How to market a product: Fundamentals for startups and small businesses

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Building a minimum viable product is just the first step toward long-term business success. Even the best products can’t speak for themselves. To generate sales, your team needs to know how to market a product and make a lasting impression. 

Startups and small businesses in particular have to navigate unique marketing challenges. That’s because your team has to raise product awareness quickly with limited resources and tight budgets. With companies near and far vying for customers’ attention, your brand’s voice and message have to cut through the noise, and your product has to deliver on the promises you make in your marketing content.

In this article, we’ll walk through the essential elements of a product marketing strategy. Use these tips to craft spot-on marketing campaigns that reach your audience and project your brand.

How to market a product: 4 fundamentals

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Here are four steps to craft an advertising and marketing plan for each product launch. But before you dive in, it may be helpful to review basic marketing terms and definitions.

1. Identify your target audience

Business owners should consider how they’ll market their product long before it’s completed. A common mistake is to invest months and years into product research and development only to consider the marketing at the tail end. This is a recipe for product names, descriptions, and calls-to-action (CTAs) that don’t resonate with customers.

A company’s new product development process should lay the foundation for its marketing efforts. A crucial step is completing market research and competitor analysis. Compile data on your target audience using online analytics tools. 

Customer personas capture the goals, pain points, preferences, and habits of your ideal customers. Use focus groups, surveys, and interviews to flesh out each “buyer” and guide your product positioning. Many companies represent their findings in a few distinct customer personas.

Studying competitors also helps you understand which sales channels are effective, and identify which posts and products people engage with the most. Competitor customer reviews can also reveal what is and isn’t working and what consumers expect from products like yours. 

2. Pinpoint your marketing channels

One of the most important business decisions you’ll make with regards to marketing is which channels you’ll prioritize during the initial rollout. At this point, you’ll know where your customers go shopping, share content, and find product recommendations. 

More than likely, those places will be online. In 2020, the average company expected to allocate 45% of its total marketing budget to online campaigns alone.

An online marketing strategy gives small businesses a wider reach to launch a product. Let’s go over seven powerful distribution channels you can fold into your marketing plan.

Social media

In a 2019 Sprout survey, customers said social media was the “number one” opportunity for brands to connect with them. Among the different social media platforms, YouTube and Facebook lead the pack in popularity. But, be sure to prioritize the platforms that your customers already frequent. 

This is especially important for paid social advertising. Facebook and Google aren’t the only effective ad platforms for startups. Your paid social ads will more likely reach Millennials and Generation Z on Instagram or Snapchat, for instance. On your company account, you might post frequently to tease your product. Or, keep a low profile until you’re ready for the large-scale launch. 

Email

According to OptinMonster, the average marketing email is opened by 23% of recipients, and 3.71% of them click through each message. With email marketing tools, you can send announcements and offers by customer segment. For businesses launching their first product, email is essential. However, we recommend caution. 

Avoid buying email lists, and always get explicit consent to email new contacts. For example, add an email opt-in form to your website and offer ways to unsubscribe. It’s the best way to avoid violating spam laws or the GDPR. You don’t want email service providers to blacklist your business at the starting gate. 

Business website

You’ll drive traffic to your business website throughout the product life cycle, but the website is especially important for product rollout. When potential customers hit your site, your new product should be front and center. An image banner is a great way to focus your homepage. 

A personalized online experience can boost sales across the board. Many website builders allow you to customize messages and entire webpages for returning site visitors. Rather than reusing the same marketing hook, test out a new CTA or ad. You can also suggest products or articles based on a customer's past activity. Use our tips for optimizing your ecommerce store to prepare your site.

Brand blog

Businesses have a brand blog because it’s a low-effort, high-impact way to draw customers. Build product credibility, educate readers, and create buzz by making engaging content. Hiring freelance bloggers is a cost-effective solution if you can’t spare team members.

Guest blogging also pulls readers from other popular websites and guides them to your product. Use search engine optimization (SEO) best practices to raise page authority and rank higher in search results.

Paid search

If you’re a kitchen goods retailer, you want your products to show up when consumers search keywords like “wooden utensils.” Pay-pay-click (PPC) advertising allows companies to display ads to customers online based on interest. 

Google Ads is one of the most popular options for this. You can decide where and when you want your ad to display. Set up bidding rules to protect your rank for each term. Then, you’ll pay for each click on your product ad. Remember that there are other paid search platforms you can add to your strategy. 

Public relations (PR)

Get the word out about your product using sharp, succinct press releases. Besides offering free publicity, press releases make it simple for publications to include your goods in new product roundups. If PR will be a major part of your marketing strategy, create a media page on your website. Develop a habit of publishing major product updates and business news there. You can also hire a PR firm for your company.

Out-of-home (OOH) 

Although digital channels are an effective way to enter the market, out-of-home marketing isn’t obsolete yet. In fact, 46% of U.S. adults have looked up a product or service after seeing it on a billboard, bus shelter, or other OOH format.  

In addition, OOH advertising drove three times more digital and social activations than media like TV, radio, or print. An OOH product campaign could be the perfect complement to your digital efforts.

3. Shape your message and build content marketing assets

An effective product marketing campaign doesn’t simply introduce a product, it elicits an emotional response—inviting curiosity, resonating deeply, or inspiring your target audience in moments.

Campaigns—and individual marketing assets—have to be optimized for multiple channels and mediums. They’ll also evolve with time and customer feedback. Follow these tips to create a strong product story.

Language and positioning 

From your product names and descriptions to your ads and social posts, your brand needs a consistent, memorable message. Weave in your unique selling proposition (USP) where possible, whether it’s your low prices or eco-friendly packaging. Also, consider the age-old marketing principle: Don’t sell the features, sell the benefits.

For an example of effective brand language, take Method, a company that produces non-toxic cleaning products. Their brand slogan is “people against dirty.” Method soaps have natural names like “waterfall” and “hibiscus flower.” Their product descriptions are equally nature-centric. Read the product details for Method's Waterfall soap

“since it’s not practical to call it quits on reality and retreat to Windermere Island, consider this your temporary solution. your 15-second escape. your oasis in a desert of routine. Surrender to the scent of cool, cascading water lily + sandalwood.”

This short snippet paints an inviting picture with its product right at the center. It creates real-world appeal beyond the soap’s practical features. The lowercase text underscores the company’s friendly, approachable nature. Together, the pieces create an emotional connection with the brand and product. 

Design and packaging

The look and feel of your ads, website, and product packaging all need to reflect your USP. Work with your team to decide on a set color palette so your brand and product are recognizable across marketing platforms. Images and icons are eye-catching and cut down on the amount of text needed to communicate. 

How you present your products—whether they’re in-store, shipped out, or online—is a central part of the consumer experience. Invest in high-quality product photography and video, and offer multiple angles. 

Thoughtful product design and packaging is another nonverbal way to market your goods. A comforting and nostalgic business brand wouldn’t use sleek, modern packaging as Apple does. Meanwhile, an environmentally conscious business could include “100% recycled cardboard” on every box.

Content marketing assets

To support a product launch, it’s best to create multipurpose marketing materials. That means writing content and producing images that can be used for digital ads and then easily expanded into a brief social media post. Here are some examples for B2B or B2C businesses: 

  • Original articles
  • Product one-sheets
  • Infographics
  • Case studies
  • E-books
  • Slideshows
  • Brochures
  • White papers 
  • Product videos

In most cases, each piece should include your business name, logo, image, and a call to action. To create urgency in your messaging while staying relevant, consider the timing of your rollout. If you’re launching in December, for instance, a gift guide could generate crucial early sales. Review these content marketing examples for inspiration. 

4. Set up a system to measure your marketing efforts

Before you begin promoting your product widely, determine how you’ll measure success. This is especially important for ecommerce businesses without an in-person customer feedback loop. For example, you’ll need to consider whether customer lead quality is more important than the overall number of ad clicks. 

To identify opportunities to improve, you need a way to tie purchases back to your campaigns. Popular ad tools like Facebook Ads and Google Analytics make this possible. Monitor metrics like impressions and clicks, then divide engagement by demographic, interest, search term, customer status, and more. 

For print ads and OOH campaigns, use unique phone numbers, different discount codes, and custom URLs. 

If you’re executing a multichannel product strategy, take advantage of marketing automation software. Manage customer acquisition and conversions across touchpoints like web, email, and social media. 

Finally, if you choose to use PR or marketing agencies, make sure they provide regular reports and statistics.

What you can measure, you can manage

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To create successful products, businesses first have to overcome consumer skepticism and indifference. Give your business the edge with a thoughtful, cohesive product marketing strategy. 

Conducting deep customer research lets you understand which marketing channels to prioritize. Pin down language, design, and packaging that’s meaningful to your customers and sets you apart from market competitors. Produce and promote on-brand marketing assets. 

Most importantly, give your ads time to make an impression, and then make strategic adjustments based on engagement. Together, these activities help you build momentum for your new product.

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