Yet what surprises me is a recurring sentiment I hear among many startup CEOs and leaders: "We're not ready for marketing yet."
It’s time to debunk this notion altogether. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense that founders and leaders are busy juggling the many different aspects of building their new idea and bringing it to life, from refining and building their product or service, building the team, sourcing funding, developing relationships and partnerships, working through operational considerations, and beyond.
However, marketing should never be relegated to a late-stage, last-minute consideration in one’s start-up journey. Just because it will ultimately drive promotion and advertising during the in-market stage for the company doesn’t suggest that marketing is just about ad campaigns or running social media efforts. While these activities might become part of your marketing activation, there's much more about marketing that make it fundamental, especially for early-stage companies.
So, what does marketing entail for an early-stage company?
Identifying the problem you solve: Marketing is about understanding the problem your product or service addresses in the world and whether it's a problem that demands a solution. Often, founders get so engrossed in their technology or product that they overlook the critical question of why it's needed – which can have a detrimental effect on all other activity, especially rallying support and funding.
Knowing your customers: Effective marketing requires an intimate understanding of your customers -- their pain points, challenges, desires, and
needs -- and is essential for framing your business's value proposition effectively. Ultimately, you’ll want to know how customers approach the category, how they shop for solutions, and how
differentiated your offering is to others that they might consider.
Knowing your customer also means deciding whom to focus on – and whom NOT to. Rather than frittering resources targeting anyone who might buy your product, it’s important for marketers to identify their minimum viable audience, the group that represents the most attractive immediate segment to begin to build on.
Crafting a compelling narrative: Marketing involves creating a compelling story about the world that highlights the necessity of your product and why people should care about, support or buy it. No pitch or presentation can persuade investor or customers if it isn't crystal clear and centered around addressing real needs and desires. If you’re saying you don’t need marketing because you’re still seeking funding, then you might never get there.
Developing a go-to-market strategy: Marketing helps to define the best strategy for the commercialization of your company’s products and services – and how to derive the greatest value from them. Unfortunately, many early-stage companies devote too little time to this type of planning, often leading to wasted resources and time when they need to realign their focus.
So, is there any stage in a business's growth journey where marketing isn't fundamental? The answer is a resounding "no." Marketing need be an integral part of your business from the very beginning, helping you define your purpose, understand your audience, tell your story, and chart a path to success. Don't wait. Start marketing now.