The First Month in Start-Up/SME Marketing Part 2

Last month I wrote the first blog in a five-blog series on what to achieve in the first month of marketing at a start-up or small and medium enterprise (SME). It spoke mostly about the background research that takes up about a week to complete and gives you critical insights into company strategy, competitors, product and market trends, sales cycle, and finally also the current website visitors (stage 1 in image below).


Now the question is, with this wealth of information at hand, what does one do and what impact does it have on actual strategy and plan? The second week of this month is partially dedicated to creating a marketing strategy, getting people on board with it, and then planning its immediate and long-term execution (stage 2 of the image above).

Marketing Strategy

The key aspects of the strategy include:

  • Product/service positioning and brand identities
  • Top messaging themes (or pillars, if you will)
  • Identification of channels and process for:
    • Content creation and distribution
    • Campaigns that will help reach the target audience
    • Activities specific to branding the company (PR, corporate communications)
    • Marketing data management and analysis
  • Creating a high-level marketing budget and calendar (content + campaigns) for the whole year
  • Creating marketing objectives and key results (OKRs) for the next quarter

Positioning and Branding

This will have to be determined for the company, product(s), and/or service(s) depending on a branding decision. The key questions to tackle first are:

  • Will the products and company have individual brand identities (e.g. cloud-based product start-ups generally tend to have the same brand for the company and the product)?
  • What are some of the other key decision points (e.g. serious vs. casual, start-up vs. established, all vs. large enterprise focused)? Some companies might even need to introspect at this stage as to what business are they really in. For example WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton at some point decided whether or not their business would depend on ads.

In answering such questions it is best to include all co-founders and if possible, the head of products as well. There are merits as well as demerits to extending this group further. I will leave that for a later blog. The marketer, though, must ensure to bring his recommendations and answers to the meeting. Taking just the questions to the party might result in getting blindsided by the biases of the “well entrenched.”

  • Based on the above decisions, the marketer must recommend a sentence single positioning statement
    • for the company, which can be further extended to a vision and mission statement, and
    • for the product, which will best describe the value proposition in a matter of less than 10 words.
  • The brand identities are a project in themselves – this can include determining brand names, logos, color palettes, and other design elements that will impact all marketing campaigns for a while. In this second week, the marketer must look at the existing identity (presuming one exists) and create a plan for changes. Any changes and recommendations will have to be closely supported by clear reasoning.

Top Messaging Themes

Based on the overall positioning statement as well as the results of the research from stage 1, a list of key messaging themes must be prepared. Think of these themes as phrases or even just individual words that together form a comprehensive list of all the ways you’d want to pitch the product/service to an audience completely unaware of it.

These themes will be the firmament on which the position and brand will rest and also the beginning point for all marketing content and campaigns.

As in the case of position and brand, we may choose to have a separate set of themes for the company and the product (immediately or after a while – when?).

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

In my experience, having five objectives and a maximum of five key results for each of the objectives is the ideal scenario. However, since the marketing OKRs will be dependent on the company/CEO OKRs for the quarter, these numbers may vary.

The OKRs for the very first quarter will be more focused on establishing processes, hiring the right skill sets (to execute the marketing plan), getting some of the basics right such as creating a (new) sales pitch or toolkit, getting the Web content and SEO settings optimized, etc. The focus in this first quarter is not so much on lead generation or conversions (depending on the kind of business) as it is establishing the ground work for leads and business growth in the next quarter and beyond.

In my next blog I will talk about creating a content marketing plan, setting up the processes around it, and take it from there on.

To my last blog, Jason Dea had an interesting comment about marketing strategy for early-stage companies that do not have any Web presence or marketing direction to speak of (and which I may have presumed for the sake of my current blog series). I will tackle that question in detail after completing this series. Until then, please share interesting methods that you have adopted in your first month and what you think of the suggestions given here.

Related reading

Flat business devices communication with cloud services isolated on the light blue background.