most startup founders aren’t marketing professionals. but there are a few things about marketing that are vital to understand in order to be successful.
entrepreneurs emerge from a wide variety of backgrounds. in the technology sector, they are most often software developers or engineers. but in the broader market, they may be chefs, educators, tradespeople, sales reps, mathematicians, financial analysts, medical professionals…almost anything.
what all entrepreneurs have in common is passion: they are intimately familiar with a problem, they have an idea for how to solve it, and that idea drives them to create something.
they don’t start out thinking about the intricacies of marketing: how to shoot, edit, and promote a video; how design, test, and optimize landing pages; or how to develop conditional email sequences. which is fine. all of that can come later.
but there are half a dozen or so things about marketing that startup founders need to think about and get right in order to turn their dream, their idea, their passion into an ongoing, profitable business. the first elements come at the very beginning, before the first sale is made or the product even exists: getting branding, customer, and messaging right.
there are books written about branding, college courses devoted to it, and agencies that specialize in it. it’s a very large topic. but from the standpoint of a startup founder, the three key elements to think about at the outset are company name, logo, and design elements (fonts, colors, etc.).
spend some time thinking about company naming strategies. seriously. in most cases, you get one chance as an entrepreneur to get this right. (yes, it’s possible to go through a rebranding exercise later, but that is costly, time-consuming, confusing to customers and prospects, and unless absolutely necessary not a terribly productive use of time.)
the ideal company name meets three criteria: it’s unique, easy to spell, and conveys something about what you do. take this blog for example: “webbiquity” clearly meets two of the three criteria. it’s certainly unique (there was no trouble reserving several variants of domain names and social media accounts) and most people get right away that it conveys the idea of “being everywhere online.”
but no one can spell it. oh well, in the words of meatloaf, two out of three ain’t bad.
here are a few examples of good company names:
- inkit (automated direct mail printing and distribution)
- tech dump (electronic device recycling)
- salesreach (communication software for sales professionals)
- leadpages (landing page design software)
- workoutloud (software for building customer communities)
logo and design elements
these create the “personality” for the startup, so it’s really important to do this well. hire a professional. spend the money to get an experienced graphic designer to create your style guide, if at all possible. work some kind of barter / trade-out deal if funds are scarce.
tap your network. find someone who knows what they are doing, and compensate them (somehow) fairly. this is not the place to skimp.
lots of interesting ideas fail because, though they may be technologically fascinating, they don’t solve a real problem, in a reasonable way, for a real person. “build it and they will come” works in movies, but not in business.
the most successful people in business have a deep understanding of their customers. few people have ever done this better than steve jobs. henry ford and sam walton were also masters. starbucks and black rifle coffer both sell coffee to people who enjoy good coffee, yet they have distinctly different markets—and they market themselves accordingly.
for b2b startups, that means building a customer persona. there’s been a lot written about how to develop customer personas, with most of the best stuff coming from tony zambito.
but as a start, a b2b customer persona includes there four elements at a minimum:
- role: the individual’s level (e.g., technician, analyst, coordinator, manager, director, c-level, etc.) and function (accounting, marketing, supply chain planning, etc.) within their firm.
- organization: the type of company (industry) or other other enterprise (nonprofits, government agencies, universities, etc.) the individual works within.
- pains: the specific problem or problems (three to five, if possible) your customer has that your product or service solves.
- mediagraphics: a fancy way of identifying where and how your prospective customer is most likely to hear about you. do they use specific social networks or online forums, read particular publications, attend certain events, etc..
as well as an understanding of:
- how they are solving their problem today;
- why your solution is better than that: and
- what might keep them from buying from you (price, complexity, disruption, perceived risk, etc.)—and then working to minimize all of those barriers.
because of their passion, most entrepreneurs want to tell everyone they meet everything about their product or service, in intricate detail. but you will never get the chance to share all of those details without first grabbing the attention of your listener. that’s where messaging comes in.
as with branding, this is a big topic, and books have been written about it. one of the best recent tomes is building a story brand by donald miller.
briefly, a key message is specific to a product and a market segment, and incorporates three specific elements:
- who the product is for;
- what problem it solves; and
- why it is better than alternatives.
here’s a quick example (full disclosure, a client):
“g2planet provides enterprise event management software for corporate event marketing professionals that is simple to use yet powerful and flexible enough to flawlessly manage complex, multi-day events with thousands of attendees.”
now, if your job involved planning and executing large, multi-day conferences with 10,000 or more attendees, you’d be aware that there are more than a dozen event marketing platforms on the market. but most aren’t easy to use nor do they do they scale well to handle these large events. so, hearing this, you’d likely want to hear more.
this was the first in a series of posts about startup marketing. with a thorough understanding of your customer, solid branding, and a compelling message, you’re ready to develop your minimum viable product (mvp) and start telling the world about it.