Marketing & Market Research for Startups
Some Marketing Basics
Your business card is your most basic tool and can be one of your most effective. You can make them in small quantities at home or through inexpensive print companies, online or locally. Just remember to get your basic information on them:
- Name of company
- Your tagline
- Your name and title
- Email address, web address
- Mailing address
Sometimes utilizing the back of the card is advantageous if pertinent for your goals. For example, setting appointments for your clients. Or, put ancillary info on the back – use the space – this is a great marketing tool. Most important, make sure it is READABLE. Use proper sized font and clear, easy to read colors.
Conduct a trade name search to be sure your chosen business name isn’t already taken.
Domain name: search for and then register this online. There are a variety of sites that you can utilize, such as register.com, godaddy.com, and namecheap.com.
- What type of website do you need (ie, interactive or landing page)?
- Will you need assistance in setting it up and/or maintaining it?
- If you need assistance, what is the cost?
Social media is a wonderful low cost (or no cost) way to market your business, and there are several platforms which you can utilize. This is an easy way to connect with customers and potential customers on a daily basis and drive traffic to your website.
Misc. marketing materials
- Price list
Remember, you don’t need to have all of these things to get started, but they may be things to put in your timeline development and cost factoring.
Excerpted from How to Research Your Business Idea
Source: Entrepreneur Magazine
By: Karen Spaeder
Market research can prove invaluable in determining your idea’s potential. You can gather information from industry associations, Web searches, periodicals, federal and state agencies, and so forth. A trip to the library or a few hours online can set you on your way to really understanding your market. Your aim is to gain a general sense of the type of customer your product or service will serve-or at least to being willing to find out through the research process. For example, if you don’t know if your product will appeal to the youth market, make sure you include a sample of that population in your research efforts.
Your research plan should spell out the objectives of the research and give you the information you need to either go ahead with your idea, fine-tune it or take it back to the drawing board. Create a list of questions you need to answer in your research, and create a plan for answering them. Utilize experts in planning and conducting research sessions. These can recommend what type of research is most appropriate, help you develop statistically valid samples and write questionnaires, and provide you with an objective and neutral source of information.
The type of information you’ll be gathering depends on the type of product or service you want to sell as well as your overall research goals. You can use your research to determine a potential market, to size up the competition, or to test the usefulness and positioning of your product or service. If, for example, the product is a tangible item, letting the target audience see and touch a prototype could be extremely valuable. For intangible products, exposing prospective customers to descriptive copy or a draft Web site could aid in developing clear communications.
When working with firms on brand development, first looks at a business idea from four perspectives: company, customer, competitor and collaborator. This approach allows scrutiny of a business idea before even approaching the topic of brand development. Here’s what to look at for each of the four issues:
Company – Think of your idea in terms of its product/service features, the benefits to customers, the personality of your company, what key messages you’ll be relaying and the core promises you’ll be making to customers.
Customer – There are three different customers you’ll need to think about in relation to your idea: purchasers (those who make the decision or write the check), influencers (the individual, organization or group of people who influence the purchasing decision), and the end users (the person or group of people who will directly interact with your product or service).
Competitor – Again, there are three different groups you’ll need to keep in mind: primary, secondary and tertiary. Their placement within each level is based on how often your business would compete with them and how you would tailor your messages when competing with each of these groups.
Collaborators – Think of organizations and people who may have an interest in your success but aren’t directly paid or rewarded for any success your business might realize, such as associations, the media and other organizations that sell to your customers.
Another approach is to research is SWOT analysis, meaning analysis of the strengths of your industry, your product or service; the weaknesses of your product (such as design flaws) or service (such as high prices); and potential threats (such as the economy). [SWOT] enables you to understand the strengths and flaws, [everything] from internal information such as bureaucracy, product development and cost to external factors such as foreign exchange rates, politics, culture, etc. SWOT enables an entrepreneur to quickly understand whether their product or service will make it in the current environment.
Whatever your approach to evaluating your idea, just be sure you’re meeting the research objectives you’ve outlined for your product or service. With those goals always top-of-mind, your analysis will help you discover whether your idea has any holes that need patching.
Checking Out the Competition
Assuming your research process has helped you uncover your competition, you now need to find out what they’re up to. Become a customer of the competition, whether by shopping them yourself or by enlisting the help of a friend. Visit their Web site and put yourself on their list. Talk to your competitor’s customers, too-ask them what they like or don’t like about your competitor’s product or service. If you conduct formal research, include a question like ‘Where do you currently go for that product or service? Why?
Your aim is to understand what your competition is doing so you can do it better. Maybe their service is poor. Maybe their product has some flaws-something you’ll only know if you try it out yourself. Or maybe you’ve figured out a way to do things better, smarter, more cost-effectively. Find your selling point. It’s going to be the core of your marketing program, if and when you’re ready for that step. It’s also going to be what sets you apart and lures customers your way.
When Your Idea Looks Like a Flop
After all this-the idea stage, analysis of the idea, competitive analysis-you might find that your idea (and not your competitor’s, as you’d hoped) is the one with the holes. Does that mean you need to scrap the whole thing and resign yourself to life as an employee? Not always, sometimes it just needs to be reworked or retooled.
That can be disheartening if you’ve already spent X amount of hours in the idea stage, plus X amount of hours on market research-only to find that you’re not quite ready to get started after all. But taking the time to refocus your energies and determine why your idea needs some tightening is the best predictor of future success. No entrepreneur wants to hear that his ‘baby’ is flawed, but only by listening and reacting to feedback can he give his idea a chance for success. Ask yourself, ‘Is this a weakness that can be overcome?’ If you can’t create true value for your customer and your business, then it’s time to pick another idea to pursue.
Remember, though, that many ideas simply need some fine-tuning. Before you panic and start flipping through your idea books again, closely consider whether you can make this idea work. After all, there was a reason you thought of that idea in the first place. Some ideas that seem like they’ll be total duds after doing a little research end up being great successes. Ideas that seem like a flop are always interesting to. Sometimes you look into an idea and find it was just luck-but many times, you find the original founder had some clear insight into the potential. That insight was his or her focus, and it seemed to lead them to success.
When Your Idea Is Ready to Go
The market research you’ve conducted thus far ought to be a good indicator of where you need to go next with your idea. One key factor to consider is pricing. You want to do it competitively while also considering what the market will bear. For products or services that have a close competitor, Keller advises pricing with respect to the competitive position. Higher-priced positioning requires an idea with enough relevance and importance to customers to overcome the gap between your idea and the nearest competitor.
The beauty of being in business for yourself is that you have the option to make changes at will-so if a pricing structure isn’t working, you can alter it. Price high to start-you can always drop the price down. Going up is much harder.
Also, you need to be sure your product or service is delivering enough value to command the price you set. If possible, test different pricing offers as you go, and determine what works best.
When you’re ready to get started, be sure you’re selling where your target market is likely to buy. Your marketing plan and budget should include a well-crafted distribution strategy. If you’ll sell over the Internet, budget for media to drive new customers to your site. If you’ll sell via retail distribution, you might need workers with industry experience to help you reach your target market.
Remember, too, that you can always seek help in this long, arduous process of bringing an idea to fruition. The Internet, your local library, the U.S. Census Bureau, business schools, industry associations, trade and consumer publications, industry trade shows and conferences, and new-product development firms can be invaluable sources of information and contacts. It’s just a matter of seeking knowledge from as many sources as possible. It’s also a matter of putting your ego aside and being willing to create a business that will not only survive, but thrive. If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to refine it, retool it, rethink it. The more you do before you launch, the less you’ll have to do [afterwards], and the less painful the lessons tend to be.