Startup Marketing — Getting to a Sustainable Process

When I was the CEO of Suncayr, one of my roles included marketing, or at least what I thought was marketing. I would tweet something at least once a day, post on Facebook when it was relevant, and I even attempted to start a weekly blog. I thought I was doing a pretty good job.

Looking back, I realize now that what I was doing was essentially creating brand awareness. Although super crucial for an early company, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what actually falls under the marketing umbrella.

Now that I’ve moved into a marketing role at Chalk.com, there’s a few things that I’ve learned about what marketing is and when you should do certain things as a growing company. I don’t consider myself an expert by any means, but hopefully this will help guide your marketing strategy so that you have an idea of what you should be doing, and when.

Also keep in mind that marketing is a game of throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. Some of the techniques that worked well for me will not work at all for you. Marketing is also about testing your assumptions, so the faster that you can try things to see what works, the better.

Buzzwords are incredibly important for making it look like you know what you’re doing

Ideation

Your efforts should be 50% focused on customer validation at this point. The other 50% should be developing the technology. If using social media such as Facebook and Twitter will help you reach your target customers, take advantage of these tools. But the more validation that you can do in person, the better. In person interviews give you a chance to ask follow-up questions that may not be captured in a survey.

Many people are afraid of telling other people their idea. However, as a startup company, customer validation should be your number 1 priority. What’s the point of building something that no one wants? Other people will not have the time or passion to build what you’re building, so don’t be afraid to tell them what it is. If someone else really likes the idea and wants to work for it, congrats, you’ve find a co-founder, not competition.

All of this customer validation is useful to figure out exactly who will be your customer. At this point, you should start building out buyer personas. These are short (typically 1 page documents) snapshots of your target customer. You want to be as specific as possible, and personalize your persona to make it easier to relate to.

Administrator Annie likes long walks on the beach

For example, one of our customer personas at Chalk.com is Administrator Annie. When we make marketing decisions, we ask ourselves “Is this something Annie would want?”

Your customer personas will change over time, so don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. Add your assumptions at this point, which you will come back to once you start securing some customers.

Check out this blog from Hubspot for a customer persona template.

Prototype

This is when you can start telling the world that you’ve got something cool on your hands. Start becoming more active on social media and consider starting a blog. Although startup related things will go over well, think about what you’re target market would be interested in reading. Posting links to these articles, or writing them yourself, will start to build out your inbound marketing engine.

This is the brand awareness that I mentioned earlier. You’re going to start talking to partners, investors, etc., at this point, and want to give them some easily accessible information to assess the business opportunity.

And don’t forget about that email list! Email marketing is an often ignored channel that can provide you with some great leads. However, make sure that you’re aware of anti-spam laws such as Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). You’ll need subscribers to opt-in to your email list, rather than just sending a mass email to random people who may or may not want what you’re building.

MVP

It’s time to start getting a little more serious. You’re in market or getting very close to it. You need to make sure the world cares when you get there. Read Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers, and follow the Bullseye formula to figure out what works in your market.

The internet has created enormous opportunities for small businesses to get their name out there. However, now instead of paying for space, you pay for attention. You should start thinking about refining your social media and content marketing strategies based on what worked in the previous stages. You may also want to transition one of your current employees into a full time marketing role, or hire someone for the job.

Growth

Wow, people really like your product! Congratulations!

It’s time to start thinking about how to leverage your marketing efforts to assist sales, and to delight the customers that you’ve already secured. This is the beginning of inbound marketing. Beyond blogs and social media, you’ll want to start publishing other content, such as

You should think about investing in automation tools for sales and marketing. Salesforce is really popular for sales, while Hubspot and Pardot work well for marketing automation. But remember the golden rule: Don’t buy anything that doesn’t integrate with the tools that you are already using. There’s no point using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool that doesn’t automatically import your contacts from your marketing automation software.

Now that you’ve actually got some sales, start asking your customers for advice on what type of content would have helped them find you, or what problems that they are currently struggling with. This provides you with new product ideas, but also allows you to become a thought leader in the entire industry, rather than just the one small niche that you currently serve.

Other Scenarios

Press and other types of noise is extremely useful when you’re looking to raise capital. Investors want to be able to learn as much as possible about your company before they sign a term sheet.

Some companies will also choose to operate in stealth mode until they reach market. This means that they avoid any kind of public attention until their product launches. This will typically be the path chosen for hardware companies that require a significant amount of time to get to market and they don’t want someone else getting there first. I don’t have much experience with this but check out this article to see if stealth mode makes sense for your company.

These people look like they might be marketing

Remember that there are no one-size-fits-all marketing techniques. Make some best guesses about what you think will work, and then constantly analyze your data to see how you can improve.

That covers the startup marketing periods that I’ve had experience in. I’m excited to see what happens after the growth stage!


Follow me on Medium or check out Chalk.com’s blog for a look into content creation for an education company.

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