Start-up marketing: if you don’t start it, you may be killing the start-up

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Start-up marketing: if you don’t start it, you may be killing the start-up

Recently, we were in a dialogue with the founder of an e-commerce start-up in India regarding a potential engagement for us to provide digital marketing services to his fledgling venture. We were excited because his website looked good, the products were niche and seemed like they had a good market and hardly any marketing was being done– all in all, a very good setting for us to come in as his marketing consultant and deliver some serious value. There was only one problem though, which kept coming to the fore as we went through some rounds of discussion: he did not have (or rather, I feel, he did not want to) allocate ‘much’ money to his online marketing.

Now, we all know that start-ups don’t have large marketing budgets and they rightfully have to be extremely prudent about where they allocate marketing spend to and the return they are likely to get from it (no reason why prudence and expectation of ROI shouldn’t matter to established companies).  So our initial response to his comments about ‘very little budget’ was that this is the standard sentiment of a start-up founder which we fully understand.  We went ahead and did quite a bit of diligence into the opportunities he had, the digital marketing channels he could use to cost-effectively penetrate the different markets he was targeting, the challenges he was likely to face and how we could adopt a phased-approach to fulfill his objectives while also taking into account his budgetary constraints.

His response typified that dreadful chicken-egg dilemma that so many start-ups allow themselves to be paralysed by. We should know, because for far too long we made the same mistake of not investing sufficiently in marketing that significantly hampered our growth. It might seem rather ironical  or strange, coming from a marketing services company, but we did make that rather expensive mistake of not doing what we knew had to be done weighed down by the fear of ‘limited marketing budget’.  Anyway, coming back to this e-commerce prospect, his answer to our suggestions (we hadn’t even put up a formal proposal as we wanted to tailor the plan to suit his budget which he hadn’t given any idea of yet) was: ‘Thanks for the detailed analysis .  I am still a start-up and don’t have any budget for all of these activities; so I think we will have to wait to commence online marketing until a bit later.”

I couldn’t help but think that he is making a big mistake by postponing commencement of online marketing, especially for an e-commerce start-up. Based on our own experience as well as that of a few other start-ups that we have worked with and helped them scale, here are a couple of thoughts for all start-ups:

Start marketing your start-up early:

Irrespective of the channel that you choose to go with, ensure that sufficient thought is given to this aspect. Reaching out to your potential customers/ target market is absolutely critical —so find the channels that will help you do that quickly.  As a digital marketing agency, we have a natural bias to the digital channel; but, we are convinced that it works in most cases as the most cost-effective means to build reach.

There’s no ‘free marketing’ :

There may be some avenues where you may not have a cash spend, but I haven’t found channels that don’t require either an investment of cash or of time. By all means go after the avenues that don’t require a cash spend but bear in mind the time that you might have to invest or the time it will require to achieve the same results and whether that is worth it.

As for us, we realise we may have to improve our proposition to start-ups, helping them better understand why it makes sense to ‘start now’ and how we can really work with them to meet their objectives. We are working out different engagement models that can work for both parties.  Working with start-ups and small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) is inherently challenging but is also quite fulfilling. After all, one has to be quite ingenious with limited resources to achieve results that established companies do with significantly more resources. Helping a start-up succeed is very much a yardstick of our own success!

– By Manoj Aravindakshan

Manoj Aravindkshan is Managing Director of On Target Media.

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