If you build it, will they come?
Entrepreneurs and creators want to believe that if they build a startup business so amazing – and, of course! what they’re building is so amazing – people will naturally love it. All of the major media outlets will write about them and every new user will be an evangelist. They’ll share and invite all of their friends!
If it doesn’t work out this way? They have the grit to execute. No big deal!
Unfortunately the vague, popular startup blueprint leads most founders down a path where they build a whole lot of product without doing much marketing. One one hand, they are very confident that their product is amazing and, on the other hand, they are scared to receive negative feedback. They hunker down to build more, more and more until they feel the product is perfect for testing.
Marketing Your Startup Business is Not Magic
When I ask founders how they are going to get their startup businesses into the market, I hear something like this, “Play with growth hacking, buy email addresses, do some influencer marketing and build up our SEO.”
Then I ask, “Do you have experience with any of these tactics?” I get hesitant looks and a lot of “Umms…”
Indeed, most new founders have no idea how any of these tactics works. Let me give you an idea:
- There are no real secret hacks to growth hacking. It’s time, energy and a lot of money
- Buying email addresses will ding your domain name with most email marketing platforms.
- Influence marketing is generally a hoax.
- SEO takes months and months to establish.
This is the truth:
In the early stages, people buy you, some of your product you offer and the promise of your BIGGER VISION. You need to put yourself out there before you think the product is ready.
Finding Product Market Fit Takes Many Marketing Iterations
Startups often jump to implement big, costly marketing tactics. In doing this they skip the most fundamental elements like brand voice, values, and product differentiators. All of these need to come from the customers’ perspective.
Your startup marketing checklist must include gaining your customers’ perspective. You cannot have any of these elements without…knowing your customer. This means: You cannot wait to until your product is finished to develop and test your marketing language.
Your customer will not always buy the second they see or hear about your product. It takes time for them to become aware and build trust in your brand.
Marketing before your product is ready, creating communication with your customer ahead of time, is absolutely necessary and incredibly meaningful for when you are ready to invest heavily in marketing tactics.
Are you ready for Growth and Scale?
From my Innovation Cycle Framework, the final two benchmarks to replace Product-Market Fit are:
- Product / Launch
- Launch / Scale
Now, when I saw “Launch” here, I mean launching BIG. In the previous stages of product development, you were doing releases with mini versions of your product and testing your fundamental marketing language. You should have been marketing your product and business all along.
Product / Launch Fit
This first growth benchmark is specifically about your biggest launch. This comes after many iterations on your prototypes and pilots, getting you to a refined product based on the feedback of your target market.
When you hit Pilot / Product Fit, you refined the features and offering in a way that you had evidence behind your key metrics. The most important being, “Do people use your product?”
If people are deriving value from your product without much of your involvement, then you should start to see evidence of early referrals and organic signups.
Here are some other indicators of Product / Launch Fit:
- You’ve narrowed down your distribution channels to just 1 or 2
- You know your marketing language resonates
- You have evidence that your marketing tactics are working
- Growth is happening: Referrals, organic signups, and increased retention rates
Launch / Scale Fit
In this stage, you are ruthlessly focused on the distribution channel that will take you from 10K to 100K users. You have a repeatable process for acquiring customers; while you’re testing new ads, you already have ads that will work.
Here are a few other indicators:
- You’re aligned with established strategic partners and thought leaders
- Your solution meets the needs of a more general industry at large
- Your Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) are decreasing
Getting people to trust and interact with your business is difficult and it takes time. You should start testing marketing and branding early and often, along with your product. If you met all the previous stages’ benchmarks, actual scale should be more straightforward.