Marketing for Companies at Different Stages
Marketing is not a one-size-fits-all discipline. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Markets, companies, customers, and competitors are not uniform so why do we expect our marketing approaches to be uniform? Instead, we should cater our marketing approaches to the specific needs of the client. One area where marketing customization occurs is marketing for companies at different stages. A company that is in the entrepreneurial phase is not going to have the same marketing needs as a customer in the early stage funding or an established company. In this article, we explain the various needs of companies at various stages and how to market for them.
Phase I: Entrepreneurial Stage
In this phase, a company is still in an exploratory phase where they are seeking to understand channels, finding customers, and determining if there is a product market fit. Here, the marketing focus should be on running micro-campaigns to test out their hypothesis concerning problem-solution sets. For example, if they believe the healthcare industry is suffering from problem x, if solution y is the best solution, the company should be able to develop a positive response from defined sets of users.
Here, the company is not going to be investing a lot of money into marketing even if they have funds to do so. Instead, they should conduct a series of marketing experiments. The company should be engaging in a digital strategy audit to map out channels, customer segments, competitors, and the overall state of the market. Then they should invest in the creation of a minimal viable product (MVP) in the form of basic wireframes or mockups, a landing page with some sort of conversion metric, and lastly, a small pay-per-click budget (PPC).
Here they will direct target users from the PPC ads to the landing page where they demo the MVP and if the user is interested, they can opt into either an email list or a free trial. The point here is not really to generate huge amounts of revenue, but to get a gauge of how much demand is out there for the product or service offering. If demand is minimal, the company might not have product-market fit and will need to pivot and tweak their MVP until they get a better product-market fit. Once they’ve achieved significant demand, they move onto phase II, the early stage funding phase.
Phase II: Early Stage Funding Stage
At this phase, the company has established a solid customer base, but not necessarily figured out how to monetize it because the company needs to be built up with the capabilities to convert the demand into value. At this point, the company will use marketing less as a tool of exploration and more as a source of generating ROI. The company will be methodical in exploring which channels are generating the most leads, conversions, and ROI. Even though the company may use the same marketing tactics, the focus will be at the bottom of the funnel (sales) as opposed to the top of the funnel (awareness) which was the focus in the previous phase. Here the focus is on competitors and branding. The company usually invests back into its website, social media, email marketing, content marketing, SEO and PPC. They now supplement these existing efforts with networking, thought leadership, event marketing, and public relations. They may also invest in marketing technology such as a CRM, mobile app, or analytics platform to track performance.
The company will also need strong presentations to pitch their product for investors. By showing they have demand and they’ve established a basic model for marketing that generates ROI, the company has a stronger chance of successfully soliciting funding from investors. The investor pitch must include the problem-solution set described in phase I, the results of the digital strategy audit, and lastly, an ROI analysis. By showing an acute understanding of the market and illustrating product-market fit in a manner that generates revenue, companies ensure that they will attain the funding needed to grow and scale their company.
Phase III: Established Companies
Once the company has established proper funding and the marketing capabilities necessary to scale, their focus shifts into scaling processes and attaining market share. Here, the company is building systems, analytics, and an innovation lab.
By marketing systems, we’re referring to developing automated processes for various processes. The company may hire various marketing experts such as in SEO, PPC, content, social media, etc. Or they may decide to outsource these functions to an agency or freelancers. Regardless, the goal is to move marketing from people to processes in order to automate and scale.
By analytics, we’re referring to using data to monitor, analyze, and act upon marketing activities. Here, one is tracking not only online data, but offline data as well. The goal is to make sure that all the major indicators of performance have the proper systems in place to monitor upward and downward trends. This may entail connecting marketing with sales, inventory, and IT or it may entail connecting marketing online and offline. This function typically requires intense resource allocation and communication across company silos which can prove challenging.
By innovation lab, we’re referring to a part of the company that embraces a cross-sectional team to explore the creation of new solutions to existing problems or exploring new problems with current capabilities. The reason why this should be considered in the realm of marketing is because marketing is fundamentally about understanding markets and the actors within them. Here, the company is going back to its roots as an entrepreneurial institution and engaging in developing new products or services.
Regardless of what stage your company is at — entrepreneurial, growth, or maturation — marketing will always be a constant function. As the company evolves, make sure to evolve your marketing tactics. Begin with a digital strategy audit and product market fit, then engage in microcampaigns and ROI analysis, and finally end in streamlining processes, developing analytics models, and lastly, build an innovation lab to drive the creation of continuous value.
Khuram Zaman is the digital strategist of Fifth Tribe, a leading digital agency based in Washington D.C. He has provided digital marketing services to clients as diverse as the U.S. Air Force, Aetna Innovation Health, Kaiser Permanente, Silatech, Oxfam, and the Hult Prize. His writing has been featured in Entrepreneur.com, Business2Community, and LinkedIn Publisher.