The battle between moving fast and planning slow in startups

In today’s rapidly changing business environment we must navigate change, innovate, disrupt and transform to ultimately stay relevant and grow. This often feels counterintuitive to long-term planning. How does long-term strategy marry with short-term agility?

No early-stage startup plans to remain one, but too often marketing plans fall short of planning for growth. Ideally your marketing strategy (even at pre-seed or Series A stage) really needs to allow for, or at least acknowledge, how that plan might evolve as you scale. In fact, a ‘long-term’ plan could be relabelled a ‘plan for growth’.

It is more important than ever for founders to hone their strategic thinking skills and align their marketing strategy to best support their business vision and objectives. 

A wholesale rewrite of your marketing strategy (if you’ve devised one) may not be needed but a considered review and refresh could prove invaluable, and lead to many extra benefits beyond the all-important early days' startup marketing impact and sales performance.

First and foremost, it pays to revisit the foundation of any core marketing strategy, and strip it back to the 7 Ps of Marketing:

  • Product: Startups need to ensure their product or service meets the needs and desires of their target audience. Understanding the unique selling points and features that differentiate their offering is key.
  • Price: Determining the right pricing strategy is vital for startups. They should consider factors such as production costs, competitor pricing and perceived value, to set a price that attracts customers while ensuring profitability.
  • Place: Choosing the right distribution channels is critical. Whether it's selling online, through partnerships, or in physical stores, startups need to make their product or service easily accessible to their target market.
  • Promotion: Startups should create effective promotional strategies to raise awareness. Utilising digital marketing, content creation, social media and other channels will help in building a brand presence and attracting customers.
  • People: The people aspect involves both employees and customers. Hiring and training the right staff is essential, and providing excellent customer service helps in building a positive brand image.
  • Process: Streamlining internal processes contributes to efficiency. From product development to customer service, startups should optimise their processes to deliver a seamless experience for customers.
  • Physical Evidence: For startups, especially those with online presence, the physical evidence can translate into the visual and tangible aspects of the brand. This includes website design, packaging, and any other tangible elements that contribute to the overall brand perception.

To add to the classic 7 Ps, I would now say that there is an essential 8th P:

Purpose: Every company that hopes to succeed in the modern era needs to have a Purpose beyond simple profit. Build the messaging that authentically supports that societal Purpose into your marketing strategy.

A startup must also think about its strategic framework for marketing. This must closely align with your business plan. In fact, your marketing plan really serves as an extension to your existing business plan.

How might your strategic framework look?

Understand your audience. Start by conducting thorough market research to understand your target audience. Identify their needs, preferences, and pain points. This knowledge forms the foundation of a tailored marketing approach that resonates with potential customers.

Set clear objectives. Clearly define your growth objectives. Whether it's expanding customer base, increasing revenue, or entering new markets, establishing specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals provides a roadmap for your marketing efforts.

Differentiate your brand. Develop a unique value proposition that sets your startup apart from the competition. Highlight what makes your product or service distinctive and valuable to customers. This differentiation is the cornerstone of an effective marketing strategy.

Utilise digital marketing channels. Leverage the power of digital marketing to reach a wider audience. Establish a strong online presence through a well-designed website, social media platforms, content marketing, and search engine optimisation (SEO). These channels are cost-effective and offer measurable results.

Implement inbound marketing. Inbound marketing focuses on attracting, engaging, and delighting customers through relevant content. Create valuable and shareable content that addresses your audience's needs. Blog posts, infographics, videos, and eBooks can be powerful tools for attracting and retaining customers.

Embrace data-driven decision-making. Utilise analytics tools to track and measure the performance of your marketing campaigns. Analysing data allows you to understand what works and what doesn't, enabling you to optimise your strategy for maximum impact.

Build strong partnerships. Collaborate with other businesses or influencers in your industry to expand your reach. Partnerships can open new avenues for growth by tapping into established networks and gaining credibility in the market.

Optimise customer experience. A positive customer experience is essential for sustainable growth. Ensure that your product or service meets or exceeds customer expectations. Encourage customer reviews and feedback, and use this information to continually refine your offerings.

Invest in scalable technologies. Implement scalable technologies that can grow with your startup. Automation tools, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and marketing automation platforms can streamline processes and enhance efficiency.

Remain agile and adaptive. Regularly reassess your marketing strategy, incorporating feedback and adjusting tactics based on changing market conditions.

How might your plan need to change as you grow?

The most changeable aspect of any marketing plan is, typically, the channels you use to engage with your audience. A common understanding is to go where your audience is, but your audience often moves as new platforms and communities develop. Monitoring and engaging with communities online, measuring performance across different channels is key.

Metrics and data analysis is becoming increasingly sophisticated. For example, it’s now possible to track the total journey of your end user across different digital platforms all the way to the end sale or download. Media mix modelling (MMM), also known as marketing mix modelling, is an analysis technique that allows marketers to measure the impact of their marketing campaigns to determine how various elements contribute to their goal(s). The media mix can combine any advertising channel including print, social, and online advertising.  MMM collects aggregate data from marketing and non-marketing sources over a period of time. This data is used to create a demand model. Marketers can analyse the model to determine the impact the marketing and non-marketing material has on sales or conversions. From these insights, marketers can adjust their campaigns for future optimisation. Key to this, is that a founder doesn’t need to be a data analyst to understand how to quickly pivot in their marketing strategies. Intuitive tools exist that help startups to make data-led real time decisions on how to best engage with their audiences.