Do You Really Need a Marketing and Communications Plan?
This is a question that every startup finds itself struggling with: Do we really need to focus on Marketing & Communications right now? There are so many pieces of the puzzle we need to solve... can’t this wait?
It is common to see new ventures overlook the importance of marketing. A high percentage of new ventures are oriented around a new technology and, as a result, inventors and entrepreneurs typically have a “build it and they will come mindset.” Marketing is often viewed as something that requires a lot of money and an expensive marketing communications/PR firm to be successful. However, marketing is much more than just fancy advertising campaign and sales.
A well-developed marketing & communications plan helps your company discover and develop the right products and services meeting the needs of your target market. It helps provide your customers with an understanding of why they cannot live without your product or service, which ultimately brings success.
A marketing plan is also important to investors. Generally, most new ventures are technology-focused, investors want to have the confidence that there is a strong plan for taking the technology to market. A good marketing plan is not easy, requires a high level of commitment and research, and does not happen overnight.
Answering these questions are essential for a great brand! They are also the marketing fundamentals for your business to build a solid base for your organization’s future.
Isn’t marketing only for only well-established businesses?
No. Both big and small, mature and new organizations need marketing. Although, the marketing plans will look very different for an established product in a mature market verses a new product or service trying to create a new market but the fundamental principles are the same. A new venture may have the best technology in their world but if they are not able to convince potential customers or if they are targeting the wrong customers, they will not be successful. Investors and customers are the top priority for all businesses, and your survival will depend on both. You need to attract and retain customers and investors and marketing is the only way to accomplish this. An investor is very unlikely to invest without knowing who you are, what you offer and how you differ from the competition. That is also true for any potential customer. You would not expect a customer to just buy online or go to your store without knowing the same. This is why marketing is so important for all businesses but, more importantly, startups. Marketing your brand is the only way to show how you stand out from the competition. It is your responsibility to make sure everyone understands your story, which is your brand.
Is marketing really strategy?
An often forgotten benefit of a well-developed marketing plan is that it helps focus your resources to grow your business. As in any strategic planning process, it helps everyone to fully understand the issues or factors that can have the greatest impact on your business. A good marketing plan forces you to fully understand your market and your customer. For new ventures with very new concepts, you are quite often asking the customer to change the way they think as well as change behavioral habits. Truly disruptive innovation may require utilizing entirely new marketing and sales channels or even creating new ones.
Where do I start?
A marketing plan helps you discover what makes your product or service distinctive, and ultimately it is the development of your brand’s foundation. This is the most important part of setting your business apart from the competition. Your marketing plan needs to be directly aligned with your business plan. Actually, some marketing planning questions can be answered directly from your business plan. Here are some of the important question you need to consider:
- What are your primary target markets? The most common marketing mistake in new ventures is defining the primary target market too broadly or trying to go after too many targets at the same time.
- Who are the primary decision-makers and influencers in the purchase decision? It is a good practice to develop detailed profiles of the key decision-makers (called “personas”).
- What are the needs of your target market and your personas? The answers to this question will determine the messaging and also types of collateral you will need to develop.
- What is the huge unmet need being addressed? How much will your solution require a change of mindset and behavioral habits? The answers to these questions will help determine the messaging that will need to be developed.
- Are there any competitors? If there are existing solutions, why is your solution better? How is it differentiated from existing solutions? The answers to these questions will determine your positioning relative to these other solutions.
- Where does your target market hang out? The answer to this question will determine the communication channels that you will use.
- What metrics and actionable goals can you put into effect that will tell you if you are on the right track?
Answering these questions is essential for a great brand! They are also the marketing fundamentals for your business to build a solid base for your organization’s future. A great marketing and communications plan gives you control of your business. You will set targets and milestones that will provide indicators as to whether you are meeting your overall goals and objectives. Those same indicators will also tell you if you are not going to meet your objectives and will provide an indicator as to whether you will need to modify your plan or need to make a major shift.
Remember that it is as important to keep updating the plan (and your thinking) as you gain experience in the marketplace. This is as important as developing the original plan. In new ventures, things rarely go as planned. This is a living document, as alive as your organization. Always remember that it is there to help you understand how to develop your business as it grows and changes. Important to note: (I will explain this concept further in an upcoming article) This is also your plan on how you communicate to your investors, customers, and distributors. So, keep the conversation fresh and relevant, as your plan needs to be.
Now back to the question of “Do we really need to focus on Marketing & Communications right now?” The answer is, “Absolutely.” It will be as critical to your success as your new technology or business model.