You’re the very first marketing hire at a startup, and are tasked with building the brand from scratch.
Where do you start?
Branding is a long-term game, contingent on a business demonstrating consistent values across all functions — from product experience to customer support. Since many startups fail within the first few years, my priority would be to ensure marketing activities are practical in aiding customer growth and driving revenue, while building the brand.
These are what I’d prioritise:
1. Understand the product, target market, and startup vision
Get a reasonable understanding of the startup, product, and target customers, to determine product-market fit, product readiness, personas, direct/indirect competition, positioning, and key brand message. This would minimally mean trying the product, talking to the founders, getting customer and/or prospect feedback, and doing a competitor analysis.
It is important to get an understanding of the business and ascertain market demand factors. The top twos reasons why startups fail include: lack of market demand, and running out of funds.
2. Ensure my understanding is similar to the founders and key stakeholders
Align that understanding with the goals of the founders and key stakeholder. What is it they want to achieve within a year? What is the vision? What is the marketing budget? Not getting a common understanding in direction hampers progress.
3. Know how the startup will go to market and acquire customers
Develop a basic go-to-market strategy, with entry-level/onramp offers, and upsells to those target personas. Then, define the immediate marketing plan and must-haves (to achieve awareness and customer growth). Get buy-in from founders and stakeholders.
4. Prioritise immediate strategic quick wins, test and tweak, and get results
Prioritise marketing activities, tactics, channels, and campaigns that are strategic quick wins — with the greatest potential to build brand awareness, and drive customer growth and demand — and get started as quickly as possible.
Use those activities to test the market, and discover what moves the needle and gets results. Cut out what doesn’t work and tweak the rest.
Quick failures and continual iterations of improvements are key to any startup’s survival. Assuming I’ve done reasonable due diligence, this applies to marketing as well.
There is no point taking months to come up with a “perfect” plan that isn’t “battle-tested”. The business and marketing landscape would have changed by then anyway. The short-term wins would also help the startup thrive in the initial stages.
Moreover, founders and key stakeholders tend to seek quick results, as indicators to gauge your effectiveness as a marketer.
5. Analyse results of immediate activities to shape long-term strategy
Analyse all the immediate marketing activities to discover growth levers (specific to the startup, industry, market, and customers) and use them to shape the long-term marketing plan.
Note: I’ve assumed that this is a tech startup.