One of the questions I am sure many entrepreneurs ask is, when do we start marketing our product? If I may guess, answers are in the range of, let’s build a decent product first then we’ll focus on marketing. After all, how can you promote a product that doesn’t exist? Pre-execution marketing is about laying the foundation of product marketing; something founders rarely do despite its value. It is about the things you do with just a vision and not necessarily a hypothesized solution in mind.
The field of entrepreneurship is risky. The build it and they will come startup development plan adds an extra layer of risk to it. Even overnight success stories are often the result of years of hard work behind the scenes. John Hanke, founder and CEO of Niantic Labs, the company behind Pokemon Go should know. What pre-execution marketing activities potential founders should do to layout a strong foundation for many ventures to come?
Content marketing is the foundation of all marketing. In a Forbes post, Neil Patel wrote, “a company must be a producer of content, regardless of whatever other product or service they are involved in.” This is equally true in pre-execution marketing. Your content is related to the field of interest you envision your solution(s) belonging to but independent of the problem(s) you are looking to solve for many years to come.
Quality content will help you build a loyal user base that can potentially turn into testers, buyers, and recommenders of many and not just one product. In sum, it is your longest marketing activity that will allow you to build strong relationships with your audience by providing them with relevant content on a consistent basis.
Current as well as future entrepreneurs should leverage the power of content marketing for a stronger startup foundation. This requires a simple blog, creating a topic list, defining content type, target reader, then writing and sharing quality posts. Before launching a product, Buffer founders wrote about 150 articles in less than a year which helped them acquire around 100,000 users during this period.
Mastering the fundamentals of SEO is not rocket science. It is about helping people find you by focusing on the right keywords, crafting content accordingly through titles, links, quality and freshness, optimizing code through title tags, meta tags, headings, sitemaps and domain name, and finally link count through social media, forums, directories and others. Neil has a good post outlining the basics of SEO. Above all, SEO is the second level in your pre-execution marketing plan pyramid. It is another layer of your entrepreneurial foundation.
Giving Before Asking
The principle of reciprocity states that people feel an obligation to give back to others in the form of behavior, gift, or service they have received first. Publishing content that adds value to your readers is one form of giving. Being there for them when they need you is another form of giving. Your pre-execution marketing efforts should focus on being of value to loyal followers. This will not make them want a solution they don’t need but will certainly help you validate or reject your hypotheses faster. Because, for early stage startups, feedback is more important than customers, your loyal followers can save you time, give you valuable insights, point you to the right customers or become your customers.
Influencers enable you to reach thousands of people from your target audience overnight. But guess what? Influencers worked extremely hard to get the title and would not hand their network off overnight. This is another pre-execution marketing long term investment you will make. Start a contact with a like and not necessarily a message. Liking, commenting, sharing, and writing about their posts are all pre-contact actions you can take to indirectly show them who you are. When you want something, always give before asking. Giving in this case can be in the form of writing value adding comments on their posts, pointing them out to broken links, creating an original piece of content about them, forwarding readers or potential buyers to them, and any personalized action you can take to help them feel that obligation to give back. You will need their support sooner or later. You might as well do it pre-execution.
A startup can fail but startups can rarely break personal relationships. Building a strong personal branding foundation can help you test, validate and grow your startup(s) more efficiently by leveraging the power of followers. In startups, it is one of those rare cases where a list of customers are waiting at the beginning of the sales funnel for great products to consume. Your pre-execution marketing should include:
High quality targeted content that aims to add value to your readers and not just a filled page with optimized keywords. Through my personal website, I provide first time entrepreneurs with actionable content that helps them take an idea to scalability. Pick your mission and master it.
Help readers find you by implementing the fundamentals of SEO. You can use Yoast as a guide or hire a dedicated SEO expert if needed.
Be the first to give. Research shows that people feel obliged to give back to others in the form of behavior, gift, or service they have received first. Your followers can help you validate or iterate on your hypotheses quickly, create virality by recommending others, become your buyers or point you to the right target.
The right influencers can save you months if not years in network development. Building strong relationships with influencers takes time. Always be of value before seeking value.
What other pre-execution marketing activities entrepreneurs should focus on?