Marketing Your Startup

with Alice Lankester

Now Playing


Getting started

Alice Lankester

Startup Marketing Executive, Silicon Valley Veteran, Entrepreneur Enthusiast

Lessons Learned

The first step of marketing is distilling your vision & goals into something everyone can understand

Always conduct small experiments and turn the dial up on the successes.

Startup marketing is limited by budget and resources, so it becomes critical to prioritize & phase.


Lesson: Marketing Your Startup with Alice Lankester

Step #1 Startketing: Getting started

I think the biggest difference between marketing in large organizations and marketing at startups is resources and priorities. I mean, obviously when you're in a team of five people and you're the only marketing person in a startup organization, you're really limited by what you can do. You're limited by budget. You're limited by resource. You're limited by time. You just can't do it all. So you have to be super prioritized about what you do.

In a large organization, part of the job is often, 75% of the job is just communicating with other organizations within the company as opposed to doing outbound outreach.

Startup marketing starts off with trying to figure out what is the most important thing you should be delivering on to help that startup reach whatever its goal is. That could be just brand awareness. It could be partnership building. It could be bringing in new customers. I mean, it doesn't have to be all of those things. It could be just one or two of them to start with, phased and it's prioritized.

Really they should be marketing all the time, right? I mean, when they go in and get their first piece of friends and family money or angel funding, they're effectively marketing, because they're coming out with a pitch and they're pushing it out there. I guess one of the questions is when are they going to start their go-to-market plan, if you like and when are they going to be ready for that? So again, pragmatism about when you do what you need to do at a particular point in time is really critical.

There are various kinds of playbooks. Early on Groupon, Yelp, these days Uber, Lyft, these kinds of companies have a geographical roll-out. So they say, "I'm going to own San Francisco and I'm going to test it out. I'm not going to go anywhere else until I've figured out San Francisco." That's a perfect example of what you can do on the geographic.

You can do it on any kind of city. I'm going to go after this customer in this particular market. And I'm going to test my go-to-market plan with them. I'm not going to use up all of my silver bullets by going out and testing something and finding out that it doesn't work. So do that early on. Build your go-to-market plan. Test it out with a small audience. See what resonates.

In the old days of the software business, we call this alpha and beta testing. In the days, ever since people started talking about Web 2.0, its like push it out buggy and see if it works. But in the old days, it would be you alpha test it with a small set, then you beta test it with a larger set. Then at that point, you say, "I pretty much know what's working and what's not going to work. Then I can start marketing in a bigger sense."

Don't waste your money until you've tested it out because you can say, "I've got $10,000 to spend between now and August 1st on SEO M," and you can spend the whole lot in two days. Please don't. Please test. Please just do a very focused test on what works and then gradually push it out.

There are platforms like LinkedIn now. There are sponsored updates you can buy through LinkedIn. Incredibly untapped market, I think, SAM market, where they let you test really small amounts of money with really targeted audiences. You can really see what works and what doesn't work. Try it out really small and then just turn the dials and see what's working.

What is the first thing I do when I join? I join companies and advise companies all the time, where I come in and they don't have marketing. So then, what's the first thing I do? They don't really know what marketing does. They don't really know how marketing is going to help them. They think of marketing as people who sit around and spend money.

One of the first things I'll do is to really try and work with the product visionaries or the strategist or whoever is building this organization, to try and distill what their vision is. Where do they want to go? What is their plan for that company? What's the goal post? Often times they have it, but they have it described in such a way that people find it hard to understand, or that only they understand it. Or that they describe it in technology terms, not in real use terms. You test out a sort of vision or a mantra that they have and you say, "I've no idea what that means. And if I don't know what that means and you're trying to sell it to me." So that's the first step is to really try and understand that, to distill it, and to put it into some sort of soluble form that everybody can get a hold of.

Then you say, "Right, that's your vision. How do you plan on getting there?" They probably don't know. I mean, they may know part of it. They're going to start this. They're going to start that. "Well, I don't really know how to get stories listed in advertising age" if they're a marketing company. Or "I don't really know how to get David Pogue to write about me" if they have a great new device. "I don't really know how to do that. I know it needs to be done." Well, that's when you say, "Okay, if you want to get David Pogue to write about you, I can tell you how to do that."

Then there's all the materials that go along with it. When you start with your go-to-market plan, you have a series of brand building and awareness and ability to get found and have your customers come across you. Then when they find you, you have to close them. Then you might want to up-sell them and then you want to nurture them. So there are all those steps that marketing has.

So I guess the first thing in common is you kind of give the product leaders or the company leaders a chance to understand how that process gets put together and then to help prioritize which bits you should be doing and shouldn't be doing.

Sometimes that works. I mean, look at Yo. They built it. And suddenly everybody was sending Yo messages to each other. And then they got a million bucks. That's okay. So that's the first chapter in the story, right? So what's chapter two? It could be they'll build it and it could be that some people will come. Then will they take it to the next step? Maybe. I mean, maybe it'll work out. Maybe works out. Never had a single marketing person. I don't know. That worked for them. Just because it works for WhatsApp and for Yo, maybe it hasn't worked for Yo yet, doesn't mean it's going to work for everyone.

If, for example, I have a startup I'm working with right now who is working on building partnerships with IBM. Now this is a small company working with a multi-billion dollar company. That multi-billion dollar company is going to need to get a certain level of sophistication in terms of their materials, and communication, and understanding, and all that kind of stuff, which a marketing person should know how to do. They should know how to communicate that. So you're building partnerships like that, you probably need marketing.

If you want to undertake some growth hacking strategies, you probably need marketing to figure out what content headlines sell and what don't, where ads should be placed and where they shouldn't, where articles should be written and where they shouldn't.

Don't have marketing? That's okay. Let's see how far that goes and then maybe at some point you'll need it. Because you're supposed to be focusing on product building and coding. I think it's not like you're not going to go through the same process of deciding price, promotion, product, placement and all that kind of stuff. You are going to follow the general rules of marketing but you're going to say, "All right, I need to get to 500 customers by the end of the year to sign up. How am I going to do that? I can't afford to buy Omniture and a full version of Google Analytics. What am I going to do? Is there a way I can build cheap A/B testing and can I borrow some great open source landing page code? There's all these decisions that you make, how am I going to do this?”

Some of the startups I'll advise, "I can't afford to hire a graphics designer. What am I going to do? Is there something you can license? Can you go to some crowdsource platform where for 200 bucks you can get a logo?" There are all kinds of decisions like that. It isn't what a big company would do, but it is what a startup needs to do because typically they have very little to no money.

Copyright © 2024 LLC. All rights reserved.