Marketing any new business should be done with some planning and strategy, but for startups it’s especially important. Having a solid strategy from the outset will give you a much higher chance of success both in the short and long term.

Startups are usually cutting new ground, which means their communications need to do even more than just sell a product and establish a brand. They often need to introduce a new concept and convince people to trust, not just in a new brand, but sometimes in a new technology or a new way of thinking. This post touches on a few of the ideas you should consider as you work through your startup marketing strategy.

What’s so special about startups?

There are a lot of grey areas when it comes to defining exactly what a startup is, but there are a few things that most people would agree make you a startup as opposed to a new business venture.

  • Growth and Funding: Startups are generally aiming to grow rapidly and are either already funded by one or more investors, or are hoping to attract investment to get them past the initial go to market phase.

  • Problem solving: Startups are rarely traditional products or services. They are usually something new, solving a problem that no one has solved, or solving an old problem in a new way. In many cases there are a number of startups in the same space competing with variations on the same theme. For example Hubspot and Marketo or Slack, Chanty and  Flock

  • Trying to define a space: Startups are often trying to lead the market in a particular space by identifying a gap in the market and being the first to fill it.

  • Agile and fast to react: A typical strategy for an early stage startup is to go to market with the minimum viable product (MVP) and evolve rapidly based on user feedback.

How to start a startup marketing plan

A good place to start is to define a few business goals and/or milestones and sketch out a timeline around when you want to achieve them. As a startup you are unlikely to be putting revenue as a high priority in the early stages. It’s more likely that you will be more focused on establishing and building your brand, developing your product and attracting venture capital. Getting these goals down on paper, or into a mind mapping tool is powerful. It makes it much easier to start breaking them down into a process that will move you towards achieving them.

Here’s an example of a few milestones you could set to give yourself a reference for the plan along with the marketing initiatives that you will need to support them.

  • Launch test product – Brand launch

  • 100 Trial users – Free trial marketing campaign

  • Secure seed investor – Brand campaign and pitch decks

  • Launch paid offering – Product launch marketing campaign

  • Grow team to 10 – Recruitment marketing campaign

Establishing and building your brand

Your brand will definitely be close to the top of your list. The goal of your brand is to ensure that your product and company is presented in a consistent and recognisable way. It will be the way people remember you.  Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, said it very well: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” It’s much more than just your logo. It’s even more than your visual identity. It is your companies personality.

Who is your target audience?

Your brand needs to speak to your target audience! this makes defining a target audience one of the first steps in any marketing plan. These are the people that your brand needs to connect with. As a startup you probably have a few different types of people that you want to attract. Obviously there will be customers or perhaps trial users. But you will also very likely be looking at growing your team in the near future, and this could be even more important in the early stages. The third group that should be taken into account are potential investors.

Each of these three groups will require a separate communication strategy in the long run, but there are elements that will be relevant to all of them. It is these common elements that you should consider adding to your brand strategy. For example, are you breaking new ground in some area of technology? If the answer is “yes” then that’s probably something that should become part of the brand.

Audi did this with their tagline:  “Advancement Through Technology”

Potential employees will connect with this message because they want to work with the latest tools, users and customers will respond to it because they want to be using the latest tech and investors always like to be investing in the next big thing.

What is your point of difference?

Why would a customer, employee or investor be more interested in your startup than the startup next door? This is a key theme that will run through most of your marketing efforts. Your offering may have a number of advantages over your competition, which you will use later in promotional marketing, but when you are thinking about your brand you are looking for a characteristic that might represent all of these advantages. Perhaps they are all based around saving time for your customers, or reducing team sizes or saving on costs.

Creating a brand map is a useful (although sometimes time consuming) exercise. You should at least create a simple matrix showing how you want to present your brand to customers in a few of the most important areas. Do the same for your main competitors to make sure you have a clear difference. For example:

Your BrandCompetitor Brand
Ease of use75
Value for money58

In the example above we have positioned your brand as superior in all areas, but more expensive than your competition. This would be a great brand position if you have the product to back it up. Obviously a real life scenario will be much more complex and you will need to have a good understanding of which factors are important in your customers in their decision making process.

Developing and positioning your product

Rapidly developing a new product requires feedback, so as a startup you might want to be thinking about building customer feedback into your communications strategy. Online communities are a great way to do this. It might be in the form of a forum or a group within a social channel or it might include more traditional feedback tactics such as surveys, workshops or call centers. However you do it, building this function into your marketing plan is a good idea to ensure that it is one of the priorities moving forward. Creating an open channel of communication with your customers and/users will create a direct feedback loop with your product development team.

What is your unique selling proposition?

Communicating with your customers and users will give you a great view into their needs and challenges, and will also give you insight into the competition and how they are perceived in the market. Learning what your competitors strengths and weaknesses are is extremely powerful and can help you to focus your messaging on the differences. Guide the conversation to areas where you are stronger and your competition is weaker. It is always best to avoid a situation where you are selling the same message as your competitor, because in the end that will lead to price cutting.

Can you define a new market space?

Sony did this in a big way when they released the Sony Walkman and crated a whole new market: personal portable stereos. They entered this new market as the only game in town. Home Depot did something similar by empowering home owners to start repairing and improving their homes themselves. Rather than competing with hardware stores, they presented a “softer” alternative to solving the same problem.

Hubspot has done something similar. Marketing Automation has become a big thing in the marketing world over the last few years, as email marketing workflows and dynamic web content have become more and more sophisticated. One of the biggest players, Hubspot, took it to a new level and started talking about “inbound marketing“. HubSpot co-founder and CEO Brian Halligan coined the phrase and they backed it up with a philosophy, a training academy and of course their marketing automation software that is purpose build for inbound marketing.

No “inbound marketing” has, in many ways, become a segment of the marketing industry and Hubspot sits at the top as the market leader.

If you can truly understand your customers and the problem they are trying to solve, then maybe you can present the solution in a way that breaks the mold enough to create some breathing space away from your competition.

These ideas about market space and position all feed back into the brand design and can be used to strengthen your position in your chosen market.

Starting the process with action

The ideas above are just a few areas you should consider, but they are a good place to start if you are in the early stages of planning or building your startup company. In general I would recommend starting a plan, but keeping the plan as light as possible and start working on the items defined in the plan immediately. Revisit the plan regularly to make sure you aren’t forgetting things and update it as things change.

Need some help with the next step?

Markegy specialises in delivering marketing initiatives. That means we create a plan, execute that plan and then report back on the level of success we achieved. These initiatives could be a website, an advertising campaign, a new corporate identity or a combination of all of the above.

Come in for a coffee and talk to us about your business.

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About the author: Tristan Boyd is a marketing expert with over 20 years experience. He has been involved in a number of startups and business ventures both as a founder, as team member and as a consultant including founding and running several of his own ventures.