Recently, we attended Denver Startup Week, which inspired us to create a series of blog posts that dig into issues related to getting a startup off the ground – building on the How to Build Requirements for an MVP and our whitepaper on Tips Every First-Time Entrepreneur Should Know. This series specifically focuses on topics and sessions covered at Denver Startup Week, which Baked & Branded was thrilled to be part of. We compiled these notes from the “How to Develop a Marketing Strategy as Startup” session at the event. As always, the room was packed (standing room only) and there was high engagement in the first half when industry pros shared their wisdom (less so in the second half when it became a little sales-pitchy).
The key advice given in the session and what we agree with most is:
- Focus on getting your product out the door – with emphasis on speed of perfection. Your product doesn’t need to be perfect, because you don’t even know what “perfect” is at this point. Avoid perfecting your product. Instead, keep calm and keep shipping.
What does this mean for startup marketing?
It means that you shouldn’t market a product until you actually have one, or at least have a beta program and a concrete delivery date. Of course you can do some preliminary “smoke test” stuff to collect emails etc. and validate your idea but what good is having a serious and structured marketing program before you have a product (or as least a concrete delivery date of said product)? And while you should be doing some marketing and PR to gain company awareness, don’t get ahead of yourself by sinking money into product marketing campaigns before you have a product to sell. Focus on what matters first, even though it’s tempting to get distracted with gratifying but often useless things like gaining Facebook likes and Twitter followers.
This brings us to our second tip:
- Be careful with social media – doing it right requires a huge time commitment, so if you can’t keep up with it, don’t bother starting. That being said, if you can launch and run a sustained social media campaign and it is not distracting you from your number one objective of shipping your product, then by all means, tweet away! You can also hire an agency to help you build and sustain a social media effort if it’s not something you can focus on. There are plenty of good reasons to have a social media campaign while you’re building your product, depending on your business objectives.
OK, so now you’ve got the product stuff figured out. Now where do you begin with startup marketing?
- Writing is the number one most important secondary skill of a startup. Writing takes skill (and hence, practice). You want to get across what you need to say in as few words as possible – think elevator pitch or a back-of-the-napkin overview. Blogging is also essential – to increase search is the obvious reason (SEO), but the less obvious reason is to establish yourself as a thought-leader. Providing your audience with accurate and valuable information, without asking for something in return, builds your credibility and your reputation. The key objective is to take a stance on a topic, rather than simply reporting what other people have already said. You may be wrong or you may be right, but the point is to start a dialogue. You personify the company.
Don’t over-complicate pieces by being too wordy or relying on jargon For example, don’t use the word “utilize” rather than “use” or rely on marketing buzz words like “revolutionary” and “innovative” to describe your company or product. If you can make your point in five words rather than 20, use the five-word version. The simpler you make the idea, the faster someone will understand how you can help them and the more likely they are to buy. Take a look at grammar.ly – this is a great online tool that can help correct your wordiness, passive voice, etc. There are also firms for outsourced blog writing, which some local startups even offer. However, we recommend that you don’t outsource your startup marketing until you have dedicated resources internally to support your plan.
So, you have the writing down. Now what? How should you determine your startup marketing strategy?
- The best advice is to try, measure, analyze and repeat. Don’t be afraid to try quirky things. Chalkboard signs at bars and restaurants are a perfect example; they will offer an item as a special and if it does well, it gets added to the menu. The medium isn’t important – it’s all about the message. So play around and see what sticks. Don’t be afraid to do something weird. Personally, I have been experimenting lately with ly and Scoop.it, and I’ve had some successes and some failures. Keep a log of everything you try; integrate what works into your repertoire and trash the rest..
- Challenge your assumptions. Just because something is working, it doesn’t mean it’s best for your business. For example, just because your bounce rate is 30 percent, don’t assume that’s good enough. By challenging your assumptions, you may realize that a change is needed, which is especially true for the startup marketers at the pointy end of the spear. Take a look at The Lean Startup. Don’t just experiment as an exercise – actually pivot when it needs to happen and be ready to commit to the pivot at a certain point. The minimum viable product approach helps you do this.
- Don’t be afraid to steal – all’s fair out there. Steal tactics, and especially competitor’s pricing as much as possible. If you’re not stealing then you probably aren’t doing a good job figuring out what your competitors are offering.
Which social media channel should you use?
- If you have a B2B business model, consider Twitter and LinkedIn. If your audience is mostly consumers, try Facebook. Experiment on all and measure results. Then, focus your energy on the platforms that provide the most value. Paid search testing can also help augment your social media efforts, and measure your return/acquisition upfront, per channel. Penetrating LinkedIn groups with your thought-leadership pieces can also be effective (it’s worked for us). However, it’s hard to differentiate between a company and a thought-leader at the company – LinkedIn still hasn’t figured that out.
- Blogging platforms like WordPress are good for aggregating domain authority. Tumblr won’t give you the domain authority or any long-term leverage. Ultimately, you can use anything that has a good infrastructure that ties in to search. An argument could be made that Google+ will be the next solid platform because it’s closely tied to search results (too bad no one is using it).
There are also great tools out there for experimenting with startup marketing:
- Try A/B testing using tools like Optimizely and Unbounce, which allow you to experiment with similar, but slightly different variations of marketing collateral side-by-side in order to determine which option customers prefer. You can also try MailChimp, which allows you to experiment with email newsletters and Sharpspring, which offers landing page variations.
- Paid search is also an effective research tool. You can advertise products that don’t exist to test demand. Use word strings from Adwords which will help you come up with your phrasing.
Our final words or wisdom for startup marketing:
The key to successful startup marketing is prioritization. Time is always an issue – and there’s an opportunity cost with everything you do. If you spend time on social media, for example, you’re taking time away from product development, etc. Also, try to get comfortable with the fact that there’s always more you can do, so be willing to maintain this perspective and focus on what’s most important. Peter Drucker’s quote sums it up: “There’s nothing quite so useless as doing w/great efficiency something that shouldn’t be done at all.”
What can you do to make the biggest impact? Do that.
And of course, if you get stuck, we can help!
Look for part deux of this blog series next week, when we’ll discuss how you know when your startup marketing is working.