Once you’ve designed a prototype for your product or service, tested it out and made revisions based on customer feedback, you’re just about ready to launch into the market. But before you do that, it’s absolutely critical to set up a marketing plan.
If you have no marketing strategy, no one knows that your business exists. And if customers don’t know your business is there, you won’t make any sales on your products or services. One of the biggest challenges for startups is figuring out how to penetrate the market and be smart about customer engagement.
Breaking through the noise is challenging when well-established companies have all the resources to dominate the traditional channels of marketing. A decade ago, if a company made national television, no other competitors would’ve stood a chance. With media fragmentation and hundreds of TV stations and social media channels competing against each other, however, it gives startups an opportunity to create ripples in the market.
Before you even get to that "promotion" end of marketing, however, you have to be crystal clear on the whole package.
The Four P's
Marketing professors have talked about the Four Ps forever: Product, Price, Place, Promotion. What are you selling? How is it priced, and where are you selling it? And how the heck will you promote it? Start-ups tend to race to that final P: "Gotta get that promotion wheel turning!" Sure, you do, but it will turn faster and easier if you've spent some time defining and detailing the other wheels first.
Your product itself is the first place to start. Yes, you've spent all this time developing it, but it is as clearly compelling to others as it is to you? Does your roommate immediately grasp why this product matters, and to whom? This picture should be as sharp as you can make it. A few questions to ask and answer crisply:
- What relevant benefit(s) does this product provide? (NOT "what does this product do?")
- To whom?
- Why would they buy THIS, not THAT?
Answering these questions helps with all the shaping of your product itself -- packaging choices, for example -- as well as informing your final promotion efforts.
Price and Place: The Unsexy P's
- Great read. Where can I buy it? Oh, it's only a download? But I really wanted a hard copy.
- Nice colors. So much more inexpensive than the others in this store, though. It must be crappy.
- I would never pay that much for just juice. (Next day.) Wow, if my barre studio is selling this juice, it must be a really good thing. I'm in.
Thinking through the physical selling point of your product -- owned location? shared pop-up? online only? -- and the price points that work for the marketplace is all part of putting your market research to work. Don't have market research? Make an informed guess, test it, and then be clear about why you are making changes to that informed guess as you hit version 3.0, 4.0, 5.0.
Seemed like a slog to get here, but having done holistic marketing thinking means your marketing roadmap is much clearer. Your product is a online-only service in the legal business, where awareness and sales are driven 90% by word-of-mouth? Your promotional strategy will be built around a blend of on-line and in-person word-of-mouth marketing, plus developing four key shared-services partnerships. You've developed a great food product that you'll sell directly to restaurants? The marketing roadmap will have a B-to-B core wrapped in a sampling package.
Your promotional strategy is driven in part by the first three P's, all of which inform who you're selling to:
- What are the demo- and psychographics of your target market?
- How and where do they communicate, consume and comment?
- What are they like as people; what moves them?
Once you have this picture -- go ahead and literally draw it! -- of your target consumer, you can pick a set of outreach options to get to them. Be realistic. You can't spread yourself too thin, or you'll burn out or go broke before you start. Most small start-ups -- except perhaps the generously funded -- start with a blend of word-of-mouth (direct and online), direct (such as email marketing), earned media and social ads. To dig into those topics, read on!