15 must know startup marketing principles that successful entrepreneurs follow

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Originally posted by Geektime.

Through operating as the marketer of Israeli startups (After seed or round A of funding) I keep discovering valuable marketing secrets. I now know that there are some common principals that you may want to follow when marketing early stage startup companies. Even if of different verticals and business models, early startups have more in common then I initially thought, when it comes to marketing.

First, I gotta say that I have learned a lot by constantly storming with startup founders, colleagues and tech influencers. It helps me learn a lot, and it’s a real pleasure! Thanks everyone. you know who you are.

I believe that startup marketing is really a creature of its own. It took me a while till I mapped the (ho so many) differences between marketing a young startup and working for a “big” or even “medium size corporate”. The more I adjusted the way I work to the startup size and stage, the better I could execute on the tasks at hand.

Building the company’s marketing DNA from scratch is interesting and challenging, but can also be hard and frustrating. Today I know what to expect when I start.

In this post, I decided to share 15 of the most important principles I personally follow. I hope they will help you get focused:

  1. ‘Mind the gap’ -part I – Infrastructure gaps: When I start planning my marketing activities for a startup I expect to see many gaps. Lack of analytics, marketing automation tools, communication tools, market researches and so forth. So I start by mapping those marketing infrastructure gaps, and then I move to building a ‘filling the gaps’ plan (prioritized first). It should look like this (just an example!):table_1

     

  2. ‘Mind the gap’- part II- Know-how gaps: Let’s remember that as a startup marketer, you are running a one man, data driven, KPI oriented show. Yes, you are the CMO, the project manager, the executer, the intern and in many cases, the 3rd party agency too… Your know-how Gaps are bound to mount. I constantly list my missing know-how (there’s no ending there) and set some time aside to close them. It’s ok not to know, as long as you have a good idea of what you don’t yet know, and as long as you keep investing in learning and closing your important knowledge gaps. Yes, you will have to mingle, and get mentored by colleagues and influences.
  3. Grow up from the bootstrapping mode. Sometimes you actually need to spend money to move forward and I’ve seen many founders that fail to “grow” from bootstrapping, constantly arguing for every $ even after closing a funding round. This isn’t necessarily good for business. Many investors will be OK with you spending their money relatively quickly, as long as you are clever about it!
  4. Don’t just mind your own business. I had learned to act the opposite from what I used to be, when working in a corporate. An early startup behaves like a, well, early startup. Not yet shaped, room for creativity, agile… you make a superb marketer if you can influence and support your coworkers who take care of other than marketing stuff. So do keep your eyes and ears open. How is the product doing? What’s going on in customer support? How was it in the last board meeting?  I have learned to leverage it all for creative marketing. I do try and keep a balance as the marketing tasks come first.
  5. God is in the details. I didn’t get this one right till I worked with several talented tech project managers. Of course you need to balance between being organized and being efficient. BUT… There’s no replacement to following a detailed tactical plan that’s based on a well-thought strategy. The clearer and more detailed your plan is, the more efficient your execution will get. Careful planning means that you better understand the challenges at hand, so chances of you covering all relevant tactics and let nothing fall through the cracks are higher.  I prefer my plans to be organized in ultra-detailed excel sheets. And NO, this doesn’t kill my creativity. It helps me calculate the required effort and it serves both me and the rest of the team, as it helps us set expectations around timelines and deliverables. A robust planning doesn’t mean you can’t change things when reality bites, but it means you have a clear starting point, and you are more likely to be shooting in the right direction. Here’s how my plans look – Both Excel and Trello: Excel looks like this (as detailed as possible, from 30 min to 20 hours execution effort estimation, by task):

    ExcelTrello – Week by Week project progress (People assigned, hours of effort estimation and type labels …):

    Trello

  6. ‘Putting out fires’ mode can hold you back. Now, that’s a tricky one as we are constantly stressed out, stretched thin and asked to move forward before we’ve had a chance to think things through. This is especially true for us Israelis. I sometimes think that being an Israeli means worshiping execution on the expense of strategy. And I’m sure you all know what I mean.Looking back, I realize that I managed to get the best results after doing enough researching and planning, enough thinking… Without a gun pointed to my head. So, unless there’s a REAL, concrete burning issue, stick to the plan and stay focused.
  7. Know what’s out there. Being a full stack startup marketer means you need to figure how to best use the available budget. Prioritizing is key here as well. Amazing results can be achieved with minimal budget if you spend some time on research. You should know that low cost alternatives almost always exist, and that you need to choose your battles. For example – if your business is a mobile app, consider not spending too much on your web landing pages, as it’s probably much smarter to invest in your app-stores landing pages. Also, keeping up to date with Industry news, marketing trends and new tools will make you sharper that your competitors (or at least as sharp). I strongly believe that this is a must for any startup pro. The big corporates can afford to move slowly. Startups can’t. No time you say? Well, instead of watching TV, I got into the habit of reading tech portals and engaging in professional communities (there are several amazing Israeli groups for the startup community). I don’t need more than an hour a day to catch up.I particularly love following posts that present online / mobile business tools (e.g. 25 social media tools…) and I recommend you to follow these growth hacking blogs:
    A great blog by Gili Golander, co-founder and CMO at Bazaart
    Oribi blog, by Iris shor

  8. Hire the right marketers, at the right time. I listened to a lot of talented but frustrated startup marketers lately, and there’s a common denominator. Many of them keep complaining about not having enough work and about being held back by their managers.I can’t help thinking, could it be the result of hiring highly motivated people, when the position doesn’t yet have enough “meat” in it? Did they join too early? Most probably, you will need a specific type of marketer to build your marketing infrastructure, but another type to maintain or scale up the operation (only few lucky ones are equally good at both). I advise you to hire internally only when you are absolutely sure it’s the right time, and when you do, write down the exact roles and responsibilities of this person before starting the interviews process. Don’t just ask yourself if they will be good for your company. Ask yourself if they will be happy, fulfilled and engaged in the long term.To succeed in hiring the right marketer, you will need to know something about marketing, even if you are not coming from this background. Here’s a story: I just met with startup founders who were looking to hire a marcom manager. After talking for a while, I realized that what they really needed is an experienced marketing manager. They just didn’t think there’s much difference nor did they know which activities are most relevant for their product success, and the stage that it is at.I get to “argue” with CEOs that insist on activities that are irrelevant for their business models. You really should consult with someone who knows a thing or two about startup marketing, before you hire internally. Don’t assume you know what startup marketing is and should include in your case. Don’t assume you automatically know which skills your marketing guy should have. Make some inquiries before. It will save you some aggravation later on. …Which brings me to:
  9. Trial and error is priceless. A great marketer is a scientist. Not a magician, but one who loves to experiment. Trial and error is key to success. Nobody knows ahead what will work and what won’t, or if a certain campaign will present positive ROI results (BTW, chances are you won’t show positive ROI when you just start, hence the need for trial and error). Those who get the best results are those who walk the walk, not just talk the talk. You want those who know where to search for answers, how to dig in and how to drive conclusions based on real data.
  10. The 80-20% rule. Following this principal is hard, I know. Sometimes, it’s just too hard to let go. Too hard not to go through all mails, not to keep digging in for better solutions to a certain problem, too hard to stop obsessively spy on other companies… you get the idea. But seriously, when you take it too far it prevents you from moving forward.Here, I said it. Not going to kill myself over a single color tone, a 10% angle shift in tan image, or the likes (unless I have a good reason to). It’s just not worth it, when looking at my KPIs. And that’s the end goal let us not forget. I learned to control my obsessions by predefining a reasonable timeframe for completing each of my major tasks (did I say robust planning already?). My own personal sanity check is from time to time to request help from my team members and validate how important it is to continue digging more into something. They usually straighten me out. I do the same for them.
  11. A book IS judged by the cover! When it comes to your outbound communications, I mean your messages, visuals, written materials, digital assets, quality makes the difference. Here I vote for something closer to 100% (versus the 80% in the previous principle) First impression is everything. We all judge a book by its cover. tough world. Prospects, users, leads, you name it, are all suspicious at first. They are after “evidence” they can use to evaluate your product or service, and the level of trust they are willing to allow. Psychologists call those semi evidences- heuristics. Of course it’s not rational or scientific to judge a product or service by the looks of the landing page, but hey, that’s all we have at first sight.I always feel frustrated when witnessing early startups, who developed great products, but compromise on how they present themselves. There’s never time, nor budget, to adapt the site to mobile view, or different bowsers. Product features are always more important than marketing materials. No budget when it comes to marketing. They truly believe they can win with a perfect product and marketing that is just good enough. Well, in most cases they can’t.Text box

     

  12. Paid advertising is a side dish. I’m sure you heard it already, but it’s hard to resist the temptation when ad networks or agencies keep sharing Cinderella stories. It’s even harder not to give in to the instant gratification. You publish a post, 5 visitors click. You boost it via paid promotion, wonders happen. Well, I am very strict here: Unless you’ve cracked the positive ROI formula, you can’t base your strategy on paid acquisition. Period. Don’t get me wrong, I am using paid campaigns. I do mobile app acquisition, online acquisition and hell, even offline advertising is on the menu. But I aim to either boost additional activities or to test virality, retention, specific audiences. It’s not my main growth strategy. It’s just too dam expensive in most cases. Ask yourself (or your marketer) what activities other than paid campaigns will drive you to the results you are after. Hope to see other than paid advertisements on the list…
  13. The ‘marketing waves’ approach

    section 13

    “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – Aristotle.

     

    My favorite one, no doubt. Imagine having a party, putting on some music and serving booze. That’s great, but imaging the attention you’ll attract if you produce a gala event with decoration, catering and a dressing code. I’m sure you agree that you need a very good reason for putting such a show. Otherwise you will look ridiculous. Same goes for noisy launches.

    Every marketer knows the rush feeling, when an outbound even has caused the charts to go bananas. Now it’s time to take a proactive approach and generate those great earthquakes.

    Welcome to the world of “non-birthday” marketing celebrations. Instead of splitting your effort and budget evenly across the year, just doing more of the same, taking care of what you have to do… consider focusing on few major events / milestones – your marketing waves. I personally find the ‘waves approach’ to bring me the best results.

    Waves should be created around a significant story you put together. A major version release plus closing a funding round, sealing a strategic partnership, or sharing a mind blowing statistics based on data only you have.

    You can also get creative with it: Get your product and developers engage, releasing a new set of features to celebrate the coming major sport event, or a popular festival, or alike, add some interesting numbers only your company knows,  and you’ve got yourself a story to tell the world.

    When you have a good reason (story) to celebrate, you can sure arrange a GREAT party and others will be happy to jump in.  It will be easier to get the attention of journalists, initiate co-marketing projects or get help from the big guys (e.g., get featured on the app stores).

  14. WIIFM? WIFM= what’s in it for me. A popular term in marketing: Human beings, that’s us, are motivated by incentives. If you want users to take an action, you need to first find what’s in it for them, and then communicate it to them. Want readers to follow your blog posts? Share the values right in the titles. Need visitors to sign up? Give them a damn good reason to. Want your brochure to grab attention? Focus on values. Not features. Don’t write: “Data driven analytics using an advanced algorithm”, but write: “Instantly reveal the most valuable data trends that hide in YOUR numbers”
  15. Be an ‘In-product’ marketer. There’s a limit to what you can achieve with “traditional outbound marketing”. Moreover, your existing active users are the most significant key to your growth, and the best way to capture their attention (with WIIFM in mind of course), is while they are visiting your domain. Your active users are the best candidates to share your app with friends. But they wouldn’t do it just for the sake of it, they need a good reason. Their friends, on the other hand, also need a good reason to play along. Gett, for example, (the mobile app) offers bonus ride coupons for both you and your friends, as long as they came through you. I am now collecting more such examples and would love your help in sharing some relevant case studies. Viral loops (as described here), retention-increasing mechanisms and others, are all connected to the product. Finding ways to market your product, from within the product, will play a critical role in reaching the startup’s KPIs, as exponential, organic growth is almost always the startups’ Holy Grail.
Einav Laviv
Einav Laviv is a tech marketing expert, a startup founder and the CEO at G2Mteam, that supports Israeli startups with full stack global marketing services. She lives, breathes and loves startups & marketing: B2B, B2C, Mobile, online and product
Einav Laviv
Einav Laviv
hello [at] g2mteam.com