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Laying the Foundation: A Marketing Toolkit for Early Stage Startups (Part 3)

“History is a merciless judge. It lays bare our tragic blunders and foolish missteps and exposes our most intimate secrets, wielding the power of hindsight like an arrogant detective who seems to know the end of the mystery from the outset.” – David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon

This is the 3rd installment of a series to help startups build best-in-class marketing machines. Unlike in the past, these days fledgling companies can’t afford to wait to put these capabilities in place. In my experience as a CMO and adviser to startups there are four main pillars that are essential to success in this endeavor: Pillar #1: Start with the mission Pillar #2: Get the efficient, measurable things working ASAP Pillar #3: Invest early in engagement and loyalty Pillar #4: Hire selectively and surgically

Now that we’ve covered Pillar #1, and Pillar #2 in prior posts, let’s take a look at #3 today.

Pillar #3: Invest early in engagement and loyalty

In the early stages of a startup, the goal of getting to proof-of-concept consumes most of the organization’s collective energy, as it’s critical to drive initial adoption of the product or service. As these businesses mature, however, they often discover that a lack of customer loyalty causes them to hemorrhage users. This can trigger a death-spiral of continuously needing to find new users at progressively higher acquisition costs, which can kill the long term viability of the company. It’s critical, therefore, to put the foundational pieces in place to manage an ongoing and personalized relationship with consumers or business customers.

A healthy startup’s marketing team needs to think long term in four key areas:

  1. Drive relentlessly for brand consistency. This doesn’t necessarily mean spending aggressively on advertising, but it does require a fierce commitment to ensuring consistency across every touch point customers have with the company. For example, Zappos figured out early in its life as a startup that living up to their promise of “delivering happiness” requires a customer service experience that prioritizes delight above short term financial gain. An interaction with their Support team will feel completely consistent with their marketing message.

  2. Commit early to downstream engagement. This is a case where we could all learn a little from subscription businesses. It’s always beneficial to game out the user journey to include steps like on-boarding, proactive customer outreach, relevant content, and personalized messages. The more a company can customize these engagement flows to the specific needs of each user segment, the better the chance of breaking through the clutter and establishing a lasting relationship with the customer. Your users should feel like you are reaching out to them personally because you understand their needs. For instance, Ancestry, the genealogy platform, knows its consumers well enough to deliver personalized suggestions to entice them to stick around each time their subscription is up for renewal.

  3. Leverage content and community effectively. Great content gives the brand a chance to participate in conversations that have broader cultural relevance. Building out an engine to produce thought leadership content can raise the profile of a brand without setting off the alarm of looking like a self-serving advertisement. Even better, find communities that are already coalescing around issues that touch what your company’s brand stands for, and participate in those groups’ conversations and events. Investing in these activities creates long term love for your brand as an authentic, trusted source of insights. During my time as CMO at One Medical, for instance, our team understood knew that in order to be a credible primary care option for consumers and employers, we needed to tap into ongoing conversations about health care — from how to keep kids safe from the flu, to the latest trends in holistic medicine.

  4. Ensure a close partnership between the Marketing and Product teams. Determining the right working model between Marketing and Product can be a sensitive topic, but is an important challenge to solve if you want to lock in ongoing customer loyalty. Why? When these two teams aren’t tightly connected, the risk multiplies of building the wrong product to satisfy the user’s evolving needs, as does the potential for the company missing the mark in communicating the features and benefits. It’s essential not to take early adoption for granted. Marketing teams in startups must learn early to partner cross-functionally to deliver delight and justify the long term trust they are asking consumers and businesses to give them. Spotify, for example, is renowned for its ability to leverage in-depth customer insights to evolve the user experience.

In summary, a great marketing team does more than just find new customers. It also maximizes the startup’s long term viability by thoughtfully planning for tomorrow today. Stay tuned for more insights and be sure to follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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