It’s Never Too Early to Market

by Gavin Heaton, based in Australia, Industry Analyst with Constellation Research, Inc., focusing on disruptive technology and emerging marketing practice and author of Servant of Chaos, one of Australia’s leading marketing blogs

Looking through the index of Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, I was struck by an omission. There are pages and whole sections devoted to the “minimum viable product,” entries for “muscle memory” and the “myth of perseverance,” but there’s not a single entry for “marketing.” And as a marketer with more than a passing interest in innovation and startups, it made me stop and think. What is the role of marketing for startups — and why is it missing? What is the lesson here? And is it really all about the MVP?

Peter Drucker famously shared his view that business only has two basic functions — marketing and innovation. But in the Lean world, only one of marketing’s Four P’s gets a mention. What then happens to the other three — price, promotion and place?

If we are smart and serious about scaling our startup, then in my view, we roll the other three P’s into the Lean model. In effect, they become indistinguishable from the MVP. Here’s how:

  1. Build-measure-learn is not just about product: The same discipline that works around products and features should also be applied to startup marketing. Develop hypotheses around your marketing, pricing, messaging and promotions. Test these in-market, and validate whether they achieve the outcomes you expect. If they don’t, adjust, learn and relaunch.
  2. Beta test your messaging: If you are working on a lean startup, you will have perfected your key message. Can this be applied at scale? Are there nuances or themes that resonate more strongly with customers that you could be working on? Also think about this in terms of both the value and the growth hypotheses. Can your messaging be validated in terms of its value proposition? Will your messaging be shared, passed on and endorsed by your target audiences? If not, you may need to revisit your messaging.
  3. Hypothesis test your segmentation: It’s easy to create the perfect audience segmentation model in isolation. But what do you need to do to validate these categories or personas? What tools and disciplines can you apply to validate your segmentation? Start with sites like Quantcast to understand not only the demographics of your audiences, but also their lifestyle, interests and so on. Cross-match this with web analytics to corroborate your learnings. Does the data bear out?
  4. Apply the three As to your analytics: What are you measuring on your website? How are you measuring any advertising, word of mouth or sponsorship activities? Eric Ries suggests that metrics should be actionable, accessible and auditable. How many of these apply to your marketing reports? Think, for example, about how you can use analytic data to drive decision making. Can you improve product, customer service or sales? Who has access to your reports? Is there a dashboard that can be shared? Can it be published as part of the corporate intranet? And how can you validate your data with real customers? What would it take to make that possible?

Building your marketing into your MVP may sound like a lot of extra work, but with careful planning, you’ll find it creates a mutually reinforcing loop. It balances your front of house with your back office. And as you start to scale, you’ll be glad you’ve connected the two.

Gavin is the author of Servant of Chaos, one of Australia’s leading marketing blogs and is the co-publisher (with Drew McLellan) of the ground-breaking collaborative marketing book series, Age of Conversation. Gavin has worked in agencies (leading the global digital strategy for McDonald’s) and delivered ground breaking digital programs and platforms for B2B companies like SAP and IBM.

Formerly the Social Media Director for SAP’s Premier Customer Network, he runs a marketing consultancy “The Social Way” and is an industry analyst with Constellation Research, Inc, focusing on disruptive technology and emerging marketing practice.