Many companies start up…but only brands launch.
There is a huge difference — and a gaping strategic chasm — between launching a startup, and launching that startup successfully into market.
But let’s start back at the beginning. Let’s clear away some brush with a little definition of terms. Most people tend to think of a ‘brand’ as a name…or a logo…or the corporate identity. So, to them, ‘launching a brand’ simply means coming up with a catchy name, designing a new logo, maybe writing a fetching tagline, and getting that new name, logo and messaging onto a website and into marketing materials.
Then these same folks move off of ‘branding’ and onto marketing. They spread the word about the website, get on social media, and maybe do some quick search engine optimization. Budget willing, there’s some pennies in the pot to throw at advertising or PR.
Not so fast.
You skipped a step.
Or, several, actually.
You were so busy falling in love with your own idea, and so excited about what the financial future holds, that you forgot to ask some basic questions. Or you thought of the questions, but were afraid (or unwilling) to get the answers. Or worse, you think you’ve already gotten your answers to these questions by asking the family and friends who are hard-wired to root for your success. Worse yet, you’ve been told over and over again that your ‘can’t-miss’ idea is exactly what the world has been waiting for.
But you didn’t actually ask a specific target customer to fork over your asking price in exchange for the product. And that’s where all of your pats on the back and ‘beta testing’ accolades go up in smoke. Because, for all of your ‘informal research,’ you still have no idea who wants your product, who will ignore your product, who will disparage your product, and whether anyone will be willing to pay for it.
Doing your homework prior to launch saves time, marketing dollars, and iteration costs. Launching, then failing, then reiterating, then relaunching, then failing again, then reiterating (or giving up, finally), is FAR more costly and time/resource-intensive than actually launching the right product at the right time, the right way and in the right channels, into a market that is begging for you to solve its problem.
So take a deep breath. Let’s get this right…before you start marketing and advertising.
If you can’t answer these questions (confidently and correctly), your startup launch strategy needs a little more work:
1) Who is your target market?
If you answered anything along the lines of, “Well, it could be anybody,” you’re already wrong. It won’t be. At least not at first. Instead of trying to target everyone it is better to hone in on a very specific ‘beach-head’ target market and try to understand what drives and motivates them as a buyer. Late adopters and laggards (85% of the purchasing power) will never adopt a new product until innovators and early adopters blaze the trail for them. Figure out who those early adopters will be, then go full-throttle ahead at converting them. You need to be able to step into your future customers’ shoes and know how to reach them. If you can’t identify a beach-head market and then match that market to the message and media that fits — you’re destined for a tough road ahead.
2) What is your revenue model?
If you default back to “We’re not concerned with monetization just yet,” you haven’t thought this through. Facebook and Twitter are the exceptions, not the rule. They are the two exceptions in a sea of thousands of startups that need revenue to survive. Figure out how you will make money, at some specific point in the future, even if it’s not tomorrow.
3) Who are your competitors?
If you think, “We don’t have any,” you’re wrong…everyone has competitors, you just haven’t identified them yet. That’s dangerous and ill-advised thinking. You never know what competitors might spring up right after you launch. Look at Meerkat: ‘disruptive’ video streaming technology that took the world by storm at South By Southwest…and then was immediately crushed once Periscope surfaced and got cozy with Twitter. Even without specific competitors offering your same product or service, you are always competing for mindshare, dollars, interest, attention, and peoples’ time.
4) What is the market willing to pay for this product or service?
If you begin your answer with, “Well, we think…” you haven’t done your homework. More often than not, startups overestimate what the market is willing to pay for their product or service. This is a rookie mistake that will cause you some major headaches down the road. Pro tip: It’s not enough to ask family and friends or people who randomly pass by your exhibit at a trade show. You need to know who you’re selling to ultimately (see Question 1 above) and ask them what they think.
5) When will you be profitable?
If you don’t know, you can’t answer the first question an investor is going to ask…and that’s a huge red flag. Investors don’t want to gamble on good ideas, they want to have an idea of ROI; that’s why they’re investing in your company. Show them that you have thought this through.
6) What makes you different and what makes you necessary?
Not everyone who’s ever had the ‘next big idea’ succeeds. A great idea is not enough. To gain market adoption, your idea has to solve a problem, alleviate a pain, or create an opportunity that the market is already aware and perhaps even in search of.
There are plenty more questions to ask and answer. Have you thought them all through? If not, it’s time to slow down before you speed up. In the end, you’ll launch faster, stronger and with greater success.
In short, let’s start by removing the error from your trial-and-error approach.
Tom Nixon, is the co-founder of Tadpole, a brand catalyst company that helps startups launch their brands successfully into market. Tom has more than 25 years experience helping new and established brands design and implement effective market strategies.