Timing is everything when it comes to startups and business. That is usually a sentence associated with products and their market fit. The thing is, it is a sentence that is equally accurate and important when it comes to marketing.
A common misconception I have heard hundreds of times over the years from entrepreneurs who reach out to talk marketing is, that they can't possibly start any sort of activity because the product is not ready. "What can I market if I don't have a product?"
This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, the earlier you start marketing, the more successful your product launch can be. Now, it is true that you can't run user acquisition campaigns till you have a product people can download, but that does not mean you can't build interest, do research, begin to sharpen your messaging, and so much more.
The following are a few marketing activities that are best done well before you have a product. In fact, if you only start these when your product is ready, you have already missed the boat.
Setting up Social
Let's just get this one out of the way. By now you realize social media is a powerful tool, but you might not realize that a lot of thought and strategy goes into leveraging this tool and maximizing its potential.
Who is your target? Where do they spend time? What platforms should you be using? Those are just some questions you absolutely must ask yourself early on. Once you have those answers, it is time to set up those accounts, whether it is the cover images and graphics, the bio, the people you are following or connecting with, and more.
You might not want to be sharing product updates before there is a product, but that doesn't mean you can't lay the foundations of what will become a successful brand on the social web.
Locating and Analyzing your Target Audience
We mentioned above how finding your target on social is something you should do as early as possible. Beyond that, you have to get to know that audience, what their needs are, what they like, what they don't like, and how to best cater to their desires, both in terms of product and in terms of communication.
How could you build a product targeting a specific audience without getting to know that audience in advance? Learn your demographic, understand their patterns as accurately as possible, and leverage all that information to build the best product and marketing campaign possible.
Creating Hype with What You Have
You might not want to talk about the actual product before it's ready, but that doesn't mean you can't let people know that something big is coming. You can and should tap into your network, share your thoughts on your space, and perhaps give some people you trust a sneak peek of the product.
While the fear of someone stealing your idea is a legitimate one, the perks of sharing your idea with people you trust far outweigh the risks it creates. Product feedback, introductions and connections, and just a fresh set of eyes from an objective source can be an invaluable asset you can only benefit from if you share the idea.
Besides, if your idea is indeed a promising one, those people who heard about it early on will become your ambassadors by letting people know something big is coming and when you do launch, by supporting you and pushing the product forward.
Accumulating Beta Testers
This one is a no-brainer. You can and should let people try and test early versions of the product well before it is ready for a wide audience. This is tremendously valuable and can help you build a product that is significantly more delightful if along the way, you continue to iterate based on feedback from your beta community.
Seeding the Press
You might not be ready to demo your product to the press, but that does not mean you can't speak to journalists about your vision or the pain point you are trying to solve. An early sneak peek will also help you secure coverage if your execution is strong and you built up trust and loyalty early on.
Obviously, this does not guarantee anything but there is no reason to not get journalists interested in what you are building even before you are ready or interested in coverage.
Be responsible with what you share but extreme secrecy out of fear of someone stealing your idea is a strategic mistake and will prevent you from accessing and leveraging many resources you would have if you would share some elements of your product early on.
Those are some marketing activities you can start well before you have a product ready for market. The one thing they all have in common is that, if done properly, they will not only not damage your product launch, they will actually enhance it and make it that much more successful.