Marketing Essentials for Your Startup

06/15/2017 | By Lauren Davies

This post originally appeared on

Too many founders believe that marketing is something to worry about after launch, and that a “good product” will sell itself.

Not only does this mean you could be building a product that no one wants (after all if you don’t actually ask anyone, how can you know?), but it can also set you way back in terms of time and finances as you scramble to catch up on the marketing front, and are potentially forced to make expensive product pivots that could have been avoided.

So here are three key things to focus on from a marketing perspective in your first month to help you avoid this common pitfall.

Build for a Real Customer

It might sound obvious, but you need to know who you are building your product for before you start coding. You need to know exactly who they are, the problems they have, and where they are actively looking for solutions.

A customer persona is a good tool to use in a structured way, completed through interviews, immersion and desktop research – one persona for each potential target customer.

I’d argue that you should spend at least as much time understanding your customer up front as you will in product development.

This week at Techstars, Francis Moran spoke to the Cape Town program on how to translate your customer research into the scope for your MVP (minimum viable product).

Francis defines an MVP as the “product that meets the most number of high-value common needs for your target customers.” He suggests creating a simple matrix with your customer personas down the left, and set of potential product features along the top, by plotting which features directly meet the needs of which personas.  

Your MVP should then only be comprised of the features that meet the most needs, plus any ‘differentiating’ feature that will drastically set you apart from your competitors.

You also need to be agile in this step and employ the lean startup principle of ‘build/measure/test’. Get your MVP into the hands of your target customers as early and as often as possible, to get real actionable feedback to guide your development as you go. After all, as Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn says, “if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you launched too late.”

Define Your Positioning and Messaging

Positioning your product in a way that appeals to your target customer can be a challenge, and often founders try to cast the net too wide, and in trying to be everything to everyone, end up appealing to no one.

Defining your positioning early on, in a concise and deliberate way, just makes everything that follows much easier. It is key for ensuring consistent marketing and communications, for grounding your product development, and in aligning all members of your team under a common definition.

A Techstars masterclass by Josh Jones-Dilworth gave the program some actionable tips on how to do this effectively. 

  • Know your verb and noun – rather than undertaking a full messaging exercise, simply select just one verb and one noun that explain your business, and use that to underpin your content. For example, Techstars is a network that helps entrepreneurs succeed.
  • Be brief - ‘The best messaging has the courage to be incomplete’, so don’t drown your users in blocks of content telling them everything your product does, and all the benefits you can think of. You will overwhelm and likely turn away your customers before then even get to see your product.
  • Sell benefits, not features – Don’t fall into the common trap of just listing what you do. Make sure your messaging speaks directly to the customer and what they need. Follow this simple rule – ‘don’t tell me what you do, tell me what you do for me’.
  • Use the presumptive close – Speak to people as if they are already customers, it is a lot more impactful to say ‘we are going to do business’ rather than ‘would you like to do business’.

Focus Design on Conversion

Your website or landing page is likely the first representation of your business that your customers will come across, so it’s natural that you want it to look beautiful.  But spending time and money creating a website that looks great but doesn’t convert (that doesn’t collect leads) is pointless, and can be a huge drain on your acquisition marketing budget.

So how to create a high-converting landing page? Here are my ‘Five Keys to Conversion.’ 

  1. Know your purpose – know exactly what you want someone to do when they get to your site. This needs to be a single, measurable objective (e.g. ‘sign up for a 30 day free trial of our product’).
  2. Define your call to action – define exactly what will drive customer behaviour against your purpose. Typically a call to action looks like a large colourful button underneath your headline that draws in the eye of your visitor, with short action-oriented copy (e.g. ‘Start free trial’).
  3. Test everything – conduct A/B tests of all elements on your page, to get a true understanding of what drives conversion. Before you have significant traffic, use a tool like Attention Wizard that predict where people will look on your screen to guide your design.
  4. Build trust – building trust is hugely important for any business, but particularly for when customers have never heard of you before. Boost your conversion by providing ‘social proof’ in the form of customer testimonials, case studies and partner or press logos on your site.
  5. Create content – creating quality, shareable content is a great way for establishing your business as an authority and thought leader in your industry, improving conversion and repeat visits from customers.

Ideally you can have both a beautiful design and a high-converting page, but at the end of the day,  “if the ugly baby gets all the attention, keep the ugly baby”.

For a startup to succeed, marketing and product should always work in parallel, hand in hand. Marketing cannot be an afterthought that comes in once the product is developed, but instead should be bringing the required customer focus from day one.  

After all, most failed startups have a product, but few failed startups have enough customers.