Entrepreneurs spend a lot of time and effort building their products and services. They can start to attract a small customer base organically, but marketing can really help them scale.
Working with startups and small businesses, I often get asked, “What do I need to do to get started?” It’s obvious you need the basics like a logo, a website where customers can learn more about your offerings and an email and phone number where customers can contact you. But where do you start your marketing plan, and how do you start reaching new customers?
Having helped a number of companies start their marketing department, here are some tips I often share:
- Develop a solid foundation with market research and select a target audience.
The first and most important foundational step is market research. Figuring out product/market fit is vital for startups, as 42% fail because they have “no market need,” according to a study done by CBInsights.
In addition, a thorough review of the competition can help you determine points of difference and weaknesses you can address in advance. It’s also necessary to take a deep dive on customers, including an examination of different segments and their relative value to you, identifying needs and pain points and mapping the customer buying process in depth. This will help inform a lot of decisions in your marketing plan.
- Define a clear target market and focus on serving them well.
Based on your research, define who your offering will be directed toward to optimize limited resources. This doesn’t mean other segments can’t be customers, but that you’re selecting a core group to target your product, messaging and distribution channels to.
By concentrating your efforts on a niche of customers who will best benefit from your product and are of high value to your company, you can cater your marketing plan to them and not waste your time or budget on lower value or harder-to-convince customers.
- Design a brand that represents what your company stands for.
A brand is more than just a name or logo. It is how your company is perceived by others.
“In a super-crowded world, with too many choices (more than twenty kinds of toner to choose from for my laser printer, and more than nineteen thousand combinations of beverages at Starbucks) … you’re quite lucky if you have a brand at all,” says author Seth Godin.
To stand out, develop a clear and distinct point of view that inspires feelings in your customers, encouraging them to engage with you over and over.
- Decide on your goals and define your budget.
It can be hard to decide on how much to spend on marketing, especially in the early days of a business. Internet guru Neil Patel’s startup marketing guide states that “57% of startup marketing managers are not basing their marketing budgets on any ROI analysis.” Often, it comes down to how much you can afford, but how much is enough?
If you can, identify how many customers would support the revenue you need for your launch. Next, look at your margin and decide how much of it you would be willing to spend to get a new customer — this is your cost of acquisition. Your customer goal multiplied by your ideal cost of acquisition is a good starting point for an initial budget.
- Map out points of influence in the buying process.
Find out where your customers get their information from and where they’re influenced along their purchasing journey, beginning from the time they decide they need something to after the sale, when they’re evaluating post-purchase satisfaction and repeat purchases or referrals. Look at people who influence customers’ decisions, their media channels and sources of information or complementary products that must be compatible — these are good channels to focus on initially.
- Create messaging and content that attracts your target customers.
Building on your research, develop a value proposition that inspires your target market to act and engage with your company. This can be done by focusing on how you solve a customer pain point, help them do a job better or make their lives easier. Using language and visuals that are relatable and easy to understand, emphasize your points of difference to grab your target market’s attention.
- Figure out how to implement your marketing plan.
In addition to your budget, another essential resource is assistance getting marketing up and running. This is often decided by budget availability. Smaller companies frequently hire interns or work with boutique agencies for help creating a launch campaign, with customer research and everything in between.
Marketing tools such as a customer relationship management tool (CRM), email automation program, social media management app and website tracking software, can also help you work smarter and more efficiently. Once your resources are set, a realistic work-back schedule will allow you to plan for all the work needed to start marketing and coordinate the different activities that need to come together in time for your launch.
When marketing your company, it can feel overwhelming to figure out where to begin. Investing time in market research is crucial in the marketing planning process and can set you up for success or failure. Direction is equally important to identify and then connect with your target audience in an authentic way, as well as help you focus the limited resources SMBs and startups often have. Finally, find the right team to help you get going. It’s important to find others who share your vision and excitement about your company and are invested in your future.