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7 Marketing Lessons for Startups

March 12, 2012 6 comments

Some of the most interesting, fun, frustrating and rewarding clients to work with from a marketing perspective are startups. Startups are agile, nimble, passionate and innovative and if the idea is adopted by the masses; extremely financially rewarding. Whether you’re in real estate or are launching the next big social media idea or mobile application, you need to create awareness, in order to generate adoption and ultimately sales of your product or service. How do you create awareness? A good first step is to build a brand and marketing strategy to outline the framework of how your brand should be communicated and how it should be perceived by your customers and the market. Keep these important marketing lessons in mind when building a marketing strategy for your startup:

1. You don’t need to do anything in mass.
Mass media includes TV, Print and Radio. It’s extremely expensive for startups and has a very short shelf life. It might make you feel good to see your commercial running on a local TV network, but is it reaching the right audience? Likely not. It’s difficult to measure and very difficult to precisely reach your target audience. Offline activity drives online activity, but if you’re a startup, forget mass media until you have it in your budget, and even then, only consider ad placement in these medium if you can measure your success and that it truly makes sense for your business.

2. You don’t need to hire a PR firm.
The press LOVE to publish newsworthy stories. It’s their job. The best news stories though are the ones that are awesome and are easily spread by word of mouth and social media. If you’re a startup, you don’t need to pay someone for this. Most good PR firms will charge you upwards of $5,000/month to develop a few stories and seed them across their publication channels for anyone that will run them. Focus on making your product awesome, focus on creating customer evangelists and you’ll create your own news.

3. You don’t need swag.
Unless your startup company is in the swag business, you don’t need it. Your customers don’t care to have another pen with your logo on it, and why are you focused on creating company golf shirts when that money could be better spent investing in your product?! Usually, the companies who think it’s a good idea to have logo’d coffee mugs and golf balls are the same companies who will question you about the ROI of Social Media.

4. Focus on building a strong, engaged community.
For god sakes you’re a startup! Why are you even thinking about doing anything BUT leveraging the free social media tools out there (Facebook, twitter, linkedIn, Youtube, blog)? If you’re bootstrapped (which most startups are), use social media to help you establish your brand. Reach out to your customers, chat with them, engage them, write blog articles that build your credibility and establish you as an industry thought leader. It’s not about the number of followers or likes you have on Facebook, though. Use these channels to help you market test your products and messaging and see what happens when you reward your best customers for helping you spread the word!

5. Make sure your product is an MVP.
You think you’ve got a great idea, you’ve done a little bit of research on google to see who the competitors are and the factors that affect your market. Now, you want to tell the world about it! This ambition is great, but make sure that you’ve measured twice before you cut. Actually, you should measure a whole bunch of times before you cut. Once you launch, that’s it – it’s out there and while it’s hard to establish brand perception, it’s even harder to try and change it once you’ve put something in market.

You do need to get it to MVP (Minimum Viable Product), but make sure that MVP actually solves a market need, that the benefit can be easily articulated by your customers to others and that the market/users/clients/customers are regularly using your product because they think it’s an awesome idea. Survey your base. Listen to what they say. If they think your product stinks, they’ll tell you. If your app sucks, they’ll tell you. Don’t focus on implementing every piece of feedback, but do focus on making something cool. Give them a reason to tell their friends about why they need your product in their lives and how they can’t live without it.

6. Bring your development in house.
I see this too frequently with new tech startups and entrepreneurs who perhaps aren’t the most skilled of developers – they hire a 3rd party development company to help them build their website or mobile app. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, however, if your business idea is 100% a new social media platform, mobile application or web-based service, you are at the mercy of the development company where your project may not be a priority. Want to change the font color on one of your pages? File and pay for a change request. Want to add a page to your site? File and pay for a change request. Want to integrate your blog or social media into your site? Well, you get the idea.

If you’re a startup company whose business idea relies solely on the success of your web or mobile platform, you should hire a developer, and more importantly, a UI/UX specialist. Your great idea will be lost if the look and feel of your site does not match what you’re communicating. Also, since this interface is how people will actually use your product, it’s important that it’s intuitive and visually appealing to the user. No one will recommend a product that is clunky, or one that they don’t know how to use to your friends.

Finally, on the issue of brining your development in house – do this. Talk to people, developers, find the good ones and hire them. You will be able to make changes 1,000x quicker, be more agile to customer requests and implement your changes more quickly with someone on staff that is 100% dedicated to your product and your product only.

7. Advertising will kill a bad product fast.
The easiest way to kill a bad product is to start advertising it in mass and attracting customers. They’ll find out pretty quick that your product doesn’t stack up to what you’re telling the market and guess what? They’ll tell a lot of people about it. They tell people on Facebook. They’ll tweet it. They’ll write blog posts about it. They’ll leave negative and sometimes nasty reviews on the application stores where your product is featured. But most of all, they’ll tell their friends to stay away.  As a startup, the #1 thing that you can do from a marketing perspective is make a cool product. No matter what your startup budget is, nearly all of it should be invested in the product.

I recently asked a bootstrapped startup entrepreneur how he heard about Pinterest. Did you hear about it on the radio? Did you see a print ad for it? Did you see a TV ad? No. Someone you know shared a link – shared something cool and it spread.

Focus on making a cool product, focus on building a strong and engaged community and make your idea easily shareable through social channels. With a proper brand and marketing strategy in place, the rest will take care of itself.

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