There’s no question I get more when presenting on startup marketing than this:
“I feel so overwhelmed… Where do I even start?”
It’s a fair response, one for which I have great empathy. If you start consuming information about marketing a business online, the rabbit hole can quickly lead to some very overwhelming and, in my opinion, misleading advice. When I get emails asking about this, I often send a reply like the following:
The short version:
- No, you don’t need to “be everywhere.”
- No, you don’t *have* to start with Google and Facebook ads.
- Yes, you have a choice of agency vs. consultant vs. hiring in-house vs. learning-it-yourself, but no one option is right for every early-stage endeavor.
- Yes, before you choose how to do your marketing, a few hours of research & self-education are a wise investment.
The question, “where do I start marketing?” is similar to other broad types of barrier-to-business questions like “do I need to learn how to code?” or “how do I validate if there’s customers for my product?” or even “how do I get enough financial and business literacy so as not to get burned?”
Unfortunately, when people think about marketing, channels and tactics often precede strategy. That’s less putting the cart before the horse, and more duct-taping a rotary engine to a cargo bay and wondering why the thing won’t fly.
If you’ve got friends, family, coworkers, casual acquaintances, please, please don’t let them start thinking about Facebook ads or SEO or content marketing until they can thoughtfully articulate who their customers are likely to be, how those people behave, where to find them online, and what messaging resonates with the painful problem your associate’s product or service is meant to solve.
Let’s assume you’ve got #1-#3 down (if you don’t, more on those here) and go directly to #4: Selecting Channels and Tactics (since that’s what this blog post is about). Those right customers you’ve identified almost certainly engage in lots of online activity. They definitely use search engines. They probably consume online video. They likely use social media to follow topics and conversations of interest. They might listen to podcasts. They might subscribe to email newsletters. They might be reachable through webinars or events…
The list of things they definitely, probably, or might do is long.
And if you’re just starting out with marketing, it’s a terrible, rotten, no-good, ex-nae-on-the-omnichannel-oy-vey idea to invest in all of them. So…
The best advice I can give is to choose one or two tactics and channels to start. Those should sit at the intersection of three criteria:
- An area where you have personal passion and interest
This is crucial, because I’ve never, ever, ever seen an early-stage company have great success with a channel when the people doing the marketing don’t resonate with it personally.
Maybe you hate SEO. If so, guess what? It does not matter if organic search is a great potential channel. I guarantee your execution won’t be good enough to compete or stand out. And if you love consuming, creating, and promoting visual content? Do that instead! Make posting visuals to Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and/or Facebook your first marketing tactic and channels. Dry analysis of opportunity vs. returns can’t compete with actual desire to invest.
- An area that reaches your potential customers and their sources of influence
If the channel you’ve picked doesn’t reach the audience likely to become your customers (or, if they aren’t directly reachable, the audience of people who can influence your potential customers), it’s not worth an early investment. Longer-term, cases can be made about brand building via further-flung serendipitous marketing, but in the early stages, you need customers. That means you need channels and tactics that reach them… Now.
- An area where you can provide unique value
In every sector of marketing opportunity, competition for attention and amplification is fierce. We’re no longer in the wild west of the web, when marketing opportunities were so plentiful that just “creating good content” was enough to earn traffic. Your marketing, whatever it is, has to break through a cacophony of competitors—direct and indirect (i.e. publications and people competing for the same eyeballs)—and that demands unique value.
Unique value is not the same as “unique” or “valuable”—it specifically refers to a kind of value that people cannot find elsewhere. It’s remarkable both because it’s rare and because it provides solutions to problems your audience experiences. If you can harness what makes your marketing uniquely valuable, you’ll have a far easier time standing out from the crowds.
That’s it. This path is not always easy, but it is absolutely straightforward. You don’t need to be everywhere. You don’t even need to be in more than a few places. You can start acquiring customers through a single channel, with a single tactic, and improve, experiment, learn, and expand. It’s worked for me in several companies I’ve built. It’s worked for hundreds of other creators, artists, authors, and founders I know.
You got this 😉