By Jordan Sher
Technology startups usually operate at a frenetic pace, focusing on product development and go-to-market strategies to launch a product before the competitor releases something similar (or better). At a certain point though, even the smallest of teams need to think about marketing, brand awareness, demand generation, and go-to-market. But where to begin?
Startup teams don’t have time nor money to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. But if you can stay focused and build your marketing practice incrementally, in response to demand and valuable customer feedback, you can make progress much faster. Here’s what’s worked at our company:
- Messaging first. Messaging, or determining mission, vision, positioning, brand promise, and tone, is a crucial exercise and requires feedback from the executive team. What often happens in startupland is the founders create a tagline and mission statement over a few meetings, put it up on the website and other channels, and carry on. Maybe six or seven months later, the product’s gone through a few iterations and new feedback from partners and customers has been received: the message and brand statement changes again. It’s not uncommon for early-stage startups to change branding and messages every few months, and that’s confusing to the market.
- Address each stage of the funnel. Buyers need different types of content at each stage. Awareness content, or top-of-funnel (TOFU) content talks about the customer pain and market need for your solution. Consideration or mid-funnel content (MOFU) compares your product to the category. And purchase or bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU) content checks the product features and functions that a practitioner needs. Each is important, and each should be addressed.
- Shift to sales. Digital marketers love to create blogs, videos, and creative social media campaigns. But in the early-stage startup, you’ve got to sell and that means arming your CEO and sales team with practical content around your product and technology use cases and benefits. Pitch decks. Battlecards. Unsure? Ask them what they need.
- Invest in product marketing. There are rich content possibilities when it comes to communicating with various audiences about your technology solutions. Practitioners love to read about how tech works under the covers and how they can implement it successfully: think, implementation guides and best practices. CIOs and CTOs want to know how other companies are using the product: think datasheets, competitive intel, and technical content. Media people love surveys about how buyers are considering a new category and their challenges or barriers to adoption. CXOs may appreciate original research, white papers or e-books that describe the technology trend from a higher level. Consider your various audiences, their informational needs and create content accordingly.
- Engage customers. As you grow the business, you’ll start to gain a priceless marketing force: enthusiastic users. This is where a strong customer reference program can go a long way. Don’t hesitate to ask happy customers and partners to help spread the word about your company. Invite those individuals to speak at seminars or events you may sponsor, or to write a guest blog or testimonial quote for your site. Give them special perks for helping with your brand awareness activities. Those opportunities may include invitations to sit on a customer advisory board or contribute to product roadmap reviews.
- Build a scrappy demand generation strategy. When you’re shy on money and time as most startups are, you’ve got to employ some of the big company strategies like A/B testing to refine and improve your campaigns, but on a much smaller scale. At OpsRamp, we’ve had success with micro-campaigns: we try a different message each week for a month using pay-per-click (PPC) distribution. In a short period, we can compare and get a good idea as to what’s resonating in our markets before spending a lot of money. If we’re not seeing intended results quickly from more expensive PPC and paid social campaigns, we’ll pull them and measure and compare results using lower-cost methods for a period of time.
- Meets and greets. It’s smart to balance digital interactions with in-person events. As you begin to grow sales, find the budget to participate in targeted industry events where your audience likes to network and learn. It can cost upwards of $50,000 to purchase a booth at the more prominent events, but smaller, regional events can result in qualified leads by territory.
- Adding PR. PR is the foundation of awareness and can be cheap if you’re scrappy. Good PR consists of a steady stream of consumable nuggets worth publishing, whether that’s in the form of press releases announcing funding, customers and significant product releases; surveys and research; bylined articles that don’t promote the company’s solutions; or articulate executives willing to talk at a moment’s notice for a story. We use terrific vendors, but there are technology platforms that can help amplify your stories to the press. Just know that nothing replaces a good reporter relationship when you’re trying to get coverage.
Marketing is a relentless, always-on discipline of grinding out attention from your target. At the early stages of a company, when nobody’s heard of you, it’s important to be scrappy, listen to your sales team, and get the foundation in place. Soon enough, you’ll start to see bigger budgets, more inbound attention, and a scalable marketing organization that can help you shoulder the load. Nobody said it was easy. But you can’t grow a business without it.
About The Author
Jordan Sher is Senior Director of Marketing at OpsRamp.