When should I start to market my startup?

Many startup founders are often left scratching their heads whenever it comes to the topic of marketing. They know it’s important to their business, but have no idea what they should be doing first, nor how it ties in with their business. The reality, in the world of startups there is no business without marketing.

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Credit: Marketing Envy
“We’re just finishing up the alpha version of the product and then we’ll get down to dealing with the marketing”.

Startup founders, self-appointed company CEOs, are often left scratching their heads whenever it comes to the topic of marketing. They know it’s important to their business, but have no idea what they should be doing first, nor how it ties in with their business.

With this in mind, I’d like to set the record straight:

No marketing strategy is the equivalent of driving to a new destination without a map or satellite navigation. You may get lucky and get wherever you are headed, but nobody knows how long it will take you, nor at what cost.

Business strategy vs. marketing strategy

A sound marketing strategy is required to enable the business to reach its goals.

In its highly simplistic form, the CEO will ‘present’ their CMO with the company goals for the next 12 months. S/he is then tasked with creating a strategic marketing plan detailing how those will be met. This works when you are the CEO of an established company, with at least one product that is being sold in a given market and need to expand. Not in a startup.

There is no separation of business goals and marketing strategy in the world of startups. There is no business without marketing. There is no VC funding without marketing.

Even if you are lucky enough to raise funds based on a brilliant idea, your investors are going to want answers to the following questions…. And answers come directly from a deep understanding of your market and strategic market planning.

The questions every startup founder needs to answer:   

  • Which immediate problem does the product solve? (Market need)
  • For whom? (Target audience, the low hanging fruit first)
  • How large is the target audience? (Large enough to generate a decent pipeline?)
  • How much would they be willing to pay? (Enough for the company to profit?)
  • How do we reach them quickly and effectively? (Do we have enough money to execute this?)
  • How can we make this scale? (Can we grow quickly enough?)
  • How does my product do what it does? (Is this appealing?)
  • What makes it different? (Its Unique Selling Proposition?)
  • Who is the competition? (What are they up to? How large? What are their strengths and weaknesses?)
  • How are we different? (Why would a customer choose us over them?)
  • What internal resources do we need to get this off the ground? (Is the right team in place?)
  • What external resources do we need to get this off the ground? (More funding? Partners? Sales team?)

Each of the above are strategic and have a direct impact on the business’s ability to reach its goals. None can be answered intelligently without marketing insight. 

A strategic marketing plan also acknowledges this:

 There are no quick wins, no silver bullets and no guaranteed growth hacks. It’s all about the winning strategy and its execution.

Confusing strategic marketing with marketing communication

While getting your message right is essential, strategic marketing is far more fundamental. Many founders confuse the need for strategic marketing (answering the questions above) with getting to grips with the messaging and communicating it through the channels. The communication is the visual or physical execution of marketing strategy, and the right time and place for that to happen will vary with each company.

So how can you market without marketing communication? Well, actually you can’t, but you can greatly limit the amount of exposure and the tools required. Here’s an example based  on countless encounters with startups of all stages. All you really need for your first beta customers or to present to your investors:

  • Company name and logo: Often created on Fiverr and therefore replaced down the line.
  • Powerpoint presentations: One for prospects and another for investors. These do need to be well designed and tell your story but do not need to be perfect.
  • Web site: A one-pager is all you need, often the less you say here will be better for you.

You will need far more communication tools, content and social media, PR and promotion in the build up to breaking out of stealth mode and when you need to generate leads. Not before, so save your money.

I will leave the big task of market education to another post as this will also greatly influence communication decisions.

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