After Building 3 Startups, This Is What We’ve Learned about Marketing

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Here at Le Studio we have a lot going on in one office. Apart from building Le Studio itself, we have Homeloop, Tolteck, and Elephoners all under one roof. Due to the diversity of market type and development stage, each one requires a specialized marketing policy. Here are some of things that we have learned after developing and executing marketing plans for all 3:

Any startup or new business is like a small engine. There are just two pistons in this engine and they have to work in perfect synchronization: the first is innovation and the second is marketing. If they aren’t working together in perfect synchronization then the engine is going to sputter along and generally just take much longer to get anywhere (or it could just die on the road…).

Any startup or new business is like a small engine.

Startups normally fail one of two ways. The first and most common is they create a product that no one wants or needs. The second is they create an excellent product but can’t explain to the customer why he needs it. And rest assured that very few people actually know what they need until they find it. The first thing you should do before diving headlong into marketing (ideally you should do this before even starting your company) is determine if the first case applies to you. Does anyone actually want your product? Hopefully, you’ve already done this soul searching and are quite sure of your worth.

That leaves scenario number two as being the most likely failure point. No one knows that they want your product. ‘If you build it, they will come’ is the greatest lie you could tell yourself. If that was the case then companies wouldn’t spend untold billions on advertising and marketing, they’d spend solely on research and development.

If there was one industry in the world that ought to be able to get by without advertising it would be the pharmaceutical industry. If you need a medicine, you’d think you’d find out from your doctor and that would be that. But in reality, every major pharmaceutical company spends more (usually a lot more) on marketing than research. If companies that make drugs that you literally need to live and function have to market themselves, then so do you. Your idea is probably not going to take off on its own merit.

Know what you have and know your market

You need to understand the value of your product and market it accordingly. This seems like common sense but don’t underestimate it. A lot of marketing is extremely tedious. But no one sees all the work in the background they just see what is presented at the end. And if you are presenting your product poorly, incorrectly, or to the wrong market then that’s it.

An example of how poor marketing can sink you can be seen in a comical yet sad episode in the life of a 150-year-old bottle of beer. In 2007 some poor schmo put his bottle of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale up for sale on eBay. Unfortunately, he didn’t bother to actually learn about the real value of what he had. Otherwise, he might have bothered to spell the name correctly (or, you know, put it up on Sotheby’s rather than eBay). When some smart fellow realized what “Alsop’s” actually was, he bought it for around 300 dollars. A week later he advertised it correctly and sold it for a half million dollars. Because of lazy marketing and not understanding what he actually had, some poor guy is a half million poorer than he might have been (read more about his misery here).

So, before doing anything, understand what you have and who wants it first.

Without content, nothing

As Bill Gates once said, ‘Content is King.’ This is a guy that started his career as an engineer but became unimaginably wealthy as a marketer (I mean he was really good. He convinced an entire world that they just needed to have a PC even though they were getting along just fine beforehand).

Your content is a representation of your business and if your content sucks the same assumption will be made about your business (and marketing really is just a game of leading assumptions). If you produce articles that are worth reading, videos worth watching, and graphics that are original and interesting then people will start making positive assumptions about your business. If they enjoyed your content they will search you out. If your content is mediocre the exact opposite will happen and you’ll find yourself losing followers, viewers, readers, what have you.

Your content is a representation of your business and if your content sucks the same assumption will be made about your business.

If it takes time to create good content, so be it. If you have to post less frequently so as to maintain a high standard then do so. If you find yourself resorting to listicles, take a break.

Content is the sine qua non of marketing.

Twitter probably isn’t worth your time

Have you been on Twitter lately? Although it has been credited with helping certain politicians enter political office, it has become a huge mess. Two things can be blamed for the state of Twitter today, one is trolls and the other is marketers. Or bad ones anyway.

The entire site is chock full of half-baked 140 characters adlets interspersed with pictures of your friend’s last meal, gifs of animals, and people yelling about politics. Should the last one interest you, good luck figuring out how to read up to the start of their (well researched and cool-headed argument).

And with the advent of Buffer, Hootsuite, commun.it, etc. anyone can now post at all hours of the day without even being there. If you make the mistake of following one expect a ‘thank you for the follow’ tweet and maybe a direct message.

Think long and hard before committing to much time to yelling into the noise.

Be active but not annoying

Whether or not you decide to walk into that jungle, it is important to actually use the marketing vectors where you do keep a presence. If you have a blog, Facebook, or LinkedIn page that hasn’t had a post in several weeks or months, what do you think that people will assume of your business when they find these pages? They won’t know that you have been working 80 hours weeks on your new API or that you’re knee deep in fundraising.

They’ll just start assuming that things aren’t going so great or have even stopped all together. As a certain marketing genius would say: SAD!

It is critical that the vectors you chose to use remain active, productive, and interesting so long as your business continues to exist. If you no longer see the value in keeping a blog, Facebook page, etc. don’t let it become dilapidated. Get rid of it.

That being said, there is certainly such thing as being too active. A good gauge of this is asking yourself if you have a reason for posting beyond just reaching some objective post count/week. If you don’t actually have something interesting to post, wait until you do. Remember, if your content is bad, your marketing is bad.

So what do? Obviously, you have to be active but you don’t want to be too active. Luckily there are people that study this professionally so that we don’t have to. One of the more interesting takeaways here is that when you have a smaller follower base, then posting less frequently is ideal (at least in the case of Facebook).

If you don’t actually have something interesting to post, wait until you do.

Takeaways

Just as surely as if your product sucked, your company will fail if you fail to market yourself well. If you think the need you fill is critical and obvious, that’s great. Now you need to enunciate exactly why you feel that way and explain why all the while targeting the right group of people and not annoying the rest too much.

Remember, Content is King. Your marketing should be worth looking at in its own right, if it is just a billboard for your product it will be much less effective and people will hesitate to share it. It should be entertaining, informative, or both. Secondly, measure everything. Marketing is as much a science as an art. You need to be able to separate what works from what doesn’t and fast so as to waste as little money as possible.

Le Studio VC is a Paris-based startup studio. Providing seed capital, expertise, and guidance, Le Studio acts as a launchpad for startups. By both investing and participating in the initial stages of development, success is more likely and more rapid.