Marketing your startup: how to build a solid foundation for success

As a startup founder, you’re faced with formulating strategies for, well, pretty much everything. Product strategy, competitive strategy, go-to market strategy, just to name a few.

One of the biggest pain points we see of companies going through our startup accelerator programs, is knowing where to start when developing a strategy to market the incredible products and services they have built.

It’s a daunting challenge… There are so many different ways to build a brand. There really isn’t a cookie cutter approach.

What I can say, no matter which way you choose to approach marketing your startup, is that before you begin, it’s imperative to build a solid plan and foundation to ensure all your bases are covered.

1. Identify your target audience

Before doing anything else, a founder’s top priority must be to nail down exactly who their target audience is.  Both the user and the buyer.

Next is identifying who you believe are the potential “early adopters” of your product and/or services.  Each distinct group in the product adoption curve requires a unique and targeted message.

The reason being that if you try to market to everyone, you’ll really market to no one by spreading yourself too thin and pushing a message that is unappealing to those prospects most likely to buy your product early on.

It’s best to approach this step by going after the right people strategically and aggressively.

This means, defining your target early adopter audience.

We often hear the term persona being interchanged with the term target audience, and I want to make it clear that these two things are very different.

The main difference between the two is that a target audience is more general and all encompassing, whereas a persona dives deep into specific characteristics and functional usage model of your product and/or service of the targeted “ideal customer.” Persona profile examples are typically given a fictional name i.e. “Founder Sara” or “Matt the Marketing Manager”.

Here are some examples of traits you would identify for a target audience vs. a persona:

Going through a persona exercise has real risks to manage. It can really pigeonhole a founder’s efforts because they are so consumed with targeting an audience that matches the persona exactly. This creates bias.

Instead, focus on things like buyer motivation and the usage value proposition by persona. Ask yourself how you will reach people who fall into the main demographics you’ve outlined through your target audience exercise. Think hard about creating a value proposition that appeals to early adopters desire to be first and to visualize how they will use your solution to gain market share and competitive advantage.

2. Nail down keywords

Now that you have an understanding of your target audience, you can begin thinking about a keyword list.

The aim here is to build a list of terms that is highly specific and relevant to your brand, you will use these in your website messaging, social media, blogs… ultimately for SEO purposes.

At L-SPARK, when refining our strategy, we began with identifying 10 keywords as a jumping off point. We asked ourselves, what is our audience typing into Google to find programs like ours?

There are many tools that can help you with this process, and give you insight into what keywords are already driving traffic to your website as well as the traffic other keywords have and their difficulty of ranking. Consider checking out Google Ads, Moz, or SEMRush

3. Figure out your value proposition

People don’t buy products, they buy solutions to their problems.

Your value proposition is how you solve your customers problems. What do you do for them? How will using your product benefit them?

Be specific here.

Your value prop cannot be something super generic like “our product will increase revenue.”

Yes, ultimately your product may do that. But how? Will your product increase the number of leads? Or will it improve employee retention? What will your product do that ultimately leads to more revenue… map that out for people. Get really clear and concise and show how you are unique.

4. Determine how you will measure success

Success looks different for every team, and, to define it, you must understand first why people are buying your product in the first place.

No matter what success looks like to your startup, define it early and be very clear with how you define it (notice how being clear is a trend throughout this entire process?!)

Be sure your measures of success are tied to real growth and that you are consistent in how you measure.

It is imperative that you refer to SMART when defining the metrics – they must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.

Communicate what success looks like to your team so that everyone can rally together to achieve it. Before leaving the gate, make note of your baseline so you can understand growth and identify weak spots as they happen.

5. Solidify how much you want to spend

In order to roll out any strategy, it all comes down to budget, and working within the limitations you set out.

Ask yourself questions like, what do you need your marketing to accomplish? What is the ROI of your spending? What is a lead worth?

This one is pretty basic, just be sure to get your ducks in a row before you begin spending on any marketing strategy.

6. Ask yourself what you’re really good at… and do that

Funny enough in order to figure out what you’re good at, and, what works, you need to experiment with a number of marketing channels.

Once you determine what works best, focus on this as your growth lever.

  • Emails?
  • Blogs?
  • Social?
  • Paid Channels?

Identify where your target early adopters hang out (websites, forums, social media platforms, industry specific content sources) and have a presence and high value content contribution strategy. 


No matter what it is, when you are in the early stages of rolling out your marketing strategy, focus on one or two things you do really well, before spreading yourself too thin. The objective is to “land and expand” within your target market.

Founders, I would love to know your thoughts.

Did you work through a similar process when formulating your marketing strategy? What did I miss? What was the single most important thing you did leading up to launch that you deem necessary for success? 


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