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Don’t Spend a Dollar on Marketing a Startup Until…

Marc Karasu



You are a digital startup , flush with some new money and brimming with the enthusiasm and take-over-the-world attitude that comes at the start of any new venture. You have a few key hires in place, a board with some expertise and a small new office with some shiny new equipment.

OK , let’s get some users. Day one: Ready, set, go.


Before you start marketing a startup or spend even a penny on an ad that takes people to your site/app/business, you need to have invested some time into what your brand positioning and messaging is going to be.

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It’s amazing that so many well-funded startups (and some large companies, as well) that are actively marketing fail to recognize the huge disconnect between what their advertising says, how it is articulated on their site, what the sales team is selling, and how customer service replies to inquiries.

These are all issues that are completely avoidable with the most basic brand architecture exercise. And no, not the kind that a dozen ad agencies would be happy to charge you $$$ for. One that you and your company can do.

1. Create a list of 20 questions about the company, the service and the category that you distribute to your board, leadership team and employees. Have them all fill it out and aggregate the results. Some common themes will likely emerge. This is likely the basis of your value proposition. Examples of questions are: What business are we in? How will our business satisfy a user need? How do we plan to differentiate ourselves? How do we plan to make money? And so on.

2. Have those same people fill out a SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the category. Many free SWOT templates can be found online.

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3. Using Nos. 1 and 2, put together a mission statement of no more than 15 words. If you can’t say it in 15 words, you might not have a business. Your mission statement should represent at its most basic the value proposition of your company’s service to consumers, while being grand enough to also grow into. Again, a quick web search will give you some great examples.

4. Create a tagline for your business that can exist with your logo. If there’s no logo yet, then that is an exercise you will need to do, too. Creating a tagline is an awful exercise that everyone has an opinion on, but it’s one that must be done. It helps your brand and advertising live and explain your service in all sorts of environments, from pure and traditional ads, like print, TV or outdoor (if you have the budget) to more innovative platforms, such as online banners, search ads, trade shows, sales presentations. PR. As with mission statements, less is more.  Think three to six words for a tagline .

5. Craft your basic marketing messaging points from the mission statement, value proposition and new tagline so that you are clear on what key marketing points you will be communicating across different media.

6. Take it on the road. You need the buy-in up front. Better to get these conversations out of the way now and cobble together a loose group of supporters now than after you have shot the TV ad, produced the print or banner ads, and are one year and millions of dollars down the road only to have the peanut gallery start chucking tomatoes.

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Nothing polarizes like marketing and of course, even with measurement, it’s pretty subjective.

People (the board, management team, employees) support what they buy into and believe in. Nothing makes them feel more invested in the direction and progress than some early inclusion in the branding process.

After all, it’s the marketing and messaging that everyone sees, and while everyone likes to talk about great product and technology, it’s still usually the user acquisition and scale that stumps many a great business idea.

Brand and messaging synergy sells, drives users and builds brand equity — which, at the end of the day, are the assets that most startup are trying to leverage as they look to be acquired, merge or get more investment.

Now you are ready to spend some dollars — how and where is a different conversation.

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