Friday, November 14, 2014

unCon 2014 Session: Start-Up Marketing Best Practices

Posted by Peter Gorman, principal of Black Rocket Consulting. @petergorman

Having been involved in every form of corporate communications for the last twenty or so years, I have experienced first-hand the pains that go into the marketing process for companies in the early start-up phase through multi-billion dollar corporations. Each type of company has its own specific needs and goals it wants to accomplish. However, at the start-up phase, it is often those in more of a technological position that are attempting to get a grasp on the principles of how to market their products or services, often before they are available to the marketplace.

The goal of the well-attended session entitled, “Start-up Marketing Best Practices,” was to help those with little to no marketing experience to determine the basic steps necessary to get a solid marketing program off the ground.  Steve Robbins, who hosted the session, prodded the audience for their best practices for a pre-launched product. While one entrepreneur spoke about how a priority should be to build ones brand, others in the audience disagreed, stating that start-ups need to first understand the target audience for the product before they should start creating a brand. One audience member agreed with this, citing how his company has developed three brands and still hasn’t figured out how to reach their target customer.    

So how does a start-up get feedback on the product or service it has developed?

While ideas such as beta testing among friends and potential prospects; obtaining feedback from industry analysts; and simply posting a photo or video of the product to online were discussed, everyone agreed that the Internet has made accessing this initial feedback much more easier and instantaneous than in the past.

One attendee stated that too many developers are creating products without truly understanding the problems it solves from the customer’s point of view. He emphasized that if you are going to develop a new app for Android-based phones, make sure to actually use an Android phone for a few months to understand the pain points that your product may solve.

Okay. You’ve received great feedback on your pre-launched product… Now what?

Among the best practices discussed to start differentiating your company from others included looking at the marketing efforts of your competition. Don’t necessarily copy them, but learn from them and understand what is working for them and what isn’t, and leverage this to your advantage. Other suggestions included creating awareness in the marketplace by placing bylined articles on the need for solutions that address the problems your product solves. By generating awareness of these problems, you are setting the stage for the arrival of your product to the marketplace while also generating thought leadership.

If your product is close to being launched, the importance of running it by industry analysts for feedback was also discussed. While new start-ups often do not have the capital to purchase year-long contracts with key industry analysts, such as Gartner, IDC or Forrester, many of these and other analyst firms would be more than happy to have initial meetings with you to hear about your new product, provide feedback, and often times give you tips based on what competitors offer.

Congratulations! Your product is now ready for prime time! What needs to be done from a marketing perspective?

If you are ready to go public with your product, it is important to have a web site that reflects your mission and explains the problems your product solves in the simplest terms. “Make is so your grandmother understands it,” said one attendee. In addition to keeping the language simple, keep the web site simple and easy to navigate. “Too many companies are creating web sites that include multiple pages that include way too much content. This shows that you are trying too hard and often only leads to confusion.”

The same principal about simplicity should be considered when drafting and issuing a press release about your new product. Start-ups should keep press releases to no more than two pages and integrate URL links within the releases, enabling readers to access further information from your web site. One attendee mentioned how there are some free services for issuing press releases that start-ups could leverage. Services such as and may not provide the widespread, global exposure that a service such as PRNewswire or BusinessWire provides, these free press release sites are great for start-ups on a budget.

While there was consensus on the value of using videos to demonstrate new products, some attendees disagreed on populating your web site with these videos versus simply posting them to online services, such as YouTube or Vimeo. Depending on your target audience, leveraging social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to increase the awareness of your product and company is also key. Integrating social media with video and other content, such as press releases to cross-pollinate your marketing efforts and drive viewers to your web site was also discussed as an important marketing strategy.

Keeping the drumbeat going!

Now that you’ve launched your product and web site, and have begun creating awareness to your offering, it is important to keep developing new content that can be leveraged for media pitches, social media posts and more. In addition, it is important that employees at the executive level within your company contribute to social media to further expand their thought leadership in the market. While some C-level executives may claim not to have the time in their day to pay attention to social media, an intelligent Tweet or blog post can go a long way in building presence in your market. Getting those at the C-level vested in regular social media posts is very important – even if it’s only a Tweet or blog post every so often.

When posting content to your web site, include registration pages to some of the content – such as a whitepaper or webinar – to collect potential leads. At this point, you can start integrating sales into your marketing efforts. And finally, once you’ve landed a few customers, leverage these relationships to tell the success they’ve achieved by using your product or service. This can be accomplished through a written or what I personally find more credible…the video case study. And going back to what I stated earlier, these pieces of content should be used as an integral part of an integrated communications program.

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