Scott Samson is the founder and CEO of SamsonPR, a B2B tech public relations agency putting disruptive companies on the map.
“We don’t need to focus on our marketing and public relations efforts. We will achieve buy-in due to the strength of our product.”
This type of statement is common among startups, as many entrepreneurs believe they have a unique differentiator and their offering will succeed in the market due to its own merit. However, the hard truth is that in the competitive market of today, there are very few true innovators, and chances are that no matter how unique your company is, there are other companies pursuing your same vision with the same passion and resources you have.
Between March 2019 and March 2020 alone, more than 800,000 companies were started, according to Statista. That’s 800,000 companies with innovative products and services, 800,000 leaders competing for mind share and brand equity and 800,000 sales organizations hungry for new leads. That isn’t even including established companies looking to expand on their existing product portfolios. You might have the best product in the world, but if you don’t go to market effectively, no one will know you, and as a result, your company could fail.
The unfortunate reality is that if you are starting a company, proving your value to the public might be even more challenging than building the product itself. It’s up to the leadership of every company to ensure their product or service is shown to the right people at the right time. Many organizations lack communications and marketing personnel, meaning that CEOs and founders sometimes have less guidance in how to successfully position a product or service to their public. Employing strategic messaging from the start is critical to driving early user growth.
Below are some ways to make sure that marketing, PR and communications are all strong in your startup:
1. Leverage your connections. The most obvious first step is to make use of your investments and board members. A good board member will be a connector. This individual should know many relevant people in your industry. Ask them to make introductions for you, whether to customer prospects or marketing and communications talent.
2. Ensure there’s a marketing perspective on your board. In my experience, there is often a lack of marketing and communications experts on boards, but they can be the bridge between your product and market adoption. Consider bringing on a board member who understands the critical importance of awareness and go-to-market strategies — someone who can pave the way for you early on.
3. Use the resources available to you. If you have a large venture capitalist backing, use some of those resources to empower your marketing and communications team. For example, perhaps it’s time to hire a chief marketing officer or chief communications officer with a proven track record of success. Whether you decide to hire an outside agency or a few in-house professionals, ensure they know your product and vertical inside and out.
4. If you’re a CEO, create awareness on your own. This is a crucial part of your job. If you specialize in communications and marketing, that’s great. But make sure your board of directors holds you accountable for creating tangible brand awareness via insightful thought leadership pieces. If you’re a technical- or product-focused CEO, that’s great as well; just make sure you create the right team to push your amazing, innovative product out to the world. If you have a technical product that is more difficult to understand, it becomes even more crucial to make sure you have a solid communication plan in place so your organization can make a splash.
5. If you’re a venture capitalist, hold your CEO accountable. If you’ve invested in a company, you should know its go-to-market strategy. Don’t just review their product and engineering teams; assess the marketing and communications tactics as well. Is their website unintuitive? Are lead-generation targets being hit? Do people know about the brand, and do they know anything about the CEO? Make sure the CEO is getting their story out to the world and is creating thoughtful content that keeps the brand top of mind for potential customers.
We’ve all heard the widely cited statistics that 90% of startups fail and 33% fail in the first six months. From my perspective, you only have one shot to grow your company; if you don’t put care and resources into your go-to-market strategy, then you’re hindering your company’s growth. After all, if you’re not willing to invest in your idea, how can you expect others to care about it?