Marketing for Technical Founders

Welcome to the other side. This will be a brief overview, I’ll just show the basic principles in a way that makes sense. There’s whole books for details.

So what’s with this whole marketing thing?

Marketing is Not a Swear Word

First, something foundational. Change the way you see marketing.

No advice in the world will matter if you don’t believe marketing is something you need. So step number one is to treat marketing and product as equals.

You’re here, so you actually know you need marketing. But you’re still biased. Sometimes, you see an ad with a claim and say, well, “but that’s just marketing.”

Usually the biggest mental barrier against marketing is the belief that it’s deception. The belief that marketing is the act of “convincing” people to pretty please try the product.  No, bad marketing is deception. Good marketing is helpful.

You have a vision for your product. When building it, you think about the people who should use it. Likely, you honestly believe that if they used it, their life would be better. Marketing is what gets your product to those people and shows them how their life would be better if they used it. It’s as simple as that.

All startups that failed had a product. What they lacked were customers. Don’t learn why you need marketing the hard way.

Let’s get started.

Nail the Basics

What problem are you solving? Who is your product for? Why should people use your product?

It’s baffling, but many startups still don’t have this figured out. If you do, you’re miles ahead. Most would rather add one more feature to the product than sit down and talk about this. That’s like pushing on the accelerator pedal without having a steering wheel.

If you have the answers, great. If you already know people who have this problem and need it solved, even better. But if not, sit down and write the answers. They will be the foundation for things moving forward.

Some are scared by how final this sounds. It’s not. You can make changes and adjust, but do have a direction.

Have Personality

People change. Your company will change. But at any given time, a person has a (semi-)cohesive personality. Your company should have one too. Some call it branding, but it’s the same thing.

The answers to the questions in the previous section are a big part of it. But your company’s personality is more than that.

Have a consistent presentation across all of your media. Every single thing that is shown to the outside world should be part of a cohesive unit. Every line of text, every drawing, every illustration and every UI element needs to look as if it’s been done by one person only.

When people see a person, they associate them with certain traits, for example happiness, health, or boredom. When people see your logo, they should associate it with traits Y and Z. Define those traits.

When people interface with your company, they need to feel as if they’re having a conversation with someone who makes sense and is consistent in the way they talk. If you need to hire a designer or a copywriter, do that. If you don’t have the funds, read up and gain these skills.

It’s worth spending a good amount of time going over every public-facing aspect of your company and ensuring things fit together. This ‘person’ likes certain colors, has a certain way of talking, and a certain way of doing things. This person has rules for themselves, in how they behave, what they do, and what they don’t.

When your company does or says something, would someone say “Ah, that’s just what Acme would do/say”? If not, your company still doesn’t have a personality.

Understand Your Target

Marketing is showing your product to the people who need it. To do that, you need to have a clear idea of who needs it. They won’t come where you are: you need to go where they are.

In other words, if you’re selling an enterprise software solution, don’t do TikTok ads. Well of course you wouldn’t do that, that sounds obvious. But you might already be targeting the wrong audience in a subtler way.

So how do I target them properly? This needs roleplaying. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and see where they hang out, what their problems are, and how they like to be approached.

You won’t nail your target audience in the first try. Maybe you’ll find a whole new ‘category’ of people you didn’t even know about. In your product, you do A/B testing to see what works and what doesn’t. Marketing is no different.

Be Consistent

When things go well and you have customers, people never hear from you on social media. When things are worse, you frantically post stuff to get some traction. Is this you?

Be consistent. Let people see your company’s logo on a regular basis. Be gone for a month or two and you’ll have to start nearly from scratch.

Pick a schedule and stick by it as if your life depended on it. In a way, it kind of does.

Ads Work

If they didn’t, the entire ad industry wouldn’t exist. It sounds obvious but many of us have a bias against using ads.

The main difference between paid and unpaid marketing is that people don’t want to see paid marketing. As such, the nature of the content will be different. Don’t upload your 1-hour conference as a YouTube ad (I’ve seen that).

When making ads, think about the fact that the people who see it don’t know you, don’t know what you do, and don’t want to see them. Your technical mind will want to explain every nook and cranny of your product in a 10-minute video. Except, a 30-second ad is already too long. So grab people with shorter, more digestible content.

In ads, you can imply a lot. Just show a single feature, people will understand that there’s a whole product behind it.

Don’t just repurpose your unpaid marketing for your ads.

Be Part of the Community

While it’s important to get the word out about your company, it’s also key to get the word out about yourself, especially as a founder.

When you brand yourself, this has the positive side effects that you are both helping yourself and the company at the same time. Plus, your personal branding will last for as long as you do.

It’s likely your potential customers hang out in communities online. Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Be a part of those communities. Follow, reply, and DM others. Help people out. If you’re a cybersecurity company, join cybersecurity events. Heck, organize cybersecurity events.

Word of mouth is strong, but it only works when people have someone to share your product with. Telling your circle of friends about your project is great, but it’s unlikely they’ll tell others. But hang around in a community of your users enough, and the network effects will do the rest.

Help Customers Help You

If you have customers, love them. Really, do. They chose you out of all alternatives for their task. They are your champions, your number 1 evangelists. They gave you money, invested in you, so they are interested to see you grow. They are helping you already, but make it easier for them to help you even more. How?

Make it so that they get something every time they recommend you to others. Or, make it so that every time they share something made with your product, your branding is included.

You set these up once, then it’s “free” marketing forever.

But what do I do

At this point, you might be frustrated I haven’t told you exactly things do do step by step. There’s a couple of reasons for that.

  1. That would be a prescription, and prescriptions won’t save you.
  2. Marketing is not an exact science, it’s more of an acquired skill. This is why software tools (Jira, scrum, stand-ups, etc.) are ill-suited to it.
  3. Marketing is more “case-by-case” than building.

But let me try my best to give you actionable tips based on what we’ve talked about so far.

Answer these questions: What problem am I solving? Who is my product for? Why should people use my product?

Maintain your website. The website is likely the first thing people will see about you. Appearances matter. Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience once again and look at it from that perspective.

Does it grab the eye? Does it tell them what they need to be told? Would your target audience like it? Is it clear what your message is and what you’re selling? Is it fresh and up-to-date with the latest from your product? Does it make it easy for people to contact you? 

Engage in consistent unpaid marketing. Commit to a regular social media and blog posting schedule. Religiously. If it’s one blog post a week, it’s one blog post a week. Don’t do it for a month then quit because you don’t see the results. These things take time. Try it for three to six months and then re-evaluate. Did I mention to stick with it religiously?

Experiment with paid marketing. As a technical person, this will feel like play to you once you get the grasp of it. Put out ads on Google, LinkedIn, or wherever your people hang out.

All of these platforms will give you a wealth of statistical information about ad performance. Tweak things slowly to get that click rate up. It’s actually a pretty fun numbers game. If your people are likely to watch a particular YouTube channel, sponsor them. In short, put your thing in front of the people who want/need it.

Engage with the community. Dedicate an hour a day minimum to engaging with the community in some form or another. This is not optional.

Help your customers spread the word about you.

Please do let me know how things go for you. I’m interested.

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