Marketing for Early Stage Startups

What I learned about Marketing working at an early stage startup.

Someone asks you, what do you do? You say Marketing. What exactly is your role in Marketing? You might say brand management, creative copy-writing, media planning etc. In the corporate world marketing is not one role but a combination of many roles all interconnected to fulfill one end goal which is convincing the customer that in the world of endless product and services why should you ‘consider’ buying ours. At big corporate firms you might be part of a big team of professionals each with a specific set of expertise and responsibilities. You might have specific tasks and work hours. You would complete your task and then sit back, relax and wait for another task to be assigned.

Congratulations, you have decided you want to be part of an early stage startup. You join one and boom the madness just falls on you. Marketing at early stage startups is completely opposite from established corporations. Normally you wouldn’t even find a proper functioning marketing department and if you do well you are one lucky marketer.

Marketing is directly connected to the business strategy. Without one the other can’t exist. Early stage startups don’t have a business strategy. What they have is an idea, a prototype of what could work. You don’t make marketing strategies on prototypes. The last thing a marketer would want is people creating brand associations on the basis of a prototype that might or might not work. Furthermore early stage startups always have the choice to pivot. YouTube started as a dating site. Who would have imagined that YouTube would become one of the world’s largest video streaming platforms.

As a marketer for an early stage startup, your job is not to promote the product, service or brand. It is to improve it. Competition, industry, the 4ps then become the least of your worries. Finding product-market fit then becomes your quest for the holy grail. Research, test, analyze then come into play.

  1. Research: Nothing is clear in an early stage startup. There are only goals which need to be achieved. The method is unclear. Research involves looking at how the industry is operating, what the consumers are demanding, what changes are happening in the world and how it impacts us, what industry experts say about this, and so on. Clearly understanding the many ways forward and then choosing the most optimal one is of utmost importance.
  2. Test: Rather than executing one big idea, execute several smaller ones. Executing language-market fit? Run 5 different copies and designs. Want to see if discounting helps in customer acquisition? Run 5 different discount programs. Finding product-market fit? Run five different versions of the product/service and see what the customer responds to.
  3. Analyze: Collect data from these experiments, analyze it and see what worked and what didn’t. Use this information then do further refine and hone in on your experimentation until you arrive at one solid plan that works best for the business.

At an early stage startup the marketer’s job is to first refine the service/product to fit the needs of the customer before trying to get the customer to use the service/product. The objective of the marketer then becomes that of growth where the marketer has to devise hacks to keep the business getting traction while also working on the business improving it until your customers start saying ‘we love your product/service.’

Bonus Resources that can help you with marketing at an early stage startup!

Marketing Tips For Early-Stage Startups

YouTube was meant to be a video-dating website

Startups and the importance of Testing

Rahul Vohra Shares Superhuman’s Product Market Fit Framework

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