Early-Staged Marketing: dos and don’ts

Nick Singh

When you are first starting out with a new company or product, there is enough on your plate between the product itself and setting up your business, that maintaining what can seem an infinite number of marketing channels is often overwhelming. The good news is, depending on your business model and your customers, you may not need all of those channels. Experimenting to find one or two channels that really resonate and yield results for you and your business is probably the most efficient use of your time in an early staged venture. To learn more about this, and how to spend your marketing resources effectively and efficiently, we sat down with Nick Singh: Ex-Facebook & Google, 1st Marketing & Growth hire at SafeGraph, Co-Founder of MassApply, and Co-Author of the soon to be released book: Ace the Data Science Interview.

Many of our founders/customers are starting out with a new product, or a new brand, or both. Getting their name out there and acquiring customers can be really challenging. What are some tools or methods you have found to be really impactful for someone starting out on that marketing and user acquisition journey or trying to grow a new brand?

Marketing is a big world, and there are a lot of techniques and methods you can use. Early on you need to find a method that works best for you. No one method is foolproof, and yes, there will probably be multiple natural channels you can use. But let’s be honest: in a small team you’re strapped for time, you’re strapped for money, you’re strapped for attention, and it’s much better to try one channel and do it well, than to split yourself across 5, 6, 7 channels.

So be honest with yourself. At end scale you might need social media marketing, but if you’re an early stage B2B company—do you really need Instagram? Same way, flipside: you’re a new dating app, do you really need SEO? Not really, because people aren’t exactly searching, “what’s a good new dating app to use” and finding you on the 18th page of Google vs someone might actually search for a, “no code marketing tool for small businesses”. You probably have some intuition about how your customers will find you, or you can look at your competitors—they might have a Facebook, and an Instagram, and a LinkedIn—but do they really update them? Does it seem to be working? Or, do they have a big newsletter and do they keep asking for your email? That’s a hunch that email marketing might be working well for them. For a dating app email marketing is probably not needed because people should understand it from the get-go, but for a very complex B2B solution, email marketing may give you the opportunity to educate on your solution which could be the key to converting customers. In that case driving people to your website and getting them on your email list could be the most important.

You as an entrepreneur probably have some type of intuition about what the most naturally effective channel is for your product and target customer base, and the biggest thing is to not be confused and try to do 18 different things. The challenge is to stay focused and try to go after the one or maybe two channels that really, really work.

You’ve now mentioned that especially at the early stages, there is a lot of gut intuition and validation of that to try to figure out what channel is the right fit for you and your brand. Which brings us to what you had to say about marketing being an art in many ways instead of a science.

Yes—now, the art of marketing—because there is no science. You have to balance what I just said, with the fact that there is some experimentation needed to find that right fit for a marketing channel. If you really think you have a good product and you really are struggling with user acquisition, be open to the idea that maybe the channel you’re using isn’t the right channel. You may have to try out 3 or 4 other channels and see how they operate. Not at the level of AB testing and being data driven, but just getting an early indication of what might be working. You can go try out a couple different channels for a little while. There’s this mix of experiment and fail fast verses, wait a second, things really do take time. SEO is a good example because moving up search rankings really does take a long time, building out a good content library takes a lot of effort and time. But you as an entrepreneur should have a good hunch as to what’s working and what’s not, or what’s likely to work or what’s not. Listen to your intuition, but be open to this type of experimentation and trying different things out, while at the same time not trying too many things out. Stick with them for a sensible amount of time in each case to give the different channels a chance.

How do you drive customer loyalty especially when you are starting out?

Part of what affects how you approach your marketing is how much [money] you stand to make from each customer that converts. Part of this is why B2B marketing looks so different than B2C marketing. But even within B2B marketing, there is a difference between whether you’re selling something for $5/month or $5,000/month—and that opens up a whole different set of channels. Making your existing customers feel valued and using them as a source of new customers is absolutely valid, especially early on. It can be hard to think about how to get totally new customers, but it’s easy to think about who are my existing customers, how do they retain, and in the early days how can they refer me to their friends and their network. That’s an easy way to start. First, make them feel good. Make sales and marketing collateral that includes them, and their face, and their story. Celebrate them and highlight how you’ve helped them. A personal gift, even at a small price point, can be a great option for early customers because you can get to know them—follow them on social media, etc. and build a relationship with them. What you want is a really solid initial customer base; these are the people who will give you feedback on your product so you can keep iterating, which is a double win because by treating your early customers well, you will not only get referrals but you will have a stronger product, which makes everything downstream easier—and that’s honestly a big focus in the early days.

A lot of people talk about the importance of branding and building a narrative of who you are as a company. Is that particularly useful? Can it help with building your brand recognition? For instance, when I think of Allstate I think of the whole story about being protected from mayhem and the narrative they have built around the Mayhem guy, different things like that—your image and your story.

I think brand is important, but I think more traditional entrepreneurs and small businesses often have an over-focus on brand, which is why they may feel like they need to be active in all of these different marketing channels. Brand is just another part of marketing, and you should invest in it if you think that is something preventing you from being converted on, but it’s not necessarily always the main thing. Some people think you have to grow your brand to get more customers, and I think there can sometimes be a misplaced focus on brand often enough, because especially in the early days people don’t even know about you. Brand is about how people think of you, and do they think well of you. But often in the early days, people don’t even know you and your solution exists. So in the early days, as long as you are reaching out to the right people who need your solution, it doesn’t necessarily matter if you have the most sleek story/brand with the best branding elements. These are things that you can do when you are bigger and you have more money to invest. In the early days getting people to use your product and give you feedback is key.

To see more of Nick’s thoughts and writings: https://www.nicksingh.com/

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