Let’s face it: when you’re mired in the chaos of starting a new company, marketing your firm might not be as much of a priority as, say, hiring the right staff or perfecting your offering. But launching a startup isn’t Field of Dreams: if you build it, customers won’t necessarily come.
The way you market your company in its early stages—before and after your first sale—can have a major effect on your growth trajectory, say Barry Cohen and Michael Rybarski. In their book Start-up Smarts: The Thinking Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting and Growing Your Business, the two authors share three marketing strategies that startups can use to acquire customers, foster loyalty and encourage referrals.
1. Treat marketing as a science
Too often, startup entrepreneurs build their marketing plans on assumptions of what the market wants, according to Cohen and Rybarski. “Arrogance will be your undoing,” they write. “Assume you know nothing when you first undertake marketing any product or service.” Their recommended tack is a scientific approach to marketing, which involves gathering as much data as you can ahead of time. If you take the time (and spend the money) to fully understand who your customers are, what makes them buy certain products and how they like to receive information, you’ll be able to target the prospects who are most likely to purchase what you’re selling.
2. Build a brand people connect with
Just because a customer recognizes your company and likes what you do does not mean he’ll stay loyal to your brand. “Marketing your product is as much about capturing a share of your customers’ hearts as it is about presenting a purely rational benefit picture that may or may not motivate them to buy,” the authors write. A truly strong brand is built on the emotional connection forged once a customer trusts your company to improve their life—an outcome that often comes with time. How can startups create this kind of goodwill? By focusing marketing activities less on what makes an offering great and more on how it solves the needs of your customers.
3. Turn your customers into cheerleaders
Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective ways to attract new business. How can you make your customers talk up your brand? Start by implementing a customer database system to measure who’s buying in large quantities or with increasing frequency. Invite an early customer who has demonstrated loyalty to refer you to their contacts, and reward them for doing so with discounts or bonuses. Worried that this will damage the bottom line? “Every customer who refers another customer has just reduced your marketing expense by half,” the authors point out.