From concept development to product design to testing, your product comes a long way from inception to perfection. You are overworked and exhausted but remain hopeful as the launch date looms closer. You might even daydream about launch parties, media interviews, and all that glamorous post-launch stuff.
But let’s backtrack for a moment and focus on the pragmatic side of getting a business off the ground: your marketing plan.
Too often, startups launch without a carefully planned marketing strategy that documents their objectives, pricing and positioning strategy, product messaging, target markets, promotional strategy, retention strategy, measurement process, key dates and deliverables, etc.
A lot of thinking, planning, researching, and even consulting are required to produce an agile and realistic marketing plan that is specifically tailored to your business. If you are unsure about where to begin, a series of tough “prompt questions” might just be what you need to kickstart the process.
Here are 6 questions for you to ponder before developing your marketing plan. You might not have the answers to some of these questions right away, and that is okay. Keep these in mind as you continue to develop and revamp your marketing plan as your startup matures over time.
1. What are the characteristics of people that you want to target?
What is your typical prospective customer like? Here are some examples of the type of questions you want to ask. Feel free to expand on them.
— What is their educational background?
— What age group are they in?
— Where do they reside?
— Do they have kids?
— What is their income level?
— How do they enjoy their weekends?
— How often would they use your product?
Through research and surveys, you will eventually gather enough information on your target customers to be able to build an archetypal model of your typical buyer (also called buyer persona) that will help you gain an even deeper understanding of their needs and wants regarding what you have to offer.
2. What is the best way to communicate with your customers?
It’s important to learn about the digital habits of your target customers, so you can communicate with them in their preferred channels.
Do they check Facebook 8 times a day? Do they spend as much time on their smartphone as they do on their laptop? Is face-to-face communication the only way to get through to them? Do they own an email account?
A millennial who would never open an email newsletter might be tempted to click on an ad embedded within their favorite mobile app. A mid-career professional might click on a sponsored message on LinkedIn but might not even notice the same offer if it’s displayed on Buzzfeed. A senior citizen might sit through TV ads but doesn’t have the same patience for radio station’s commercial breaks.
As businesses, it makes sense to figure out where your customers hang out (both online and offline) and speak to them in their language. Knowing when and where your customers are most receptive to your marketing messaging, and seizing these opportunities to present them relevant offers will almost certainly get you better results than shooting in the dark.
3. How does your ideal buyers assess the solution that they want to buy?
When it comes to making purchase decisions, we often rely on our own tried and true approaches. Some of us ask friends for recommendations, some read online reviews, others prefer to conduct a thorough comparison research, and the truly daring ones make their purchases spontaneously. Which of these brackets does your typical customers fall into?
In reality, it’s probably a combination of all of the above, so make sure you cover all of your bases by having great online customer reviews (that hopefully appear on the first page of Google), a vibrant brand identify, superb customer support, and most importantly, clear and compelling product messaging.
4. What is your business’ unique selling point?
In the eyes of your ideal group of customers, your unique selling point is a point of differentiation between you and your competitors, which is important in a crowded marketplace. While having great product features and low price points is a solid starting point, an outstanding USP is often derived from the customer’s point of view – how they perceive the values that they’re getting from your products or services.
5. What are the competitive alternatives to your solutions?
What you’re selling solves a particular problem. Besides purchasing your products or services, are there other viable alternative solutions people can choose to solve this problem? Regardless of the industry that you are in, there is a high probability that the answer to that question is a resounding “Yes”.
Why? Because people can simply go to a competitor, choose a lower-cost solution (that might not work as well), or ignore the problem altogether. Do people really need a new pair of sunglasses for driving when most cars come with a sun visor? Can people clean their own apartment with mops and brooms instead of buying a cleaning robot? Who needs complicated HR software when the tasks can be done through Microsoft Excel?
Yes, people have options. The onus is on you to convince your target audience that your solution is worth their consideration, and that its cost far outweighs the headache and inconvenience they would otherwise need to endure.
6. What tactics are right for your business?
Every week we hear about the release of a new marketing tool that claims to be the next big thing and makes digital marketers bright eyed and bushy tailed. Coupled with the ever expanding list of marketing channels, it’s easy to get caught up in what’s hot and trendy and lose sight of the big picture.
If a particular growth tactic has worked for a similar startup in the past, take stock but don’t blindly copy what they have done. What has worked for them may not work for your company. Marketing tactics deliver good results when they’re tailored to a specific company – taking into consideration their marketing mix, buyer persona, and more – and well executed. There are no shortcuts. The best path forward is to do the necessary research and analysis to figure out which tactics suit your overall strategy. As always, outside-the-box thinking is strongly encouraged!
In the midst of all the logistical chaos, technical roadblocks and (sometimes) legal obstacles, it’s easy to be sidetracked by competing priorities at a startup. Things are moving fast, and a rigid marketing plan might seem obsolete.
On the other hand, having a well-crafted marketing plan never hurts any business. If anything, it anchors the key components of your marketing strategy and keeps everyone on the same page regarding the big picture.
So book a meeting with your co-founders and try to answer these 6 questions together as a team. Once you have the most critical elements of your marketing plan nailed down, half the battle is already won. Good luck!