I do a lot of work in the startup world and people often ask for advice about marketing. Ultimately, the two main factors that come up the most are: is there a strategic marketing plan in place and who’s the person or team responsible for executing this plan.
Many times there’s neither a strategic marketing plan in place or a team responsible for the marketing execution. And that? Probably not going to get you down the path to success. When you’re developing a strategic marketing plan, you need to ask yourself some basic questions. What do you want: more users, more developers, more customers, or perhaps more investors? What’s your brand story? Why should people buy whatever it is you’re selling? What problems does whatever you’re selling solve? What is it you want to communicate to the world and what mediums should be used?
Another part of that strategy is knowing where your prospective customers are and developing a plan as to how you’re going to reach them and, equally as important, how you’ll compel them to action. You’ll need to think about the tactics you’ll use to execute that plan and the channels you’ll use. And that’s the part of execution that can impact who you might hire, whether as an employee or a consultant, to help you reach your goals and objectives. Picking a great marketer (or a PR professional) is key, but it’s also important to know that marketers often have specialties, just like some engineers are better at building certain types of products than others.
When interviewing a potential marketing or PR person you should first think about and be able to answer these preliminary questions internally:
Questions to Answer Pre-Marketing
- Why do you want marketing coverage and what do you plan to gain? (e.g. Users, traffic, brand, etc.)
- How will you know when a marketing campaign is successful? (e.g. What does success look like? How will you measure ROI, How important is online versus offline?
- What is your budget? How much a year do you want to dedicate to marketing? (This will help decide how many people you can or should hire, what kind of events, sponsorships, etc., you’ll be able to afford and/or if working with an outsourced agency could potentially deliver more bang for the buck).
- Is there someone who represents your brand that can be brought on as an Advisor? (Sometimes an Advisor and an equity situation can make more sense than a junior level PR manager and provide the connections and structure needed)
While Finding the Right Candidate
After answering the questions above you should be able to better understand if you are looking for someone junior, senior, outside (like an agency partner) or just a consultant who can help guide the existing marketing team. Here are some steps and questions when interviewing additional people to help with marketing to gauge their skill level:
- Tell us about a campaign that you were a part of that worked and why.
- What’s the best ROI you’ve helped a startup achieve as a result of their marketing initiatives?
- What is the largest marketing or PR budget you’ve managed?
- If the candidate a potential PR pro, ask them about the one piece of media coverage you were most proud of and what results it delivered. What’s the biggest PR disaster than you can think of?
- What’s the biggest mistake that you see startups making? How would you remedy that?
Also, don’t be reluctant to ask for references of clients or companies they’ve worked with before who can speak to their capabilities. This is especially true if it’s someone you’re considering working with as an outsourced marketing or PR partner, as they should absolutely have clients who would be willing to speak to their capabilities.
Developing the Right Marketing Plan
Once you think you have the right candidate or a potential outsourced partner to help with your marketing efforts, you’ll need to develop a strategic marketing plan that will help you achieve your objectives. Are you a SaaS company requiring coverage in technical outlets? Are you a consumer app and need the credibility of super-users? Are you trying to attract senior executives? Knowing who your customer is, what their needs are, and how you’ll reach them are all imperative. Investing some time in developing buyer personas will likely save you tons of headaches in the future and set you on the path to success. Also? Tell your senior executives and developers to step away from this part of the equation because they are often too close to your product or service to think of from the customer’s point of view. And if you want to market to sell, you’re going to have to be able to speak in language that your prospective customers will respond to. A smart marketer or marketing team will be able to help you do that.
Setting Up for Marketing Success
Once you’ve got a solid marketing plan, a candidate in place or an agreement with an outsourced partner, it’s time to get your ducks in a row. Figure out what corporate assets exist and make sure they’re in good shape. For instance, make sure your website is visually interesting and that the brand story compelling, with the benefits and “what’s in it for me” is clearly laid out for the prospective consumers you want to attract. Your marketing team can do all the right things to drive brand awareness and traffic to your website, but once there if your site doesn’t deliver and you can’t convert a prospect to a lead and a lead to a sale, all marketing efforts are moot.
Other things to consider include:
- Content Marketing. You can’t have much success using social media channels without a solid content marketing strategy. Do you have one and how will you execute it? Do you have the resources to create content in-house or do you need to work with a partner to do that? What assets currently exist that can be repurposed and used so that you’re not constantly reinventing the wheel? Creating content is one part of the equation, getting anyone to read it is another. How will you create distribution for your content and drive traffic to your blog and website?
- TV / Video / News. What priority are media outlets for the company and are there relevant materials to support them? (e.g. press releases, headshots, logos, existing media coverage, videos, images, other rich media content, and perhaps even an online press room on your website)
- Conference lists and dates. What key conferences do your prospective customers attend and what kind of presence and/or involvement, if any, can your company have at these events? What’s the budget for this? How do industry conferences tie into product launches and schedules?
- Social Media. What is your social media strategy and what kind of efforts are currently in place? Who has access to various social media channels? Don’t wait to establish a presence in the social media presence until your product is ready to launch, build your networks before you need them.
- How much support is there? What is your capability when it comes to content, design, social media and other efforts mentioned here? Don’t expect a junior level staffer to be able to handle these things and deliver results. Figure out how you’re going to do these things and who you’re going to work with to make sure they’re effective – on staff or otherwise.
- Are there any drop-dead deadlines. Is there print coming out or a large conference that will be taking up a majority of resources and how does this affect the other items your team is focusing on?
- Is there a main document or page on your website with all the previous press and mentions? If a journalist asks, you need to be prepared to send references and links quickly.
This handy chart might be a good reference as you work on your strategic marketing plan.
In case you can’t tell, I love entrepreneurs and working with startups, and it’s been the focus of my life pretty much my entire career. After having numerous discussions on these very topics in the same week, and fielding lots of questions from founders, I figured it might be easiest to write this post and hope that it could serve as a resource for entrepreneurs and startups in the future. Good luck to you, no matter what your adventure!
Ellie Cachette is an Advisor at Koombea, a software and app development agency and contributor for Huffington Post and Inc.com. An alumna of Springboard Enterprises and listed as one of the Top 7 Women in Tech to follow, Ellie is passionate about public health, technology and helping companies reach “Product market fit.” Find her on Twitter at @ecachette