Let's talk about blank-slate marketing. Blank-slate marketing includes early-stage marketing, like what we’re doing at Gradient Works, as we're starting an entirely new company. Or it could be preparing to launch a new product line, sell to a new kind of customer, or undertaking a rebrand. Or maybe you're coming into a new job, and it's time to shake things up, start over fresh.
Regardless, starting from a blank slate is daunting. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with all your options, everything you need to do. So how do you make progress? Here are a few of the core tenants of blank-slate marketing.
It starts with developing your core focus. What are your initial objectives? Are you trying to establish a brand? Are you trying to attract new customers or employees or investors (or all of them)? Are you trying to collect email addresses? Are you trying to learn more about your prospects? Are you trying to build up a newsletter following? A LinkedIn community? More traffic to your website? Podcast downloads? There will be a billion options - pick the ones that are most important to your business goals over the next few months and focus there.
For us here at Gradient Works, we’re starting to really focus on demand generation now. For the past 9 months, we've been focused on three pre-product marketing goals: begin to build an audience, learn about our future customers, and test marketing tactics. We didn’t have a product yet to sell, but we knew we had to start creating a base for future marketing efforts. That meant building an SEO foundation, getting our newsletter going, and learning everything we could about our customers.
But now, we’ve been piloting our product in an early access phase, and we’re starting to slowly open up to a broader audience. We have paying customers now, and are building up a sales pipeline to grow that customer base. We’re still just getting started, but we’re entering a new phase of early product sales. Our 2021 2H goals are almost all focused on lead generation now: grow organic search traffic to our website, increase LinkedIn and third-party referrals, identify conversion paths on our website, and test and refine positioning. Ultimately, we’re going to measure our success on two dimensions: demo requests and web traffic (both quantity and source).
Since, even with focused objectives, there are so many things you could be doing, you need to do less. For example, we started with a 10-page marketing plan for the second half of the year, which was obviously more than a team our size (or really any size) could do, so we cut that down to just two pages. That’s still way more than we’ll be able to accomplish in the next six months, but it gives us a more reasonable menu to choose from. Don’t let your marketing plan get as long as a Cheesecake Factory menu. Do fewer things better. Imagine yourself at the end of the quarter - happy and full of high-scoring inbound leads. If you’d only done three things that quarter, what were those things?
After Cision acquired TrendKite, do fewer things better became our mantra. Cision is a big company, and we had a huge marketing team. We found ourselves doing way too many things, and not doing enough of them very well. So we simplified, and focused on doing fewer things better. And it worked - marketing-attributed revenue increased.
Think like a newbie.
One of the mistakes I made early on at Gradient Works was getting stuck in an “this is old hat” mindset. When you’re new to marketing, you have so many ideas. Everything is new and exciting and possible. But when you’ve been doing it for 20 years, it can seem like you’ve tried everything. You know the results before you even try. You might be jaded or bored.
But this kind of thinking will kill your marketing efforts before you even start. You have to move past your experience - an assumption that you know how everything works - and go back to thinking like a newbie. Put on your growth hacking hat, and go back to the drawing board. Try to approach everything like it’s new and possible.
What worked in the past - at another company or for another audience - may not work now. And what didn’t work before could work now. New things will perform in ways you can’t predict. Test everything. Try new things, see what happens, and keep adjusting as you go. You’re marketing something new to an audience who hasn’t seen it before. And even if this is an audience you think you know, the world is always changing in large and small ways, and people change with it. Challenge all your assumptions.
There will never be an easier time to experiment than when you're new. Your audience is small, and the risk of an experiment failing spectacularly is low. Use this to your advantage to try new things, measure their performance, and learn.
Find your voice.
When you're new, there's no brand guidelines to fall back on. In fact, it might be your job to create your company's first style guide. So figure out what makes your company different. What are you trying to say? How are you trying to say it? What makes you stand out from your competitors? What speaks to your customers?
Find your unique perspective, your special combination of team and experience and worldview that sets you apart. Lean into that voice. Practice it. Refine it. And then shout it from the rooftops.
Do something every day.
Ultimately, early marketing is all about taking small, regular steps. You’re not going to become a household name overnight. You won’t magically find thousands of web visitors next month, and those Glengarry leads won’t just show up from nowhere. But if you take a small step forward every single day, that progress compounds quickly. In six months, you’ll be amazed at how much you actually accomplished.
That can be anything - publish a new blog post, send an email to prospects, develop an SEO keyword plan, record a podcast, join a new community, share a LinkedIn update, attend an event. Do at least one thing a day, every single day, and you'll be off to a great start.