a...

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...
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