Why “startup” marketing strategy, instead of just marketing strategy?

Good question. The difference is that the startup has to aim more carefully. There are fewer resources and less room for error. The concepts are similar, but you aim for the bullseye, not just the target.

It’s not just about the typical startup having fewer resources. It’s also about the likelihood that the startup needs to show the best results quickly, the more traction the better, because it’s inherently riskier in its first struggling phase. Go for the low-hanging fruit.

So, the fundamentals still apply. Marketing is, as I heard first from marketing guru John Jantsch, “getting people to know, like, and trust you.” And that is also a matter of defining identity, target, and business offering (IMO), plus figuring out what to actually do, as in marketing activities (also called marketing mix) such as social media, advertising, media relations, and all the rest.

With a startup, you just need to aim more carefully.

The recipe for startup marketing success:

1. Set the target

In normal marketing, it’s a good idea to start with an ideal target customer and then generalize. With a startup, start with the ideal target customer, period. Don’t generalize.

Ideally, you know an actual person, or business, to use as you think through your marketing activities. If you don’t have that specific idea, then you become like a fiction writer, imagining that person. Give her a good identity, with age, gender, economic level, media preferences, buying preferences, even what car she drives and her favorite books and movies. Imagine her politics. Go from what you know to what you guess.

How do you know? How do you do that? If you can’t do it, you need to either partner up or rethink your startup.  For more help on that, check out our article on target marketing.

2. Season with identity and business offering

You don’t set targets in a vacuum. You stay very mindful of your identity and your business offering:

  • Identity is what makes you (your business) different. It’s a mosaic of factors including strengths, weaknesses, core competencies, resources, your definition of success, and so forth.
  • Your business offering is your products, services, subscription, app, or whatever else it is that you sell.

You can’t set your target market without regard for identity and offering. You need to make the three factors work together. If, for example, you’re a fine-foods chef who likes farm-to-fresh and organic, then you probably don’t want price-sensitive young people, looking for a quick cheap meal, as your target market.

3. Mix, stir, and simmer

In a real startup, you run the ideas of identity, market, and business offering against each other constantly. You are always learning something new about the market, the product, and your own company.

Don’t let your strategy get stale. You are constantly testing it with tactics and execution. And your market is constantly giving you feedback, so you learn, and refine it.

Real-world startup strategy:

As you work with your startup marketing strategy, remember what famous business strategist Michael Porter said: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

In my latest book, Lean Business Planning, I follow that with this:

“My favorite metaphor is the sculptor with a block of marble—the art is what he chips off the block, not what he leaves in. Michelangelo started with a big chunk of marble and chipped pieces off of it until it was his David. Strategy is focus.”

Keep that in mind. You’re a startup. One of the quickest paths to failure is trying to please everybody.

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Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.