This article is one of the 8-part series of evergreen topics that all startup founders face. It is based on what the mentors actually teach startups during the StepFWD pre-accelerator.
Product marketing primer
Before we start talking about why product marketing is right for a tech startup, we should define it properly. And the people at Hubspot have done a great job here (highlights are ours):
”product marketing is the process of bringing a product to market. This includes deciding the product’s positioning and messaging, launching the product, and ensuring salespeople and customers understand it. Product marketing aims to drive the demand and usage of the product.”
OK, ok, but what is positioning? Clear positioning is finding your product’s “secret sauce” and selling it to those who crave it. It’s what helps you clearly communicate WHERE you win and WHY. And by understanding your customers’ job to be done (JTBD), you will figure out your startup’s positioning. Also, keep in mind that it’s never too early to talk about positioning, and you shouldn’t stop working on it as it’s something that lives, breathes, and evolves with your company.
Throughout the process of planning for and marketing your product, it makes a huge difference when you:
- Are specific
- Are benefit-driven
- Think in experiments
- Don’t “we” all over your content
- Speak in your users’ language
- Don’t try to be everything for everyone
Figuring out positioning
Before you get started with this process, you should figure out your key positioning elements, which are clearly defined in April Dunford’s positioning canvas. However, remember this canvas is for internal use and helps you:
- map your competition
- figure out your unique abilities/know-how/way of doing things to build differentiation
- collect proof of value
- identify your best customers (at every stage)
There are 3 major steps to go through in defining your startup’s positioning:
- Competition research (key unique attributes, social proof, core benefits, customers they target) -> distribute tasks to the team, central G Sheet, discuss findings
- Customer development interviews (issues, use cases, what they use now, friction points, sources of information, influencers) -> record, take notes, share with the team
- Map findings to structure -> involve the entire team
Finally, draw actionable conclusions by boiling down what you learned from talking to customers into:
- Buyer Persona – dedicated website pages for your top 2 customer personas
- Problem Space – dedicated website page about the problem you solve and how you do it
- How you create value for that customer persona – dedicated website pages for specific use cases
- Features that enable you to create that value – dedicated website pages for each feature (or a single page if you don’t have enough of them for the moment)
- Benefits customers get from those features – must-have for your homepage, start with them
- Proof you actually create that value – testimonials, reviews, usage statistics, KPIs increases for customers, case studies -> include them all over your website to build trust.
Positioning is not a tagline, a point of view, a vision, branding, messaging, marketing, a sales deck, a pitch deck, or a go-to-market (GTM) strategy.
But everything listed here flows from positioning.
The product marketing funnel
After you figure out your initial positioning, think about the process of how your customer first learns about your product to the point when they buy it. This is called the product marketing funnel and it includes 3 stages: user acquisition, conversion, and retention.
First, think about how you get potential clients to sign up for using your product/service. At a macro level, there are 4 acquisition channels to consider:
- Paid (performance marketing)
For each of these 4 major channels, measure the signups they generate. Unfortunately, as you scale these channels, there are always going to be cannibalization between the channels, as well as attribution issues – knowing exactly where each user comes from. What you need to do here is to experiment and gradually improve your analytics process, with the end goal of making sure you’re not paying more than you should to acquire your users.
Next, you need to get users of your service (signups / created accounts) to use your product. Depending on your product and who your target customer is, you are looking here at converting them into either active users or paid users.
Again, you should measure the conversion rate (the % of users that start using your product) by each acquisition channel you are using.
The last step in the product marketing funnel is retention, meaning how you deliver on the promise of your product by turning trials into recurring users.
Keep your marketing channels from cannibalizing each other by experimenting to optimize your costs.
After going through the process of talking to your users, figuring out your positioning, and mapping your product marketing funnel, then you just have to bring all of it into a coherent go-to-market (GTM) strategy. There are 4 major elements that go into creating your GTM strategy:
- Understanding your product-market fit
- Finding your target audience
- Defining your competition and ensuring there’s demand for your product
- Figuring out how you are going to distribute it
When it comes to marketing channels, there is no such thing as the most efficient marketing channel for any type of startup. To figure out what works and what doesn’t, experimentation is key (again). Because it doesn’t matter what works in general, it matters what works for you.
One last thing to keep in mind is not to try to tackle everything at once, because you’re not going to be able to do that. Some startups have a lot of enthusiasm to do this, but obviously, you only have so many resources. Instead, you should try to experiment with a limited batch of channels to give them a chance to build up and have that compound effect over a decent period of time.
To avoid channel conflict and keep your resources in check, choose something to focus on.
If you need advice on how to approach your marketing strategy, we’ve invited Andra & Irina for 1-on-1 feedback sessions on May 19 to which you can apply here.
This article is part of the StepFWD your startup series. Do you need resources for your startup? Check them out: