Start-up Marketing: A Blueprint for Early Stage Start-ups to Get Off the Ground

Sudhir Bhatti, Head of Marketing for CyberCube, has 10+ years of experience across product and digital marketing in enterprise software, cybersecurity, IT operations management, virtualization, and cloud computing. CyberCube delivers the world’s leading cyber risk analytics for the insurance industry. The CyberCube platform was established in 2015 within Symantec, the global leader in cybersecurity, and now operates as a standalone company exclusively focused on the insurance industry, with continued access to Symantec data and resources and backing from ForgePoint Capital.

Here, Sudhir talks us through his approach to building a start-up focused marketing strategy, how to prioritize limited resources and the value of your early adopters.

Q. With an endless range of marketing tactics, what are the approaches start-ups should focus on?

As a start-up, you are usually going to be thin on resources and budget. This means you need to be very conscious of how you invest resources to gain early traction. Every decision needs to be clearly mapped to clear objectives, which means research of your target market should always come first and foremost.

To develop compelling product messaging, you need to understand your buyer personas along with the industry they sit within. How does your ideal customer profile look? What critical challenges are they facing? How can you effectively reach out to them? What are the emerging trends shaping this industry? How would your product help them navigate these shifts?

Having this information allows you to outline your target buyer personas and their most pressing needs in the current market. The core messages of your product should be clearly mapped to the needs of these buyer personas. With the right market research and customer intelligence, you can create highly refined product positioning that would resonate with the target market.

Q. How can you create a buyer persona if you don’t have many customers?

This is one of the main differentiators between larger companies and start-ups. If you have an established client base it’s much easier to test reactions to new products or ideas. However, it is still possible for start-ups to gain some really critical insights from beta customers and early product adopters who have been involved in the journey so far. By nurturing these relationships you can demonstrate the business benefits and really get to the bottom of how customers will view your product against the competition so don’t underestimate the value of these contacts.

You can also take this a step further and create customer success stories and case studies to support your value proposition and get the word out. Customer case studies help to tell the narrative of your product and the problems it can solve in a way that feels authentic – just make sure these are backed with hard metrics to really make it count.

Q. How can you deliver results with a limited marketing budget?  

Having a lean operating system and limited resources means marketing plans must deliver the maximum bang for their buck. Aim to channel efforts into a set of prioritized initiatives which help you in capturing your target market. As long as you’ve conducted thorough research and can map these decisions back to growth, you can justify the resources.

Start-ups also won’t have large in-house teams and marketers often find they’re wearing many hats. Investing in the right marketing stack can help work-around this problem. Most of these cutting edge marketing tools aren’t prohibitively expensive, yet can offer a significant ROI. Ranging from CRM applications, web analytics, content management systems, to account-based marketing solutions, these tools can help you get smarter insights and shrink the sales cycle.

Q. Do you have any advice for start-ups in crowded marketplaces? Is still possible to raise your profile?

I’m going to assume you do have a niche of some kind to have got your start-up off the ground. However, if your marketplace is already crowded with several vendors there are some steps you can take. In this case, your product messaging and positioning will help to build a differentiated brand image. Ideally, you need to support your claims with clear KPIs or metrics.

Working with thought leaders and leading influencers in your industry to generate valuable content can help further. Launching a podcast series or hosting monthly webinars with your early customers or market research analysts is a great way to fast-track brand awareness. This is really key for start-ups who don’t have time to wait for staggered results to come through – every sale makes a critical difference in that early phase of start-up growth.

Q. How do you know if your plans are working?

So, you’ve identified your target market and understand what they want, you have developed your core messaging and started executing your three big initiatives. Next, you need to set up some top-level KPIs to help measure the performance of your marketing initiatives. For instance, if your current sales cycle is 6 months long, one marketing KPI would be cutting this down by 25% – 50%. Identify these key metrics early on and get the buy-in from your executive team.

These metrics should be measured monthly and you need to be completely data-driven in asking yourself whether you are getting the desired results. Remember the marketing stack tools we advised? Having these in place helps to demonstrate the performance and outcomes of your tactics with some hard numbers to help make those decisions. If your initiatives aren’t improving your bottom line in 6 months or helping you capture your target market quickly, it’s time to go back to the whiteboard and adjust your approach.

Q. Finally, any common pitfalls to be wary of?

Although we keep highlighting the role of marketing within the wider start-up operations, many early-stage start-ups can encounter a lack of coordination and communication between marketing and sales which can cause huge challenges in acquiring customers faster and shortening the sales cycle.

Marketing has to be an enabler for the sales team to be more successful, contributing to the number of marketing qualified leads in the pipeline and generating high-value prospects. CEOs should be clear about the goals and expectations for both functions and ensure close interaction to help avoid this problem.

Start-up marketing can get complicated if you don’t have the right marketer on your team. Many great ideas have bitten the dust due to a flawed go-to-market strategy or lack of enough customer awareness. With this blueprint, you should be able to prioritize the marketing initiatives that provide you with the highest ROI and more importantly measure the success of your marketing on a regular basis.

Disclosure: This article includes a client of an Espacio portfolio company