I hear (and experience) tales like this time and time again. Blood, sweat, tears and often serious cash go toward creating the ‘perfect solution’ for that critical problem that needs solved. The product journey begins…

Develop, develop and develop some more. Raise a little more mullah. Keep going. Tired. Everyone is tired. That’s ok, we’re going to make it. We are going to make it.

Version 1.0 is ready for launch

Time to find some users. Someone write a blog post and throw it out there on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn! Nothing. It’ll come. Still nothing. Trial signups, actual people. Shit. They’re all friends and family.

A trickle comes, people seem to like it. Add a couple of new features, keep them interested. This level of traction isn’t going to sustain anything though. This isn’t even a thing until we have our first lot of paying customers. What are we going to do? Break out those ‘personas’ we worked on, you know, the ones full of insight about our target customers, then we can adapt. We didn’t finish them? Ah.

Just do some marketing!

It’s ok, we know a little bit about our current users, so all we need to do is target similar people and businesses. Buy an email list, chuck it into MailChimp, write a couple of paragraphs about why our tool is the answer to all of their problems. Too salesy? Nah, I don’t think so.

Why is nobody clicking the link in that email and signing up for a trial? Could it be down to the fact that they have zero clue who we are? We just rammed a sales message down their throats and in a spammy fashion at that. No wonder. This isn’t going to work.

What about some ads? I’ve heard social media advertising can be really effective. Can’t be that hard either, right? Someone give Facebook a go.

£500? What did we get for that? Four trials? What do you mean you ‘think’ it was four? We weren’t sure how to track it properly? Great. By the way, our LTV (life time value) is probably £150 max.

Are we even sure who our market is?

We’re toiling here team. We don’t know how to get to the people we need to get to and actually activate them. I’m starting to wonder if we even really understand who wants what we offer? Is there even a need for it at all? Are we a big, time and effort consuming hammer looking for a nail to hit? Is the hammer even any good?

Does anyone know a marketer?

If we don’t get help soon, we’re going to die. Our runway is getting shorter. Any friends that can help that really know what they’re doing? No? Ok. Find a consultant or an agency. Yes, I get that this won’t be cheap, but it’s fight or flight time. There’s more to this marketing thing and we need help. Just do it.

You need to adopt a marketing mindset early!

A summary of the problems the startup above faced:

1 – Fundamentally, when the time came to launch their product, they had put zero consideration into how they were going to market it. No strategy, no idea. Sounds crazy, but it happens.

2 – They had no foundation of understanding of their users/customers – researching and building personas early would have been hugely beneficial, even if those initial profiles were wrong, they would have at least been the basis of test and learn.

3 – When they did acquire a small base of initial customers, they had no plan around building a relationship with them and converting them to paid users. Understanding them more would have created content opportunities that could have gone a long way to generating conversions.

4 – Panic set in and they gave some things a shot. The email approach showed a distinct lack of understanding of putting your brand and product to people for the first time. They don’t have any prior knowledge of you, ergo, no trust or will to take the action you want from them. The Facebook attempt cost them hard cash. They couldn’t even accurately measure what it had achieved.

5 – They started to doubt the validity of the product. By doing the groundwork from day one, they would have had a far clearer picture of the need for it and who would potentially use it. That intelligence would have allowed them to properly test it via marketing with a view to earning proof of concept and validation for proceeding. Instead, this company are raising doubts without the required data.

6 – Making the decision to call in some help at this stage is not only going to be expensive from a monetary perspective, but also in terms of time. An agency or consultant has to have time to create an understanding of the product/business. If they’d been involved early in the process, a huge amount of this pain could’ve been avoided. Running for help now isn’t going to be a quick fix.

What’s the solution?

I know what you’re expecting me, the marketing consultant, to say – ‘use a consultant from the start’. Yes, having someone with the required knowledge and experience helping you from the very early stages of your startup will ensure marketing is central to your thinking, and go a long way to avoiding the pitfalls outlined here, however, that’s not my advice.

You need to have a marketing champion in your founding/early team. Although it would be ideal for one of those people to be a marketer, I understand why the early focus tends to be on ‘techy’ roles, people that can actually make a product come to life, and of course, resources may not allow for the luxury of a marketer. Having marketing in mind and in action can’t be seen as a luxury though.

The champion is someone who makes it their business (as part of their wider role) to learn the fundamental marketing activities (research, strategy and tactics) that must take place and action them. They should at all times be pushing the team to think about who their desired customers are, how they will be attracted and how the business will ensure they stay with you once they’ve decided you’re worthy of a chance.

That way, you’re building a strong defence against the issues above, and when the time is right, you can go forward and take your amazing product to the public with at least a foundation of comfort that you’re going to go about it in the right manner and have the ability to understand what’s working and why. And, of course, what’s not working. Not everything will work. Trust me.

Don’t leave it too late, it may be the biggest mistake you’ll make.

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