8 Rules of Kickass Startup Marketing

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The Rules of Kickass Startup Marketing

Today I wanted to lay out the basic guiding principles that many successful startup marketers have embraced over the years.

I promise you that these rules can really help accelerate your company's growth with no money being wasted, so let’s dive in!

1. Marketing starts with the product.

Here’s what I believe. “Build it and they will come” no longer works. There’s just too much noise in the marketplace for your product to naturally emerge into massive success.

In this day and age, when we’re all connected online, and recommending, praising, or dismissing ideas has never been easier, you want to build a product that markets itself. In the words of Seth Godin, it has to be remarkable.

“Products that are remarkable get talked about.” — Seth Godin

In order to build something remarkable, you have to go beyond just solving somebody’s problem. You need to solve that problem in an exciting and wonderful way that makes customers feel good about themselves and the company.

This can be accomplished through design, copywriting, customer service, and many other ways, all of which fall under the umbrella of marketing.

Dropbox offers much more than just utility. Its copywriting is brilliant.

Before, marketing used to be separate from product development (not counting market research).

It was a thing companies would do after their product and distribution channels had already been figured out. You would build something, put it out there, and then spend a lot of money attracting people through advertising and PR.

But the world has changed, and today marketing and product development have to be intertwined. If done right, this will allow you to excite more customers much faster and much cheaper.

2. Your goals always come first.

It’s easy to get lost in tactics and tools when deciding how to market your startup. What social media networks should you be using? Should you buy ads on Facebook or on Google? Should you buy any ads at all?

Before you can select the right tools for your startup, you need to decide what your goals are.

First, think in broad, big picture, terms, but then also go into detail when working on something like you social media or content strategy.

I like using the S.M.A.R.T. framework for goal-setting. They need to be:

  • S - specific
  • M - measurable (number of users rather than “social sentiment”)
  • A - attainable (don’t dream about 100M users within a month)
  • R - relevant (don’t do it just 'cause you heard about it on Foundation)
  • T - time-based

Once you have the goals in place, figure out who your potential customers are, where they spend their time (online & offline), and how they approach buying. This will give you insights into how you can show up on their radars and convert them.

Only at this point should you think about specific tactics and tools. And only when all of them relate back to your goals, you get efficiency while money becomes less of a constraint.

3. Use the smart approach to DIY.

The regular approach to Do-It-Yourself marketing is about the Whats and the Hows.

You have a question such as “How do I get more followers on Twitter?” You find a DIY lesson, apply it, get results you don’t really understand, and move on.

The smart approach to DIY is all about the Whys:

  • Why do I need more followers? (back to the goals)
  • Why should I follow a lot of people and then unfollow them? (Should I?)
  • Why does it matter what my bio says?

You must be curious about things, and you must find time to learn about the reasons behind what you do. This accomplishes 3 things:

  1. You have more confidence in what you do.
  2. You can easily repeat the same processes again.
  3. You can apply the same principles to other tactics.

Educate yourself about the Whys of marketing, and you will become much better at it.

Side note: Theories and Whys are not the same thing. Because of this, formal education is usually not the best place to learn about marketing.

4. Market. Measure. Learn.

One of the core principles in Eric Ries’ “Lean Startup” methodology is the build-measure-learn feedback loop.

First you take your ideas, build a product or a part of it, and put it out into the world. Then you measure data, talk to customers, split test, and see what happens. Finally, you take all that feedback, analyze it, learn from it, and decide what to do next.

The same method can be applied to marketing. For example, if you have an idea for a landing page, implement it, test it, measure the results, and learn from them.

Startups rarely fail to build. However, sometimes they fail to measure. And even more often, they fail to learn from both their successes and failures.

But unless you do all these steps relentlessly, you’ll end up wasting your time and money.

5. Apply the 80/20 Rule.

You might have heard of this rule before. Discovered in 1906 by an Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, it states that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. For example:

  • 80% of revenue comes from 20% of customers.
  • 80% of blog traffic comes from 20% of post types.
  • 80% of marketing results come from 20% of marketing efforts.

The question you should be asking is this: Are the other 80% worth it?

If you analyze your marketing efforts with the 80/20 rule in mind, you’ll find that often you can abandon some of your tactics, tools, and expenditures without any damage to your growth.

So do it! Dump the 80% of marketing that doesn’t work and reinvest those resources into the 20% that does. This is the kind of thinking you need to not only survive but prosper.

6. Use your network. Wisely.

Your network is one of the greatest assets you can have. Your friends, acquaintances, and advisors will help you improve your marketing and spread the word about your product.

Connect with the right people and you will receive free advice, introductions to the influencers and the media, and otherwise get help.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you make friends for the sake of using them. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be shy about reaching out to the people you know for help.

And the more people you know, the better. This is why you should always go to events, meet other entrepreneurs and marketers, and be a part of all the relevant communities.

Help people often and without any selfish motives. Be a nice person. Trust me that people will notice and be willing to help you too.

7. Don’t judge anything by its price tag.

Expensive doesn’t always mean good. And neither does cheap.

Many marketers fall in love with social media because it’s free, because it seems like the best thing to do when you have a limited budget. And sometimes it is.

But other times it isn't. Or it may not enough. Sometimes, there is no workaround but to invest a couple of thousand dollars into a campaign that will make you millions. But you better make sure that it is going to work.

What you need is efficiency. You need marketing with high ROI, and you need marketing that contributes to your overall success.

Every dollar you spend has to be worth it.

Side note: If you thought that this blog is about "cheap" marketing, I’m sorry I misled you. Marketing Before Funding is about making any marketing more efficient and effective. However, the truth is that such marketing is usually not the most expensive option on the list.

8. You can do it.

When you don’t have a lot money in your marketing budget, the only option left is to replace it with your time and effort.

But be smart about it. Use your time on things that matter. Ask people around you for help. Build something remarkable, measure what happens, and understand why it happened. Learn when you win, and learn when you lose.

But most importantly, do it. Do it today. Do it right now.

Don’t wait for a check from a VC to come in. Don’t wait for a rockstar marketer to join your team. All of this may eventually happen, but there is no reason to wait.

You can do it yourself. Go hustle.


However, if you’re still here, I'd love to hear your thoughts! What startup marketing rules do you live by? How can others become better at goal-setting, networking or prioritizing? What makes your startup remarkable?

Please, share your ideas in the comments!

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