Are you ready to start marketing your startup?

When it comes to marketing a startup, there can often be some misconceptions: Is it too soon to start thinking about? Is the company too small? Some people think marketing isn’t a priority and budget should be spent elsewhere (something that bigger corporations also fall foul of), or that any type of marketing is good.

So how do you know when you are ready for marketing

Marketing is not all about the huge adverts in the press magazines, or prime time TV adverts. The word marketing actually covers a vast range of actions, and realistically if you are past the design stage you should definitely start to think about what marketing path you are going to take. 

Speaking to Alex Gash, co-Founder at Marylebone Difference Marketing, he explained that if you are raising early stage capital you should have a marketing plan in place: “Even if it is just a topline marketing strategy, you need to think about your marketing objectives and how you’re going to get there. I sometimes recommend using the Lean Canvas one-page business plan template, created by Ash Maurya, as a way of deconstructing ideas and assumptions about your business, to make you think about your marketing in a different way.”

Marylebone supports the startup and scale-up ecosystem by helping keep costs down for businesses, offering tiered marketing and PR packages, and Gash has also had previous experience with the startups industry himself.

Where do I start?

Gash said: “You need to know your customers, and know you are targeting the right people.” By really nailing down your target customers you will then be able to build the right product for them, so start with identifying the following:

  • Who your customers are?
  • What price they will be willing to pay?
  • What business model you will be using?
  • Is there a big enough market for what you want to sell?

James Rix, Founder of StreetPR, part of Crowdify Global said what you need to begin with is an education and activation campaign: “Explain this is what we do, this is how we do it, this is how easy it is for you to use, this is how it will change your life for the better, and here’s a voucher off your first try.”

And how do you do this exactly? Gash said: “Do loads of market research.” This means putting aside the time for some marketing work, no matter how big or small the team, and work on the personalisation of your product, making sure the product fits in the right market, and importantly make sure the strategy is always aligned, and everyone on the team is on the same page.

Then it comes to the right approach. One of the most effective channels to reach your existing or potential customers is email marketing. Gash explained: “No one goes on to a website once a week or month, but people do check their emails every day so this is one way your company will be kept front of mind.”

People often underestimate the power of email marketing but in the beginning it can be one of the most powerful tools that sets your marketing journey off in the right direction, especially for startups.

Don’t be fooled…

It is important to remember that marketing is about intelligent targeting, not a scattergun approach. It’s quality not quantity. “It’s about focusing on the channels that work for you. Analyse the performance and optimise, i.e. quickly adjust and adapt if you’re not getting the ROI (Return on Investment) you need to win customers and additional revenues,” said Gash.

Rix added: “Not every startup is destined to become a Unicorn: but clever use of your marketing budget can at least ensure that you thrive and grow, even if you don’t hit the magical $1bn valuation.”

You need to be mindful when it comes to traditional mass marketing, even when it’s online, as it can be very wasteful for some startups. Rix expanded: “You need something cost-effective right from the start to give yourself an initial boost.”

Top tips?

I can appreciate that running a startup company takes a lot of time and effort, and you probably have a million and one things to do, but Gash stated one of his top tips would be to make sure you put the foundational work in when it comes to marketing. “Don’t build your product, service or company in secret. Make sure you’re always communicating with your potential audiences and customers across all your owned channels. Take them on the journey with you, as you build your product and community.”

Start with the bare minimum, because if you don’t do that no one is going to know who you are. Building up relationships with the press and your core customer base is very important.

He continued: “PR is one of the most powerful and cost-effective tools you can use to build awareness and credibility. But don’t just use it to announce your latest fundraise. Talk about your startup story; your team; your roadmap; your mission and how you’re going to get there. You’d be surprised how the momentum can quickly build from getting coverage in the trade media, to getting noticed by national and international top tier titles.”

It can be boring reading the same thing over and over again, people want to know what you’re doing is different and how. “It is about finding the stories that the industry can cling on to,” Gash added.

Jane Henry, Co-Founder at Marylebone Difference Marketing in a recent blog of hers explained, PR can be a tool to help protect your startup from bad publicity that could end up destroying your reputation, or worse, shut it down.

You could find yourself in a situation where it is a PR strategy that keeps your customer base onside while you fix the situation. If things do go wrong – don’t panic. Gash said: “Every company encounters issues, but the good news is that if you’ve been investing in your marketing and PR effectively, then the first time people hear your company name won’t be in connection with a major nightmare that you’d rather nobody knew about.”

It is important that if you say you’re going to deliver on a marketing plan, actually deliver, do not hang about. Gash said: “Your competitors are likely to be pro-actively marketing,  so you need to keep an eye on what they’re doing, but you really need to focus on what you’re trying to achieve. Set benchmarks, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)  or Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to keep you on track, be creative and true to your product and company mission. That way, you’ll stay ahead of your competitors at any given time.”

In this digital-first world, other core marketing skills include Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Advertising (SEA) to ensure that your company and products appear at or near the top of Google.

“You can improve your SEO by investing in content marketing, video and social media.  Also, double-check every one of your webpages to make sure the SEO is as good as possible; a surprising number of companies miss this step,” said Gash.

The key is to start advertising, or push advertising when things are going well, using it as a tool to boost, not to try and recover when things might not be going to plan. Marketing is about trust. People want to trust in you, trust in what you are advertising, and trust in your product.

Remember: A business without marketing is like smiling in a dark room. You know you’re doing it but no one else does!

Marketing is an investment but it does pay off in the long run.