Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A Common Sense Approach to Marketing for Startups

If you are a startup, you are likely more focused on raising money, prioritizing your next steps, prototyping and perfecting your product, figuring out business partners and sourcing, addressing operational issues and getting your idea in front of potential customers than on developing and executing marketing plans. And if you are trying to generate sales, you are likely to be more focused on selling approaches than on marketing. But even if you are thinking about marketing you may be considering what tactics to use including advertising, publicity and social media marketing. But until you have a deep understanding of your most likely customers and their motivations, choosing marketing tactics is premature. 

If I were a startup, here is what I would consider first:

  • Who is going to buy our product or service?
  • Who is our best customer likely to be?
  • What unmet needs are we fulfilling for them?
  • What other products or services might they consider to meet the same needs?
  • How is our product or service different from competitive offerings?
  • Is our product or service different enough to give us a sales advantage over competitive products?
  • What is our unique value proposition?
  • In twelve words or less, what is our key message to potential customers?
  • Where do those customers shop?
  • What media do those customers consume?
  • Where do they get their ideas of what to buy?
Once you have answered these questions, you will be able to create a more strategic, effective and efficient approach to gaining and keeping customers. That then becomes your marketing plan.

I wish you much success in building a successful marketing approach for your startup and its products and services. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

26 of the Most Common Startup Challenges


Following yesterday's blog post, today I list the 26 most common startup challenges. 

  1. Having the right idea – building something someone wants
  2. Understanding your business’ unique value proposition
    • Confirming customer need / marketplace gap
  3. Listening to and acting on customer feedback
  4. Thinking too small
  5. Taking the first leap – knowing where to start
  6. Assuming you need a lot of money right away
  7. Money / fundraising
  8. Cash flow management
  9. Chasing investors over customers
  10. Trying to do it alone
  11. Finding / hiring the right people
  12. The founders
  13. Not researching competitors
  14. Competitors’ actions / competitive responses
  15. Planning & focus
  16. Scaling up
  17. Unrealistic expectations
  18. Remaining within one's comfort zone
  19. Self-doubt and fear of failure
  20. Inability or unwillingness to pivot when necessary
  21. Failing to ask for help
  22. Lack of mentorship
  23. Time management
  24. Customer acquisition / sales
  25. Marketing mistakes
  26. Customer retention

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Start-ups and Unique Value Propositions

I haven't written a blog post in a while because I have been consumed with a new role (in addition to my brand strategy consulting). I am a part-time new venture coach for RIT's Venture Creations Incubator. In this role, I am coaching and consulting with nine start-up companies, mostly in technology spaces.

There has a been a lot written about start-up challenges ranging from insufficient capital and not having the right team in place to inadequate business plans and a lack of focus. But I have discovered an equally big problem, the absence of a unique value proposition. In fact some companies have created products in search of markets. That is, they have products they want to sell, but they have not identified the right markets for those products and in many cases don't even know what problems those products might help solve. 

While unique value propositions start with target market identification and understanding key customer benefits, they also need to address the "unique" part of the proposition. Are they addressing those customer needs in unique and relevant ways? 

Related to this, I find that many companies understand product functions and features, but not experiential, emotional and self-expressive customer benefits. And they seldom think about or communicate the values that they share with their customers. That is, they focus on the functional aspects of their product offering, not the emotional aspects of their brand. In fact, they seldom think about the customer in terms of their anxieties and fears including the perceived risks associated with switching from a known product or vendor to an unknown one. 

And, if the product is entirely new with no known predecessor, the start-up may have an even greater problem of explaining what the product is and how it works. This argues for a carefully thought-through elevator speech.

All of this requires customer targeting and customer insight, the latter being gained through marketing research including qualitative research and eventually beta testing and usability / user interface testing. 

Which ultimately gets back to branding.