Imagine you are responsible for the marketing of a startup which still doesn't have paying clients or has very few. The startup hasn't received investor money so you don't have a big budget.
What are the most important marketing skills in the beginning?
I feel like Facebook Ads, Google Adwords, etc. are for a later stage when you have enough money to execute a proper campaign on those channels. If I spend all my time mastering those two, I still might not be able to help the startup.
Yes, it depends on the type of startup and the product but any educated advice is welcome.
The root word of "marketing" is not "advertising", "SEO", "collateral", "social media", or "creative". It is "market". Missing this point will kill more startups than a recession. Ask your target buyers what is critical to them; do not be another talking head. As they respond, document and share it. It will be rare if ever that the person you ask will be the only prospect with the same needs.
Talk to your customers and potential customers and find out how the product or service you're offering helps them make progress in their lives--or would help them make progress if it worked differently for them. Look for patterns and themes. What's the consensus in a nutshell? The answer will help clarify your true value proposition, which will be at the core of every story you tell as a marketer. And/or it will expose opportunities for improvement/innovation/growth.
Let me know if you want any book recommendations on talking to customers.
Content marketing would be a huge channel to focus on in this situation. Start building a foundation of high-quality content that will bring some value to your visitors. You won't get as many quick wins as you would with PPC, but it's still an effective channel for long-term growth.
If the company is pre-revenue then one of the founders needs to take on the responsibility of 'CMO' initially. In the beginning, marketing is going to be about finding and engaging directly with a few highly targeted prospects. This will typically involve the founder/co-founder reaching out via their contacts or networking at events to have 121 conversations. LinkedIn is a good platform to use for B2B. Once the company has a few customers and has learned more about what their ideal customer looks like, it's then much easier to identify the best way to market to that target audience. This is probably the time for the founders to get some specialist marketing help/guidance on how to create a systemised approach that is cost-effective and simple to implement. The founders will then be in a much better position to consider what type of sales and marketing resources they need to take things forward. Hiring expensive sales and marketing talent before you have a few customers and a simple sales model that works is a big risk (even if you have the funding to do it).
The most important skill is the ability to conduct detailed research. Discover your ideal client profile. Where you want to be positioned in the industry as viewed by your clients and people in your industry. Find what makes you special or unique. Blog, newsletters, participate on social. What do you know none of this costs anything but some time. Know who you want to talk to, what you want to tell them and find out where they spend digital time. If the research is done properly, this becomes very simple!
@Dane Madsen Spot On! One of the few who truly gets the concept!