As you approach your investment journey, a vitally important element for start-up founders is knowing how to integrate and maximise marketing at each stage. It’s about establishing and defining your go-to-market strategy. Your goal is to tell the story, to the right audience in the right tone so it lands like you hope it should.
But…how do you do that? Where do you begin? Let’s dig a bit deeper and start at the beginning.
Pre seed – Where should your marketing function be focused at this stage?
Data and knowledge are key for your product and the marketplace it exists in. Understanding your needs as a growing business at this stage is also extremely valuable.
In a recent podcast series, "Marketing Against the Grain", Sumaiya Balbale, CMO at Sequoia Capital offered this advice, "I think there is a difference between what a marketer needs to do and what marketing you need at this stage…I would focus on real customer-problem definition…you're trying to find whether your customer and product are going to match together".
It may be that you don’t need a marketer or need to be marketing at this stage. Instead, deepening your knowledge through extensive research will actually be much more valuable here.
Ollie Maitland, co-founder of Capitalise.com, a business finance marketplace, agrees. "Our marketing experience when we got started was very research-led. We had no brand, no customers and no marketing. We needed to research to begin that journey."
Understanding what your customer truly needs should define this stage. As well as gathering all you can around the sector and applying that to your learnings about your intended target customer. This is what you should have to share with potential investors for your upcoming investment round.
Seed – Identify your customer personas and use marketing to reach them
Having gotten through the research phase of what your customer pain points are, you will have begun to get insight into key customer personas that you need to target through your marketing function. In order to reach them, you need to understand your product position in the market and how you would interact with those key customers through that positioning.
"You are aiming for customer-product fit here…" Sumaiya Balbale went on to say in the "Marketing Against the Grain" podcast. An integral part of marketing is how to align the definition of your product with your customer. You must characterise them to effectively target them in any outreach that comes in the next stages.
It may be that you hire the first members of your marketing team at this stage. Ollie from Capitalise offers this advice, "Possibly bringing in someone more senior in marketing could be more advantageous at this point. We found that there was a lot more work to do in marketing that we originally anticipated." Someone with more marketing experience who has a good sense of all-round marketing skills could lead better at this stage and provide support in a more productive, constructive way.
You will also need to begin thinking about your brand journey and discovering and establishing your values, vision and mission as well. That journey will be just that – it’s an ever-changing amalgamation during the early stages but beginning it here as you're defining other elements of the marketing process is valuable. Equally, early content production should be started during your Seed stage – developing the first stages of brand awareness through your content pipeline to your newly defined target audience and customers can result in gaining traction as you begin to resonate with them.
Series A – Developing your proposition and marketing team further
At this stage, you will need to be thinking about your proposition in different ways and how to develop it better for your audience and customer consumption. You will have seen some baseline engagement from some of the early marketing you did after having defined your customer and generating those first bits of targeted outreach. Now, define even further how your product answers a need and solves a problem, to give your customer base more assurance of the value in your offering. Creating newsletters, paid ads and first thought leadership pieces can offer gains now as your proposition is more refined.
Most founders tend to hire their Head of Marketing or similar around Series A to build the go-to-market function and create demand generation. Be wary of hiring too senior though as it could affect marketing production. "Bringing in someone who is strategic but can't roll their sleeves up - that's probably the most common mistake,' says Sumaiya Balbale on "Marketing Against the Grain". Understanding your marketing and business strategy along with the key outcomes over the next year ahead will help you make the right choice of marketer to complement your business at this point in the journey.
Series B – Professionalise and be data-driven
At this stage you should be looking at your customer's journey and mapping that engagement process and how they convert. Define key metrics and outcomes to measure the success of your marketing function. A CRM will be useful to be implemented now to measure effectively.
"Measurement becomes more significant and learning from it at this stage. Do more testing and be more methodical," Ollie from Capitalise goes on to say.
Additionally, the look and feel of the brand should become more well-shaped and professionalised as well.
This is the right time to start broadening the marketing team to bring a variety of disciplines and skill sets to meet the business objectives. Your business is scaling now and in order to support that, growth in your marketing reach is critical. A diversified marketing team can support the brand journey, the product marketing as well as the impact of digital outreach while underpinning an inbound growth strategy. This will result in a larger creative impact overall and ultimately support the business more soundly. Think larger lead magnet content and measurement to go with that. Develop campaigns along with updated branding and visuals to be more dynamic and resonate with your buyer personas more effectively.
Exit – The journey of evolution continues
"Learn to focus across the whole of the business and marketing journey," offers Ollie from Capitalise. The message here is never stop evolving and growing as you refine your marketing efforts. The investment journey also takes you on a marketing journey as well.
As a founder at this later stage of growth, you will be looking for a marketing leader on the level of CMO. "They are your functional, executive leader now" says Sumaiya Balbaleon "Marketing Against the Grain". You need to hire someone who understands the business and can take its exposure to another level. The marketing team can push the messaging in various directions and take some risks to push scale.
You will now take that refined marketing strategy, borne out of every step and stage of your journey, along with your fully developed marketing team to continue your business growth story.
Where will your fast-growth journey take your marketing function to?