Why Your (Early-Stage) Startup Needs Marketing

February 27, 2013

3:00 pm

The worlds of marketing and technology continue to converge, resulting in a growing interdependence that has consumer Internet startups taking notice.

This is likely the result of a few factors:

  1. Internet marketers, specifically those who are focused on inbound marketing, are now competing with the masses, many of whom utilize many of the same tools – social media, blogs – for different purposes, but who nevertheless fall into the category of being a “content creator.” Cutting-edge software and technology enables marketers to stay above the fray and “win” in this overcrowded space.
  2. The costs associated with launching your Internet startup have fallen to the point of being negligible in many cases. The result is more startups and more competition for those crucial early adopters. Syncing your product focus with thoughtful marketing can develop into a huge, sustainable advantage (think Apple).

The most illustrious example of a company that failed to recognize the second point is Color – proof that technological brilliance isn’t a substitute for market understanding.

So, how do you avoid the pitfalls associated with the “build it and they not only will come, but also have an instinctual understanding of the value being afforded them to the extent that they’ll do your marketing for you” model?

Whether you subscribe to the Steve Jobs “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them” school of thought or the more humble Paul Graham “make something people want” approach, what cannot be overstated is this: you must be able to connect with your customers and, in doing so, develop an anticipatory understanding of their needs.

For early-stage companies, this means that the primary goal of your marketing efforts should be to learn how to effectively communicate with your customers. No more, no less.

Marketing communication, like all communication, is a two-way street.

Speaking to your customers

Outbound communication involves foundational elements of the startup marketing playbook such as: core messaging (i.e., your website), blogging, social media, press, email, etc. Centered around a comprehensive inbound marketing approach, all of this can – and should – occur on the cheap.

Your goal should be to tell your story in every facet of your business.

Listening to your customers

Ask any marriage counselor what the key to effective communication is. The answer is, should be, and always will be, listening.

For marketers, listening means measuring, analyzing, tracking and, ultimately, reacting to both empirical and anecdotal data.

  • How many of your customers found you organically via search? Through paid channels?
  • Which keywords convert the highest percentage of traffic into customers?
  • What problems are you solving for your customers (in their words)?
  • What percentage of your customers have recommended your product to a friend?
  • How would you approximate engagement to a referral program incentive?

When you begin to have answers to questions like these, you’re on a path towards effective customer communication, and you’re in the minority as an early-stage startup. Among other things, both big and small, this naturally impacts:

  • Corporate mission
  • Product fit
  • Unique value proposition
  • Website calls-to-action
  • Email subject lines
  • Business model
  • Company tagline
  • Keyword targets
  • Marketing offers

It’s much easier to allow your initial marketing efforts to inform the list above from the outset than to learn that, despite your thousands of active users, you are unable to engage and connect with your existing customers, let alone attract new ones at a sustainable growth rate and low acquisition cost.

After all, for every startup success story, there are thousands of Colors.

[NOTE: Whether you’re specifically focused on users, customers, or both, the same principles apply. The challenge is to use effective marketing communication to grow each segment.]

Image courtesy of Flickr user caccamo.

Guest author Eddie Earnest is a big-thinking entrepreneur focused on staying ahead of the marketing curve and using that knowledge to help build awesome companies. Follow him on Twitter: @eddie_earnest.

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