Marketing a product or startup is vital early on. You are trying to instill confidence in the outside world about your idea or product in its earliest stages, and while most companies default to setting up Twitter and Facebook accounts, others drop the ball on learning how to create and provide compelling marketing materials to potential customers.
Do you have a Twitter account, but no one-pager that describes your business to a potential customer or investor? Have you redone your investor deck more than a hundred times, but have no readily available "How It Works" presentation for a potential client or strategic investor?
It's time to reprioritize your marketing. Here's some advice from those who know how to build long-term brands on shoestring budgets.
1. Focusing too much on the name or domain
Can't figure out the "perfect" name for your project or startup? Don't worry about it. Most companies pivot, rebrand, and change names several times in their earliest years. Need some assurance? Just look up the evolution of many top level brands today, and see how they have changed over time. Branding and naming should be the last priority. If it isn't, then you might want to consider paying more attention to your product.
2. Obsessing over your website
Many first-time entrepreneurs obsess over their website's look and feel in the early stages. What matters more is your product, especially if it's a technical one. "I would tell someone early stage: Focus on product, and be dedicated to the quality of the product and your reputation," advises SpokenLayer's CEO, Will Mayo. "How much people like your product will do more for you than any press release or social media campaign. Build good stuff."
3. Setting up email marketing too late
Email marketing is a tricky sword. One that needs to be honed precisely. In the earliest days, your product and vision will change many times, therefore all the marketing materials will change accordingly. That's why it's important to know your product market fit. Have all your emails and messaging ready before launch, and know what criteria you will use to measure success.
4. Going to conferences without a strategy
Most founders obsess over face time, but forget to include their opportunity costs when evaluating conferences and networking events. If your either your product or your team isn't stable, then re-evaluate your goals for networking. "I often tell founders to make a hit list, or develop a strategic plan for every conference they go to. That allows them to stay focused and get the maximal experience from each event. Remember, time is the most valuable asset," says Shaherose Charania, CEO of Women 2.0, "Events are only as good as what you set them up to be."
5. Overvaluing press
In the first few years of your product, especially if it is not consumer-facing, your primary referral source is going to be family, friends, and word of mouth. Until you have a marketing budget with multiple zeros, the odds of being heard over the noise of the Internet are pretty slim. Aubrey Sabala, known as one of the first marketers of Digg, who now heads Marketing & Communications at Red Antler, advises startups to maximize the small team by turning every employee into a fan and microphone. "Regardless of the timing, every company should be thinking like a product marketer. Before spending a penny on 'marketing'--advertising, social, or whatever that buzzword means to you--make sure your product solves a problem."
Don't divert valuable time and resources to developing the brand before there's a product to market. Remember to focus on your product and your customers first.
By Ellie Cachette, the vice president of product marketing at Koombea and a Springboard Enterprises Alumna. Formerly the founder of ConsumerBell, Ellie has a technical background in building SaaS and online products and has been listed as one of the six top women in tech to follow. An advisor to many startups, Ellie also lectures on product validation and is a mentor at The New York Fashion Tech Lab. You can connect with Ellie on Twitter or Linkedin.