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Today, just four people work at the average start-up1. Two of them are the founders2. And on average, they all work 60 hours or more a week3.

Little wonder that these small, incredibly dedicated teams who are already overworked with the task of turning an idea into a business, don’t have time for marketing. 

But understandable as it might be, neglecting marketing is a problem for start-ups. It’s a barrier to growth and it makes them look unserious in the eyes of potential investors.  

Why is marketing such a challenge for so many start-ups? 

Start-ups are typically working with a new concept or technology. They need to find ways to turn it into a product or service and secure sufficient funding. 

Most of the people involved are experts in the thing they’re creating, not in marketing or branding. They’re working with a limited budget. They don’t know how to create the right marketing framework for a start-up at their stage. And so on.  

Very early on, right from the pre-seed stage, this creates significant challenges for the average start-up:

  • Of all the different groups who might be interested in your product or service, how do you choose the right ones to target first? 
  • How do you take the technology or product you’ve created, and package it — or its outputs — up as a product your audience will want? 
  • Where does your product fit into the market in relation to competitors, either direct or indirect? 
  • What’s the best way to communicate the benefits of your offering to your audience — and prompt them into acting on your message? 
  • How do you identify, build relationships and work with channel and commercial partners to find the most effective route to market?  

These are marketing problems: finding your audience, creating and positioning your product in the market, defining your brand identity, voice and message, then developing an effective start-up demand and/or partner-marketing strategy

If you can’t answer these marketing questions, and use your answer as the springboard to action, then your start-up will struggle to either grow or to attract investors. 

There is no alternative to marketing that doesn’t end in failure

When you’re in the thick of making a start-up work, it’s easy to view things such as marketing as a secondary concern or, even worse, a distraction. 

But that’s a mistake. In fact, it’s one of the classic start-up pitfalls. No matter how great your idea is, you won’t attract investors unless you can prove there’s a market for what you want to sell. And you won’t create a market without doing marketing. 

As a start-up, there are three ways you can approach marketing: 

  1. Develop the in-house abilities and resources you need to get marketing right for your company’s place on the start-up journey.
  2. Work with an external partner who has the skills, technology and experience of start-up marketing you need to hit your revenue and investment goals.
  3. Ignore marketing because it’s one more hassle — then watch your company fail. 

For many start-ups, option 1 is simply too time consuming and expensive. Option 3 clearly isn’t an option at all. That leaves option 2 – or a blend of 1 & 2. 

Working with a marketing agency is the quickest, most cost-efficient way to access the skills you need to achieve your growth marketing and investment goals. But there’s a catch.  

Marketing for start-ups is not like marketing for other types of companies. If your agency doesn’t have the right experience, there’s a big risk it might make expensive mistakes. 

Understanding the marketing investment maturity path

Every stage of the start-up journey requires a different kind of marketing. And at each stage, the challenges associated with convincing investors, securing funding and hitting growth targets are unique. We call this the marketing investment maturity path. 

In the pre-seed stage, start-ups need a foundational approach that sets basic parameters for things such as branding, marketing and communications.  

But it needs to be flexible and still fairly loose. It should help you convince investors, without placing too many constraints on you. 

Invest too much too early in a highly developed branding, marketing and communications strategy and you risk straitjacketing yourself, making it harder for your brand, messaging and tools to evolve with you. This wastes a lot of money and works against your success.  

So, what are the stages of the marketing investment maturity path and what does good marketing look like for each stage: 

  • Pre-seed: the brand identity remains unstructured, marketing is needs-driven and messaging is built around the founders’ vision.  
  • Seed: messaging and comms are still owned by the founders but evolving to be more formalised and demand tactics are minimum viable product.  
  • Series A: starts to include more mature features, such as structured product marketing, sales enablement and a strategy for revenue generation.  
  • Series B: by this point, the company starts to require more formal structures and guidelines to direct its efforts and ensure consistency.  
  • Series C: marketing, branding and comms become much more professional, driven by personas, personalisation, partner marketing and other value-adding techniques.  
  • Series D: by this point, your marketing should be nearly indistinguishable from that of a corporate: systematised, automated and technology enabled.  

To find out more about the marketing investment maturity path, check out our infographic. 

The right agency with b2b and b2c tech marketing expertise will work with you to solve the start-up marketing challenge and understand where you are on the marketing investment maturity path. It will help you develop exactly the mix of branding, marketing and communications your company needs to achieve its current goals and to give it a platform fit for future growth and evolution. 

The Rubicon Agency has three decades of business and consumer tech marketing experience working with both start-ups and some of the world’s leading established technology brands. 

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