Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that the word “startup” paints a picture which might include foosball tables and kegs in communal kitchens.
But in reality, most startup founders are actually working multiple jobs to keep the lights on. They might be supporting employees who are doing the work to keep building or processing.
This side hustle is their passion, and they are fully convinced their product or service will change the face of their industry.
And when they decide to ask for help (not a startup founder’s strong suit), it’s a vulnerable moment.
Founders sacrifice family time, cash, and energy to ensure these ventures succeed. And sometimes they don’t.
Startup founders take things personally because the experience of running a startup is…well, deeply personal.
I can sympathize 100 percent with this for two reasons: I’m an empath and I can’t help it, and I’ve always run a business.
Whether it was a side hustle, or what I’m doing now—a full-time (++) endeavor—not making monthly goals can be the difference between sleeping and not sleeping.
It taps into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in a profound way. Startups must have the tools they need for success so founders and early-stage employees aren’t in a constant state of fight or flight.
There’s so much packed into the two syllables of startup.
It’s a complex term that acts as a catchall for so many types of businesses.
Whether you’re starting a candle company, smoothie company, or a B2B SaaS model company, you are lumped together.
While operational nuances of these types of businesses differ, there are universal similarities in what startups need to get off the ground from a marketing and communications perspective.
I’ve been working with startups, or companies categorized as startups, for the past 10 years.
What’s starting to emerge is a pattern based on where they are in their funding rounds, what a startup is trying to achieve, and how strategic marketing and communication is/should be involved.
So let’s talk about startup marketing.
Round A: Startup Marketing and Getting Investment
Startups that are are looking for investment come in all shapes and sizes.
For instance, one consulting company I’m a partner in has a solid revenue base, and we’re looking for funding to grow.
Another one is building a SaaS tool, and the founder is hustling to keep their amazing staff building and selling.
Then there is my consumer startup who is trying to use imperfect resources to reduce waste and develop a delicious product. But they need help achieving scale.
Regardless of the situation, you need to be able to tell your story when you’re looking for funding.
And when I say story, I’m talking about an investor pitch deck.
Each investor pitch deck I’ve crafted includes the following key items:
- A beautiful deck template: You only get one chance to make a first impression. And people really do judge a book by its cover.
- When you invest in a pitch deck, you build trust.
- You show you have skin in the game and understand the importance of visual impact not only in this moment but overall.
- An overview of the industry challenge: A startup needs to be able to show they understand where they fit in the market.
- Investors say “because this organization understands their market, it’ll be easier for them to understand how to stand out in that market.”
- Think of it as an investor insurance policy. If you don’t understand how you fit, how you can know if there is demand for you what do?
- Market size: How big is the opportunity here?
- Show them how many people are buying similar products that don’t do the job as well as you will.
- Investors want to know there’s ample room for growth for what you’re doing. Don’t disappoint.
- How you solve the industry challenge better than your competitor?: This is where you show how you’re different, what makes you better, and what you can do to impact the market.
- This is where you can show off your careful planning, strong product design and handcrafted infrastructure. Dazzle them.
- Traction: This section is the perfect place for you to detail all of your wins so far.
- Who has bought your product or service? Have you raised any capital so far?
- Tell them about your customers, distribution, partners, and anything else that shows them they’re not taking a chance, they’re joining a revolution.
- Team: In this section, you’ll want to show off your team of capable people making it happen.
- Show the investors your team is lowering the chances of failure and are leveraging their knowledge and connections.
- Call to action: Finally, find a compelling way to ask for the deal.
- It should be hard to say no to and should dovetail cleverly with your brand theme.
Round B: Startup Marketing and Connecting With Customers
So many of the startups I’ve worked with have incredible engineers, outstanding finance people, and strong leaders.
Sure, they can make their investors money, but can they make an emotional connection with their audience?
In a perfect world, they already understand this. But so often, especially with private funding, they haven’t needed to hone this expertise.
What they often lack is the ability to find the story arc behind the business.
And that’s what your market will respond to, the heart, source, and nut of what and why you created the business.
It’s what I call the “universal human truth” behind the marketing you’re going to put out into the world.
If you don’t have these things, your customers will notice.
And you can’t have one without the other.
If you do, your market will perceive it as a two-wheeled tricycle… and you know how that turns out.
Universal Human Truth for Brands
So what is a universal human truth when it comes to brand?
It is really about figuring out what problem you solve and how that intersects with something people are passionate about.
You may think you don’t have a universal human truth, but, think about it…even if you’re in the industrial energy management business, there is SOMETHING people on the other end of your product are passionate about.
It’s likely something tangentially related to the following concepts: money, resources, children, being disconnected, being rejected, or death.
First, you’ll want to answer the question: How does your brand serve to help alleviate stress or fear for customers?
Then zoom out.
Think about all of the ideas that surround which are preventative.
Then zoom out again…
What does that look like when customers or clients are just starting to come to terms with identifying this as something they care about?
This is a great time to reflect on how you can understand your customers better and get a more meaningful perspective for your brand.
Round C: Startup Marketing Execution
If you don’t have a marketing expert on staff, it may seem like anyone can do marketing. Startup marketing or otherwise.
You make some ads, test some landing pages, and VOILA! You’re swimming in cash, right?
But when you want to scale your company to position it for sale, IPO, aqui-hire, or merger, nurturing the big marketing machine is critical to a) being found, and b) staging the house to accomplish your goals.
There are a few things you should consider when your startup (and your startup marketing) is looking to get more sophisticated.
Hire Someone Who Does Marketing for a Living
Don’t hire your sister’s kiddo to do your marketing.
Hiring an amateur to do a professional’s job ends up just like you think it will.
Not even social media should be left to the interns.
Ensure you’re hiring someone who knows what you need to consider, as well as, the pitfalls you’ll encounter as you look to scale your operations.
This is also important because you’ll likely be relying on them to create the necessary strategic assets you probably don’t have yet (personas, messaging, value propositions).
Want to grow your company? Be easily found. It’s pretty simple.
Bringing an expert in to ensure your technical, on-page and off-page elements are in line with best practices will do a lot of amazing things for you, your website, and ultimately your customer.
When you apply best practices you have:
- A faster website thanks to AMP (Google’s measure of performance for websites on mobile)
- Better content because you’re answering critical customer questions
- Better navigation because your information is organized correctly
- A very good chance of being found more often because you’re a better resource to the search engine’s customers
That’s pretty rad, eh? No good reason not to do it, am I right?
Paid Advertising Plan
At this point in your startup journey (not just in your startup marketing journey!), it can become habitual to avoid spending money.
But this is not the time, my friends!
If you want to get the deed (and by deed I mean sale) done, then organic social media isn’t a good crutch anymore.
You need a paid advertising plan, including strategy and budget.
Figure in evergreen strategies that will put your brand differentiators in front of your market.
Even if they don’t click on ONE ad, they’ve seen your name, and you now exist in their mind.
And while you’re at it, make sure you’re not using last-click attribution, you are counting view-throughs, and you understand how each piece of the marketing puzzle is building towards a bigger picture.
Startup Marketing: Wrapping It Up
When your company is a startup, a few people wear many hats.
As someone who has helped companies build marketing departments from the ground up, I’ve learned to sense signs of the critical tipping point when a company needs to bring in a professional for help getting to the next level.
Be on the lookout for signs of change to ensure you’re bringing the right resources in at the right time.
The word “startup” is a bit of a misnomer because those of us who own them frontload the energy equation into the “start” component.
But the thing is, without a solid startup marketing strategy, secure connections, and excellent execution, we are positioning ourselves for a weak finish.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t spend all this energy just to be professionally short-circuited.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash