Start-up Series: Marketing Fundamentals.

The world of start-ups can be a complicated place and Marketing is but one of many elements you’ll need to focus your energy on in order to make your business a success. Fortunately, the resources available to help start-ups in 2021 is abundant. I’ve provided a snapshot below into some of the crucial areas of focus, before you reach the point of scaled media investment.

  1. Begin by investing in your Product and Brand first, everything else will come later.

If nobody knows who you are, or what you’re about – then why would should they reward you with their attention?

I’ve worked with a good few brands that have made this mistake and engaged in investing in paid media, without truly having something to say. I’ve also worked with start-up brands with sizeable budgets that believe they can pay their way into their audience’s pockets. To a certain extent, this can prove fruitful – but it’ll always be exponentially more costly than building solid Brand and Product foundations early on, so that any paid media you do invest in is much more effective.

When I was just starting out, I worked for a small agency that took on the business of a small fashion start-up that specialised in the production of leather jackets. This fashion client had previously been predominantly focused on wholesale, but had made the decision to venture into developing their own fashion brand. They’d created a website, shot a load of ecommerce and lifestyle photography and re-badged a few of their wholesale leather jacket designs to launch with. They handed the agency £2,000 per month in Paid Search spend for the usual Brand/Non-Brand and Shopping split and invested about £1,000 a month in Paid Social.

group of people having a meeting
Copa Network – Brazil.

£2,000 into Paid Search, a demand harvesting channel whereby you’re going head to head with e-commerce retailers who can take a much bigger hit acquiring customers than you can. £1,000 into Paid Social, where the Brand saw as much recognition as those awful wholesale market-stall-esque companies we see in our Social feeds. And £1,000 into a monthly agency fee which should never have been brought on-board in the first place – because the Brand wasn’t big enough. £4,000 a month pinning of their hopes on linear results that would hopefully explode.

To this day, this fashion business (which has since, gone out of business) remains the only client I ever lost whilst working agency side. When you fundamentally look at their approach, it was doomed from the start. I was probably too young to realise it at the time and took the loss to heart. However, the Brand’s failure to take the time to invest in showing customers who they were, what they stood for, the craftsmanship, the story – I could go on – meant that the agency had on-boarded a client way too early in its business lifecycle, all in the name of padding the new-client acquisition numbers.

What they should’ve done is develop solid Branding before launching and have that live throughout their entire media ecosystem. They could’ve positioned the designer at the forefront, to really tell his story – starting a vlog that gives transparency to the process and journey so that people could really buy-in. They could’ve reached out to micro-influencers to seed their product out, making it look like this is the next best up and coming Brand with a reputable influencer set than don’t constantly promote products. They could’ve developed a real Organic Social presence + invested in Content production, seeding small amounts of budget into amplification. This, logically, would’ve required patience – but there’s also another important point to make…

red brick wall with live, work, create. quote
Jon Tyson – Live Work Create.

2. Be careful who’s advice you listen to, especially when it comes to Marketing.

Shortly before the above example happened, I was working at another agency and had just started working with a women’s Swimwear brand. They’d come to us with aspirations of becoming the next Missguided, but for Swimwear. Their expectations in what was achievable over the next 12-24 months was much more grounded as they knew their product was heavily seasonal. There was a significant difference in our introduction to this Brand and that was that they’d invested in a start-up mentor who followed them everywhere. Someone that had been there and done it previously, and that person had been involved before a single £ had been spent on Marketing. It was incredibly refreshing to be working with a Brand that had already invested in these Brand foundations of Organic presence, Influencers, Events, Website with E-commerce functionality and an Analytics platform whereby you could see their baseline E-commerce income and could build on top of the existing (albeit, small) levels of Traffic their site was getting.

pile of assorted-title books
Lean Start-up Workshop – Amsterdam.

Above all however, the majority of our communications went through a Marketing expert that specialised in helping these Brands get airborne. Someone that understood the importance of selecting the right partners, investing in the right areas and who could speak the marketing language. This made it much easier to be effective as someone who, at the time, was working in Paid Search and needed to talk fairly technically about everything from setting up Shopping feeds in the Merchant Centre to relevant Keyword Research for new season launches.

Locating the right tool for the job when you’re in the first few years of business can save you time and incorrect decision making that can ultimately lead to financial loss. Consultative support that can help to mitigate these pitfalls in the world of start-ups – none are as important as Marketing.

3. The right channel, at the right time.

In marketing we talk about a cliché, “the right audience, at the right time”. It’s a phrase that’s completely accurate, despite its overuse – but it can be translated to channel selection very easily. It’s crucial to invest your time and energy into building the aforementioned foundation before scaling investment behind other channels that’ll only work if the work has been put in.

Below, I’ve summarised where this initial energy should be placed, although investment level and Brand/business type dependant, this is a good rough guide.

Media Strategist – Basics Channel Pack.

As we follow the steps from initial inception to beginning to gain traction, patience and consistency are key traits to adopt. Develop your site storefront and ensure there are SEO best practices in place behind the scenes. Develop compelling Content and place it externally (On other people’s sites) to gain backlinks that will increase the ranking of your site for certain terms. Develop your entrepreneurial profile – appear on podcasts, writing guest articles, vlog, blog and intertwine the Brand with you as a person. Seeding your product to micro-influencers with a good reputation and low level following, slowly builds your presence without over paying. The key here is co-ordinated consistent attention given to each of these areas, to observe which works best for your brand.

For reference, you shouldn’t start looking at any of the “Growth” avenues below, until you’ve truly mastered the above Basics.

Media Strategist – Growth Channel Pack.


Watch out for more articles from my start-up series over the coming months, where I delve into more areas that will benefit anyone in the middle of, or looking to, start a business that is dependant on Online engagement to succeed.

As usual, thanks for reading and remember to like our new LinkedIn page where we’ll be posting all of our Content going forward.

Neil Jones.

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