Built a product? Now comes distribution, #marketing and #traction. Don’t fail your product!

Ayush Mittal
Jun 9, 2016 · 13 min read
Live startup stats by CITY A.M.

This fascinating ‘Live Startup Stats’ show that in three and a half minutes, 319 new startups took birth, but 296 died. How could such staggering numbers be true? We know that nine out of ten startups fail, but why should that be the case? These were 296 aspiring dreams with problems that could have been solved.

Recently, CB Insights grew their ‘Startup Failure Post-Mortems’ repository to 156 catastrophic startup journeys. The good thing is, there’s a lot to learn from each of them. For example, per the 20 most common failure reasons, ‘inapt team’ and ‘incompetent marketing’ occupy two of the topmost spots. These statistics can provide the groundwork to discovering the possible holes in your own startup.

Startup founders are overwhelmingly busy visualizing the world’s best idea, bringing it into reality, and building a great product. The behind the scenes action is more extensive than we can imagine. But can anything guarantee success? What about traction? How will your customers find you? As Rand Fishkin pointed out, there is no black magic to successfully attract the customers.

It is crucial to encompass the marketing strategy in the early days of your startup. There is never a wrong time or phase to bring a marketing manager on board. To convince you of the importance of investing in marketing, check out what some top agencies for startups say.

Consider this — you don’t just want to risk working with any marketer and adding to the City A.M. live startup death column. Marketing has evolved into a much more complicated state than it was five years ago. Startup marketing is peculiar — a new science and hiring a marketing scientist for your venture is an art.

You want a kind of marketer who’s passionate about communicating your vision, has the drive to bridge the gap between your brand and audience and is not afraid to manage your reputation in a crisis situation. But that’s not all. You also want a marketing superstar who is ready to capitalize on data generated by several campaigns via different channels and use it to grow your market and drive brand awareness.

Sound great? Of course, it does. However, the CHALLENGE is going to be finding your superstar marketing scientist and becoming an artist to identify passion and drive

Lars Lofgren suggests building the relationship slowly before recruiting your marketing manager. What follows are some subjects/tips/questions to assist your choice. Take and give time (a lot of time) to the whole hiring process.

A Strategic Market Positioning

Once nominated as the world’s best cloud-based photo-sharing startup, Everpix, is now out of the picture. The French founders avow this closure to inconsideration of growth and marketing strategies early on to position them effectively against giants like Apple and Google.

A journey to learn from. Read their story!

The idea of building a product and positioning it in the market is meant to create the image of your product in the mind of your potential users (target audience). Your product needs to be appropriately positioned against your competition and assimilated within your target audience. All of this starts with building a persona.

Who is your target? Made in Canva — by ayush mittal

Every product/idea has an audience with diverse needs, behaviors, and motivation. Personas represent your archetypal users — what they do and why, how they interact, how they behave, their attitude, and their preferences. Using this method while determining position helps you focus on real scenarios rather than assumptions.

“You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can be something great for someone.” — Arielle Jackson

It’s all about making right marketing decisions at the right time. Jackson also recommends following positioning framework to effectively communicate your exact position.

Positioning framework — From the book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

Furthermore, brand archetypes along with determining your position with reference to Ansoff and BCG matrix will assist you to understand and communicate unique brand position in a way that is understandable and compelling to target audience.

Some questions to start with:

>> What are the three most important aspects of executing growth marketing for early stage companies?

>> It’s your first day! Here are the details about our product and what we are trying to achieve. Take me through your process of creating a marketing strategy for our product.

>>With reference to the brand archetypes — our CEO visualizes us as The HERO and the COO thinks we are The EXPLORER. What do you think? Why?

>>Tasks for your first marketing manager -

  • Draw our brand position with reference to the framework recommended by Arielle Jackson, along with the Ansoff and BCG matrix.
  • List the existing brands within a similar position.
  • Point out any other categories that satisfy a similar need?
  • What resources would we require to overcome and establish a strong position in the marketplace?

Note: With each question, expect your marketing manager to seek some details about your business objectives, vision, product features, etc.

Buzzwords — USP, buyer persona and journey, brand identity, value proposition, brand archetypes

Demand Generation/Product Marketing

Next, comes REAL marketing.

How would your marketing manager go about generating demand for your product? It isn’t as easy for startups, even with the massive amount of content and strategies already documented.

One great example is Kato, a B2B startup. After raising $1.8 million series A funding, Kato was forced to discontinue its enterprise app.

KATO — Have a look at Sameroom

In an email copy obtained by VentureBeat, the Kato CEO acknowledges:

“We failed to gain traction. The unique Kato features that made it stand out from the competition — proper multi-team support, swim-lane multi-chat design, great search, Vim-based keyboard shortcuts, the fast-forward button (esp. on mobile), and flexible group mentions — weren’t unique enough to get a critical mass of people publicly excited about the product.” — Andrei
CEO, Kato (and Sameroom)

It’s extremely difficult to get crowded markets excited about a new product. Demand generation is one of the biggest challenges, particularly for startups and new products.

Though demand generation may seem very similar to lead generation, it is a much more holistic lead nurturing process. The two work together, but demand generation is about the tactics employed to raise awareness of both your product and brand, rather than just generating leads.

“79% of all marketing leads never convert into sales and a lack of lead nurturing is the common cause.” — Hubspot

Ask your marketing manager these questions to assess his creative ‘demand generation’ ideas:

>> Begin with the most CRITICAL question from Founders Growth Machine — Look at our website and product features. With the purpose of demand generation, provide an idea for each of the following 3 funnel-levels. (A) Acquisition (B) Conversion and (C) Retention. Write down

  • [objective]
  • [hypothesis]
  • [steps of activity]
  • [expected costs]
  • [results]

>> We have a huge new product feature releasing in two months. How would you launch and generate demand for it?

>> Can you describe the process of managing leads at your previous/current company. Also, draw the marketing funnel you typically use, along with its different stages. Do you think there is an opportunity for improvement?

>> We will be retiring a feature in our app. How would you communicate that and manage expectations of existing users? What information would you need to have in order to do so?

Note: With each question, the candidate may follow-up with various questions.

Buzzwords — inbound, lead generation, funnel optimization, brand awareness, product marketing

Content is king

If you don’t know the importance of content marketing, you won’t understand how to push the overall marketing strategy in the right direction. Your first marketing manager should be a complete package, where he/she considers content an integral part.

Photo Credits — Pixabay

Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates about 3 times as many leads. — Demand Metric

Within the buzz of content marketing, many conversations miss out on storytelling opportunities. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” says Simon Sinek. Tell them your story, tell them why you are on a mission to solve a problem to make their lives easier, and…

Quote by Ann Handley. Made in Canva — By Ayush Mittal

While your marketing manager crafts personas and frames buyer’s journeys to position your brand, it’s very important for him/her to blend in with the company’s culture, learn ethics, and realize its vision. The more he/she learns, the better your story will be shared.

Marketing psychologist Andy Smith in his article ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of Startup Storytelling’ will take you through the big don’ts of startup storytelling.

Questions -

>> Tell a story!!

>> There’s a lot of potential content (ebooks, blog articles, infographics, podcasts, videos, webinars, SlideShare, social media) we could produce. How do we do it all? What should we start with?

>> Describe your content creation process and the steps you’d take to develop a content strategy for our organization. How would you determine the style, tone, and voice for a specific piece of content?

>> A very relevant subject is trending and you are in the middle of creating a blog, managing campaigns, and nurturing leads. How would you prioritize?

>> What are your favorite content marketing tools? How do you curate content?

>> What is the right balance between content curation and creation? How do you decide what content topics to focus on and what format should that content take?

Buzzwords — content marketing, storytelling, brand amplification, blog, copywriting


Unfortunately, many startups wrongly assume they don’t need an invigorating social media presence and, therefore, overlook social media and community management skills in their potential marketing manager.

The truth is, social media is not merely an advertising channel anymore. It has evolved as a customer experience platform. It is a major part of contemporary branding, positioning, and getting closer to your audience.

Not convinced? Numbers always makes sense, check out these statistics:

Made in Canva — By Ayush Mittal

If you need more of these numbers, refer to 47 Superb Social Media Marketing Stats and Facts, 33 Captivating Statistics That Could Change Your Marketing Strategy or 60% of Social Marketers Say Measuring ROI Is a Top Challenge inTrustRadius Survey.

If you don’t already have a social media strategy, start one with your first marketing manager. Choose your platforms wisely, then decide and prioritize goals, such as:

1st — Content distribution

2nd —Demand generation & brand awareness

3rd — Lead generation

4th — Customer acquisition

Alignment and consistency are important. Ensure your social media strategy and goals are aligned with your overall marketing, user acquisition strategy, and business objectives.

Arguably, a social media manager has the most intimate relationship with a brand. So the question you need to ask yourself is: would you be comfortable handing over your brand? Your marketing manager should possess skills to speak the lifeblood of your brand on social media. Let’s see how ‘SM’ sound your first marketing manager is…

>> Do you know that Twitter recently changed its character limit? Social media functionality is constantly evolving. How do you stay on top of it?

>> How would you go about creating a kickass social media strategy to drive brand awareness, generate leads and acquire users? What Social Media platform(s) do you think will work best for us? Why?

>> We know that social media is based on a long-tail theory. Can you draw a timeline of what should we expect along the way?

>> Our CEO thinks none of our potential customers use social media and there is no scope to generate leads. Should we still do it? Why? If yes, how would you convince the CEO to invest time and money in social media?

>> Can you provide an example of a current/recent social media campaign, you are/were managing. Through which channels did you operate? What are the expected outcomes? Take me through the results.

>> Imagine we ran into some bad press or a similar crisis. How would you fix it? How do you manage an online reputation and what is your experience with drafting a crisis management plan?

>> Which social media influencers do you follow?

What does success look like? Metrics!

Now that you have positioned your brand, created a marketing strategy, distributed content, and generated some leads, what next? Measure and analyze.

Metrics are fundamental to marketing. They help you set goals and make informed decisions. Marketers need profound and sometimes obscure insights to understand the performance of marketing activities, along with changes in customer preferences, behavior, and market trends.

Marketing analytics are a separate entity from web analytics. Pamela Vaughan simplifies the distinction between the two. Marketing analytics is all about answering “what does success look like?” and MOZ explains how:

By Joanna Lord — MOZ

How would you find answers to these questions and keep track of the impact of your marketing efforts? ‘Marketing attribution’ is a complicated but very important concept for every startup to understand the value of every dollar spent on marketing and performance of different marketing channels. It also contributes to insights into lifetime value (LTV) of your users.

Questions —

>> We want a dashboard of our marketing efforts and its impact and contribution to our business objectives. What elements would you include?

>> Do you understand marketing attribution? How would you make an attribution model from scratch for us?

>> Working with a B2B startup, imagine you have the data of 5,000 unqualified leads. This contains information about every lead’s industry, company size, and what they did to become a lead (like attended a webinar). What would you do with this data?

Horns start blowing when it comes to measuring the impact of social media activities. 60% of marketers identify ‘measuring ROI’ as one of their top three social media marketing challenges. Some top social media ROI indicators include — engagement (likes, retweets, etc.), audience size, conversations (leads) and website traffic. Therefore, this is a good area to touch on with your marketing manager. Consider asking:

>> What performance indicators would you focus on to report the impact of our social media activities? How would you tell whether a social media campaign is a success or a failure?

>> How do you measure content marketing success? How do you know if a specific content has performed well or not?

It’s also important that your marketing manager be able to explain marketing analytics to the least analytical person in your office. You want everyone on board with marketing and the best way to include everyone is to ensure the marketing manager can adequately communicate strategies, conversion rates, KPIs, core metrics, and results to everyone involved.

>> How would you explain marketing metrics and its impact to our COO — who believes in facts, but does not get along with analytics.

Tools & Techniques

Nothing better than a startup can help one understand the value of stretching every dollar.

If you don’t have the budget to assemble a top-tier marketing team, you’ll need some great tools to take your marketing to the next level. — Sujan Patel

At some point in your life, you must have called a plumber to fix something in your bathroom. What if he had arrived without his toolkit? In the same way, a marketer without his tools is like a plumber who can’t fix a leak.

Photo Credits: Pixabay. Made in Canva

Imagine your ‘only’ marketing manager is planning a vacation. Would you hire someone else to schedule the posts for your social media? What if your marketing manager eats up your designer’s time with creating graphics and banners? Tools can mean several things, but the most important definition is that it drives productivity.

Some resources include:

FREEBIE MARKETING SUPPLY and 99 Online Marketing Tools You Won’t Be Able to Live Without are complete packages of marketing resources and tools.

What about managing your social media? From scheduling, management, and content curation to analytics, graphics, and research, this has got it all — 188 Best Social Media Tools for Startups.

Money matters! The $0 Marketing Stack: 41 Free Options to Popular Paid Services and Tools

Final questions —

>> What new tools and techniques interests you the most right now?

>> We have been advertising heavily on search engines and using appropriate keywords throughout our website. Our CEO feels we now require an SEO audit. How would you carry that out and what tools would you use?

>> You are on a vacation and will not able to access the internet for a week. What tools would you use to ensure social media updates are being posted?

Concluding, a proficient marketer will know the basics of SEO optimization, including the relationship between different marketing tactics (like social media) and SEO. Furthermore, engaging and motivating employees to participate in different marketing activities and social media is a great skill, a marketing manager should possess.

To begin your ‘marketing manager’ search, remember:

  1. Marketing is not substitutable by building a great product. It is not just about advertising, but creating a foundation for startups to position amid competitors in the marketplace and bridge the gap to reach the target market. Moreover, its about creating a brand identity and personality your users can assimilate with.
  2. Hiring a marketer who can realize your vision and communicate it to your audience is not easy. Whether a marketing veteran or a recent graduate, the key is to look out for entrepreneurial spirit, passion for growth, drive to learn, fresh ideas, a different perspective, and someone who can challenge you. In addition, the above-mentioned tips and questions will shape your decision when hiring your first marketing manager.

“If you end up with eight Harvard guys in one office, they may be brilliant, but if you are marketing a product to the rest of the country, it might not work.” — Hiring expert Roberta Chinsky Matuson, President of the Human Resource Solutions.

If you have other insights, ideas, or questions, please share your thoughts. I will be updating this guide to help non-marketing entrepreneurs and startup founders understand the importance of marketing. Also, I will be writing a detailed version of different subjects discussed in this article.

Ayush Mittal

Written by

bro @boombro Founder @refr #digital #startup #growth Hubspot-Google-Hootsuite-certified! Product Hunter #DigitalPsychology. Mission #startups. A$AP 😍

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