Guest post by Robert Pease
This may come as a surprise but there is no “one thing” you can do to market your company. There are many things you can do, some of which will work and some of which will fail. Often, it is impossible to know which outcome will occur let alone repeat any success you may have experienced. Sounds like fun, eh?
Some, like Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, think that you only need marketing if your product sucks. Truth be told, most early stage products suck and it is the few and far between examples that become widely adopted and even then that process can take many years (read the Angry Birds story for a bit of perspective).
So, for all of us out there whose products suck and will not experience magical widespread adoption, you are going to need a marketing plan.
A marketing plan does not mean paying a PR firm (please don’t do this, at least not yet) or spending untold cycles on the logo you are going to use to represent your awesomeness. A marketing plan is a pragmatic action plan tied to company objectives through its lifecycle.
Want more investor attention? Market to that objective. Need early users to for feedback and trial use? Market to that objective. Want to crank up the sales funnel and begin to book revenue? Market to that. Without knowing what you are trying to do, simply doing “marketing” will disappoint you and does not set the person or persons you are counting on to do it up for success.
Now that you have your objectives defined, dig into the tactics. What tools will you be using, what techniques? I once heard a startup founder refer to getting press coverage as clerical work. This is not only clueless but counterproductive and naive. Respect this process as much as you respect the people you are targeting. Do not be a chump, have a compelling story, and don’t be arrogant. We all know you are awesome but the people you are targeting to write about you hear from awesome people all day long. Give them something of value even if it is not about you and be interesting to talk to – it will help each time you have something to share.
As for tools, there are loads of free and inexpensive ones out there to get you started. A few of my favorites include:
Your contacts – this is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. Identify the people important to you and your success. Reach out to them and share what you are doing. Some will ignore you, some will try to sell you something, but some will take the time to hear your story and help spread it. They don’t want to hear from your PR firm, they want to hear from you so do at least one targeted outreach per day.
A blog + social channels – I group these together because in today’s on-line marketing world you need to focus on both content creation as well as content distribution. Use your blog to post the anchor content, push it out via Twitter and your Facebook page then add it to your email signature. Don’t just write something interesting, focus on distribution both what you can do directly as well as what people can help you do (retweets, likes, sharing, etc.)
GoToMeeting or similar webcasting product – Don’t get too clever or cheap in choosing a tool as getting everybody connected to a webcast remains one of the biggest challenges in our connected world. Use GoToMeeting or Webex and share your story (reference above). See if you can do it with slides containing only images and in 20 minutes or less.
Trada – think search marketing is important but not an expert? Neither am I and I love crowdsourced models. Trada combines something I dislike (search marketing) with something I like (crowdsourced expertise). This is basically lots of ad optimizers working on your ad clicks, impressions, and performance. Don’t pay an agency or try to learn it yourself, use Trada. Oh, and don’t spend a dime on search marketing until you figure out what problem your product solves and who you are solving it for otherwise you will waste a lot of money.
MediaPiston – content is important but creating it is hard to do unless you are geared to be a writer. If you are not, no problem. Check out Joe Heitzeberg’s Seattle-based MediaPiston for crowdsourced content development. Need 500 words on something? MediaPiston is the answer and it is super affordable.
MarketFish – add this to your direct outreach activities and skip the hassle of dealing with 3rd party list brokers while you specify the criteria for the audience you are trying to reach. They’ve even recently added an old school direct mail service in addition to email. Bonus points because it is a Seattle company and CEO Dave Scott is a great guy.
Retargeter – think of ad retargeting as a backstop to your marketing efforts. Retargeting provides context-based ads to people who have visited your site but didn’t convert. This is one of those things you need to have in place yesterday.
Other cool tools to include in your marketing toolkit include LoopFuse to automate marketing for free (I am an advisor), LookAcross to know the best time to reach a specific prospect (I am an advisor and CEO Meetul Shah is part of the latest 500 Startups class), and Helpareporter.com for 3 emails per day loaded with pitching opportunities to get your company coverage.
There are many, many other tools and tactics to put into place but pick and choose a few of these knowing that marketing is a process and, done correctly, will yield the results you seek.
Robert Pease is the former Vice President of Marketing at Gist, Inc. which was acquired by Research In Motion. He recently founded Nearstream to fix what’s wrong with B2B lead generation and serves as an advisor to several companies. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.