How to Run Marketing in Your Startup on Your OwnEric Merlin
Marketing isn’t the same as advertising, and marketing processes in a startup set off from the idea itself and play a key role in the development of a product or service.
It’s true that there are many obstacles economically and politically, but in all other aspects, we live in a time of maximum connection, always and everywhere.
We live in unique times, in an almost ideal atmosphere for the birth of startups and other forms of small businesses…
If You Have an Idea, Now Is the Time to Make It Happen
Belief in big brands, although obvious and strong in certain circles, is definitely weak. The population is becoming more diverse, with much more diverse expectations, needs, and desires. Niches are defined and for each niche, a group of specialized services is defined according to their expectations. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t just about hipsters.
At the same time, the public has become very sceptical, which has deeply influenced the way marketing has been built in the last decade. We can say that the main visible part of marketing is actually the story of our product, told exactly the way the potential customer wants to hear it, through the channel that the customer follows, in a language that the customer understands.
Marketing has become one of the most affordable elements of business for anyone who has Internet access. However, despite its accessibility, most companies forget or neglect marketing until the moment they enter the market. But then, it may be too late.
When asked when it’s appropriate to start investing in marketing, our answer is always the same. “Do you have an idea? Start marketing processes. Do you have a company but you don’t have marketing? You’re already late.”
Marketing and Advertising
The most common mistake, globally, is a misunderstanding of the term “marketing”, more precisely, a confusion of the two terms: marketing and advertising.
Advertising is the visible part of marketing, the end result of a long process with the purpose of bridging the communication between your brand and your audience. Advertising is part of marketing, but marketing is a much broader and longer-lasting process.
Marketing, as the name suggests, is largely an understanding of the market, where the market is viewed as a whole, divided into pillars, and analyzed. Strength and solvency, interest, need, and competition is all just examples of things researched and determined for a healthy marketing process. Entering the market itself is one of the later steps of the whole process, and advertising is an integral part of it.
The main culprit for this confusion is the popularization of marketing through the media, mostly through TV series (such as Mad Men), where the focus is on the very creative process of shaping communication. The reality is much less exciting than drinking whiskey at two in the afternoon (which we don’t judge).
The process begins with gathering and analyzing information, and whiskey arrives much later in the story. Depending on the industry, marketing processes can take up to a year or more, until the test product enters the market.
What certainly helps is creating a website for the needs of your business. However, content on that website needs to constantly change, to get updated in order to keep old visitors but also to increase traffic because bigger traffic means more chances of promoting/selling your product/service and more profit as an ultimate goal.
When Does Marketing Start?
From the moment of the very idea, marketing plays a key role in the development of the product or service itself. In some cases, marketing comes even before the idea itself, where firms first survey public opinion, to determine market needs and other variables.
In larger firms, this job falls under the agenda of regular marketing staff, while in micro-startups and startups it often falls within the scope of work of a person who has nothing to do with marketing. In that case, the fact of how much market research can help in the early formation of a product or service and ensure market survival is often lost out of sight. In order not to sell winter jackets to people in the Sahara, it’s necessary to adapt the idea to the market, and sometimes that implies drastic changes.
Can You Do Your Own Marketing?
In short: yes. In an ideal world, we’d say – leave the marketing to professionals, but we’re far from an ideal world. Most micro-startups, startups, and small businesses have no budget space to pay professionals, at least not in the early stages of business.
Even when the budget is present, investing in marketing in the early stages is often a risk, because it can easily happen that the original concept is rejected precisely because of what the market tells us, which means that there will be no return of investment.
That’s why we support and encourage all individuals who enter entrepreneurial waters to take marketing into their own hands, at least for a while and determine the possibility and need of the market for whatever they want to offer.
Is There Free Marketing?
In short: not really. While you can do a lot without investing physical money, entrepreneurial time is money, and the equation is simple.
You either have to invest capital or a lot of your time in marketing. The ideal combination would be – both, but for starters, you can go through investing time and only later decide where it will be smarter to exchange your time for currency.
If you answer most of these questions, you’re ready to go out on the market:
- What do you offer, to whom, how, and why?
- What’s the state of the market, who’s your competition, and what does that tell you?
- Why, how, and where will the customer buy your product or service?
- In what ways will your product/service reach your target audience?
- How much will it cost and why?
- How much is it worth investing in promotion?
- How to promote, to whom, and through which channels?
- What are your key performance indicators (KPIs)?
- What are your key success factors?
Some additional questions relate to specific industries and may be as follows:
- What’s the life expectancy of your product/service?
- Will customers/users return to you and why?
- Have you secured a material supply chain?
- Have you secured a distribution chain?
As you can see, the answers to some marketing questions actually have their roots in the organization and structure of the business. One of the biggest roles of marketing is to enable the sales function of your product. Sales can be an extension of marketing (such as in e-commerce) or a completely different department of the company, i.e. a person dedicated to the sales process itself.
We can freely say that business, marketing, and sales go together. Sales without marketing are equal to a loud outdoor market place, and marketing without sales is equal to a little-known art gallery. Doing business without marketing and sales is equal to a work of art on a mountain, in a cave, under moss, or in pitch darkness.
What Does It Look Like in Practice?
The goal of marketing research is to turn muddy water into a clear stream that will easily take you to your customers. Start with your product or service – break it down into elements and compare it to the market, needs, desires, etc. Don’t forget to check the payment power, customer habits, as well as market forecasts, because all this can be an indicator of whether you’re developing your idea in the right direction.
Example: People buy two chocolates in 80% of cases because one chocolate doesn’t meet the needs of their families. The manufacturer understands this trend and launches a test product with twice the size of the package on the market. That’s why we now have a Milka bar of 300g. (We thank them for that).
The next step is to understand the competition, which is a less popular step, but very important in marketing. Competition tells us whether or not there is a need in the market, but also the saturation of the market, your potential share in it, and how difficult it is to breakthrough.
Example: The absence of competition sounds great, but it’s also a possible indicator that, for now, there may be no need in the market, or that it will be a challenge to create a habit or attract a stable and sustainable clientele.
With all this, an image of your target audience begins to form. Thorough target group research will reveal profiles that represent your ideal customers, as well as those that you want to avoid (negative target audience). It’s important to base these profiles on actual data, figures, and conversations, not on desires or speculations.
With 10 years of marketing experience, you can start making educated assessments, but even then you want to confirm everything with raw data. Competition, in this case, is a nice shortcut to determining your target group in wide movements.
And You Don’t Stop There…
All of this will affect the way you offer your product or service to customers: you’ll build the package, distribution channels, brand, communication, and all other elements of marketing on the acquired knowledge.
But marketing doesn’t stop even after it hits the market. You can consider it the hyperactive twin of your business idea: as long as your idea exists, there will be marketing that will validate or discredit it, improve or transform every element of your business.
Experimenting Is a Key Part of Any Marketing
This is something your financial advisor won’t tell you: play! There’s no single marketing solution, one way, or one undeniable plan. Guided by the data, through the procedure, you have to try out what works for you. The results of such tests can drastically affect your brand, product, or service. (Now it’s time for that whiskey again.)
They sometimes confirm your suspicions and often surprise you: they discover a new target group, show that one colour works better than another, or that the tone in which you write posts on social networks dictates different reactions from your audience.
With each discovery, you’re one step closer to a healthy, sustainable business.