I’ve written a lot about startup marketing because my perspective has been unique, having started with a Big Co marketing foundation (Hewlett-Packard), ran a Fortune 500 global marketing department (Cognizant), and shifted in the past 7 years to being a startup founder twice (Eqentia, Engagio), worked for a third one (Influitive), and lately been mentoring/advising dozens of startups in that particular domain.
In this post, I’m going to highlight and offer a brief synopsis of 12 key marketing related articles I have written, and this format will tie them together. They are listed in the order written from February 2013 to August 2015. If you read them in that order, you will be up to date with my thinking pertaining to startup marketing. Maybe one day I will organize them into an e-book.
Covers what I call The Native Marketing Trap. Most tech startups are digital natives, and so is the predominance of their marketing. They stay online and market solely via growth-hacking techniques, user activity and analytics data because their business model is online. But that’s a trap and it gives you blind spots.
The hardest part of marketing for a startup is to take it seriously, to commit to learning it, and spending time on it. If you’re a young startup CEO/founder who has come from the product or engineering ranks, you probably don’t know what you don’t know about marketing. 8 quick marketing lessons for startups.
Much of my inspiration for this post was borrowed from the seminal book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. That book was written in 1981, and it is a marketing classic. I added my own context for startups and companies experiencing hyper-growth, in addition to modernizing some of its concepts to reflect the current online realities. The book’s original direction focused on advertising as the method of communicating a brand’s position in the marketplace. But today, the blog post is arguably the new Ad unit of today’s world which is dominated by online influences. Therefore, much of the basics of these principles (with my adjustments) squarely apply.
if you have gone way past the MVP and are well into the product/market fit, do not forget why you started the company. It’s not to develop the product. It’s not to get tons of users. It is to find out how the product is generating value for the user or customer so you can translate that insight into a sustainable revenue model. Nothing else is more important after that point. In this post, you’ll understand Peter Drucker’s view that your customer doesn’t really care about your product, but they care about what the product does for them.
Whether you want to get noticed via creative and fun interruption, or inside the stream of content that we are already consuming, you need to get noticed. Unless you’re already famous, the easiest way to get noticed is by being totally different. Head-turning different. Eye-popping different. Attention-grabbing different. Purple Cow different. Passionately and decisively DIFFerenT.
Reaching Product/Market Fit is a key objective in the life of a startup, whether it’s a journey, a continuum or a given point in time. But right after that, it becomes really important that your product roadmap remains totally coupled with your value proposition. This post includes a value proposition writing quick guide, and a checklist for it.
This is one of the most popular posts I have written, with over 2,700 retweets equating to about 2M views (and counting). It helps you put some order into your messaging, according to a hierarchy, comparable to the structure of a rocket: 1) the nose, 2) the guidance apparatus, 3) the propulsion system, 4) the fuel reserve, and 5) the fins. You can apply this process to your website, marketing material, or pitch.
To gain some perspective and see the forest from the trees, I made up a diagram to depict the “whole marketing system”, and if you start from the top down gradually, you can appreciate the hierarchy of cascading effects from one stage to another, and the objectives inside each phase. Not everybody needs to know marketing, but everybody needs to understand what marketing does.
This was the second most popular post I wrote, with over 2,000 social shares. Branding is bigger than your product. It’s part of the love affair that your customers, prospects and the market in general, will have with you. It’s what you stand for, the emotions you evoke inside your customers’ hearts, what they will remember from experiencing your product, and it’s also what you stand for in terms of values and causes you may associate with. Brand power, done well, has infinite value, and it keeps growing almost forever. Whereas market share has a finite limit, mindshare doesn’t. The mind welcomes great ideas, makes room for them, and likes to keep them forever as long they bring good feelings, or offer a real benefit. As a startup, if you begin to worry prematurely about your brand, you are really wasting time.
This is one of my favorite posts, because it is so pertinent to a need I am still seeing. If there’s only one post you can read, then this is the one. Your user growth is giving you a false sense of success, because user growth alone is not enough to let you become a great company.Simply put, high user growth doesn’t equal high market awareness or valuation. As a startup, you need to grow your brand in the eyes of the market, specifically targeting the market that you haven’t reached yet. Therefore, you should never be content with viral growth, organic growth, referral growth, or any type of quantitative growth, even if you are adding 250,000 users per day.
Here’s a classical mistake I’m seeing with some early startups that have a compelling vision, during the time when they come out with the first iterations of their product. They try to blurt out their vision on the marketplace instead of communicating a user behavior they want to induce. If you’re a startup, your vision was great for telling (and selling) the VCs about you and getting them excited, but your market needs something more tangible and concrete, that they can work with. If you have a great vision, think about how you want your users to boot-up your vision. That bootup starts with the product, not the vision.
This is a follow-on to #10. Startups that don’t focus pro-actively on building their brand are making it harder on themselves to command a higher valuation in the venture or capital markets. As much as users and engagement contributed to your early valuation, brand and its strength are an amplifier of your market value. It is like a premium that the market or investors bestow on you, as a reward for having penetrated their minds and the market at large.