Should fast-moving startups be marketing or do they need a marketing strategy?

When driving awareness, leads and sales are a priority, it is easy to simply do marketing. Why plan when there are things to be written, posted, updated, nurtured and shared?

startup marketingThe upside of the “Just Do It” approach to marketing is that startups move beyond the focus on development and sales. It signals that a startup recognizes the importance of marketing. This is a positive given marketing is often seen as a luxury, rather than a necessity.

The downside to “Just Do It” is there is no roadmap for success. Rather than having a plan of attack, it’s run and gun marketing. It involves throwing things at a wall to see what sticks.

The problem? It is an ineffective approach because it is tactical execution rather than focusing on what that matters.

This is why startups need a marketing strategy. They have to create a well-articulated plan of attack that takes into account strategic goals and resources (time, people and money).

Here’s a step-by-step recipe to creating a marketing strategy.

It begins by articulating why marketing matters and establishing expectation. What are the motivations and needs? What are the goals (e.g. more brand awareness, leads, sales) or other considerations such as the competition dominating the spotlight? As Simon Sinek says, “Start with Why” because it sets the stage for everything else.

TIP: Write down your goals and what success look like. Be specific about the key benchmarks – Website traffic, media coverage, leads, sales, etc.

The next step is determining the level of commitment to marketing. It’s easy to get excited but enthusiasm can quickly evaporate when the realities of actually doing it emerge.

I’m talking about budgets, the people to be hired on a full-time, part-time or contract basis, and the time needed to support marketing. I have found that time is often the biggest obstacle because other priorities emerge. As important, many startup entrepreneurs fail to realize how much guidance they must provide to reflect their strategic and tactical goals.

TIP: Clearly articulate the budget, which will include people, services (e.g. Fiverr, Canva and UpWork) and tools. You also need to be clear about expectations as much as the commitment to marketing.

Next, identify the people who matter (aka target audiences). Marketing succeeds when it is focused on the right people in the right places. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.

Many startups give lip service to target audiences because they lacked details about whose attention they want. At best, their target audiences feature high-level information, rather than in-depth details. Armed with a lot of information, it is easier to know how and where to best serve peoples’ needs.

TIP: Develop target audiences and buyer personas that identify the different kinds of buyers, as well as in-depth details – age, income, aspirations, problems, fears, responsibilities, buying behavior, etc.

Then what?

Once you know your target audiences and how you can reach them, you need to identify the  different channels. It can be everything from Websites, videos and blog posts to direct mail, speaking and email marketing. Basically, it’s the laundry list of what’s possible if everything could be done. Of course, it’s not about what’s possible, it’s about what’s do-able.

TIP: Write down every potential channel that is relevant to reaching target audiences.

Armed a long list of channel possibilities, the hard work begins. You need to rank each channel to identify priorities. This involves assessing each channel on how well they could work, how much they will cost. and how these channels align with strategic goals.

This is a challenging process because it involves hard choices. It is important to be honest about what needs to be achieved and, as important, being realistic about the ability to execute.

Once each channel is ranked, they have to be prioritized using expectations about ROI, cost, and goals. One approach is dividing channels into three groups: what should happen now, what should happen soon and what can happen later.

The “now” can be immediate to three months out, while “soon” could be three to six months. By establishing priorities, startups can embrace a realistic and focused approach to marketing rather than trying to be all things to all people.

The last step is, of course, execution. While marketing is a lot of blocking and tackling, it is easier when a startup’s goals are clear, it knows who it wants to attract, who is going to make it happen and the roadmap on when things will happen.

Here’s a presentation I did recently at Startup Toronto about how to create a roadmap for success by creating a marketing strategy.


I’ve worked with dozens of startups and fast-growing companies looking to build rock-solid marketing foundation. My services are driven by a framework and processes focused on discovery, messaging, strategic planning and content development. If you want marketing that makes a difference, let’s talk. If you’re looking for curated startup content, subscribe to my weekly newsletter

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