Growing an idea into a thriving company is no easy feat. There are dozens of things you need to get done on the way to realizing your goals.
If you have a vision to disrupt the status quo and make a big impact in the market, learning how to effectively market your startup will make or break your success.
If you’ve figured out your target customer segment and the problem you’re solving, great!
Your next challenge is one of the biggest barriers entrepreneurs face in gaining momentum: how the heck do you get more people to know about what you're doing, try your product, subscribe, buy, or even just give feedback?
How do you get people to give a fuck!
Even entrepreneurs who are skilled at marketing stagnate and stumble on this crucial cornerstone of any successful venture.
This is because marketing is not an element of the business. It is the business.
Marketing is the business
One reason why many entrepreneurs struggle with this is that their idea of marketing – and everything they know about marketing strategies and tactics – are straight out of the playbook of marketing masters. Most of which, work at corporates and are experts in running big business.
The problem with looking to these examples when growing a startup is that the business environment is fundamentally different.
A startup has very limited resources and often relies on the founder’s own time, energy and money to get going. For most startups, even looking at the list of activities that marketing experts recommend can be overwhelming. For example, experts suggest you should:
Build a website
Launch social media and grow your community
Start a blog and write articles
Post frequent content
And this is only the beginning!
It’s no wonder that many entrepreneurs just say, fuck it, I will hire someone to do it for me. Then they do, and it results in a disaster. But why?
Why Marketers and Marketing Agencies Fail in Marketing Startups
Experienced marketers and agencies often fail miserably when working with startups. This is mostly because they are highly experienced! Experienced in working with more mature companies, more available resources like time and energy.
When marketing a startup, you must unlearn the marketing tactics that are proven to work for big companies. You must be able to operate with extreme limitations and constraints, experiment and move with enough speed and agility to change course in a heartbeat.
Agencies and seasoned marketing experts often follow more tried and true methods that are known to succeed in environments with more business certainty. By the time your startup gains 100,000 new customers, they might still be debating on the best strategy to implement. Or considering what budget is needed to roll out the plan.
Is it any wonder that most successful tech startups – the unicorns that are shaping our world – didn’t use marketing exerts to launch and grow?
Instead, they used growth hackers (non-marketers) who focused on identifying a path that would generate more customers and users. This is all while working under the conditions of extreme uncertainty with very limited, or no resources.
Let me be clear – I’m not saying that marketing doesn’t work. Some of the best marketers in the world have come up with universal principles that work across borders, industries and company size. These principles should act as a guide for all who are looking to market anything to anyone.
Seth Godin is one of these geniuses. Both a marketing and startup god, he has changed the game when it comes to understanding what effective marketing is.
So how do you do it? How do you evaluate the knowledge, experience and decades of marketing wisdom gained from big companies, and apply it to your startup?
"In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible." Seth Godin
Build on what you have to create value
Even though using a marketing agency or traditional marketing strategies might not be the right fit for your startup, the good news is that you don’t have to figure out your next moves from scratch.
From my experience mentoring and growing startups, here are a few tips to help you build marketing momentum:
1. Capture more value from your connections
You know more people than you think. Everyone in your network knows someone. It’s amazing how many entrepreneurs ignore their spheres of influences, communities and the people they interact with on a regular basis. The idea of “build it and they will come” has long served as an excuse to avoid any interaction with people, and it does no favours for your business growth. Do not make this mistake.
Unless you are an alien from a completely different planet, you know people. You grew up with some, went to school, church or played sports with some. You might have even worked with some. You get the point.
Yes, they might not be your immediate customers (and please, do not go out and try to sell to everyone you know!). But chances are, they know someone who might be interested in what you have to offer. Don’t underestimate the ability of your existing connections to open the door to new prospects.
Start by reaching out to the people you know and share what you are working on, why, and what problem you are aiming to solve. Ask them to share your project with their networks and help connect you with people they know who could benefit from what you provide.
As long as your message is authentic, to the point, and there is no sense of obligation present, you will be surprised by the amount of people who will step up to help. Everyone appreciates the entrepreneurial hustle. Remember to respect the rest that don’t, and always show appreciation whether they help you or not.
Power Tip: Use LinkedIn messages as they are harder to ignore than email. For more tips, read my thoughts on how to hack your network growth using LinkedIn .
2. Capture More Value from Your Customers
If you have even 10 customers, you already have a goldmine of stories to collect and share. Reach out to your customers and listen to their story. If you are in the food business and want to understand customer meat purchasing preferences, ask what compels them to choose where, what and how they buy. Be careful not to make the conversation about your company. Keep the focus on them, why they enjoy shopping the way they do, how they found you, and what they love most about their experience so far.
For example Meatme is a company dedicated to helping customers access healthy, locally raised meat, co-founded by Victor Straatman and Trevor Bird. The company does a great job of showcasing customer stories across their Instagram page and by highlighting happy customer reviews on their website.
Thinking back to the Meatme company, here’s an example of how they leverage partners as part of their storytelling strategy. Below is a snapshot of a recent Instagram postwhere Meatme highlights one of the farms, Empire Valley Ranch, that provides grass-fed beef through the Meatme platform. By showcasing the family behind the business and unearthing their motivation to provide healthy meat options, the reader is left with a sense of connection to the brand and business operations.
Leveraging partners will provide you with an amazing array of stories that will work for you day and night, without spending one dollar on advertising. And of course, you can always augment your efforts by investing in some ad spend to promote the posts across social media and other content distribution networks.
3. Capture More Value from Your Marketing
Creating content and experimenting with startup marketing tactics is great, but how do ensure you’re set up for success to capture as much value as possible for your efforts?
A critical piece of your strategy should include building a lead funnel. This means developing lead magnets in tandem with gated content, enabling you to capture valuable customer information.
Lead magnets are content pieces that deliver enough value to your customer to compel them to give you their email address in exchange. By “gating” this content behind a landing page or opt-in form, you can capture their information and permission to contact them, and start to nurture the relationship.
Continuing to provide them with valuable content is likely to position your startup as the best resource to solve their problem once they are ready to buy.
Here are some examples of content and/ or lead magnets you could create:
Sign up form for a valuable newsletter/email course
Sign up option to be notified when you release the next related story
A downloadable ebook/presentation/infographic about: 10 ways your customer can solve a problem relevant to your product or service. The state of an industry, one your customer cares about. How your customers have solved a problem that is relevant. Success secrets of your most successful customers. Complimentary tools and products customers use.
Power tip: at the beginning when you have only a few customers, it’s very important that you capture people’s information when they hit the buy button. If you send them right to the shopping cart or payment gateway, you won’t be able to identify who was going to make the purchase but didn’t. Having their information up front will enable you to follow up with them and find out why they didn’t make the decision to buy.
4. Capture More Value from Your Personal Brand
If you haven’t already put thought to building your personal brand, refer to my earlier article on why building a personal brand is important.
Once you’ve started to be intentional about building your brand, leverage your online presence to drive more interest. Share about your work with your startup and team, provide updates on any new developments and highlight stories and learnings from launching and growing your company.
Optimizing your LinkedIn profile and other social platforms can really boost traffic to your online website or blog. Check out how Tara Bosch, founder of candy company SmartSweets, uses her personal brand on Instagram to drive more interest in her company. Subscribers can follow along the journey of growing the business, understand the mission behind creating a sugar-free candy, and get a look into her personal life as well.
Using these principles will have you well on your way to hacking your growth and developing a marketing strategy that is right for your startup.
Are there other marketing strategies that have worked for your startup? Please share and comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.