When do I start Marketing?
Considerations for Startup Founders in Their Quest to be Seen
PR and Marketing seem to get a weird reputation with startups. And nonprofits, and well established tech and software firms. So let’s just say marketing and PR get a weird rep in general.
What I’m referring to is that idea that Marketing and PR should be free. It should be organic. It doesn’t need any time or personal investment. User generated content will just pop up because your product is so great, people won’t be able to help themselves from talking about it with their friends and online community. Press will be clamoring to write about you because you’ve picked up so much buzz. And one article leads to another article, right?
In 2016, I was working for a tech firm on Wall Street that created collections management solutions for museums. I had been a client of theirs on three separate occasions and had used it daily. My peers and I knew it was important for our work, and yet none of us created user generated content (UGC) about the system. I can’t think of a single reason that we would have.
The company started in 1981 (longer than I’ve been alive), and had only opened a marketing department a few years prior to my arrival. This was a company that needed to be convinced about marketing, and hadn’t invested in PR.
But this company got really lucky. After being acquired, they hired a great marketing director, Sheena, who I was incredibly grateful to work under and learn from. Sheena is a total “get-shit-done” director with off-the-charts emotional intelligence, who does right by her clients and her team. She was the total package in a boss, and she’s still one of my clients. The way I feel about her is the way she feels about the CEO of the company, so it’s a daisy chain of excellence.
It took a few years, but with a lot of patience, creativity, and purpose, we built a tight marketing structure for the company.
At one point, we realized the website was generating a huge percentage of our qualified leads, and the revenue it generated far outweighed the c
ost to maintain it. We wanted to maximize that potential even further, so more people in our niche were able to find us.
Although we had a contract for SEO, we realized that bringing SEO in house would do us some good. I swapped some of my responsibilities for MOZ training. I focused on rewriting our web copy, took over the blog, and slowly started to redo all of the meta data on the site.
After I re-mapped our SEO strategy and implemented changes, Organic search views grew by 42%.
In order to get the organic reach we were looking for, we had to do a lot of intentional work and investment.
The same thing goes for PR. PR is not free. It’s built on intentional relationships that take years to cultivate. If you haven’t personally spent that time, don’t assume it’s alright to ask for free PR. After all, time is the only currency you can’t get back.
I was in a podcast interview recently, and the host asked me, “when do you think startups should start investing in marketing?”
Non-marketers see marketing from the perspective of the consumer. It’s the fun, creative stuff. It’s the fact that sometimes I get to produce and shoot commercials and sometimes I get to make comic books (both things I’ve done for Sheena’s team). But it’s a lot more than that.
Marketing is 90% behind the scenes, 10% in your face. It’s getting to know your customer with obsessive intention, making sure you are building something with them. Because if you’re not genuinely building something with them, then the marketing efforts you put out feel “gross,” and that’s going to repel your client, not attract them.
So when should marketing start? The behind the scenes work should start right away, and it won’t look or feel like marketing. It will look and feel like relationship building, because it is. At the core, marketing is about building relationships, and relationships lead to business.
I couldn’t have done the work in SEO if I didn’t know my customer really well and constantly listen to them for what they wanted from me. It didn’t hurt that I had been the customer several times before being hired. SEO isn’t as technical as a lot of marketers will have you believe. But then again I will admit I use excel for everything, even organizing my closet… so maybe I’m a bad judge.
If you’re a founder who’s interested in marketing, but doesn’t know where or how to start, here are my suggestions for what to do at the very beginning.
Learn the real reason you’re doing what you’re doing. If you think you know the reason, question it. Get someone else to question it. Devil’s Advocate the hell out of yourself, until you’re exhausted. Be open minded about the challenges. Argue with someone who completely disagrees with you.
The best way you can get to the point of what you’re doing is to get pissed off about it. Then you’ll really know the direction you’re heading in. To build a compelling message, this is going to be really important.
Write something every day. For Medium, for LinkedIn, for your blog. Something. Just get your true intentionality out there with consistency. Show others what you’re about and how you want to exist in the world. See what gets traction, what people want to hear from you, and if anything gets a pick-up-and-run vibe.
Go network with the intention of relationship building. I give this as an assignment to my clients. Attend an event with the goal of learning about 5 new people without telling them anything about yourself. Just see how much you can listen.
We’re so distracted trying to get attention from others that sometimes we forget to give it. Providing space for others develops a connection with them, because you give them the chance to feel heard.
Ask great questions, better than you usually do. In fact, here’s a great article on how you can ask better questions. Although it’s about team building, there are some great ideas about how to communicate and listen better.
Take a chapter out of one of my favorite books, 11 People Skills by Dave Kerpen: cut the small talk and get to what’s important to them as quickly as possible. Then, learn from them, and notice how you can pick up on what they need. This skill will serve you well.
Pay special attention to the questions you ask, and if they lead the conversation or if the other person can take the lead.
A lot of entrepreneurs will network with the goal of pitching themselves or their product because they want to learn what you think of it. But that can lead to a false start. The answers you get in that moment may change when you’re not around, because the person may not need your product. Let them build the conversation and you’ll learn more about their problems.
Build an emotional tracker. When I start a marketing plan, the first thing I build is an emotional excel sheet, and I fill it up with the feelings of my ideal client; what they feel, and what they want to feel, and the gap between point A and B. If I can align that with the intentionality of what I’m building, I’m onto something good.
This is the handiest tool in my kit when I start a marketing project. The exercise requires you to ask deep, personal questions, so try to really extend the reach of your network and become known for listening so you can get stronger answers.
Here are the headers I use:
- “What do they say?” — this is for the short phrase they say to you, so you know what to listen for.
- “Why do they feel this way?” — what physical “black and white on paper” action occurred to trigger this chain of feelings.
- “What do they feel?” — Give me the whole iceberg of emotion.
- “Logic?” — What’s the logical version of this? What are they saying to other people to explain their emotions?
- “Solution?” — what’s their perfect solution?
This excel sheet helps you and your team to fully understand your client and own their problem. The more you empathize with your customer and their problem, the stronger relationships you’ll build.
Marketing needs intentionality, even if you’re going for “organic.” User Generated Content doesn’t just happen. To develop purpose, you need to invest, time, energy, and money to get there. You’ll be glad you did.