There are two fundamental truths that exist when you begin marketing a startup. The first is that simply having a great product is not enough to succeed. You need marketing. The second is that no amount of marketing will be able to hide a terrible product.
In the Lean Startup methodology, you should start marketing your product when you have a minimum viable product (MVP). However, this doesn’t mean you pull out all the stops and invest in scaling. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
A successful startup first needs a great product. Then, it needs to find product/market fit. Once that is achieved, great marketing is the lifeblood that determines if a business sinks or swims. But you have to start with the great product.
When is it too early to start marketing a startup?
When I refer to marketing, you need to understand I’m not talking about buying a stream of traffic to test an MVP. Nor is it referring to buying a domain and creating a “coming soon,” landing page. When I refer to marketing, I’m talking about actual marketing campaigns. This is when you hire a marketing agency, do public relations, and truly start scaling your marketing to increase customer acquisition at scale.
As a general rule, if your product isn’t ready for primetime, you want to keep your marketing on the scale of MVP validation. You need the real users, real customers, to prove whether or not the public will buy your product. But this is much different than pushing your product into the national spotlight.
Marketing too soon can kill your company before it even starts. If major news outlets pick you up, but your product has a horrible user experience or is full of bugs, the press will be anything but pleasant.
The Warning Signs It’s Too Early to Start MarketingYou’re generating leads, but you are not closing sales.
Generating leads isn't enough. If your product isn't closing sales, you don’t want to scale that problem. You need to find out why your leads aren’t closing. If their expectations aren’t being met, maybe it’s time you retool your message, or possibly even pivot.People stall in the buying process.
Analytics is your friend. If something is holding people back from finishing the buying process, fix it immediately. You don’t want to be featured in a major publication if your buying process is flawed. It could be a bug frustrating people until they quit.
It could also be the process itself. You may need to revisit the buying process and make it easier for people to complete. Either way, you need to fix this before you take your company into primetime.Prospective customers simply aren't engaging.
You might think that you have a great product, but if your chosen consumer base doesn’t care about it, you have a bigger problem than marketing. If your target persona isn't interested in your product, stop wasting money on it. Pivot or abandon that idea for one that will actually work. Do more research and find what they are interested in, and build your product around that before spending all your capital on pushing a product nobody wants.
The Risks of Marketing Too EarlyYou will burn through capital too fast.
To really scale, you need to be generating revenue as you burn through capital. It’s the only way to extend your runway as your company picks up speed. If you burn without generating enough revenue, you’ll run out of runway before you can take off.You can do irreparable harm to your brand.
By showcasing a poor product, you can harm your brand. In 2013, Bloomberg reported, 8 out of 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months. This year, StatisticBrain found, across 11 industries, 36% fail in their second year.
To beat the odds, you must have a quality product before the public gets wind of it. Anything but a positive experience means a nightmare for getting much needed PR exposure in the future.
When is the right time to start marketing a startup?
When you are able to measure, learn, iterate, and repeat the process smoothly with your MVP, you’re probably ready to start marketing your product. Your product, at this stage, should have a smooth user experience, and thoroughly tested. It should have passed the MVP tests, and have a solid grasp on a product-market fit.
If you have proof people are willing to pay for your product or service, and you can deliver a good experience to those customers, you’re ready to start marketing.