You have developed an amazing product, and you are certain that it will have the opportunity to disrupt the status quo.
But all of this will not happen if you have not prepared a sufficient marketing strategy and plan.
To help guide you through the process, e27 talks to three startups about how they are developing marketing in plans in their respective companies, and the advice that they can share to our readers:
– Sandeep Bastikar (VP Digital Marketing at Indonesia-based traveltech startup Traveloka).
– Rhonda Wong (CEO and Co-Founder of Singapore-based proptech startup Ohmyhome)
– Jeff Titterton (CMO of San Francisco-based customer service software company Zendesk)
The following is an edited excerpt of the interview.
The companies began by sharing how they work to develop their marketing plan and strategies.
For Ohmyhome’s Wong, developing a marketing plan begin with looking into the products or services that they want to highlight in the campaign, and the message the company wants to convey.
“When we talk about each product, we need to consider the stories that we are trying to tell … Is it a knowledge-based marketing or a call-to-action marketing? Or are we trying to showcase our customer journey, or the charitable side of our business, as we do pro bono cases for low income families?” she says.
At Zendesk, there is a great emphasis on the use of data and analytics.
“Our marketing team shares a strong common focus on utilising data and analytics to derive insights and make smart business decisions. We bring a mantra of continuous testing and exploration to our messaging, audience targeting, campaign planning and execution, and that requires clean data and an understand of what that data means. With that in mind, I always invest in analytics resources to ensure my broader marketing organisation can be more effective,” Titterton explains.
In Traveloka, developing a marketing plan begins with three major steps: Understanding discoverability (How do potential customers first heard of Traveloka?), user experience (How does the marketing plan work in ensuring they can find what they are looking for?), and purchase experience (Now that they have found their selection, how do they purchase?).
“We are a product company, so our product marketing team will look at which products are key priorities, which are the target markets, based on the market knowledge as well as our performances in past researches,” Bastikar explains.
So how can startups define their target audience? Wong says startups have the tendency to “cast a very wide net,” with the hope that they will be able to eventually reach their target audience, as they reach out to more individuals.
But this can be ineffective, especially considering the limited resources that startups may have.
“One way to consider the target audience is by finding out who the decision maker is, who is the one purchasing the services or products. For example, in childcare, you can be targetting the parents, the teachers, or even the grandparents. But realistically … targetting the mothers would be just enough,” she says.
Titterton explains how they do it in Zendesk. “We define our segments first by size of company, and then by more granular groupings based on what we know about the companies from our own data and third-party data. We use this information to target our customers with personalised and localised campaigns specific to market needs.”
“We do not boil the ocean here — we want to personalise campaigns but we need our target audiences to be big enough that they warrant their own personalised messages,” he continues.
For Traveloka, whether they aim for a general of specific target audience, it all comes back to the objective of the marketing itself: Brand awareness or sales?
“If you are aiming to reach a very niche segment, then it may make sense. But if it is about a generic feature that is valuable across all segments, a product that can apply to all audience, then it makes sense to go for a broader audience,” Bastikar says.
There is also an emphasis on research as a crucial part of defining target audience, and the strategy to be used to reach out to them.
“We recently had our colleagues from Forrester present at our Future of CX events in Singapore and Melbourne. Their research clearly shows a correlation between companies that invest in CX and strong financial performance … Good CX starts with understanding your customer as well as thorough landscape analysis, and to do this you need to start with research,” explains Titterton.
“At Zendesk we blend our own internal usage and other anonymised customer data, with customer surveys in and in-person customer research and surveys, as well as third party industry research, to help assess the broader market opportunity,” he continues.
Bastikar revealed the three methodologies which he found are helpful in helping founders perform marketing researches: Outcome Driven Innovation (which is built upon the theory that customers buy products or services to get a job done), Jobs-To-Be-Done (which enable founders to deconstruct a job that customers are trying to get done into specific process steps), and Customer Journey Mapping (which describes the stages that customers go through when interacting with a business, from purchase to customer service).
To conduct its research, in the past two years, Ohmyhome has been working with a team from National University of Singapore (NUS).
In addition to customer surveys, Ohmyhome even use its internship programme as an opportunity to learn about the global market. The startup has interns from France, the UK, and the US. Interaction with these interns has helped the startup develop their international expansion plan, starting with understanding how people in other cultures make transactions.
There are times when a marketing campaign that a startup has planned failed to fulfill its mission. Startup founders need to be able to tell the signs and take appropriate actions, even if it means having to halt the campaign.
For Bastikar, this is an occurence that happens “almost all the time.”
“We are a very data-driven company. It is almost like an aircraft’s cockpit; we have to see the altitude, the speed,” he says.
“Marketing is an ongoing process in our company. There is no ‘final’ way of doing something,” he adds.
Making the proper adjustment begins with the meticulous use of data.
“Make sure everything you do is measurable in one form or another … With the right measurement in place you can understand the ROI of your work product and quickly adjust your campaigns and other activities to maximise gain,” says Titterton.
The telltale signs of a failed marketing campaign can be seen even from the first week of its run.
“In the first week, usually we can already see a spike [in responses]. Even in a bad campaign, you can still see an increase in traffic, but not on the level that you seek with the money you have spent,” says Wong.
She even gives an example of that one time when Ohmyhome has to change a marketing campaign when they realised that it has failed to make a connection with its audience.
To explain their customer transaction journey, the startup hired artists to create a comic series to be posted on MRT stations. While the campaign received praise from comic enthusiasts, the general public was not receptive of it as Singapore does not have a “very strong” comic culture.
“… We failed to cater to the audience here, which is an audience that is not interested in comics at this point in their life,” Wong says.
When it comes to securing resources for their marketing campaign, startups are often limited by their budget. This may also involve some restrictions in the number of marketing executives that they can hire.
What exactly is the companies’ view on working with marketing consultants or agencies? Is it more preferable than building your own in-house marketing team?
Bastikar, Wong, and Titterton all agree that having in-house marketing team is the way to go.
“Your knowledge and intelligence of the products are very, very critical. In the beginning, you may not have the right people or the right team, and you may outsource the services … But the focus should always be on [keeping] your data, insights, and learning in-house. Because this is something that can help you grow from strength-to-strength,” Bastikar explains.
For Wong, the benefits lie in the ability of an in-house team to adsorb and implement the company’s culture in their works. In her experience, an outsourced marketing team may understand how Ohmyhome products work, but they often struggle to grasp the company’s culture.
“For example, one company that used to run our digital campaign had used these words: ‘Engage Ohmyhome agents, stop wasting money.’ For us this is a big no-no … We don’t put other people down in order to climb up,” she explains.
Titterton shares the others’ opinion about the benefits of building their own in-house marketing team. However, until a startup was able to build a sufficient marketing team by itself, he sees that working with a marketing consultant or agency does have its own unique benefits.
“ … It’s important to let go of the Superman complex – we cannot do everything ourselves. If marketing isn’t something you are good at or confident with, then outsourcing to an external consultant or agency will likely be more beneficial in the short term until the talent gap can be filled internally,” he says.
Practice makes perfect
So how can startup founders continue to improve their skills in developing marketing plans and strategy? If there is one thing that the companies agree on, is that you can never rely only on yourself.
Titterton believes in the power of mentorship; he even shares the criteria of an ideal mentor.
“Find someone who has successfully scaled a product from startup to scale, and then ask them for help in drafting a plan and educating you about how to grow through the various stages from scrappy startup to established player,” he explains.
“Bring on a startup generalist marketer with a toolbelt of the major marketing disciplines –acquisition, growth hacking, campaigns, engagement– and then have that marketer drive an iterative test-and-learn process with your product and technology teams to scale the business,” he adds.
For Wong, it is important for founders to pay attention to feedbacks, be it from customers or their own employees. When one has been working in a company or on a project for a long time, they may be able to recite the messages by heart. But it may not be the case with the public.
“It’s ironic that a lot of companies don’t run their campaign with their own internal team [first, before publishing],” she says.
“Because we have worked in this company for so long, we were able to understand the messages. But when we show it to someone [outside of the company], they might be like, ‘What are you trying to sell here?’” she explains.
Bastikar explains that, when it comes to learning opportunity, there is a unique benefit to being a startup that is based in Asia.
“You have the advantage of learning from other countries or other markets. Rather than just emulate the upside, also try to understand the challenges [that companies in other markets have faced],” he says.
Developing a great marketing plan is a combination of many different aspects. Using data and analytics are great, but learning from human interaction can also make a difference in the success of a plan.
It is also important for founders to learn continuously from different sources; be it from their own experiences, mentors, customers, or even their own employees.