Editor’s note: This article is Part One of a four-part series that covers the most crucial product marketing activities for an early-stage startup.
I recently presented at Venture Lane, a curated startup hub for early-stage startups, to share more about Product Marketing and how it relates to an early-stage startup. As we know, Product Marketing spans such a wide variety of programs. As I prepared, I kept thinking about how I can best organize the information so that it was the most useful for a startup. Is there a concrete step-by-step process? Honestly, no, it’s never that black and white, but I do believe there are some critical steps that can happen at various early stages of a startup as they relate to Product Marketing.
As a baseline, the core job of Product Marketing is to connect a product’s capabilities to the value and needs that customers can recognize and measure.
As I broke this down, I looked at four phases of an early-stage startup:
- Product Development
- Customer Acquisition
- Scaling Sales
- Kicking in GTM Programs
Does this mean there is no overlap in these phases? No. There is and will be! But this is to provide a starting point and some clarity around where your focus should be.
This specific post is only about Phase 1: Product Development. This is everything from the initial product conception to your MVP to the launch of your primary product.
Don’t work off assumptions alone
There are a few critical pieces of product marketing work that needs to happen in this phase to ensure:
- Ensure you are truly solving a problem
- Go beyond your target audience. Identify your personas in detail
- Really understand the market you are in
1. Ensure you are truly solving a problem
Challenge your own assumption that you are solving a concrete problem. Of course, there was some initial research done to identify a problem or challenge you want to solve. However, as soon as you have something more tangible to show, get it in front of your anticipated target audience.
Do a soft launch with 100 of your target users and actually position it as a soft launch! I have heard a few people tell me they are hesitant to roll out a product when it isn’t 100% final yet. This is all about how you position this to your users. If positioned correctly, you are able to set the right expectations. Additionally, let them know that their input will directly influence the product and many times, there will be an audience eager to participate.
- Let them react to your product without ANY input from you
- Ask questions around how this will help them in their life/with their goals, depending on what the product is
- Be unbiased in both your questions and reactions
2. Go beyond your target audience. Identify your personas in detail
Ideally, we have a general idea of who our target audience is when building a product, otherwise, why would we even be building it (or at least I hope we all do!)? Likely, there has been some market research done, some primary interviews, and perhaps broader surveys. For B2B by the way, this is usually two audiences: your buyer and your user.
This is all great, however, there are more details to iron out. Personas take it a level deeper. A persona is essentially a fictional character that resembles your target audience, this could be one persona or multiple personas depending on what type of persona you are building. Personas are very useful frameworks to use in a variety of ways from who to target in your marketing campaigns, who sales should specifically reach out to especially for B2B.
Start by thinking about why you are creating a persona because the reason for this would change the type of persona you create. For example, if you want to ensure your sales team has clarity around who they are targeting in their outreach, you would want to create a buyer persona. This is the individual who would be actually purchasing your product. The research you do will be focused on questions around buying behavior, what they value, how they evaluate products, etc. You can do this directly by speaking to those that fit this persona or internally by talking to your sales team, for example, then, you can move to persona creation.
The core sections of a persona:
- Their demographic information
- Their background
- Their goals
- Their motivations
- Their frustrations
3. Really understand the market you are in
“There is no one else offering what we do.”
False. Even if there isn’t another company offering the same product, if there is an existing pain point out in the world, then there is some other solution that is satisfying this pain point. These are your indirect competitors, but competitors nonetheless.
Bottom line: you have to do the market research. Get to know what products and solutions exist that are helping your target audience today to solve their pain points.
As you can tell, there is a theme in this Product Development phase around research. As you are doing the above research in #1 and #2, ask about what other tools or products your audience is using. As you get that list together, conduct some research specifically for this list of competitors.
- What do they like about the other products and/or solutions?
- What is not working for them?
- If they could change something in those solutions, what would that be?
Then, once you find some themes, create various collateral such as one-pagers, battlecards for your sales team or FAQ documents. Ensure your internal teams feel confident that they understand who they are up against and how to position against them effectively.
That covers the essential product marketing focused activities for phase one. Next, we will cover Phase 2 around Customer Acquisition and what Product Marketing programs are most relevant here. Stay tuned!