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A VC’s guide to marketing

When starting a company, it’s natural to focus primarily on honing your idea, creating the early version of your product and identifying complementary co-founders and first hires.

With your attention drawn in so many directions at once, marketing is easy to overlook.

This is particularly the case in Europe, where there’s a lingering perception that trumpeting ideas before there is even a beta version of your product is “something only Americans do”.

There are three potential pitfalls to adopting this attitude, and a small change in mind-set in each of these areas can help you catapult your business onto a much faster growth trajectory.

Positioning to differentiate

As startups become ‘leaner’, and therefore quicker to build, there are often many founders chasing after the same idea. How they differentiate themselves will ultimately derive from the way they execute.

So it’s helpful early on, first, to establish what the ‘white space’ in your market is, and, second, to figure out how exactly your company is going to claim that space – and thus solve your customers’ needs.

The name of this particular game is to position yourself as the go-to-place, a provider who quickly becomes synonymous with the service; in other words, the Coke of carbonated drinks.

Marketing as sales

Marketing has historically been viewed as ‘soft’ and hard to measure.

Yet the internet and tracking has changed that.

In fact, many successful startups now deploy marketing as one of the key ways to drive potentially interested buyers to their service, where conversion to paid users becomes statistically predictable.

It not only empowers sales (it’s a harder direct sell to convince someone to buy if they have never heard of you), but it helps you drive direct sales too.

Claiming to be a sales-driven company only – and one which side-lines marketing – is self-defeating in that it robs you of an opportunity to develop your business, as you will inevitably face competitors who not only do market, but also use it to ‘educate’ potential customers to try their better-known product before yours.

The power of brand

If you have succeeded in taking the above two steps correctly – i.e. positioned yourself astutely and switched on your marketing machine – you will be ready to take your next: to look strategically, rather than tactically, and communicate your brand values. Brands are not made instantly.

They require careful crafting and nurturing, which involves constantly returning to the values they stand for.

Over time, your brand will become your most potent advocate, allowing you to create a moat between your offering and competing alternatives and hopefully enabling superior pricing power and sustainable margins.

But to get there, requires you not only to understand the enormous value of marketing, but how to harness it most effectively too.