Lessons in Marketing for Startups


In the most basic of terms, marketing is getting your customers to know who you are and what products and services you offer.  While that’s a very outward, customer-centric view, we’d argue that marketing is also responsible for internal messaging and making sure everyone in the company is singing from the same sheet of music.  Here are a few pointers.


  • Keep your messaging simple, clear, concise and consistent.  No matter how technical or complex your product or service is, you must be able to explain it in simple terms that anybody can understand.  You’ve probably been told to have an “elevator pitch” for your company, but you also need one for each of your products and services.  Everyone in your company needs to deliver the same, simple, clear and concise message about your product or service.  Inconsistent and complex messaging will cause confusion, wreak havoc in the market and become a barrier to your efforts.
  • Word of mouth from trusted sources is the best marketing.  When your friends, family or others that you rely on for good advice tell you that a product or service is great, you’re more likely to check it out.  The same holds true of others, so capture the hearts and minds of as many trusted sources as you can and their friends and family will follow.  Set expectations appropriately, as negative feedback from trusted sources could backfire and prevent friends and family from ever considering a product or service.
  • Creatively use social media and your network to get the word outShare pictures of your launch party with friends on Facebook.  Check-in with Foursquare when going to industry events or have your friends and customers check-in when they come to see you at the office.  Create a channel on YouTube to post videos of your speaking engagements.  Connect to, and through, strategically chosen contacts with LinkedIn.  Create a blog to share compelling stories, information and updates.  Basically, find ways to effectively and efficiently leverage your network.
  • Spend money on high quality product or service demonstrations and training.  A strong product or service demonstration will do more for your marketing efforts than any presentation, product brochure, flier, etc.  If your marketing efforts are primarily web or email oriented, make sure video demonstrations are coupled with websites or direct marketing campaigns.  If your sales efforts are primarily face-to-face, make sure your salespeople and/or sales engineers are well-trained and capable of conducting sound product demonstrations, clearly articulating the product value proposition and expressing how each feature impacts a facet of customer business or behavior.
  • Save money on logo design, branding and imaging.  Keep your logo simple.  As long as your logo isn’t offensive, the extra dollars spent won’t likely translate into lost or additional revenue.  Brand and image will come from the customer’s overall experience with your product or service.  If you want a stellar brand or image, create and support a stellar product or service.  It’s far easier to create a positive brand and image with a superior product or service than it is to manufacture a positive brand and image with a mediocre product or service.
  • Save money on tradeshows and industry events.  You probably don’t need the 100 ft. by 100 ft. plot in the conference center with a 3-story booth, hired “booth attendants,” a laser light show, etc.  If necessary at all, go for the smallest, least expensive plot right next to the coffee tables or food stands.  Instead of paying for attendance, attend as a speaker, moderator, panelist or guest.  Draw the attendees in with your stellar speaking, moderating and panel session performance.  Conveniently offer coffee, bring them to the booth for an awesome product demonstration and either “close them” or give them a trial.
  • Prepare to “cross the chasm.”  Understanding how to approach and capture distinct customers types, whether they be innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority or laggards, will be key to your marketing and sales success.  Your biggest challenge will be the chasm between the early adopters and the early majority.  This applies whether you’re product or service is geared towards individual consumers, enterprises, government entities, etc.  The sales and marketing teams that you put in place to address these customer types should have similar mindsets.  For example, marketing or sales teams that are successful with innovators and early adopters will likely have difficulty relating to, and selling to, the late majority or laggards.

As an early-stage startup, you should be focused on reaching the widest audience with the least amount of money possible while delivering the most succinct, yet intriguing, message.  Fortunately, the tools at your disposal today are far greater than in years past.  Status updates, check-ins, blog feeds, video sharing, picture sharing, speaking engagements, etc. cost little more than your time and have the ability to reach millions.

About the author: Dr. Jim Brinksma

Prior to founding Visible Arbitrage, Dr. Jim Brinksma launched Business Information Technology Solutions, Shellback Research, and Shellback Labs. He also held positions as Vice President at Goldman Sachs & Co., Sr. Director of Systems Engineering at Ciena Corporation, Sr. Systems Engineer at Cyras Systems, Network Engineer at Enkido, and served in the United States Navy during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

Jim’s doctoral dissertation at University of Maryland covered “Public Market Signals as a Guide for Entrepreneurs Seeking Venture Capital Investment”. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems Management from University of Maryland, completed the Strategy and Innovation Program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and completed the Non-Profit Board Leadership Program at Harvard Business School.

Jim has global experience and has provided a range of services to entrepreneurs, venture capital firms, hedge funds, institutional banks, service providers, equipment manufacturers, and non-profits.

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