Entrepreneurs are filled with boundless energy and enthusiasm. They are focused on product development, keep chasing the bottom-line, and are always desperate for funding. The last thing we want to think about is marketing, and this is due to many reasons that range from lack of funds and resources, to too little time to do too many things.
At an age when the competition for human & financial resources is global and time-to-market is reducing with the connected world, many startups live and die by their ability to drive customer acquisition. Even with a product to market fit, getting traction is tough. Startups are under extreme resource constraints and need to figure out how to break through the clutter to let their target audience know they have a solution for a critical problem.
Even so, more often than not founders of early stage startups admit to the mistake of looking at marketing as an afterthought. But devising a marketing plan is the oxygen for your enterprise. Also, breaking through the clutter is difficult when large enterprises have the resources to dominate traditional media channels. The best a startup can hope for is to look for a few early adopters that are always on the lookout for the latest emerging products.
Startups often rely on leveraging non-paid strategies to market their products. Only two fundamental truths exist where marketing for startups is concerned:
First is that a great product alone is not enough to succeed.
Second, that no amount of marketing will make a crappy product gain critical mass.
Business is about both sustainability and growth and these require that you have a great product and great marketing. Hence, customer acquisition and improving your product to market fit is paramount for long term scaling of businesses.
The most basic advice any savvy marketer can give you is to 'brand your company and product', because it helps consumers understand what your company or product stands for. While doing this, be bold and imaginative and don't be afraid to say what you really mean. People like honesty. Secondly, focus on 'what the consumer really needs' (and we are not talking about sales pitch here).
Ok, now that we have outlined the marketing plan, identified the market & audience, and understood product differentiation (this cannot just be price point), just go out there and market. As a fellow bootstrapped entrepreneur surviving on a shoestring budget, I am sharing what worked for me.
Build on customer experience, better still think of them as advisors and make them feel a part of your team: If you have an outstanding product or service, then customers will use it and this will create word of mouth publicity. Build a mechanism at different touch points of your business to engage with your user base and learn from their actions and feedback- then act to improve on the experience that you are delivering to them. By listening to the feedback and engaging your customers, you can really raise the bar and make them feel like a part of the team. Don't just collect feedback but act swiftly on it, or it will backfire.
Partner with someone who is targeting the same audience: Get that cross-promotion exposure by identifying places where your audience congregate- both online and offline. Think about how you can introduce your brand. In its initial days, a business is also about making strange bedfellows. So go ahead and identify that ecosystem partner.
Be present, be visible, and be honest: This doesn't mean just blogging or having a Facebook page or Twitter handle with your company name. It literally means to be everywhere. Establish your brand as a subject-matter expert. Author an expert column which is neutral in approach and not your promotional vehicle. Help people through your presence even if it means they are doing business with your competitors. Be an evangelist, not a sales person.
Build the character of your startup: Work to create a personality for your startup. Think of your brand as a person and what it needs to signify to your audience, and then create content and other communication accordingly.
Media exposure: We are startups and we do not have money for public relation, but that should not stop us from sharing our story (especially if we are the authors). The first writing assignment that I received for a media house happened because a member of the press liked my speaking slot in one of the conferences and a candid conversation lead to us discussing our respective blogs.
While it's easy to see things that worked for me, in retrospect, every business is unique and has its own share of rules. But sometimes it pays to break those rules and be the maverick.
(Prateek Kumar is the managing director of a marketing solutions firm NeoNiche Integrated Solutions, as told to Techcircle.in's Nikita Peer)