A Startup Marketing Framework (version 3)

Years ago when I was consulting for startups, I created something I called “A Startup Marketing Framework“. I used it mainly as a tool to describe the kinds of things that I could help folks with. Startups found it useful and it is still a popular piece of content on this site. Last week I had a startup pull out a printed version of the framework (from 2011 no less!) and I decided there were a couple of changes I wanted to make to it. Below is the new and improved version 3. Framework Assumptions As with previous versions, the framework does not attempt to cover things that I would consider to be more “Product Management” focused (like product roadmap for example). I’m taking a purely marketing point of view here.  The Framework also assumes 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 are things here you won’t need to (and more importantly, shouldn’t) worry about yet.   Lastly, my background is B2B marketing so like most content on this site, this has a B2B slant to it.  That said, I think most of it applies to a B2C startup. Market Knowledge Market Category and 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.  I’ve had folks ask me where buyer/influencer personas fit and I include those here as part...

Laying a Foundation for Startup Growth

I spoke at an awesome startup event this week called Startup Empire. It was a sold-out conference with a great set of speakers including John Baker from Desire2Learn, Dan Debow from Salesforce, Harley Finkelstein from Shopify and Michael Litt from Vidyard and others. You can scroll down for my slides. I decided to focus on what I think of as the “Foundational Elements” for a successful sales and marketing strategy at a startup. As startup people we’ve heard many, many stories of magic marketing tactics had a big impact on the business. We talk less about the daily grind of testing and discarding failed marketing programs that don’t deliver much of anything. As much as we love stories of specific examples of the hacks that grew successful companies, rarely are those tactics applicable to the business we are trying to run right now. In my experience, starting with tactics is the wrong way to go about it. That’s because perfectly executed tactics layered over a flawed foundation will fail. The Foundational Elements are: Deep customer knowledge – A foundation of customer knowledge is really important. This has to go way beyond “we sell to SMB’s” and should include the unique characteristics of your target customers, their big pain points, where these prospects gather and how they learn about new products and solutions. Messaging – Every campaign and sales call relies on your ability to communicate what you do in a way that gets prospects excited to hear more. That messaging needs to describe your unique value in ways that your customers can easily understand, articulates how you are different...

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...

The Strengths of Startups versus Big Companies

I gave a talk recently on startup sales and marketing where I covered some of the ways that startups are naturally stronger than big companies. You can scroll down for the slides from but what follows is a bit of color you can’t get from the deck alone. The natural strengths of startups aren’t always obvious. Often the idea of going head to head against a company that has much deeper resources than you do, seems counterintuitive, (particularly for marketing folks who are often overly focused on budget size – more on this later). Normally the comparison seems something like this: It seems a bit grim really doesn’t it? But anyone that’s spent some time working at a big company will tell you that the things that look like strengths from the outside are often seen as weaknesses from the inside. Here are some examples: Team Size: As someone who has managed massive teams and smaller teams, I can say for a fact that smaller groups are much more productive. The first problem you get with big teams at large companies is specialization. There’s a person who does copywriting, a person who writes code for the website, a person who manages the marketing software, a person who owns campaigns, a person who focuses on PR, a person who owns product marketing, and well, you get the picture. Now imagine that you want to react to something that’s happening in the market RIGHT NOW. Small, nimble teams staffed with generalists may not produce at the same quality level or volume of output but they can do it fast. Budget Size:...

7 Steps to Better Startup Value Propositions

Marketing messages and value propositions are notoriously difficult to create for startups. Startup founders have a tendency to focus too much on features and not enough on the value those features deliver. They also often spend too much time talking about features that don’t really differentiate them from their competitors or are simply irrelevant for their target markets. When working on marketing messaging for startups, it’s often harder to get agreement on what NOT to say than it is to decide what should get talked about. Here’s a method for getting to a simple set of value propositions that has worked for us: 1. List your target market segments. The more detail you can get around this the better – for example “Small Businesses” is not a segment, “Mid-sized law offices in North America” is. The segment should be well-defined with a clear need your solution addresses. For early-stage startups, you will generally only have 1 or at most 2 target segments. If you have more than that, you likely don’t have the resources to really go after them. 2. For each segment identify the primary buyer. For complex deals there will be multiple folks that influence a sale but for a simple value proposition exercise, it helps to start with the most important decision maker (you can come back and worry about messages for other buyers later). Again, this person should be well-defined which means you will likely have more than just general demographic data (i.e. people in their 20’s versus University students in Canada that spend more than $100 a year on games). 3. For each segment list...
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