Startup Marketing: Expectations vs. Reality
Startup marketing has its pressure. Building a brand and scaling a startup to a successful exit is not for the faint of heart. A few patterns seem to take founders time to discover, and I hope that bringing these realities to light will help startups get to building their brand quicker while avoiding some common views in the community.
Startup views on competitors
There is no comparison. It takes great confidence and determination to be an entrepreneur. You want to build the best product or service that exists. A downside to this mentality could leave you with blinders on and overlooking your competitors.
Unless you are in a very new niche, you will likely have a few key, direct competitors. These are other startups who sell a product very similar to yours and within the same space. Your target audience parallels. Many people will at minimum know who these folks are and keep an eye out for what they are doing.
While you may monitor what competitors are doing — specifically understanding how your features, user experience, customer support, and functionality differ, there are still other competitors that you may not even consider.
In SaaS, particularly, your product is vying for the same budget and buyer process that competes with other companies and products that might not be similar to yours at all. As sales cycles become longer and decision committees are becoming larger and with more steps in the buying and vetting process, your product may not just have to compete with your features and ease of use, but also with others in SaaS that have completely different features and solutions.
You may have a scheduling software and outpace your direct competitors, but when the buying committee is meeting someone may advocate having a revenue cycle management software instead. While your features and goals are different, the company may only have enough budget for one of your products. Knowing how to position your product and separate your product from other SaaS competitors will give you a boost in the buying process.
Startup views on marketing strategy
I see it, I like it, I want it, I buy it. Not exactly a typical SaaS sales cycle. You’ve worked hard to build a product that you know customers will love. You’ve invested in a positive user experience, key functionality, collected feedback, and QA to put your product on the market.
It’s common for founders and developers to know what they have is a quality product and think that they can just put it into the world for an easy transaction. Marketing a service is harder than a more direct consumer product. The idea of demand and proof of necessity is not as easy to convey. ROI becomes vital and you may not see exact results ASAP.
You can’t just build a website with a demo request and think you will get flooded with quality leads and potential customers. The marketing mix you implement is important to your success. Often founders think that just spending big bucks on advertising will get their product out there but SaaS and B2B sales will take time to find quality leads who will become long-term customers and champions — and that is where your brand will shine.
The quick hits, viral videos, and influencers that may work in other industries are not a good match for SaaS. If any type of brand recognition is likely to scale you quickly, it’s building strategic partnerships with tech companies that can help build thought leadership and position your brand and product in a credible way.
Startups views on marketing roles
Startup unicorns. You talk about them and it’s a common buzzword in the space. We acknowledge that not every startup will get a billion-dollar valuation but it keeps you motivated to build the best.
When you’re first starting up, founders often face one of two trials with marketers. The first is hiring an inexperienced person because they are low-cost and you hope they can follow your directions to market the product well. The flaw with this philosophy is that you may actually require a more seasoned professional with whom you can have an honest relationship with and they can challenge you where necessary to market in the best way possible. If you don’t have a marketing executive who works alongside you and other leaders, your message will always be disconnected from your buyers and the market.
The second trial is that even when founders hire a quality senior-level marketer, they expect that they will be a marketing unicorn — a wizard who will be part strategist, writer, graphic designer, videographer, data analyst, implementation expert, PR guru. The truth is marketers may have some level of understanding of each of these but are specialized and really excel at one or two of them — especially when you get to really qualified candidates.
If you ask a marketer to “just make it look and sound pretty” and put it out there, you may find that you’re sacrificing one of the two or getting subpar from both. Typically, designers are not the best writers and writers are not the best designers. The look good people and sound good people at higher levels who will scale your company quickly are different.
If you need to compromise because of your budget, make sure you understand your main goals and that your marketing executive can either outsource or is highly skilled in the areas you need most to succeed.
Startup views on customers
Come one, come all. Your first sale is an exciting time. Knowing that people want your product and will continue to use it accelerates your motivation to keep improving. The risk when starting out is that you may not know who exactly your target is and your first few customers may not be lifetime customers.
Have you ever faced a struggle with a full-funnel and steady sales cycle knowing exactly where and when your next big sale would come? During this drought, you may be tempted to take anyone who will listen even if they aren’t quality. Worse yet — you may not even realize they aren’t a quality pick for you because you haven’t finalized your target audience. When this happens, you may make exceptions and start building your product to fit whoever is nearest — losing track of your blueprint.
If you have a solid product map and can pair that with a marketing plan that connects to your target audience, you can more quickly attract and retain the right customers who are doing to be better for your long-term success.
Knowing your target audience not only helps you to find the right customers from the start, but it also helps you once them. You can build out better customer experience campaigns if you know who they are and what they want rather than shifting focus every time a shiny new demand comes your way. Developers can focus on the product roadmap and not get derailed by random requests that do not benefit the majority of customers.
Remember these four things when building your brand and startup:
Know your competitors — don’t assume the product will sell itself or stand out on its own.
Have a marketing mix — don’t assume a demo button or viral video will do the trick.
Hire a solid marketing executive — don’t assume he/she will be a unicorn.
Know your audience — don’t assume your product is for anyone and everyone on a first-come, first-serve basis.