doh barneyI’m sure there is more than five things that startups botch up. But I’m going to focus on these five marketing activities, because they can make a difference in propelling a company further ahead. The following five themes become increasingly important the more a startup matures and develops, whether they are growing their users or revenues, or both. Let’s dive into them.

1. Go-to-Market

If you’re a consumer startup, your go-to-market most probably revolves around Dave McClure’s AARRR steps: Acquisition, Activation, Retention and Referrals. I’ve left out the last R of Revenue, because it’s a much bigger topic. The gap between Referrals and Revenue is much larger than the gap between the other 4 steps. If you’re a consumer startup and it’s time to ring the register and you can’t delay revenues anymore, chances are that your revenue product is a business-to-business product or service that you have to sell, therefore you need a Go-to-Market strategy and approach for rolling your product into the market. Go-to-Market is not business development. Business development opens doors and lubricates relationships. Go-to-market propels you into the market according to a planned orchestration of a variety of activities between your product and your market. Don’t leave the outcome of your touch-points with the market to chance. Don’t let it unravel. Be more deterministic in how you want to connect with your channels, partners, influencers, intermediaries, networks, segments and customers. Planning and co-ordination is a key aspect of an effective Go-to-Market approach.

2. Value Proposition

You need to see your value proposition from the eyes of the user/customer, not yours. It is really defined by them. A value proposition is the essence of your product’s promise. It is a promise because you’re implicitly asking them to trust you when they try it, or are about to purchase it. For a startup, there’s typically a gap between the MVP’s value proposition and the vision of Value Proposition. Sometimes, the MVP will evolve towards the desired value proposition, and sometimes you iterate your value proposition while you iterate the MVP, until the two of them marry well together. The good thing about the online world is that you can keep iterating on your value proposition, until you get it right. As your product iterates, so does the value proposition. They stay in lock step. The strength of your value proposition will depend on how strongly and accurately it resonates with a prospect, and it must include a clear benefit to them, as well as a statement relative to why they should do something about buying or trying your product.

3. Communications

You need to constantly communicate to your customers what you are doing, why you are doing it and why it’s important for them to realize that your product matters. I’m seeing 2 mistakes: –       relying solely on your blog to communicate –       not having the right level of communications; e.g. talking in techno-speak on your blog, whereas you should be talking to your business users instead. If that’s the case, then have two separate blogs,- one for each audience segment. We’re in the thick of Inbound Marketing effectiveness, and it’s the new form of communications. But do not make all of your content about your product, and do not do a hard sell on your blog. Rather, communicate about the experiences of your users, and how your product empowers them to become better at their jobs. HubSpot, KissMetrics, and Moz run exemplar company blogs that have mastered the art of Inbound Marketing, and turned it into a Communications weapon. And don’t forget about Email Marketing as another Communications weapon. I’m seeing some companies totally ignore emailing their users when they are releasing new products or new features. If the user gave you permission to communicate with them, then use that permission. Email is an effective re-engagement method. Twitter does it very well, and it’s part of their growth hacking arsenal. Remember, Email (and Search) deliver more customers than social media.

4. Positioning

That is my favorite topic, thanks to Al Ries and Jack Trout, who wrote the seminal book, Positioning: The Battle for your Mind. First, some basics: –       Messaging is not Positioning –       Your value proposition is not Positioning –       Your product’s features is not Positioning “Positioning starts with your product, but it is not what you do to a product.” (from Al Ries & Jack Trout) (re-read that statement, and memorize it, as well as the next paragraph) Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. This means that you position the product in the mind of the prospect. It’s like thinking in reverse. Instead of starting with yourself, you start with the mind of the prospect. So, positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect that hasn’t tried your product yet. It’s what you say about it that let you occupy this unique position in their mind about you, as a company. I believe we are seeing a renaissance of the positioning era. Now is the time to think about what kind of assault on the mind your company is going to undertake in order to secure its position. When you do that, make sure that you create the position in the prospect’s mind that takes into consideration not only your strengths and weaknesses, but also those of your competitors as well. For startups and grownups, positioning is a key battle. Go fight it. Each day, thousands of blog posts, tweets, social gestures and online messages compete for a share of your mind. So, the mind is the battleground, and positioning is a systematic solution for finding a window in the mind. If you’d like to learn more about Positioning, you can read my longer post Positioning: The Battle for Your Startup.

5. Branding

Branding is the least understood of these five issues. Actually, it is ignored by most startups. Granted, branding your company is not relevant if you haven’t reached product/market fit or if your market footprint is small. Fine. You are focused on getting customers first. But, as soon as you reach a critical mass of users or customers, competition will emerge, and that’s when your Brand will start to matter, because it will start to affect your success. Here’s why Branding is important. Once users associate themselves with your brand, they will become your best advocates. They will swear by your brand, they will defend it, and they will promote it. But how do you get there? You need to connect with them at the emotional level. Customers will talk about your brand because they want to, not because they have to. And each time you evoke an emotional response in them, you are making a deposit into their emotional psyche, and they will return it to you many times over. The easiest association characteristics about a brand are Quality and Trust. Start doing everything you can to project quality and trust in everything you do, and your users will remember that. Then, complement it with a unique brand identity that you keep re-enforcing. When you deliver something really well (a feature for e.g.), you will start to ignite emotion, feelings and passion within your users, and they will start to remember their experiences. You need to build on that, and re-enforce it with the company image and identity. Then you market your image, not your product, and customers will trust you with your next product or product extensions, because you’ve earned their trust. Branding is an important derivative of good marketing. Over time, your brand will become on one of your most valuable assets.


Go-to-Market, Value Proposition, Communications, Positioning and Branding are all Marketing activities that cannot be ignored, if you want to differentiate yourself in the market, become more competitive, and accelerate your growth. Actually, these five activities have a synergistic effect when they are working well together. Look at what you are currently doing, and ask yourself if you need to turn your attention to these five areas.]]>