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Opinion

FIELD OF DREAMS: The biggest mistake startups make in marketing their product

- November 25, 2019 4 MIN READ
Built it and they will come: It’s a lie that we need to remove from our startup ecosystem.

Despite the launch of courses, countless articles and ongoing mentorship, startups still (as a whole) aren’t great at early stage marketing.

While some have turned a corner, many founders still believe that their killer idea will generate its own market. As a result, they either invest minimally in marketing, do it themselves or skip it altogether.

When given a choice between hiring a developer or a marketer in an early stage team, most startup founders will pick the developer out of instinct. And that’s an issue as a savvy early-stage marketer can be worth their weight in gold.

Wondering how? Read on.

Who are your customers, really?

Nobody would go into business without understanding their customers. But how much do you really know about them? What motivates them? What messaging will draw them to your product? Where you’ll reach them?

Answering these questions is often the first step for a growth marketer. The process will also debunk a lot of assumptions about the market and help you better hone your product-market fit.

This work is often represented in the form of a customer persona. These are developed through the marketer conducting interviews with your prospects and understanding their motivations for using your product. Hubspot has some excellent templates for these if you need a starting point.

Nailing your messaging

Once the marketer has defined your audience, it’s time to start thinking about what messaging about your product will resonate to them.

You may have a product, for instance, that appeals to both HR executives and marketers. They have different roles in the workplace and different reasons for using your product. You shouldn’t target them with the same language as it disregards this nuance and can make your brand sound somewhat tone-deaf.

This is where those personas become incredibly useful. While there may be some cross-over, it’s highly likely that one message won’t work for all of your markets.

Setting up your channels

With all the prep work done, its time to start marketing.

If you haven’t done it already, the marketer will initially work on creating and honing your website. This will become your bucket for leads and inbound interest for your brand.

As for surfacing this product and brand,  the most cost-effective way to do this is through online advertising. That’s actually a broad concept. To narrow it down, you should with an initial focus on a few of the following:

  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) — Optimising your website so it appears higher on search engines. Necessary in competitive landscapes.

  • Content Marketing — Running an effective blog that draws traffic and can lead to backlinking. A fundamental aspect of SEO and can help build an audience for further conversion.

  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM) — Targeted ads on search engines, tailored for each persona. Can help you capture query-based leads, where your product directly solves a problem that is searched for by users.

  • Email Marketing — Direct marketing to your audience. Requires you to build an audience first or leverage someone else’s.

  • Social Media Marketing — Marketing direct to your personas through their social pages can be incredibly useful for B2C brands.

Crucially, you should be looking to strike a balance between a mix of marketing platforms that is sustainable, generates a return on investment and you can scale over time.

Finding the right marketer

This is just a starting point for your marketing activities. They should grow over time to include other components, like partnerships, affiliate marketing, advertising and PR – depending on what your brand needs to grow.

It should take about a few months to set this baseline up. As you grow and evolve, you may need to revisit your personas, messaging and framing too. Products and trends change, and your marketing should evolve with it.

As for who does this, unless you have a marketing background, you should hire someone for this role. The earlier the better, ideally as your second or third hire.

The best way to do this is to hire a contractor either part-time, on an hourly basis. Test this out over a three month period and if the person is a good fit look to make the arrangement more permanent.

As a benchmark, a good growth marketer should cost between $80 to $110 per hour. But this shouldn’t be your only investment in marketing. You need to weigh up this hiring cost as part of your total marketing budget, as social and search engine ads will also eat into this pool of funds.

As for what makes for a good growth marketer for your business: Ideally, you’ll be hiring someone with similar industry experience to your product. However, above all else, you need someone who is flexible and adaptable. Startups change and pivot as they grow, and your marketer needs to be able to keep up with this and pivot their approach as needed.

Hopefully, all of this advice shows that startup marketing isn’t rocket science. It’s far from it. Modern marketing is incredibly practical and results-driven. But you need a specialist dedicated to it to get the best results.

But by not engaging in any marketing you are shortchanging your business. It really a cornerstone of business building, and unless you’re conscious of it early, you won’t realise you’re missing out on it until its too late.

* Hennika Kestila is the marketing manager of BugHerd and a growth marketing consultant. 

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