Think of it as a continuum…. The more commoditized your product or service is the more you need to trade on Brand to distinguish yourself. The more unique and novel your product is, the more you need to trade on the distinct value you provide.
Looking for product/market fit, seeking out both a solution and a market simultaneously, takes energy. After product/market fit is validated, building up a solid customer base is also hard work.
By Brand, I mean the branch of marketing that specifically addresses the outbound image the makes the company instantly recognizable and will establish a preference in the customer to buy from you. Applying a small budget to the things that encompass real branding activities can be a waste of time and money for Startups. It usually takes a larger budget to effectively build Brand. It’s also really hard to be heard in the market when you are small. As well it can be a waste if you are building a Brand based on things that you will pivot or change away from. I don’t think you need to completely forget some of these activities; they just need to not be the first priority.
Instead Startups should focus on spending time and resources on customer acquisition. And focus on building up a definition of their distinct advantage.
This doesn’t mean that you aren’t focused on things that traditionally are in the realm of marketing. It means that marketing for Startups is different. As so is Sales. It’s all about focusing on engaging and responding to a potential customer base.
I believe there are three key tools that the Startup founder needs to look at
The Customer Persona
Part of the search for market fit is building up a strong archetypical picture of a typical customer. This might also need to be split into multiple personas, if there is a difference between buyers and users, or multiple people influencing the buying process.
You find this out by talking to people in the market segment you are serving, and finding commonalities about them to build out your snapshot. Some things to consider are:
- Demographic, psychographic and geographic information.
- The context in which they will make use of the solution
- The pain the experience if they don’t use your solution
- The gain they get from your solution
- What they might use today as an alternate, or consider as an alternate
- Who influences them
- Ecosystems they are part of
The Branding Position Statement
Basically this is adding in a distinct advantage statement to the Value Proposition.
For <customer segment> who <has this problem or need> we offer <our solution> so that they reap <these benefits>. Unlike <company or alternative solution>, we provide <something unique>
You define your distinct advantage by what you do uniquely better than the competition. Though the competition may not be another company, it can be another activity or way of solving the problem. It may also be the hardest thing to compete against – doing nothing at all.
Respond to the Customer Buying Cycle process
If the first two are about detailing product/market fit, then this is about the actions you take to engage with people.
You need to understand how and when your customers buy your product. The customer buying process is the steps that people go through when considering making a purchase. These are: problem (or need) identification, information search, evaluating alternatives, purchase decision and post purchase evaluation. You need to find out how long this typically takes.
Then you need to have both a marketing or sales response to each step in the process. Or in other words, have an inbound or outbound response for that step. A way in which you satisfy the step and help move them to the next one.
These three things are largely based on understanding the market you serve. Your understanding comes from engaging with them. There are a lot of different ways to do this engagement these days, and a founder can get lost in the possibilities. Though armed with these 3 tools as your foundational true north, the correct response to the market can be met.