Once you hit product-market fit, one of the most important things to set up is a solid marketing foundation for your startup or small business. In my time as a consultant, I’ve worked with startups where it was a complete breeze – the company provided me with fundamental product and marketing, we would have a comprehensive chat – everyone was on the same base, and we would easily get to work.

Yet other times, we would run into companies who as I like to call it, have a misunderstanding of self, or an identity crisis, if you will.

They don’t know what their mission is, what their long term vision is, they lack their base marketing fundamentals.

Hopefully, this post will help remedy that. Reasons being two-fold.

  1. If you don’t understand your product or market – you’re going to fail.
  2. When working with anyone externally, designers, marketing consultants, agencies, or building partnerships, you’ll need to communicate your base marketing fundamentals to expedite collaborative processes.

Identify yourself and your core product.

While this may seem obvious, the exercise hones in at the center of your product. This is who you are. Period.

For us, this would be the following “We are a resource for Entrepreneurs” A lot can go under this umbrella, market strategy, brand and identity consulting, product design for web, tablet, mobile & wearable, advertising campaign ideation, etc… but at the core of it all, we are design and strategy producers. This is the what.

Next, ask yourself – does anyone actually need this? You may be inclined to say “yes” immediately, but think about it. Does it solve a pain point? Will it help accomplish XYZ in a manner that is easier?  If the answer is yes then write out why.

“Design and strategy are synonymous to the creation of the product, yet businesses will often look to either with the hope it can independently solve product issues – however one is dependent on the other and by combining both we help businesses design product that is effective, results-driven and modern

Who buys our service? At the highest level – Businesses.

Now that you’ve identified, 1. What you are and 2. Who needs you, you can move on to the third step. 3. How you deliver this value. “We deliver strategy and design by executing deliverables”. If you’ve gotten to this point. Congratulate yourself. You’ve just defined your Market of Reference.

Define the competitive landscape

What makes your business unique is a differentiator. Something that separates you from the competition. But to know what the competition is doing you first have to identify who the competition is. You want to define as many companies as you can.

As an example, for us let’s say that these are ideo.com and frogdesign.com

While defining the competitive landscape you’ll also want to list the value that each product brings to the consumer, or in layman’s terms “Why do people buy/use their products/services.

Organize your Marketing thinking

We now take what we’ve started to come up with and start putting it into a framework. We now define the mission, vision, brand, audience, niche and the core message.

In order to do this, I’ve referenced my friend Cezary’s blog, where he goes into detail on the semantic aspects of developing each one of these elements and then provides a simple to use and understand canvas.

Mission: the Company’s reason to exist.
Vision: The company’s long-term, aspirational business goals
Brand: A promise the company makes to its customers
Target audience: The customers (existing + ideal) the company serves
Market niche: The company’s market position relative to the competition
Key message: The one idea the company conveys to its audience

Conduct an internal assessment

Once we understand the way the world sees our brand – we then have to look introspectively at ourselves as a company and further hone in on those areas that make us shine. A good way of doing this is to take a SWOT analysis. For those unfamiliar, SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

Marketing SWOT

It’s important that when starting a SWOT you don’t focus on the company as a whole, but only the service offering. For example – by saying that one of SWARM’s weaknesses is that we as a company have been operational less than a year would be incorrect in the context of our product offering, or even on the company level. We should instead say that one of SWARM’s weaknesses is that a paired work model and the coupling of design and strategy may be seen by managers as unnecessary and that education will be needed to convey the message.

And if conducting a SWOT on the basis of the company, the same weakness should look at the underlying cause. SWARM’s weakness isn’t that it’s been around for less than a year, our weakness is that because we’ve been around less than a year, we lack considerable brand name recognition.

Conducting a product SWOT is important for a number of reasons. It indicates to you what you’re doing well, what you should focus on changing and how to think about the future – and specifically when thinking of product it identifies its STRENGTHS, which we then apply to the presentation, copy and build our marketing plan around.

Identify your target audience’s value drivers

This assumes you’ve gone through and made a list of your competitors, defined competitive product, its strengths, weaknesses, and customer value drivers. Now it’s time to do the same for your product.

Remember, these are NOT company-specific divers such as your EBITDA, sales growth, gross margin, etc. Here we continue to think about the value(s) your potential customers derive from your product. We do this by using the equation.

Value = Benefits / Costs

But what does that mean?

We can quantitatively define the benefit of a product by attributing its benefit to a monetary value. Say the benefit of a widget provides you with 10 hours worth of time that you would have spent working without using the widget, and you bill 100 per hour. The benefit of having the widget is then 10 hr x $100 = $1000.

Now let’s say that the widget cost you $50. The quantitative value of the widget would then be 20 which = 1000/50. Now as long as the number is greater than 1 the product will contribute value.

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Qualitatively, we can translate the same thing into the following. The widget will save customers 10 hours when they use it, it saves them this time by facilitating Y and integrating with Z. So our qualitative benefits are Y and Z.

This exercise helps us understand the specific value that we offer – allowing us now to integrate product benefits into our presentation, copy, and to start thinking how we communicate them with our potential customer base, and how they differ from the benefits our competitors offer.

This is all step one. This is at its core, the basic way you should think about your marketing efforts. Without this, any marketing plan will fall to pieces and you’ll have wasted valuable time and money – both of which are scarce for new companies.

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