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Playbook

Introduction

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Chapter 1: Understanding Your Audience

Who will buy your product? To market your MVP, you’ll need a high-level answer to this question. Clarity is important, because your audience analysis, marketing strategies, and tactics will differ based on who your audience is.


Here’s a step-by-step approach to understanding your audience.

  • B2B: You’ll focus on stakeholders within target organizations (e.g. CTO, IT Director)
  • B2C: You’ll focus on everyday consumers within a particular market (e.g. young professionals looking for digital-first insurance services)

Step 1: Gather insights about your target customer

Market research is an essential business planning exercise, but unlike big companies, your startup won’t have the budget to hire a major research firm. You can still find information, but you’ll need to take a hands-on approach.


Online market research resources


Use online resources like Statista or Statistics Canada to find general trends and data points about your target audience. Subscriptions to companies like Gartner or Forrester are expensive, but you can find published statistics by running targeted searches for statistics they publish as part of press releases. You can also find these statistics through other companies that publish this information such as news organizations or statistics published by large consulting firms.

Suppose you’re an Edmonton-based startup re-imagining the brand/consumer relationship through digital technology. If you need stats, you could run a variation of searches like:

  • consumer behaviour canada site:deloitte.com
  • consumer behaviour canada site:pwc.com
  • consumer behaviour canada site:theglobeandmail.com

You can also use Google’s search tools to narrow your search to the past year.

Figure: Run targeted searches for market research from high-authority sources

Once you find a promising link, do a CTRL+F or ⌘+F within the article or report for:

  • “%”
  • “Percent”
  • “Per cent”
  • “$”

This will help you find useful statistics.

Figure: Statistic from Deloitte’s 2021 Global Marketing Trends: A Canadian perspective (Deloitte)


Online communities and review sites

You can also look at review sites, social media, and Reddit communities to read conversations about your competitors to understand your target audiences’ pain points.

B2B & B2C Resources:

  • Statistics Canada
  • Environics Analytics PRIZM  
  • Sales, CRM, and web analytics
  • Competitor research (e.g. publicly available annual reports, press release, case studies)

User interviews

If you already have users, conduct interviews. These users may be friends or family if it’s a B2C solution or contacts from within your industry if it’s a B2B solution. These customer interviews can help you identify blind spots and quick fixes.

Step 2: Use paid ad strategies to find audience and buyer persona data

Now it’s time to test your insights. By the end of your market research activities, you’ll have a list of educated assumptions about your audience specifying:

  • their challenges and pain points
  • frustrations with current solutions or substitutions
  • general demographic data

As impressive as your research is, it’s still untested. An important part of growth marketing is quickly testing and validating your assumptions.

Paid ads offer a helpful way to do this. Here’s how you can use paid ads on search engines and social media to validate your market research.

Set up a paid ads account


Online ads run on a “pay per click” basis. In other words, you don’t pay unless a searcher takes a specific action, usually clicking on the link in your ad.

It’s your choice which platform to choose, but we recommend starting with Google Ads and then adding platforms like LinkedIn Ads or Facebook Ads based on your budget and target audience.

If you need help getting set up, check out the below resources for:

Create ads for high-intent keywords

Brainstorm a list of keywords with high commercial intent. This means that the searcher is specifically trying to buy something.

There are three types of searches: navigational (e.g. “twitter”, “RBC login”), informational (e.g. “vegan recipes”) and transactional (e.g. “car insurance quotes”, “high-interest savings accounts”).

At this stage in the game, your focus is on transactional searches. Your transactional, high commercial intent keywords will contain words like: buy, deal, discounts, best, comparison, review. So if you’re offering a digital-only loyalty program, you may want to set up ads for high commercial intent keywords like:

  • best loyalty program apps
  • top discount apps
  • canadian grocery rewards program comparison

Use analytics to refine your audience data


Use your chosen ad platform’s analytics and reporting features to understand who converts. In this case, a conversion is someone who winds up on your landing page. We’ll talk about landing pages later.

You can also refine your ad’s demographics by age, gender, or geography and run A/B tests to see if, for example, younger people in urban areas convert more highly than people in suburban areas for your product.

Step 3: Gather customer insights into a buyer persona

Once you’ve explored online resources, conducted interviews, and used ad campaigns to test your data, it’s time to gather everything into a buyer persona.

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your target customer. While it includes demographic data, it is not just a list of data points like age, income, or job title. It should tell a story about your target buyer’s interests, challenges, where they like to spend the most time online, and ways your product or service can improve their life. These should be written as a narrative and they’ll include data from your research as well as your own educated guesses.

SAMPLE: Mini buyer persona
Rebecca is a 29-year-old administrative assistant living in downtown Calgary. She is single. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and likes listening to audiobooks. She is interested in the FIRE movement, so she is mindful about budgeting, saving, and investing. She does everything on her phone, uses the PC Optimum app while shopping, and has a browser extension that displays discounts when she’s online shopping. She always uses her credit card when shopping in order to collect cash back points....

Finally, remember that your buyer personas are living documents. You should update them regularly based on new insights.

Download our B2C Buyer Persona Template
Download our B2B Buyer Persona Template

Translate marketing speak into investor speak

It may seem like buyer personas have little to do with investor KPIs, but they’re a helpful way to start understanding your total available market (TAM), serviceable available market (SAM), and serviceable obtainable market (SOM) and present this data to investors.

Chapter 2: Locking down your unique value proposition

Your unique value proposition tells your audience what you’re going to do for them. One of the easiest traps to fall into is to assume that people will fall in love with your idea because of its technological sophistication or innovativeness. Nope. If you want to attract interest, you need to make the utility and impact of your MVP clear.

Step 1: Answer important questions about your product

A unique value proposition is pretty easy to formulate once you answer the following questions:

  • Who does my business serve?
  • What does my business accomplish for customers?
  • How does my business do what it does?

Suppose you’re offering a digital-first car insurance brokerage called ABC Insurance. Detailing the technology that backs up your solution and your partnerships with brokerages and providers will go straight over paying customers’ heads. Save that stuff for the regulators! Instead, think about the pain point this solves for customers. People do not think about car insurance until they need it and they usually only need it three times:

  • when they buy a car
  • when they need to renew the policy
  • when they get in an accident


With these pain points in mind, you can clarify your platform’s unique value proposition with the following answers:

  • My business serves busy car owners.
  • My business helps people find a policy, online, in less than 20 minutes.
  • My business does this through its website and requires no paperwork from customers.

Step 2: Find your “uncommon” Differentiator

Often, new startups “cop out” while writing their unique value proposition. They list something that all their competitors are doing. This would be like our example company, ABC Insurance, saying something like, “ABC Insurance offers car insurance policies to customers.”

That won’t get ABC Insurance very far, because the big players are already doing that with way more resources and brand reputation.

A helpful way to climb out of this trap is to use the “uncommon” differentiator framework detailed by brand strategist Lindsay Pederson.

Features that both you and your competitor offer are table stakes and the bare minimum that your customers expect. “Providing insurance policies to Canadians” is the price of playing in the insurance category. On the other hand, your uncommon differentiators might be things like:

  • no paperwork insurance policies
  • integrations with apps that measure driving data and give you real-time rewards for good driving behaviours

Step 3: Write your value prop statement with supporting proof points

Once you’ve answered those important three questions and identified your uncommon differentiators, it’s time to plug all of this into a simple value prop statement:

[Company name] does [X] for [Y] using [Z].

ABC Insurance helps busy car owners find insurance policies online in less than 20 minutes from any device and with no paperwork.

Once you have this, include some proof point bullets. Later, this might be sentences such as “98% of ABC Insurance users gave us five stars for ease of use”, but since you don’t have this kind of feedback yet, stick to proof points about your product such as “Conduct everything from research to cost comparison to purchase within the app”.

You can also mention general proof points that reinforce the problem you’re solving like this fictional statistic, “89% of Canadians say they’re dissatisfied with the traditional car insurance purchasing experience”. Of course, your statistic should be real and cited!

Download our Brand Messaging Framework and UVP Development Template

Translate marketing speak into investor speak


When it’s time to seek funding from investors, they’ll want to know where their money will go if they choose to fund you and how that round of investment will get you to your next milestone.


There’s a helpful management term for this: your critical success factor or CSF. Your CSF is the element that’s vital for your business to function and deliver value to its customers. In the case of ABC Insurance, that’s its platform and the engineers that develop and run it.


By understanding your unique value proposition, you can demonstrate what features of your platform require the most enhancement, why you need to invest in certain functionalities, and why it’s so important to spend top dollar on top technical talent.

Chapter 3: Raising awareness through targeted digital marketing

Good news: early-stage investors don’t expect you to have a fully-functional product. In fact, waiting until you’ve developed one can actually backfire if you wind up over-developing something customers don’t actually want.

That said, investors still want a clear description of your product or solution plus data that demonstrates clear interest from your target audience. At the MVP stage, your goal is to be able to tell an investor, “We identified an audience of X amount and qualified that they’re a fit using Y, so we’d like Z amount of money to:

  • build a beta product
  • continue to engage our leads and find more leads while we build
  • convert leads into paying customers by this date.

Step 1: Set yourself up for success

Before diving directly into your digital marketing activities, you may want to do some “warm up” activities to set yourself up for success. The best pre-launch warm up activity is building up your email list so that you have a group of people to whom you can market your MVP. You can build up this list by:

  • telling people in your network about your solution
  • posting about your idea on social media with a contact form
  • networking at startup events or industry-specific events


This email list will help you maximize the value of the following targeted digital marketing activities.

Step 2: Build a landing page

Your landing page is the web page that will describe your solution, your brand, and your unique value proposition. The success criteria for your landing page are:

  • copy that clearly describes your value prop
  • a form for collecting emails
  • early testimonials to offer social proof
  • key benefits that support the value proposition

HubSpot, Unbounce, and Instapage are all great tools for building professional-looking landing pages with limited time and graphic design skills.

Step 3: Launch a PPC campaign for generating leads

Once you’ve set up your landing page, it’s time to help people find it. Set up pay-per-click (PPC) ads to find people.


Select your platform


How many platforms should you choose? This depends on your budget. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are cost-effective options. If you want to go the Google Ads route, keep in mind that this can be more expensive and competitive depending on the category. Search engines are the top source of brand discovery, beating ads on television, word-of-mouth recommendations, and social media ads, and Google has over 90% of search engine market share.

Generally speaking, if you think people will be searching about a problem that your product solves, Google Ads can be a good investment. If you’re uncertain, consider sticking with social media platforms. If you have a limited budget, stick with Google Ads to get the most bang for your buck.

Conduct keyword research


Brainstorm a list of topics and use tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Google Keyword Planner to find the most searched long tail keywords. Your focus is to target searchers with high commercial intent, so it’s best to stick to the kinds of keywords you focused on during your market research validation – keywords with words like buy, deal, discounts, best, comparison, review.  The only difference is that you’re investing more and you have a more refined list of topics.

Set your budget


Recall in chapter 1 when we said that you don’t pay for a PPC ad unless a searcher takes a specific action like clicking the link.
The trouble is that you don’t always know how many people will click on your ad in a day. If a bunch of people click and then spend, no harm done. But if people click and don’t spend, or they click, but the ROI isn’t high enough, you may wind up with a massive ad bill.
To prevent this, you can set a budget. This is the amount of money that your ad spending cannot exceed on a daily or monthly basis.
How much do you pay per click? In other words, what is the cost per click (CPC)? This depends on a combination of factors that each ad platform sets. On Google, this is a combination of:



who else is bidding on your keyword your Ad Rank or positioning



When someone types in “top grocery discounts app”, the search engine rapidly determines who is bidding on this keyword. If someone else is bidding on it, they don’t automatically get preferential treatment based on their budget. Google’s business model relies on serving searchers relevant, helpful information. So while they want to make money, they also want to show ads that will help their users. So they calculate an Ad Rank or positioning based on maximum CPC bid and quality score (determined by relevance of your ad and the associated landing page).

So:

Maximum CPC Bid x Quality Score = Ad Rank
They then use your Ad Rank in the formula below each time there’s a search on your chosen keyword:

The Ad Rank of the Advertiser Below You / Your Quality Score + $0.01 = Your Price


This is why it’s important to consider how competitive your keywords are, which is something your chosen ad platform will show you. If it’s very competitive, the CPC will be higher. While you won’t go over budget, you may blow your entire budget on a minimal number of clicks.

Optimize your PPC campaign

Keep an eye on which keywords and ads have high click-through rates (CTR) and which have a high CPC and low CTR. Eliminate ads that aren’t working and redirect your funds to the successful ads.

There are several ways that you can optimize your ads. A few popular options are:

  • creating a negative keywords list
  • enhancing your ad copy
  • sharpening your call to action (CTA)
  • pumping up your landing page content
  • focusing on conversions not clicks (aka post-click optimization)

Step 4: Nurture your contact list

Once you’ve generated leads, it’s time to keep them warm. You’ll be asking a lot of your users in the early days of your product, from putting up with bugs to providing feedback. In response, you want to be engaged, informative, and helpful.

Distribute a newsletter


A newsletter is a smart way to develop community and keep your brand top of mind for your audience.

Establish a manageable, regular cadence. In the beginning, try to stick to monthly newsletters. Avoid over-committing to a weekly or bi-weekly newsletter since this can be tough to maintain with changing priorities.

Pack these newsletters with links to recent blog posts, product updates, helpful guides for using the product features, and announcements about upcoming releases.

Done right, your newsletter can help get your audience invested in your product’s development.

You can also throw in goodies like coupons or social proof like testimonials.

Once you start publishing your newsletter, keep an eye on the metrics. You want to know:

  • which headlines lead to the highest open rates
  • which links people click on the most
  • how long people spend within the newsletter

You can use tools such as Mailchimp, HubSpot, and MailerLite to build, distribute, and review the analytics of your newsletter.

TIP: If you’re in the B2B space, you should already have a list
of emails compiled from your market research. Leverage LinkedIn, company websites, and other directories to refine
who you want to contact. Just be mindful of any laws around unsolicited emails.

Select a social media channel

Social media is one of the top 3 sources for brand discovery alongside search engines and television ads.

When you’re marketing your MVP, focus on one social media channel. While it’s tempting to simply “lift and shift” content across networks, this is not the best strategy since each platform has its own best practices.

You can post prompts about common customer problems, stats about your industry, and links to your blog posts and product releases. You can also tease the premium content that’s available exclusively in your newsletter to attract more subscribers.

Once you start posting, keep track of your engagement numbers. This serves as an additional form of market research. Use these engagement numbers to understand:

  • which features interest your target audience most
  • which industries engage the most with your solution
  • which use cases are most compelling

Step 5: Develop B2b Sales enablement content

If you’re a B2B company, the early days of your business will be more sales heavy than a B2C business. You’ll be reaching out to contacts and pitching your solution. If you’re reaching the right people, they’ll ask for collateral they can review. So be prepared with documents such as PDF one-pagers or landing pages outlining the problem and how your solution addresses it. Convert these PDF one pagers into blog posts that you can share across your social media channels.

Translate marketing speak into investor speak

Your targeted digital marketing activities help you build up metrics that demonstrate traction to investors. Remember: Early-stage investors don’t expect a final product, but they do want proof that people are interested in your future final product.



To demonstrate this, track the following metrics over time. It’s important to track it over time, rather than just providing your most recent number, in order to demonstrate growth – hopefully exponential growth!

  • customer acquisition cost (CAC): Demonstrates the cost of getting a customer to purchase your product or service
  • cost per lead (CPL): Demonstrates that the amount of money it costs to get new leads has lowered as your brand awareness grows and you receive more word-of-mouth on social media
  • # of leads: Demonstrates the growing interest in your solution over time
  • click-through rate (CTR): Demonstrates that your solution is relevant to a problem your target audience has and that your messaging is resonating

Download our Marketing Plan on a Page Template

Chapter 4: Encouraging engagement with your MVP

At this stage, you have beta users or customers trying your product if it has some functionality. If you can solve a tricky problem for free with a partly-developed solution, you want to start collecting user engagement metrics that’ll demonstrate the appetite for a fully-baked version to your potential investors.

Step 1: Create a nurture strategy for engagement

You’ve already done keyword research and developed a marketing strategy for attraction. Now it’s time to do the same for the next leg of the customer journey: engagement.

Send customer success emails


Make a list of the most frequently asked questions your early users have and start sending emails with quick tips on how to make the best use of your beta product. Often, something that seems obvious to founders is game changing for users.

You can also consider different ways of using your product that people may not have considered. Another helpful strategy is to highlight and describe features your users may not have tried.

This content is also helpful for re-igniting engagement if your chosen email tool tracks behaviour and interaction. For example, whenever the system notices a user hasn’t logged in for several days, it can send an automatic email about a great new feature that will make the user’s life easier and hopefully convince them to resume using the product.

Cover your content basics


Your early content should be mostly instructional and functional. If a question keeps coming up, turn the answer into an in-depth guide. According to Forrester, two-thirds of consumers say valuing their time is the best way a brand can provide customer service. Connecting customers to the answer they need quickly and easily is the best way to do this.


Your early-stage content should prioritize:

  • clear how-tos
  • instructions on how to best use the product
  • common FAQs
  • link this content in your newsletter and in your social media posts.

Download our customer journey and content map template

Step 2: Track your product engagement metrics & optimize your strategy

Track user engagement metrics

Track how customers engage with your product. Depending on how advanced your MVP is, you’ll want to keep an eye on the following metrics:

  • daily active users (DAU)
  • weekly active users (WAU)
  • monthly active users (MAU)
  • session frequency
  • issues reported per tester

Track marketing engagement metrics

Analyze your marketing engagement metrics. Keep an eye on your website and/or landing page statistics such as:

  • pageviews
  • average time on page
  • average pages per session
  • returning visitors
  • average time on page per channel
  • bounce rate by channel

Step 3: Create and act on customer feedback loops

Creating meaningful customer feedback loops is one of the most important things you can do in the early stages of your business.

Customer feedback loops are exactly what they sound like: a mechanism through which you hear what your customers have to say and then incorporate those insights into your product. And the cycle repeats.

Radically prioritize customer feedback


Customer feedback has the most impact when you’re still defining product-market fit. This is when your company is still small enough to have in-depth conversations with your customers. As Reid Hoffman, host of the podcast Masters of Scale puts it, “in order to scale, you have to do things that don’t scale”.

In the early days of Airbnb, the company’s co-founders radically prioritized customer feedback. As Brian Chesky explains in his conversation with Reid Hoffman on Masters of Scale, they spent the early days of their business spending significant time with their hosts. This allowed them to understand exactly what their hosts wanted and what would convince them to stick around on the platform. These early conversations helped them understand the importance of features like guest profiles, profile photos, and other information such as what they did for a living and where they went to school. In one case, they asked a host what their dream version of Airbnb would be, and the host handed over a book full of notes that wind up informing the company’s roadmap. This early focus on the customer helped them turn a cash-strapped startup into a public company with a market cap of over $86 billion.

In the early stages of your startup, there are two important ways to generate feedback. The first method is using automated methods, like survey generation, to speak to your customers. The second is taking the approach Airbnb’s co-founders did: having in-depth conversations with your customers.

Collect customer insights


First, you need to collect customer insights. You can do this by:

  • scheduling interviews with your customers
  • conducting interviews
  • conducting user testing

If possible, offer incentives for customers who participate.

Make your surveys a mix of structured and unstructured questions. Multiple choice questions and sliding scale questions (e.g. strongly disagree to strongly disagree) can help you collect those punchy proof points you need for marketing. “95% of users saved $100 a month with our app!” But it’s also important to collect unstructured, descriptive data about the user experience.

Analyze and act on your customer insights


Customer conversations are ongoing. It’s important that you remember to act on the insights you generate. Implementing your early feedback is vital. Many startups build in isolation and then wait too long before going to market only to find out that they missed the mark. Early feedback can help you define a product that your customers actually want.

Understandably, the more data you collect (either structured data from surveys or qualitative notes from customer conversations) the more overwhelming it will feel to go through it and the longer you’ll put it off. This makes data go stale also known as “lose its relevance”. Block off time to go through your data routinely. This is one of the most important tasks you have as an early-stage founder. You can make this task easier by:

  • Looking for common themes
  • Identifying where you’re ranked highly
  • Identifying where you’re ranked poorly

This categorization will help you quickly identify successes to market, red flags to address, and opportunities for future development.

If your customer feedback garners “small potatoes” answers – insights that don’t dramatically improve your product – consider re-engaging with customers using Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky’s approach.

“We’d ask these questions, ‘What could we do to surprise you? What could we do, not to make this better, but to make you tell everyone about it. That answer’s different. If I say, ‘What can I do to make this better?’ they’ll say something small.”

Translation: Don’t ask about the product that’s already been built. Ask about the product of your customers’ dreams.

Optimize your user experience

Once you’ve had in-depth conversations with your customers and analyzed your data (including the user engagement metrics we discussed earlier) it’s time to act on them.

Do you have low daily, weekly, or monthly engagement? Consider distributing additional emails or blog articles that support user success by highlighting features and use cases.

Have your customers asked for a new feature? If enough people are requesting it and it’s feasible to develop at the MVP stage, add it in.

If your analytics show underutilized features, think about how they may solve problems your customers have flagged through statements like, “I wish I could do this…” The benefits of that underutilized feature may be unclear.

Furthermore, think about how your user engagement data and interviews may help you win back users that have dropped off.

Bringing all your MVP marketing metrics together


Your user engagement metrics are gold. If your targeted digital marketing metrics demonstrate interest, then your user engagement metrics show action. Gather all the metrics we discussed, then weave these metrics into a story about how often your users engage with your solution, how they’re enjoying success from using it, how they’re actively seeking out more information and tips on how to use it, and which new features they’re requesting.

Understanding these metrics will help you answer questions like:

  • How invested are people in this solution?
  • If I gave you money, what’s the first thing you would do with it?
  • Do you have any data to set projections and future success metrics if you receive funding?

Conclusion

Once you’ve accomplished everything in this playbook, what’s next? How do you turn your MVP’s development and marketing into funding?

Take a look at all of the information and data you’ve gathered throughout these steps. If you’ve followed everything, you’ll have the raw materials for a pitch deck:

  • Customer problem & market opportunity
  • Customer profile
  • Proof of interest
  • Proof of engagement
  • Customer traction
  • Hard data to create future projects

Above all, you can confidently say what you need more money for, what you expect to accomplish with that money, and how that improvement will lead to the next round of funding.

Interested in learning more? Check out our other essential startup resources to build on the content in this playbook.

Startup Marketing 101

What to include in your pitch deck

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