WHY IT IS NEEDED
Building the product first and only then thinking how to sell it is one of the most dangerous mistakes startups can make. Don’t expect a miracle to happen that once you build product customers will be somehow standing at your door and waiting for it. Get ready to introduce your product into the market while you are still developing the product itself!
You already know (“Product development schedule”) that marketing plan and its implementation is one of the key success factors in launching your new product into the market. Startups tend to address customers’ needs in a new way, offer innovative solutions, and employ new business models. Therefore startups are usually on the market far earlier than when the product is ready for launch. In this topic, we’ll talk about what essential steps should be done to enter the market successfully. This will help you avoid much frustration and situation when the product is ready, but no one is willing to buy it.
HOW TO ENTER THE MARKET SUCCESSFULLY
1. Know your target market
By now you should already have identified your ideal customer (Value Proposition and done your market research (“Understanding the market research”). If it’s not the case yet, please, check those topics and do appropriate homework.
Once you have key figures about your market and ideal customer persona, it would be wise to indicate the relationship of your product to the market (Figure 1), because it will bring more clarity and simplicity in strategic decisions.
- New product to new market. In this scenario, customers don’t yet have an idea about your product and don’t know if they need it, therefore put your main efforts into explaining what problem your product solves and what benefits customers will get from using it. Customer education will be the main focus of your marketing communication. If you have a great communication reach, you might become a leader in this product category, the one who comes to the customer’s mind when a product category is mentioned.
- New product to existing market. Customers are aware of the problem or specific need, but they are accustomed to older solutions. Your marketing communication should be based on comparing your product to your main competitors and explaining what additional value your product delivers, how some features are different, and why your product would be the best choice.
- Old product to new market. This is a situation where existing products are used in new ways to solve new problems, satisfy new needs, or to serve new target segments. The main marketing communication task is to stress that your product can be used in another way to solve new problems and satisfy new needs. Old products may already have a good reputation in the existing market and a wise marketer will always try to think how it could be used in the new market. Prepare to explain why your product is better than any new emerging alternative (innovative products and services).
- Old products to existing market. As a rule, there is not much innovation and startup effort in selling old products in existing markets. Startups rarely fall in this category.
2. Have a marketing strategy
Generally speaking, there could be different forms of marketing strategy, but three essential questions should be answered in any form of marketing strategy:
- What are you selling?
- To whom are you selling?
- How are you selling?
Obviously, your product or service is what you are selling and the definition of your target customer answers to whom you are selling. You should already have designed your problem-solution-market fit (“Business Model Validation”). But there still may be major pivots because of the remaining aspect of your marketing strategy—that is, how are you selling—will determine your overall success. If you’ve already tested some communication and distribution channels, you have partially answered the question of how to sell. But one the most effective way to answer this question is to craft your positioning statement.
A positioning statement is a short description of your target customers and a clear picture of how you want those customers to perceive you. This is the essence of your marketing strategy. Customers don’t care about your startup as much as you do. You need to be able to answer the question from them, “Why should I buy from you?” If you can’t answer the question, how do you expect customers to be able to figure it out on their own?
Here is the formula for writing an effective positioning statement:
For [insert target customer], the [insert your startup Brand] is the [insert point of differentiation] among all [insert a frame of reference or competitors] because [insert reason to believe].
The wording of your positioning statement doesn’t have to match this template exactly. But if you want your positioning to be effective, it must contain all five of the components in brackets. Your positioning statement should be written for the average reader. Pretend that you are going to meet a potential customer in the elevator and he asks what business you are in. Your positioning statement should be short, easy to understand, and memorable. Here is an example:
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Write down at least few different versions of your positioning statement. Review and update them. Share the draft versions with your colleagues and clients. Find the one which resonates with your target customers the most. To create an effective positioning statement might be a tough challenge, but don’t give up!
3. Create the brand
Strong brands help differentiate products and services and avoid competition on price. Even high-end innovation-based businesses compete with the old ways of solving or simply ignoring the problem. A solid brand can transform your business from an unknown startup into a successful competitor and niche, or even market, leader. Keep in mind that brand is about the overall experience, not just the logo or a slogan.
A great brand evokes certain feelings in your customers and a desire to talk about it. Before you can build a brand that your target customers trust, you need to know not only your positioning statement but also your vision and mission (if you have never defined them correctly, don‘t underestimate their importance). Just keep everything as simple as possible, because simple things are easier to implement and the expression “done is better than perfect“ is almost a mantra for most startups. Follow these 5 steps to build your brand:
- Look through this short Table 1 with examples of brand characteristics and complete it for your brand.
Table 1. Brand characteristics
|Vision||What is happening in the world which makes your product necessary?|
|Mission||What is your startup’s general purpose in this world?|
|Promise||What is your fundamental promise to your customers? Remember the main problems you are solving.|
|Attributes||What makes you different and valuable to customers? Remember your positioning statement and check if there is an answer as to how you are different and valuable for the customer.|
|Emotions||What do customers feel when they engage your brand (see it, buys, uses, talks about it, etc.)? It’s very important to understand how they feel about themselves in context of your brand.|
|Personality||If your brand was a person, who would it be? Trust me, that’s really important because you’ll have to make many decisions related to your brand and if you have defined the brand personality, it will be much easier to make those decisions if you imagine that it is not you, but the brand personality who is making them.|
- Find the designer (i.e., ask your network for recommendations, check com, 99designs.com, Fiverr.com)
- Provide a creative brief for the designer. If the designer doesn’t ask you to complete his creative brief or send him your guidelines, don’t hire this designer!
- Validate the logo and overall feeling. The most important thing to check is not how much you like the whole brand visualization proposed by designer, but how your target customer views it and if they perceive the same idea that you wanted to communicate.
- Once you have confirmed your brand logo and other physical attributes (in some cases, even smell or taste can be branded physical attributes), make sure your website and online presence match the brand’s identity according to the instruction in your brand book. Do the same for all other media (for example, packaging, business cards, promotional gifts, etc.).
Great brands always follow their values and stay reliable. Therefore you should consistently keep your brand promises. You can upload your newly created logo and corporate style overnight, but building a brand identity in your customers’ minds requires far more time. Be patient and persistent following your brand identity guidelines.
4. Provide the best offer
When you engage in any marketing activity, your unique selling proposition (USP) should be a spearhead. Actually, it’s the very essence of the startup’s success. Everything you’ve done up until now has been in preparation and validation of your unique selling proposition. If you have such offer, your product launch will be far more successful.
Literary speaking, your task is to create the best deal for your target customers and protect them from any risks in taking your offer. This is the moment of truth: if you came up to this stage hoping to provide just nice-to-have benefits for your customers, you won’t be able to craft a highly compelling offer for your customers and will have to go back to topic 2 “Value proposition” and topic 3 “Business Model Validation”).
Once you’ve clearly stated what great value you provide for your customers compared to their costs (not only price but time, needed efforts, convenience level, emotions, etc.), it’s time to clarify and overcome possible objections and fears. If you were running your market experiments thoroughly, you should already have a slew of reasons why customers don’t want to buy your product. Here are most common solutions for how you can eliminate or at least reduce your customers’ risks:
- money back guarantee,
- special payment plans (for example, take the product now and pay later if you are happy with the product),
- giving a free sample or freemium version,
- pay for results,
- free support, or extra help if something unexpected happens.
If you want to make your USP even more appealing and effective, think about how you could make your offer meet the following characteristics:
- Easy to accept—Eliminate any obstacles for customers buying your product (for example, what should a customer do if he can’t pay in the online shop because he doesn’t have a credit card with him).
- Urgent or limited—If your offer is valid forever, customers will think they have unlimited time to think about it and there are fewer chances that they’ll come back and purchase (for example, tell them that the offer is only valid until a certain date, or the exclusive price is valid only for the first 10 clients).
- With added value—Instead of a discount, you can add something on top of your main offer making it even more attractive.
The bigger and bolder you make your unique value proposition, the more difﬁcult it is to prove and the harder you’ll have to work to sell your believability and credibility. It’s paradox: if you offer an average value, just a few potential customers will get interested and maybe somebody will buy. But if you provide a great offer, most of the potential customers will get interested, but they still won’t buy it. That’s because they will think the offer is too good to be true and there is a catch somewhere. Your task is to overcome their scepticism by making your offer more believable and eliminating any possible doubts:
- Social proof—If customers see that many other people use your product or service, your offer becomes safer and not so risky.
- Technical and factual proof—This is very applicable for technology startups because sometimes it’s very simple to prove that you’ll be able to deliver the offer by showing technical data or facts.
- Credibility and qualification—Provide any pieces of evidence that prove your credibility and qualification. Even if it’s not related directly to the product or service, showing yourself as credible person or company will make your offer much more believable.
- High profile clients and endorsements—If there are famous people among your clients or even if ordinary clients can give a positive testimonial about your product, this is worth its weight in gold to build your credibility and make your offer even more attractive.
- Awards and recognition—If you or your startup were awarded for some kind achievement at least partly related to the product or service you are selling, don’t hide that. If a third party awarded and recognized you, it’s a solid reason for customers to trust you more.
- Logical—If somebody thinks that your offer is too good to be true, show them why this offer is logical not only from customer’s perspective but yours as well. If it’s clear that this offer is also beneficial for you, there is no reason to be suspicious that you might be cheating and earning money by some other means.
5. Build your distribution network
Distribution channels are one of the key marketing elements that explain how you’ll deliver your product or service to customers. Companies can sell through a single distribution channel or through multiple channels. These may include wholesalers or distributors, value-added resellers (VAR), retail networks, consultants, dealers, sales agents, and direct selling through the Internet, catalogues, sales teams, and physical retail shops.
When deciding on your distribution strategy, focus on the needs of your customers and what you actually need more: faster feedback or larger market coverage. Depending on your business specifics you might decide:
- to build your own specialized sales team including yourself as a founder to contact target customers, get feedback, and close deals directly;
- if users need personalized service and you already have the product-market fit, you can create a local dealer network or reseller program to provide that service;
- if your users prefer to buy online, you can create an e-commerce website or landing page and sell directly;
- if you need higher coverage, you can also sell to another online retailer or distributor that can offer your product on their sites (online and physical).
6. Communicate your offer effectively
You should already have a few channels after finishing tasks in topic 3 “Business Model Validation”). In addition, you could spy a little bit on your competitors and see what channels they are using. Studying your competitors is important because doing so lets you know what tactics are already working in your niche and on which marketing channels. Would any of those channels be suitable for you as well? Save your time and use effective spy tools (such as SpyFu, SemRush, BuzzSumo), especially if your competitors use online communication channels.
It’s important to keep in mind that even if your product or service is sold via physical distribution channels, customers still search for information about such products online. Therefore, you should at least think about basic online channels to generate awareness and to provide product information. As a rule of thumb, it almost always includes a website, a digital form of your selling material (brochures, catalogues, instructions), a targeted social media presence, and some kind of growth engine (viral, sticky or paid) to attract more potential clients to your physical distribution channel.
Although the main objective of marketing is to maximize profit through the satisfaction of consumer needs, it is also important to keep intermediate objectives in mind as well. Nowadays, consumers have so many products to spend their money on. These products might be direct competitors or alternatives to your solution. Hence, marketing is becoming increasingly difficult. Following are possible intermediate objectives of your marketing plan:
- To reach a certain level of awareness. In order for a product or a service to be sold successfully, it is first necessary to ensure that as many target customers as possible know about its existence in the market. Some say that good products do not need marketing because they are being purchased anyway. However, if just a small portion of the market knows about your product, then your sales volumes won’t bring a smile to your face.
- To become favourable. To earn the favour of your target consumers is the next step following popularity. What is the point if the consumers are only just aware of a certain good or service? If they don’t feel that they should favour this brand, producer, or service provider, then the likelihood of the customer turning towards the associated company when the need arises is very low. This objective is not equally relevant to all companies. If a company is producing cheap products that are aimed at users who make a choice based solely on price, almost or completely disregarding other aspects, then the price will be the determining factor if this product is favourable compared to alternatives. But for most startups, becoming favourable is one of the essential tasks.
- To earn the trust of target customers. This is one of the more important and more relevant objectives. This objective often reflects the company that provides meaningful, important, or expensive goods or services within the market. There are also some paradoxical situations in the market: a customer prefers one brand to the other, but when they have to choose, they pick something completely different. This happens in situations when a given company is planning its marketing communication and does not evaluate the fact that the consumer favours one trademark over the other based on one set of criteria, but when it comes down to actually purchasing, another set of criteria is used. This might be seen among some startups as well: target customers like the product provided by a startup, but when it comes to paying money, some of them stay with the old and trusted alternative, even though they favour the new product. Building trust is essential and you have already laid foundations of it if you created a strong positioning statement (as you probably remember, proof and reason to believe is one of the core elements in positioning statement).
- To encourage customers to try a product. When consumers are buying a lot of products, especially more expensive ones or the ones that they are used to, they consider their choice for a longer period of time. Once they have thought it over, they come to a decision concerning the purchase or they simply do not consider any alternatives at all and buy out of habit. Your goal is to build a customer’s habit to buy your product without comparing it too much with other alternatives. That is why startups quite often encourage customers to try their product for free or even create “forever free” versions of the product in order to attach to the customer and build a stronger habit.
- To encourage customers to buy the product. This is the main and most widespread objective in marketing communication. It is not the only one, as mentioned earlier. Some companies have recently announced that the main objective of their marketing strategy is greater and more profitable sales. However, a significant portion of their marketing communication is not aimed at the achievement of this objective. Sometimes, their communication lacks a call to action and their advertising becomes focused on strengthening the brand and nothing else. This might strengthen the brand, but if the aim is to sell right now, this objective has to be present in the entire marketing promotion campaign.
- To encourage repeat purchases. It is no secret that it is much easier to sell a good or service to a current customer and it is cheaper than attracting new clients. Therefore, a smart and skilful entrepreneur will always think through the possibilities in communication with the customers, who have already purchased the company’s products or have made use of its services.
- To get clients recommending your product. The best and most effective advertising happens when the company’s goods or services are recommended by satisfied clients. If the product is good, customers will be more inclined to recommend it, but that does not mean that they will always do it. You should determine the ways and means to stimulate recommendations by satisfied customers. There are two different approaches in this situation, but it usually depends on the individual situation when determining which one to use. Sometimes, clients are encouraged to recommend the product by implementing financial and material stimuli. But advocates of the other approach state that it might be unethical to reward clients for their recommendations because the sincerity of such customer action is put in doubt.
Now it’s time for you to do your homework. Take the list of potential communication channels and fill in Table 2. Before starting to test any channel, you should have a clear vision about what you expect from this channel (Goal), how you will measure the results (Metrics), how much money you can allocate for this channel (Budget).
Table 2. List of potential communication channels
|Channel||Goal||Metrics||Budget||Expectations and Comments|
When you’re just starting your marketing communication to enter the market with your new product, it’s important that you keep things simple. Don’t spread yourself too thin. It might be a good idea to pick just one marketing channel for the moment. Instead of investing months to plan and research, lean startup encourages you to develop assumptions and quickly test them in the marketplace. Instead of developing big plans and investing the vast majority of your marketing budget in one or two initiatives, break your budget into smaller pieces and test a variety of ideas. In the long run, you definitely don’t want to rely on a single marketing channel even if it showed the best results. The reason is obvious: if that marketing channel changes its rules or suspends your account, your business could be ruined. Therefore, when you start seeing results, consider simultaneously working on another marketing channel as soon as possible.
After successfully finishing these tasks you should have completed the following:
- Double checked your findings of target market that you found by doing tasks in previous topics. Remember – decisions should be made based on facts, not assumptions.
- Effective positioning statement – the key of your marketing strategy. Please, pay attention to this crucial element of your startup marketing and check if it works with your target customers (if no, redo it!).
- Brand (with all key characteristics, not just a logo) that will help your product to stand out and build reputations.
- Almost irresistible offer for your target customers that will show your product as the best choice in particular situation.
- Start building your distribution network that will allow as more as possible customers to access and acquire your product.
- A set of communication channels that will help you to spread the news about your main offer and drive potential customers to your distribution network.