Startup your Startup Marketing Part 2: Strategy

Welcome back, this is week two of our comprehensive guide to startup marketing. If you missed last week, go back and take a look at “The Basics,” don’t fret, this next bit can wait. For everyone else, once you have your first few marketing materials out of the way you want to move on to the big stuff right? You want commercials, and print ads, and billboards, and if you’re not living in the 1950’s, probably social media content too. Okay, that's fair, but hold your horses, because we have one more lesson before we get to “The Fun Stuff”. For now, let’s all take a step back and look at the big picture, it’s time to start strategizing.

“Measure twice, cut once.” As a startup there’s little room for failure, actions have to be considered carefully and we want to know all the consequences in advance. This is exactly the mindset you need to take into planning your marketing strategy. Your strategy defines the limits of what your marketing “team” (this might be just you) will ultimately develop and the various tools they’ll use to reach your customers. Creating a marketing strategy is at its core answering three simple questions about your company:

  • Where are you now?
  • What business should you be in?
  • How will you get there?

Where are you now?

The first step is taking stock of who and what you currently are. There are plenty of books, blogs, and bologna which purports to tell you how to conduct a strategic situational analysis. So as not to get too far into the weeds here, rather than tell you how to conduct your analysis, we’re providing a list of what you should be analyzing in the first place. Marketers look at a business through the lens of the classic marketing mix: Product, Price, Place, and Promotions. Without the alliteration that's:

  • What you sell
  • For how much
  • Where you sell it
  • And how

These are the essential elements of your brand. They are the levers you can pull and the buttons you can mash to grow your startup. Use the marketing mix to conceptualize your brand and how it's performing, are you reaching the customers you want?

Speaking of your customers, who are they exactly? Understanding who your customers are is vital to ensure your marketing strategy is reaching out to the right people. Any quantifiable information you can pin down concerning your customers is called Demographic Information. This is their age, gender, annual income, careers, languages, etc. Intangible information is called Psychographics, this could be their interests, attitudes, aspirations, values, and looking very broadly their culture. There's also Technographics, which is a special kind of demographics. This gets its own category because these behaviors tell you where your customers are looking: TV, smartphones, social media, etc.

Once you know yourself and your customers you can start to see the dots where you can best connect with them. When you’re new, you’re niche. Own it by making a deep connection with your core customers using your new found knowledge to establish yourself in the marketplace. You have a unique story to tell and an audience who has already shown an interest, capitalize on that.

What business should you be in?

After a comprehensive look at your startup's position in the market, it’s time to look toward the future. Chances are when your startup was founded there was a purpose, some underlying mission the founders were on and some grand vision of the direction they could take the germ of an idea that would become their business. Even if it was never captured in writing, even if it has evolved and grown over time, these concepts directed the growth of your startup. Continuing to live up to your vision and accomplishing your mission is the purpose of your marketing strategy. While some startups see “putting it in writing” as antithetical to their goal of being flexible and adaptable, you don’t have to write it in stone. But if you intend to be a leader in your field then eventually you have to provide some purpose and direction. (If you don’t believe me, take it from the Army.)

Once you have a concrete vision and a quantitative mission statement, take another look at the marketing mix. This time it’s not about what your startup is, but what it could be. Think big, and most importantly, think past the next quarter. If you want your marketing strategy to be relevant for more than a few days you have to predict the future. Go out as far as you feel the data will let you. Expect changes in technology and society to disrupt your market and start making plans. Changes to your marketing mix must be guided by your long term goals, not just short term gains. Ask yourself if your brand is living up to your vision, and are you accomplishing your mission. Will you be poised to take advantage of future opportunities?

How will you get there?

Think of strategy like a roadmap. Before Google can give you directions it needs two things: where you’re starting, and where you’re going. Plug in that information correctly and you get multiple turn-by-turn instructions. That's your strategy. The different route options represent the marketing mix. You can change your product, its price, the place, or the promotions, but it should all be in service of getting you to your destination. Finally whether or not you take a plane, train, or automobile, that's tactics. Each of the 4P’s has their own set of tactics. The “Lean Startup” model provides tactics for generating new products. At Kapowza we’re promotional experts, we won’t advise you on the best pricing for your product line, but we have a few ideas about what color it should be.

As a startup, you want a marketing strategy that’s as flexible, adaptable, and scalable as Google Maps when you’re driving cross country to meet your in-laws for the holidays. You want something you can fall back on when you’re suddenly “stuck in traffic” because Facebook changed their newsfeed algorithm (again) and your organic views have plummeted. Are you ready to change your content? Could you abandon Facebook altogether? If you're not prepared to reroute your marketing at a moment's notice, it’s probably because you left your map at home.

When you start developing your startup’s strategy it’s easy to get tunnel vision. It’s easy to find short term tactical solutions like how to get more users, Facebook likes, or blog shares. But solutions to those questions won’t provide you with a “why”. Why is exponential growth your goal? Why should you use Facebook ads and not LinkedIn ads? Why are you hiring a content creator to manage your company blog? Answers to these questions come from developing a strategy. No one can tell you exactly what your strategy should be. That takes research and a sensible understanding of what your startup is and what it could be. If your startup coasts along the latest growth hacking wave and you never stop to ask yourselves, “are we really doing the right thing here?” you don’t have a marketing strategy, you have a gimmick.