Stage Appropriate Marketing: How Do You Set Your Business Up to Win?
~ Cheryl Flury
Deciding which marketing efforts are needed as your business grows and matures can be confusing. This series of articles on "Stage Appropriate Marketing" will recommend marketing activities for each stage of a business’ evolution.
Stage 1: Seed
So you’re ready to start your business. The idea that you’ve been nurturing along for years is finally coming to fruition.
You’ve done your research
Your idea is fully formed and validated in your marketplace
You understand competitive activity
You’ve created a realistic business plan
You know exactly what’s needed to win in this space
But if you answered any of these questions with “well…maybe,” it’s a good time to leverage Seed Stage marketing strategies. It might seem early, yet marketing is essential to building a strong foundation for growth. And, there are specific steps you can take to accelerate your chance of success.
Begin your branding process
Branding is a journey, and it’s never too soon to begin. An internal survey (even if you are currently a company of one), will help create definition in key areas. For example, examine why you wanted to start this company and your personal expectations. Define primary aspects of the company concept.
Next, take these key steps in the branding process:
Define your market. You want to think big because you want your business to grow, but focus is important. Defining a market segment that’s “true north” for your offering can spur success or failure. As I was getting ready to launch Clarity Marketing Organization (CMO), my business partners and I had numerous conversations about what kind of a company we are, and what kinds of companies are truly our prospects. Are we a marketing consulting group for any company that needs adjunct marketing leadership? Or are we a marketing consulting group for any healthcare company? For any healthcare technology company? The more specific we got, the better we were able to define our offering.
Define and refine your offering. What is it that you’ll deliver? Is it different than what others deliver today and if so, what makes it unique? Is that value proposition appreciated by your prospects? Do they care enough to pay for this product, service, solution? Will they prefer your ability to deliver over that of your competitors? Have you defined your prospects’ pain points? Completing this exercise helped my partners and I develop a unique feature of CMO – each of us had participated in building highly successful healthcare technology companies from the inside out. Armed with this fact, we refined our offering to take advantage of our respective years of expertise and unique skills.
Sharpen your competitive lens. Focus on your competitors to understand: How do they define their business? Are their current strategies working for them? How well established are they, and what share of the total “feasible” market have they achieved? What’s the difference between their business and yours? What’s their pricing strategy and how would this impact yours?
Create your positioning strategy. Build a positioning strategy for your company first, then your product or solution. Often people assume positioning is easy and try to rush this step, but be careful not to short-change this task. Differentiation is key. Understanding your target audience is vital and will save time. Positioning fuels future strategy and builds the guidance system to point to where you’ll go. By now you’ve assembled the data that explains:
Who your true target audience / decision maker is
How your competitors are positioned and the pros and cons of their offering
The addressable pain points that your prospects experience
Specific, unique attributes your company offers, with solid proof points
Begin building corporate messaging. We’re going to cover this in detail in the next stage of your company – the Start-up Stage. But for now, you’ll need a carefully crafted elevator pitch and 3-4 key messages that succinctly present your business, summarizing who you are and what you do. These are carefully constructed upon the foundation of your businesses’ definition, differentiation, unique value proposition and clear positioning strategy.
Make sure your business plan is rock solid
In today’s “rush to market” world, where we promise ROI in a week or two, it’s often a company’s business plan that suffers. Take the time to revisit and complete or update the key components.
If you’d like to review best practices, here’s a great article in Enterpreneur magazine, providing detail on the seven major components of a business plan: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/38308. Even if you’ve built business plans, this is a great refresher.
Create a minimal infrastructure (for now)
Be careful about spreading money and resources too thin. My sister (a self-employed tax accountant of many years) said, “you’ll want to invest in every piece of technology right away. And if you take it one piece at a time, the cost of technology today is quite low. But when you add it all up…it starts to, well, add up. Go slow now, so you can go fast later.” Are you ready for a CRM? If it’s just you and a couple other employees, you may be able to use spreadsheets at this early stage. But maybe you do need a conference calling service now. Prioritize the tools you need at the seed stage and remember, there’s time to build out the big pieces and your marketing technology (martech) stack later.
With these foundational pieces in place, you might be ready to consider your business official in Stage 2: Start Up. Next, we’ll look at the marketing strategies and tactics needed to advance a successful start up business, including the 10 marketing components you must have in place to advance.