Category Archives: Startup

How to Market a Startup

A few years ago a small manufacturer called me in to consult with them on naming a product they were already selling; an accessory to recreational equipment. It was a great product, better than the one the OEM was making. The after-thought of marketing wasn’t neglect, it was just an omission. The company had poured all their effort into product quality and efficient manufacturing processes. They didn’t have the time, nor the mental space, to worry about marketing. But that omission was now costing them money, while delaying the success of the product.

Guide to market a startup

You put everything you have; finances, sweat, emotions, and time, into launching your new business. Then the launch comes, but the people don’t. Should you start worrying? No, you should start planning. If you have already launched your business and are currently listening to the crickets chirp, consider re-launching using this advice. If the above scenario is your worst fear, start planning now to avoid a re-launch, or worse.

The Horse Before the Cart

Getting the product right enables people to have a relationship with you. But marketing is necessary to convince people to have a relationship with you before they have a chance to experience your product. It’s a symbiotic relationship. So while you’re preparing to let everyone ride comfortably in your product cart, let’s groom the marketing horse that’s going to pull it. I’m going to lay out the steps in chronological order as a guide to marketing your startup.


– Determine the Meaning of Your Business

People want the brands they do business with to mean something in their lives. They prefer not to throw away their money on meaningless purchases, and they will become loyal repeat customers to those brands that mean something. What will you mean in the lives of your customers? What impact will you have on their lives? Stay away from “save money.” Start with an emotion, visualize a destination. Example: Self-esteem ; I will look cool.

– Commit to Messaging

Now you’re ready to craft your brand’s message. You need that one thing your brand will say, and repeat consistently, throughout the first phase of your launch. That message will be: The meaning of you business + the impact you will have on people’s lives (see step 1 above). For help on brand messaging, see: How to Handle the Brand Discovery Sequence

– Look and Feel

Yes, it’s exciting to get a logo and business cards, but don’t put the cart before…wait, I already used that metaphor. Just remember this: your logo is not your brand, it is a visual identity hook on which customers will hang all the attributes of your brand. The visual identity is important after you determine the meaning and messaging of your business. Create the visual identity of your business to reflect the emotions and meaning of your business. For more, see What a Logo Does

– Build Your Website

78% of consumers use the internet to research products and services. This is especially true for brand-new-never-heard-of-before businesses. Forget the Facebook page for now. Build a website that answers the questions curious new customers will have. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes: You’ve just heard about this hot new business, what do you do? Google it! This may be your most important pre-launch marketing investment and it may be your first physical contact with a new customer. It should match your look and feel and communicate the brand’s message.

– Define Your Strategy

What tactics will you use to convince new customers to give you a try? And in what sequence will you use them? For example, I worked with a noted international businessman who had written a new book on the advantages of a career in sales. Step 1 was to create the website. Step 2 was to write several blog posts for the website to give it credibility. Step 3 was to record a podcast with a famous sales trainer who endorsed the book. Step 4 was to send out several hundred copies to business leaders. What are your steps?


– Make a Splash

Don’t just run a campaign, get people talking. This means you have to do something out-of-the-ordinary or completely unexpected. One local used-car dealer launched his business with a cheesy TV campaign (I can say that because I produced it) where a knight in a suit of armor chased a sleazy used car salesman away from customers. I starred as the sleazy salesman (by accident). These commercials became the talk of the town and neither the car dealer nor I could go to the grocery store without being asked if we were in the commercials. His dealership quickly vaulted to one of the top three dealers in the county.
If you want to see that campaign, cover one eye and see them on YouTube: Mike Knight Motors TV Campaign

– Be everywhere

This doesn’t mean spend a bunch of money on everything. It means be out in public and accessible if you’re a local business, or be online and accessible if you’re an Internet business. Don’t be stuck in the back office pouring over spreadsheets. Put a face and a name to your company and be seen everywhere you can. Send out press releases, bug the radio stations, produce videos for your website. Be as visible as is humanly possible during the launch.

– Be intriguing

Fascinate people. You have two personalities: The boring you and the interesting you. Put on your most interesting persona and be someone that is out of the ordinary. Dress yourself and your business with a trendy look. Tell cool stories, be flashy. Don’t be business as usual. This is the launch and you have one shot to make a first impression.

– Deliver an experience

You are not selling a product in exchange for money. People are exchanging their time with you with the hopes of collecting a story they can re-tell to their friends and family. That story is the product of a phenomenal customer experience. Remember it’s not the product/service that makes a customer loyal, it’s the experience. Get people talking immediately with an out-of-the-ordinary experience. For more, see: Phenomenal Experience Design

– Hold something back

People expect excitement from a new business, but then there’s often a letdown when the launch honeymoon is over. Have you seen those businesses that can’t keep up with demand when they first open, then one year later, they close. That happened to Krystal burgers here in my home town. People lose interest.

Don’t fire all your bullets during the launch. Hold back one or two things that will wow the customer. Then, right after the launch dust settles, Pow! Hit them again. They will be putty in your hands (see below).


– Reinforce the message

After the first few dates of a new relationship, the fairy tale quality starts to wear off and it’s time to get to know each other. You and your new customers are all giddy over your “first kiss,” but now it’s time to have a relationship. Remember that work we did during the first two steps? It’s time to reintroduce the meaning-based message. Forgot all about that didn’t you? That’s what happens during courtship, but long-term customer relationships have to be based on something more than hype: something meaningful…

– Hit them with the next big thing

… but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a little romance between you and the customer. This is where you give them that one thing you held back: An additional service that you didn’t announce during the launch, an innovative accessory to your new product launch, a special bonus for everyone who purchased.

– Establish a relationship

The launch is only the initial courtship of a long-term relationship; one in which you provide meaning in the life of the customer, and they reciprocate with repeat purchases. During the launch, collect customer information such as email addresses and phone numbers. Get them involved with your social media channels. And then repeatedly reach out to them and ask them to do business with you again.

If you have an impending new product or business launch, you are about to embark on maybe the most important journey of your business life. Why not first spend a few hours on this list.

And happy launching!

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