Early startups have a unique opportunity, you can go in with the research done and a firm strategy in place that’s agile to overcome the unique challenges of selling your product, service or solution.
No matter how ingenious your solution, without marketing intelligence, your startup will fail. Here is a guide for early startups that is some of the advice I give CEOs, CMOs and high-net individuals in the branding strategy consultation I do with them. This guide will be more marketing centric, if this post performs well, I’ll be happy to tackle other salient points of the early startup strategy relating to other key aspects.
-1- Start Content Marketing Early
Start content marketing before you launch your product, and give it some serious planning to attract your audience to your website and read your blog and build your social channels.
-2- Create Personas Early
Knowing who you are targeting is the kind of research you’ll want to do very early as well. The better your market research, the better you will be at targeting, developing your lists, and creating a viral strategy that’s so good, you may not need to spend as much $ on sales and pure business development. Create personas and survey your beta customers.
-3- Do Video Marketing from Day 1
Invest in intimate and authentic video content that gives your audience, potential clients and potential brand advocates an insider/ behind the scenes perspective on your journey as an entrepreneur and your startup team. Video content that’s funny, human and personable is something your startup cannot live without.
-4- Pursue Journalists & PR Contacts
Getting other established influencers and writers in your business industry to write about you in established sources will help create the write SEO and links to your website and blog. Get featured on LinkedIn, write high quality long-form content on Medium and hit PR hard with the passion, optimism and connections your startup is making with real community.
-5- Position yourself as a Solution for the Future
Industries and verticals are moving so quickly, your startup has to be designed to be relevant in 3, 5 and 10 years. Therefore your content and copy has to reflect this, and not sound dated, behind the curve or amateurish in any way. If you are perceived this way, you won’t be able to gain credibility, social authority and ultimately the trust of high quality prospects.
-6- Create a Brand for that’s Millennial Friendly
Since Millennials are the growing demographic and will continue to gain influence, your brand has to appeal to them and be relevant to channels they are on such as Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Medium and with strategies that build trust with them such as user generated content, SMS marketing, etc…
-7- Design for Spread by Word of Mouth
Create viral and referral programs that scales organically with peerless customer-centricity and simplicity of use and design. Customers have to “get it” in seconds so create a unique selling proposition and motto that facilitates an immediate “ah-ha” moment with regards the benefit of the product.
-8- Hire for Will to Learn
The ideal candidate needs to be able to growth hack their own learning, as their previous work history may not scale well to the early startup environment. Can they become an expert in their position and take on other tasks easily? Do they use tools that allow them to work smarter?
-9- Don’t Oversell your Hype
Customers can see through sales-centric marketing copy, website copy and above all pitches. Don’t over do it, don’t promise more than you can deliver and don’t boast about your previous successes, it will make you lose all credibility. As a CEO or CMO or CPO, you may at times be tempted to exaggerate your product’s ability and how impressive your solution is, don’t. VC, employees and customers can see through it, no matter how charming you are. Focus on quality, authenticity and values, not sales or business development.
-10- Don’t Over-estimate a Candidate’s Role
The worst thing you can do is to hire talent and promise them more than their reality at your early startup will be. That will lose respect for you as being insincere and ungenuine and they will churn. Managing expectations means being honest from the beginning. Desperate hiring and impulse hires, don’t tend to turn out well.
-11- Create a Fun Personable Work Environment
As an early startup making your startup culture top-notch doesn’t just mean offering benefits, a chance to learn and the privilege to lead. Creating an enjoyable work environment that is gritty while being fun means employees will invest that “extra something special”. Give them shares, give them incentives, give them a feeling that you are building something world-class. It’s not in the talk, it’s in the environment and respect you offer them.
-12- Don’t be Stuck in the Past
Always stay current as a team and especially as leaders. If your methods are out of date, if your approach to management is “old-school”, talented Millennials will churn. To build a contemporary startup that’s future-centric, requires leaders who are as well. Mediocre leaders will attract and hire sub-par department heads, and they will hire sub-part staff.
-13- Frame your Value Proposition Correctly
The early adopters don’t tend to win a sub-vertical. Why? Because they fail to leverage how they portray their value prop. If the value proposition hits the sweet-spot and is seamless to understand, use and celebrate, you can afford to charge ab it more.
If the brand is contemporary and well-crafted, your solution will be adopted naturally, easily and with a more memorable customer experience. The value and benefits of your solution have to be clear, the video on your landing page has to be professional and resonate with your target audience.
-14- Focus on Creative & Innovative Marketing Strategies
In Marketing you cannot be cautious, you have to take risks. Part of this is doing the unexpected and being creative in your marketing campaigns. Covering the basics is not enough, taking marketing to the level of innovation means standing out and going viral. If your CMO can’t do this, fire them, they are not right for a early startup environment.
-15- Invest in Content that has Long Term Value
Content that can gain sustainable traffic needs to be valuable to your audience. It needs to be high quality enough to be cited and linked by others. It needs to be authentic and useful enough to go viral. This means it has to be shareable and stimulate actual dialogue, comments and discussion. Long-form content has a higher chance of standing out, where content of articles below 800 words that’s not original is plentiful.
Content has to strike the right balance of being useful, readable, SEO worthy and answer the questions of the future that your startup can solve.
-16- Invest Equally in Product and Marketing
It does not matter how good your product is, if your marketing is poor. It does not matter how great your marketing is, if your product fails to be useful, be more seamless or solve real problems.
-17- Always Start Marketing Before Product
Marketing takes longer to scale, many months in fact and then there is the duration of your sales cycle to consider. Leaving marketing for after your product is ready, is financial suicide for an early stage startup. Do not fall into this trap because you are too cautious, want to stay in stealth-mode for too long or fail to hire the right talent. This is one of the greatest dangers of early startups.
-18- Share your Expertise for Free
Offering value often means offering knowledge for free. A free websinar, a lecture at an industry event, a blog article, a guest posts, or even a series of tweets. A Twitter chat, an AMA, live-streamed video, a Quora answer. Offering stuff for free creates value for others and gives your brand credibility and exposure if it trends. If you can create high quality whitepapers, PDFs, downloadable trend analysis in your field, again it’s creating value for others which will allow them to come back, talk about you, etc…
-19- Build Virality into the Product
If your go to market doesn’t have a viral component to how it spreads, you are off on the wrong foot, that’s for sure.
Dropbox, Snapchat, Eventbrite, Mailbox, and even Hotmail famously acquired millions of users with almost no money spent on marketing.
-20- Focus on the Who & Why
Being too sales-centric doesn’t scale and retain well, since it’s acquisition and goal-centric, and not customer centric. Everything you do has to be aligned with your customers and in knowing and relating them better. This is why being stronger in production and marketing, is more essential than just brute sales.
-21- Target Early Adopters of your Target Audience
Create marketing to get the early adopters of your demographic. These are those customers that are most likely to try something new or don’t yet have a solution of your type. These customers have less buying friction and are higher quality prospects. The theory here is that the mass or typical consumer in your niche, will be more resistant to change and trying your new solution. (This goes back to why targeting to Millennials is so important).
-22- Growth Hack the Emotional Experience
True differentiation is emotional branding, not necessarily even product related. Using corporate social responsibility and video content is great for creating a more memorable brand impression. How does your brand or product make your customer feel? Why is it desirable? Using Instagram really well, hijacks the emotional appeal of your company, for example. If being eye-candy and appealing works on Instagram for example, leveraging visual marketing to being relatable and identifiable people is truly important. People buy from people they like and feel are authentic. As an entrepreneur it’s your job to make that human connection as well as build cool stuff.