To devise a marketing plan, you first need a marketing person. Most early-stage startups only have one sole marketing person, which makes the choice that much more critical. Find a seasoned marketing person early, develop a plan, and put it into action. A common mistake is to look for an experienced marketing person from a major industry player. In a large company, job functions are highly compartmentalized and less big-picture-oriented.

Too often, startups hire a marketing person from an established company, and all of their former contacts stop returning their calls. That’s the power of branding—everyone wants to do business with a Fortune 500 company, but nobody wants to do business with a startup.

What are the elements of a good marketing effort? It comes down to answering the questions what, why, where, when, and how. A marketing plan includes the objectives, description of the customer, description of the competitors, description of the product, action plan, and market launch including budgets and resources required, pricing, and progress tracking.

The initial marketing effort should focus on gaining a better understanding of the customers and their needs, building customer relationships, and building pre-launch awareness. This is not a go-to-market plan; it’s a search plan. Start during the development process, and investigate target customers and possible market segments. Startups usually focus on niche markets, so initial marketing is a search for which set of customers and which segments are the best prospects.

[quote_right]Why would a customer buy your product?[/quote_right]

Why would a customer buy your product? Why wouldn’t they just continue doing what they do today? Why would a customer choose your startup over a competitor? Why would your customers want to buy now and not wait? It’s important to have answers to these questions. If you’re unsure about any of them, it’s time to make changes.

Marketing Launch & Plan

A vague marketing plan will fail. It should be fairly in-depth.

Building pre-launch awareness doesn’t require you to reveal your company’s solution; you can engage the audience by talking about the problem and showcasing use cases that demonstrate the severity and specifics of the problem. News releases, articles in industry publications, blogs, tradeshows, conferences, and speaking engagements are low-cost, simple ways to gain exposure. Later on, marketing may include advertising, branding, and public relations—and just about any way you can attract and engage new customers.

Knowing your customer isn’t just about determining what product they need. You also have to know how they conduct their business and how your product or service can add value to their business model. You should also know your customers’ media preferences. This helps you understand your customers as an audience so you can find communication channels relevant to them. The goal is to spend your marketing budget as effectively as possible.

Pre-launch Awareness

It’s never too early to start building pre-launch awareness. It takes much longer to market your product when you are completely unknown.

Pre-launch marketing supports the sales effort later. People buy what’s familiar. Even if a competitor has a better product, customers still tend to buy from those they know. Psychologists have shown that while people believe they weigh the facts and options and then make a decision, they usually make a gut-instinct decision and justify it with facts later. The pre-launch strategy needs to build that familiarity with your product and company prior to the product’s availability.

Awareness should be built through multiple channels—tradeshows, conferences, sponsorships, speaking events, news organizations and reporters, social media, and so on.

SEE ALSO: How To Get Press For Your Startup

Write guest posts on other blogs, comment on relevant blog posts, write articles, write an ebook, speak at conferences and events, and grow a following on Twitter. Writing and publishing articles about your topic is a great way to boost your visibility.

Marketing directly to a consumer takes time. It’s much easier to build a customer base if you utilize the help of other organizations. Instead of trying to reach the customer directly, try building a relationship with another company that has an established customer base.

This post is part of our ongoing Start Up Your Startup series.