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Early Marketing for Your Startup:  How to Think About the Start Line Before Rushing In

Early Marketing for Your Startup: How to Think About the Start Line Before Rushing In

Nov 01 2019

Early Marketing for Your Startup:  How to Think About the Start Line Before Rushing In

By Dawn Marie Yankeelov

This is your wake-up call.  The new year will dawn soon, and a 2020 marketing plan calls for dollars, business insight, and execution to generate sales. Still, the “build it they will come” philosophy remains prevalent among startups of all kinds.  Founders often bet all their dollars on the technology or the product, or even a retail location, before realizing something has to be left for marketing to beta customers or clientele.  It is often recommended that companies that have been in business for 1-5 years should allocate 12-20% of their anticipated revenue on marketing for the year, but depending on the product or service, it actually may be a higher percentage.  If you are offering a product or service in an entirely new model or category (often true in technology corridors), then wisdom dictates substantial marketing dollars. 

With the buzz of terminology out there describing marketing outreach, the average startup founder tends to bypass digital marketing categories he or she just doesn’t understand—words like SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing), CPM (cost per impression), retargeting, conversion paths, churn rate….You could learn as you go, or research key terms as they are thrown at you, but rely on a professional with experience for guidance.  The successful startup founder will review the overall communications and marketing plan with an eye on categories ascribed to branding, research, public relations, social selling and related digital engagement, lead generation, and web development. 

Important first steps in discussing your marketing plan:

  • Begin with the end in mind.  When allocating dollars know your sales goals and list out benchmarks in your first-year plan for today’s available products or services from your startup.  Determine what level of “expert status” should be developed for recognition of the company in the appropriate buying circles.  Figure out who really is your target audience in the next cycle of activity.  In other words, don’t spend dollars on a product you hope to start development on next year from a current scratchpad idea.
  • As a startup, the general rule is to determine a 90-day plan first, with thought to the 6-month and 12-month goals.  This is because you may pivot before six months goes by into a more profitable sector or narrow to a more specific objective or target. 
  • Be realistic about what you have to spend.  Don’t be the founder that has 8 marketing proposals in hand and realizes that $100 a month is not going to do it.  Be fundraising for angel investors if that’s what it is going to take to get to a five-figure annual marketing budget in the first year.  Without baseline marketing dollars, you probably can’t move very far toward the company’s overall profitability in most cases and scale marketing campaigns with branding, public relations, and digital engagement as is necessary.
  • Use professional services. Your brother’s friend who is working at Walmart full-time who knows something about web development might be a great guy, but can he meet your deadlines and produce a quality web presence for your company? Probably not.  It’s very possible that the web designer, web developer, and the storyteller for your website or mobile application are not the same person.  You may need an outside contracted team.
  • Identify your target audience, but test.  Your first step in marketing may be to “test” to find the exact target audience open to your messages that will lead to actual sales.  Start with a subset target of your intended customers and do very limited marketing to test the strength of your target audience, your campaign objectives, the viability of your website channels, your overall outreach.  Example:  Is the CFO really the target, for example.  You may find that the CIO must signoff, before the CFO will even look at your business-to-business product.  Is the industry sector the one that really needs the product or service you have? Look at market trends in your key industry targets.

All marketing kneels at the altar of sales.  If you can’t convert marketing leads to sales, it may be time to determine if you are speaking to the right target audience, or if your sales process is not a process at all.  I once worked with a company that hired me to see why they couldn’t close. It’s not always the marketing that trips up sales. A real-world example includes a tech company that never finalized its sales contract in its first 12-months, so everything was tied up in “legal,” and the company’s salesmen could not close the sales process. 

Don’t look to blame everything on bad marketing. It’s fine to pivot, but make sure the rest of the team is on the same page.  For example, salespeople need to know if marketing is switching directions, and going after a new target audience. 

Questions to Put on Your List:

  • What is our brand mission and vision?  The myth is that you don’t need a brand.  Example:  If you are selling to outdoorsmen including hikers and campers, but your logo is a fish, you may need to rethink the brand image.  If you think of fishing when you see a fish, then your customer will too.  A brand logo and any icons for sections of your site should represent your overall objectives. 
  • Who and where is your target audience?  As a startup, you won’t have the dollars to target “everyone.”  Narrow down your industry sector, target demographic, and target attributes.  Do the research homework or pay to have it done.  It saves spending on useless campaigns to people that are not really your buying prospects.
  • Have you set sales goals and do you have a team approach?  If you don’t have a clear picture to articulate to others of what you look to see come to fruition, how can you create a marketing message? You can’t.
  • Do we have the team we need internally?  If the team is lean in your startup, you may need to augment with outside support.  Not every team member is cut out to figure out the marketing strategy.  There is expertise involved in both the strategy and the tactics.
  • What are the priorities for the company’s overall business plan, and how does marketing deliver on that?  Remember that going to a tradeshow can be effective, but all the marketing, including your baseline web presence, must be planned six to eight weeks before the actual event. 

What Works

The statistics indicate that email marketing can still be important in early marketing.  The top objectives with email outreach are communicating with prospects, communicating with customers and building brand awareness.  Those with an objective of generating more revenue saw greater success with their email marketing program.  HubSpot reported recently that email marketing generates an average of $38 for $1 spent, which makes for an exceptional return on investment (ROI).

Programmatic targeting campaigns are rising in importance.  80% of all the marketers surveyed by Kantar Media recently say they are currently using programmatic targeting for their campaigns. Kantar’s research found that the number of marketers who use programmatic targeting is expected to rise to 90% in the coming year.

Podcasts and podcast-related advertising have leaped forward as well.  The amount of time the average person spends watching online videos has risen quicker than expected to approximately 84 minutes, up from 69 minutes as reported by Zenith’s Online Video Forecasts.  Trends like this rise are useful in noting for big brands, but also in startup circles.  More than four-fifths (84%) of the global marketing leaders surveyed expect their online video budget to increase in the next year.

Dawn Marie Yankeelov of Aspectx is a marketing industry leader working with startup and tech clientele for more than 30 years.  She serves as the Chief Communications Officer of the Sheltowee Business Network, and the Executive Director of TALK, the Technology Association of Louisville Kentucky.