The Essential 5-Phase Guide to Start-Up Marketing


Starting a new business venture can be exhilarating. It also can be extremely daunting. One of the biggest challenges that many new business owners face is where to start when it comes to marketing. A recent survey from revealed that finding new customers through marketing is the most common concern for start-ups, with more than 70% stating it’s a key issue that keeps them up at night.

So, how do you know where to start? The truth is, marketing a start-up isn’t all that different from marketing any other company. Start-up marketing isn’t a whole different science, as others may claim, it just requires a greater amount of focus, speed and flexibility. It also involves a lot of restraint.

One of the most common challenges I see with start-up founders is that they want to promote everything on every channel to everyone as fast as possible. That strategy ensures that your limited resources are depleted as quickly as a pony keg at frat party, with the same befuddled results. Successful start-ups bring mindfulness to their marketing by understanding the implications of every dollar spent and targeting their efforts towards the people that matter the most. It’s not about casting the widest net, it’s about throwing the right bait to the right person at the right time.  

To help get you started, here’s my 5-phase guide to start-up marketing:

Phase 1 – The Foundation

This is the most crucial component of any marketing strategy. Without a strong foundation, your marketing efforts are dead in the water. A good marketing foundation includes the following:

  • State of the Market: The first step is to understand the state of the market. What trends are influencing the market? How are customers engaging with the market? Is the market saturated? Who are the biggest players in the market?

  • Competitive Analysis: You can’t begin to understand how to compete in a market unless you know who you’re competing against. Research core competitors and understand their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Target Audience: After you understand the market, you can start to pinpoint your target audience. This is probably one of the most important components of a start-up marketing strategy, and it should be as specific as possible. Ask yourself: Who is mostly likely to buy? Where do they live? What do they do? What are their buying behaviours?

  • Value Proposition: Now that you know all about your target audience, you can define the value your product or service offers. Your value proposition should address relevancy, quantified value and differentiation.

  • Goals & Metrics: Clearly defined goals, and metrics by which to measure your efforts, will help guide your marketing plan. Be sure to set goals that follow the SMART framework: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and trackable.

Phase 2 – Brand & Web Presence

Your start-up’s brand should be an extension of your marketing foundation. Simply put, it should visually communicate your company’s unique attributes. Get creative in developing a logo, iconography, typography and brand colours.   

Once your brand is defined, you can parlay it into a stunning web presence. Go back to your marketing foundation for inspiration on developing and designing a user-centric website and selecting the optimal social channels. Ask yourself which channels will be the most impactful based on your target audience’s preferences.

Phase 3 – Define Marketing Messages & Channels

Once you have your foundation set and your brand sorted, it’s time to develop core messages for your target audiences. A great way to start is by mapping out your customer journey. Determine what story you want to tell customers at each stage of the journey and develop a content calendar with key topics and ideas.

The next step is to determine where to share your stories. Again, go back to your target audience research and figure out the optimal channels based on your customers’ behaviours. Some examples include:

  • Blog: Use your company blog to help support your strategic positioning and position your company as a thought leader.

  • Video: Videos can be an engaging way to tell customer stories, highlight new features or drive guerrilla marketing efforts.

  • Publicity & Digital PR: Map out your publicity strategy, including connecting with key influencers, attending industry events, or hosting your own.

Phase 4 – Advertising

The activities in Phase 3 put a solid, cost-effective marketing programme in place. Once you have your plan in action for several months, you may want to expand into advertising. This should only come after you’ve had the time to better understand your audiences and refine your messages.

To have an effective advertising plan, you’ll need to select the right advertising channels. Depending on your audience, you may want to explore social channels, native advertising or affiliate marketing.  

Phase 5 – Monitor & Revise

Ideally, you should be monitoring and revising your marketing strategy on a regular basis. Yet, it’s important to give your programmes enough time to ramp up before nixing them. For start-ups, I suggest a monthly review of campaigns, and quarterly review of overall marketing efforts.

Set up a standing meeting for key stakeholders to discuss what’s working, what’s not, why and what can be improved. With each new campaign and programme, you’ll learn more about your customers and how to better engage and persuade them.


Every start-up is different, and no two marketing plans will be the same. However, these five phases should provide a solid framework for kicking off your marketing programme. Just remember to be focused, flexible and resist the urge to do everything all at once. If you need some help, feel free to contact us.