“Big M” Marketing, which means listening to your customers, begins well before you’ve even started your company. You want to hear their needs, issues, aspirations and problems so you can make your product the best fit possible. You probably reach those customers through your own network, and the goal of this outreach is to listen and learn. What is their pain point? How are they addressing it now? Is your idea a better solution? Be customer-centric from the start.
During product development is a logical time to launch more traditional marketing programs that allow you to interact with prospective customers you can’t reach through your own network. In this phase, you start telling your story to a wider audience to see if you have your product right or if you’re missing something. Since you are beyond your network of friends and family, this feedback will be more objective and representative of what you will face once you are fully in sales-mode. The scale of these programs remains small until you have validated the “product-market Fit.” You may have a prototype or a beta version of your product that your target customers can “try on for size,” react to and then share that candid feedback.
Once the product market fit is right, the marketing programs should scale with your sales and delivery capabilities. Don’t spend a lot to build widespread demand before you are ready. You may be launching the first version of your product, but are now prototyping the sales and marketing machine. Think of this as a trial period and be scrappy. Some things will work — others won’t. Keep the scale and burn rate small so that you preserve resources until your product and your go-to-market recipe are set. Viral marketing or word of mouth is great. Some companies build buzz on social media, Kickstarter or with LaunchRock. The good news is that these are free. Build as much buzz as you can but be frugal with your budget. You want to save your marketing dollars for the day when you have a broad set of customers and can create widespread demand.