Part 1 in a two-part series on marketing for startups.

When discussing marketing and sales strategy in the digital age, it helps to first ask this question: Why does most startup marketing fail? 

Despite what conventional wisdom might lead you to believe, marketing is not a direct path to increased sales. This is especially true for startups and can be incredibly frustrating and costly in the early stages of the company. 

3 Ways Startups Can Succeed at Marketing

1. Develop a strategic plan, not a tactical one.

2. Make your “first touch” with a customer a warm one.

3. Catch prospects with a compelling landing page.

Marketing is critical, and founders should be thinking about their marketing and sales plans from the very first conception of the product or service they’re developing. But marketing is a marathon, and also a process. Most people think that marketing is like adding a megaphone to their messaging. But if a tree falls in the forest and theres no one there to hear it, a megaphone isnt going to help. 

Furthermore, since most startups in the digital era are focused on recurring revenue, marketing is no longer simply about bringing the customer into the store. It’s about keeping them there, increasing customer lifetime value (LTV) while lowering customer acquisition costs (CAC).

All this can be accomplished through a startup’s marketing and sales funnels. It’s a process that has worked for decades and, in the digital era, has become ever more automated and scalable. 

Amplify, automate, scale. That’s modern startup marketing in a nutshell.

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Start With a Strategic Approach

The problem with most startup marketing is that the marketing leaders (usually the founders) start with a tactical approach to marketing their product. They buy ads, they send emails, they post social hits, they write blogs. That’s usually because all the “how-to” marketing documentation and education out there only covers the tactical approach. And that’s because the strategic approach needs to be unique to every startup, and therefore it’s difficult to teach.

Amplify, automate, scale. That’s modern startup marketing in a nutshell.

The theory that “if you automate it, they will come,” doesn’t hold up without a strong strategic plan behind the tactical approach. But that strategic plan is difficult to develop unless a strategic marketer is embedded with the company — an expensive proposition for any startup, let alone an early startup trying to find product market fit and traction. 

So how do you define the strategic approach for marketing your unique business without burning tons of budget on an expert or resorting to trial and error?

I’ve built, launched and grown dozens of different types of products for dozens of different types of startups. Now, as a product engineer, my marketing responsibility ends at the campaign. In other words, I don’t determine the marketing budget, choose the channels or write the copy. That’s where the tactical marketer meets the strategic plan. For that to work, I have to come out of product development with the infrastructure to support the strategic plan for marketing and sales. The funnel, if you will. 

This is what I would call a derivative of the marketing and sales funnel. Its intent is to capture recurring sales and, with any luck, increase digital sales on the way to automating and scaling.


First Touch: The Warmer the Better

In marketing speak, the “first touch” is the first time your sales prospect becomes aware of your product offering. That first touch might be a digital or traditional ad, a blog post, podcast, video, press hit, sales email or call, maybe even a brochure or in-person at an event. In any case, it’s a touch with a broad reach — a wide top of the funnel. 

With a new company and a new product, your chances of converting any sales prospect usually directly correlate how warm that first touch is.

That’s where the funnel comes in. A prospect will very rarely see their first ad or email from a new company and open their wallets. But they may want to know more, and they might even have an interest. The goal of your tactical marketing is to push them further down a strategic funnel that ends in the first sale.

Many prospects will spill out of the funnel entirely. You need to capture the rest.

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The Landing Page and Email List

Today’s startups incorporate much of their marketing and sales funnel into and around the product itself. The easiest way to think about this approach is a free trial or free tier offering, where any prospect can use some or all of the product for some or all of the time for no cost. 

Regardless of whether your startup offers a free tier, you have to catch these prospects as they slide down the funnel and offer them something to keep them sliding. That starts with your landing page. 

You can have one generic landing page or a custom page for each first-touch source. No matter how you set the pages up, they all need to accomplish the same goal: Provide enough information about the value of your product offering to generate enough interest for the prospect to take the next step down the funnel. That’s called a conversion.

Several automated marketing technologies will track and help you retarget your first-touch prospects. This could include cookies dropped by web pages, social media tags and followers, website analytics or blog post subscribers. 

They all pale in value to an opt-in email address.

In Part 2 of this series, I’ll talk about turning a list of engaged email subscribers into a secondary market. It’s a market you can educate, convert and upsell, all with lower customer acquisition costs and higher lifetime value.

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