The First Month in Start-Up/SME Marketing

It’s been more than a year now since I moved from Adobe to the world of start-ups. The year spent as a start-up marketer has been rather rich with experiences and learning. Of these, an important aspect was, what does one need to achieve in the first month?

Why the first month, you ask? While some consulting firms and merger and acquisition (M&A) scenarios favor a “first 100 days” approach, start-ups or small and medium enterprises (SMEs) might find it too long a period for assessing progress. Business indicators may vary wildly in a matter of 100 days. So for a new marketer, the first 30 days or four weeks or one month is a better unit for measuring progress and setting immediate targets.

Speaking in a broad way, here are the activities I would recommend marketers complete in the first month:

  • All forms of research needed for marketing strategy and planning.
  • Spell out the marketing strategy and set the overall tone and direction.
  • Create a plan for the next year with a focus on the next one to two quarters.

Background Research

This should ideally take about a week or two to complete. The marketing strategy and plan greatly depend on this stage. Some of the key aspects of research will include:

  • Web analysis: This is mostly about getting set up with Google Analytics if the company hasn’t already. And if it has, gather some important information such as geographic, demographic, and device origins of your visitors; the pages they spend most time on, how frequently they return, and what sources do they come in from (channels as well as referring domains). Knowing your audience, the quality of your existing Web content, and keywords will help you make a good start toward understanding what needs to be done next.
  • Competitor research: Well, of course! Getting to know the competition from a marketing perspective is important. Here are the parameters I usually go by: overall positioning, marketing pillars, product(s)/solution(s), key features highlighted, other marketing material available online, and specific things about the website (design/content) that really stood out.
  • Sales cycle: The marketer must ensure they gain an understanding of the sales cycle. This will include typical profiles of end-users, buying decision makers, typical pitch, tipping point, challenges, reasons for win/loss, sales life cycle and its length.
  • Product understanding: You have to see a demo on day one! And while going through it, you form impressions of a typical use case. Also, thinking of the product as a potential buyer as opposed to a marketer or seller helps communicate better in the subsequent period.
  • Market trends: This helps develop an understanding of the space in which the product and the company operate. This helps the marketer make connections between the product strategy and what the market in general expects from the product.
  • Company objectives (short and long term): It helps if the business objectives are deliberated and documented well before one joins. The objectives can begin at a company level and then be cascaded to every function, and eventually (in more mature circumstances) to all individuals. Many start-ups now use the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) methodology made famous by Intel and John Doerr, and more recently by Google and LinkedIn. Having the company, sales, product, and customer service OKRs helps the marketer create his own (annual/ quarterly/ monthly/…) OKRs.

Completing all of the above should ideally require one week of dedicated effort. By the second week, the marketer will have to be prepared with a first version of his marketing strategy (which I will cover in my next column).

I will enumerate the following in the next four columns in this five-part series:

  • Column #2: Marketing strategy formulation, which includes OKRs, overall product positioning, messaging pillars, and brand identity.
  • Column #3: Marketing plan from a content perspective.
  • Column #4: Marketing plan from a targeting/campaigns perspective.
  • Column #5: Other aspects of the marketing plan, such as corporate communication, team structure, hiring, establishing marketing processes, etc.

I look forward to your comments to this approach. It has worked for me over the past year and I am sure others have adopted other interesting methods. Tell me some of your ideas!

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