Why marketing begins before startups go to market

Bart Burggraaf

The sage advice often repeated in the startup world goes a little like this; Identify a problem, get some funding, build your product to solve the problem, adjust it to the market as you go and achieve Product/Market fit. Get some more funding and then focus on growth. But what this admittedly good advice skips […]

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The sage advice often repeated in the startup world goes a little like this; Identify a problem, get some funding, build your product to solve the problem, adjust it to the market as you go and achieve Product/Market fit. Get some more funding and then focus on growth. But what this admittedly good advice skips over is the part before identifying a problem.

So if there is one thing I would tell prospective startup founders, it is this; before you start building a product or solution, find an audience. Finding an audience big enough to make a viable business, underserved by current solutions and willing to spend money, comes before thinking about a product or solution because even the best products don’t sell enough to pay the rent if a viable audience isn’t there.

Once you found an audience (or build one by offering value) talk to them. Ask them what their frustrations are, how you could do better than the companies out there, if they would spend money on a solution. Then fine tune your product to do exactly that. THIS is what marketing should be all about. Starting with finding a niche and then building the product USPs to fit them.

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First in a category, awesome! 32nd in a category? Who cares, you found a niche audience that will buy your product if you make it just for them. And once you dominate a niche, it will be possible to branch out and dominate a larger market.

Marketing a product that exactly fits an audience is EASY because all you need to do is make sure they hear about it. No hard selling and annoying them with ads. Yes you will still need to do great and creative marketing and having a bunch of funding to spend on advertising certainly helps. But your audience will love your product so much that with time they will do much of the marketing for you.

What if you are the unlucky CMO that joins as employee number 8 at a startup that makes better widgets?

Find a different job. But if you insist on staying, the best you can do is finding and communicating the areas of the product that differentiate it and fits a subset of the market. Even if this product wasn’t made with this audience in mind, getting some traction in a specific niche might show the rest of the company the need to re-align their product for that niche. Being the best product in a niche is better than being the umpteenth product in a larger market.

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