If you are a passionate technologist, it's easy to forget that marketing is required to sell even the most compelling solution, to cut through the information overload everyone sees today on the internet.
If customers don't know you exist, you can't solve their problem and they won't buy. Getting customer attention often takes more innovation today than solving the tough technical problems.
If marketing is not your thing, then you need to find a partner or outside expert to help you. As a business adviser, I still see too many new venture founders who skimp on their marketing focus, or start too late. You really need to start marketing your solution before you even build it, to validate the need, and keep your focus on the features that customers really want and need.
To get you started on the right track, I always recommend the following pragmatic tips that you probably already know, but are always worth re-validating with every new initiative:
1. Quantify how your unique features add value.
It's easy to fall back on the generic message that your solution is easier to use, has more function, and comes with great service, but who looks twice at that message? If you can't state clearly why your startup is the only choice, then it's time to regroup before spending your hard-fought funding.
Every business needs a unique selling proposition (USP), that is a concise, straight-to-the-point statement about the special benefits you offer customers. For example, Warby Parker boosted selling glasses online a while back with "Try five frames at home for free."
2. Talk to real live customers in addition to marketers.
Go directly to customers to set priorities, and get a feel for emotional as well as factual realities. Avoid the use of jargon, big claims, and special promotions. Do case studies and gather customer testimonials, as well as build relationships that lead to advocacy, loyalty, and word-of-mouth support.
A simple and inexpensive way to do this today is to add an interactive tool like LeadChat to your website. You will likely be amazed at the kind of requests you get, and what you can learn, which could lead to new opportunities, new products, and new customers.
3. Network with local organizations and industry groups.
Networking is all about marketing yourself and your company. Start small by meeting with key online influencers over coffee or lunch, and take the time to join peers and speak to industry groups for recognition and credibility. Cold calls to strangers and email blasts are not so productive.
You can get started by visiting your local Chamber of Commerce and attending the next Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. From there, it's just a matter of follow-up to find the leaders in your industry and make yourself one of them through panels and talks.
4. Proactively dig in to find prospects who really need you.
Too many of you succumb to "cheap" marketing pitches from others - usually measured by the number of customers to be contacted, rather than fit for the solution you have. Give priority to prospect quality versus quantity. You won't need the multiple follow-ups and time to close new sales.
An approach which is coming back into vogue with the pandemic is consultative selling. This means overtly offering your expertise for free, and worrying about selling your solution afterward. It works in fashion, real estate, and certainly in the technical world.
5. Use social media for marketing, not just feedback.
Many entrepreneurs I know faithfully monitor social media to quickly respond to problems and react to customer feed back, both positive and negative. Far fewer lead with their best strategies on this media, including regular incentives to customers, pointers to case studies, and technical insights.
6. Build a marketing plan with deliverables and metrics.
If I don't see a documented marketing plan, with measurements driven by industry norms, I assume that you are counting primarily on your passion to assess growth. Passion is necessary, but not sufficient for survival. You need quality measures for marketing, just like your product.
In general, I recommend effective marketing is the first thing you should think about when contemplating a startup, rather than the last. In today's world, the last thing I and investors want to hear is "if we build it, they will come."
You have to find your customers - don't count on them finding you. Remember, good marketing is not rocket science - you too can learn and we all win.