Frequently, I’m asked to advise startups by their VC or CEO. In most cases the company tried a lot of marketing programs and it’s simply not generating the desired results.
Startups are hungry for revenue and growth….I get it. But as they say, “speed kills”. Or in this case, speed can kill good profits.
3 common “startup” marketing mistakes, and how to fix them
1. You think you know the customer, but you don’t
If you don’t the needs and behaviors of the prospective customer you will waste precious capital on marketing programs that never should have been tested in the first place.
Just because your mom, friends and some other random folks bought your product it doesn’t mean you know enough about your customers to effectively market to them. We all know a good first date does not usually lead to lifelong committment.
Even mid and later stage startups are not immune to this mistake, so follow these six steps to achieve customer clarity:
Step 1: Interview salespeople. They talk to customers all day long and have great insights.
Step 2: Interview engineering and product: They built the damn product, so they generally have a good idea of whom they are building it for.
Step 3: Pull web and mobile analytics; Average time on site? Most popular links? Which content is being shared? What are they downloading? What keywords or phrases are they using?
Step 4: Review the Net Promoter Score data. What really matters are the written comments.
Step 5: Analyze social media behaviors and profiles
Step 6: Interview customers.
Yes, real live breathing customers. You have to talk to them. Without customer conversations you lose context, tone and intent. All things that will help you create a rich needs-based persona. If you sell completely online, email your customer base, ask for 15 minutes of their time. You can also find your fans and detractors via social; reach out to the detractors as well. Their feedback is frequently more valuable than your fans.
From here you’ll start to see patterns. Pay attention to the outliers but don’t market to them. Keep asking “why” to get them to truly open up to you. Update your personas every six to nine months. Just as you evolve and get smarter, so do they.
If you don’t have customers, develop a lean canvas to help you build a hypothesis about your customer and your offering, which you can begin to test.
2. Tactics, tactics, tactics!
Usually, within 15 minutes of walking into a room of marketers and execs I get asked which marketing tactics are best. Another all-too-common question is “how much should we be investing in Search Engine Marketing?” My answer is always the same, who is the customer?
“Once we know the needs and behaviors of the customer, the tactics reveal themselves.”
For example, I worked with a company whose primary personas were Sys Admins and Software Developers. Their personality traits could not have been more different. The Sys Admins felt as if they were constantly under attack and generally hated being marketed to. The Software Developers felt that writing code was magic, hated distractions, and loved new technology. Both liked beer, whisky and video games.
As you can tell, just from those observations, each requires a very different approach in terms of copy, content and tactics. Turns out that they were looking for highly technical, well written content on a subject matter of importance. They were looking to get that information from content providers they respected….for example, DZone.
If we hadn’t taken the time to truly understand their needs and behaviors, we never would have learned where they hangout online, and how they liked to consume information.
3. Competitive emulation
This is so shockingly common and dangerous. Time and time again, instead of doing the work to understand the customer, and the offering relative to their customers needs and behaviors, startups create a polished version of a competitors website.
Here’s an easy test to see if you fall victim to this behavior. Take an image of your home page and remove all the branding elements; logo, branded images, product names, etc. Anything that is obviously “you”. Now do the same for two or three competitors. Next, put them next to each other in a presentation and show them to your team. Ask them if they can figure out which homepage is theirs.
“You’ll be able to hear a pin drop in the room.”
This opens the door for a conversation about positioning, about being different. This is a great opportunity for discovery. To learn your company’s expected and augmented attributes. It’s important to do this exercise with individuals and then as a group. People are generally too afraid to give candid opinions in front of their peers.
The outcome of this exercise will help inform design, copy, top features to promote, tone, context, imagery and so much more.
Being different is is not hard technically, but emotionally. Everyone wants to stand out, yet be the same.
“Don’t be afraid to be genuinely different. Your uniqueness will help you shine in a crowded market.”
The last piece of advice is to slow down. I know this is counter intuitive to our “growth at all costs” startup culture. Slowing down doesn’t mean going slow.
You can’t turn a toddler into an olympic sprinter just because you hired a coach and read a lot of books. The toddler has to learn to crawl, walk, run and then sprint.
Companies are living, breathing entities. Treat them with the same love, wisdom and patience, and in time you’ll look back at all of your so-called competitors, strewn across the side of road.
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Questions? Twitter: David Baeza