As an entrepreneur, you’re more excited about your product or service than anyone else. But that excitement can lead you to neglect the all-important marketing effort that is required if you want anybody to actually hear about it. The consequences of that can be severe: a product that nobody uses is a recipe for failure. Brian Halligan, HubSpot co-founder and senior lecturer at MIT, famously put it best when he said: “It’s not what you sell that matters as much as how you sell it”.
This is why having a well-structured marketing roadmap is essential, especially in the first year of business. Such a roadmap not only keeps your marketing efforts on track but also serves as a strategic guide for building a strong initial brand identity, increasing awareness of your beloved product or service, generating leads, and cultivating a loyal early customer base - all key drivers for surviving and thriving beyond the first year.
In this comprehensive guide, we take you step by step through the process of assessing, planning, and implementing a marketing roadmap for your startup’s first year. We cover the journey from pre-launch to early launch, with an eye on the future. We’ve also taken care to include some must-use tools that will help you execute your vision. Let’s dive in.
Phase 1: pre-launch
The pre-launch phase covers the absolute basics you need to have in place before you can start choosing and developing marketing strategies.
1. Assessing your startup's position
Before setting sail, check the weather. The same applies to your startup. The first consideration is determining where you are positioned in your industry’s competitive landscape. That will provide you with insights into your startup’s potential obstacles and how you can overcome them.
One of the best, universally recognized methods of doing so is by conducting a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. Use the WordStream SWOT analysis template here or the MindTools SWOT worksheet. Both come with a set of questions that help you fill out points for each section of your analysis.
2. Identify your ideal customer profile (ICP)
Before you know how to market, you need to know who you’re marketing to, because that will influence a lot of the decisions you make. Although things are likely to change going forward, you have to start with an initial ideal customer profile, which is a detailed breakdown of the demographics, psychographics, pain points, and other unique markers of your ideal customer. Similar to the ICP, which is more used in the B2B context, is the ‘buyer persona’ used in B2C settings. HubSpot has one of the most comprehensive tools for learning about buyer personas and making one for your company as a whole or individual campaigns.
3. Define and prioritize metrics
The only way to assess the effectiveness of your subsequent marketing efforts is by creating something to measure: a metric. For each marketing objective, you should have well-defined metrics that you'll use to measure its success.
For example, if your goal is to increase website traffic, you should establish benchmarks against which to compare your website’s traffic. That can include your own data, industry averages, or competitor data. If you’re buying Google ads, for instance, you can take a look at the 2023 Google Ads Industry Benchmarks Report to see how you’re doing and where you can improve.
Another aspect of importance here covers conversion rate optimization (CRO) tools, which typically come with analytics to help you measure their performance. Some of our favourites include HelloBar, which helps with website pop-ups, HotJar, which helps understand the customer journey and workflow, and InstaPage for optimizing your landing page.
Finally, Google Analytics, which has both paid and free versions, also offers robust tracking tools.
4. Budget considerations
Wouldn’t it be great to throw every marketing strategy in the book at your customers? Alas, there’s no magical cash pipeline to fund everything, especially in the first year. That’s why you need to carefully choose how to spend your budget.
As you work out your marketing strategy, you'll discover a range of marketing options that vary in cost and impact. On one end, there are cheaper methods like content marketing and organic social media, which take time to generate results but cost very little to execute. On the other end, there are more expensive routes like paid search campaigns, which are part of an industry expected to see over $90 billion in spending in 2023. A thorough assessment is crucial for selecting a balanced mix of low and high-cost tactics that align with your budget and goals
Phase 2: Launch Readiness
This phase is about moving beyond overall evaluation to selecting and testing specific marketing tactics. Here’s how to go about this section of the roadmap:
5. Plan your resources
You must have all marketing resources, assets, and tools in place before the launch date of your product or service.
This includes assets like a well-designed website, active social media profiles, an emailing list, branding materials, and a content library. Content is something that needs to be generated continuously, but having a good corpus of material to begin with can give you a headstart. Simple tools like WordPress and Canva can assist with website and content creation.
Other tools you can consider include those used for content management, email marketing, analytics, and SEO. Hootsuite can help you maximize your social media game–something that 94% of leaders acknowledge has a positive impact on brand loyalty.
6. Prioritize marketing tactics with ICE
The ICE framework (impact, confidence, and ease) can help you prioritize which marketing tactics to use. It involves calculating the potential impact of your tactic, your confidence in executing it, and finally the ease of executing the tactic for your team.
You score each of these elements from 1 to 10, and then you multiply the 3 scores to get your final ICE score. This tells you which tactic you should prioritize. You can easily find ICE templates and scoring guides online.
For example, launching an email marketing campaign might have a moderate impact (will reach a moderately broad audience of those in your list), high confidence (your company has the resources and skills to execute it well), and high ease (can be done very quickly by one person using the right tool).
7. Find marketing tactics
Be creative and comprehensive as you explore different ways your company can execute its marketing strategy. Tactics can range from broader ones like email marketing, to more specific niche ideas like offering discounts to targeted influencers for promotion.
We certainly don’t underestimate how difficult it can be to figure out which marketing tactics align with your startup's goals and budget. That’s why we, at Growthmode, have a database of over 500 growth tactics. Other tools like SEMrush and Moz can assist with SEO-related marketing strategies.
8. Managing marketing initiatives
Once you’ve decided on your range of marketing initiatives, you need to find the best ways to integrate them into your workforce. Project management tools like Trello or Asana can help you organize tasks, set deadlines, and foster collaboration within your team. You can also create marketing calendars with HubSpot or CoSchedule. Once your initiatives take off, you should be tracking their performance and finding ways to improve.
Phase 3: initial launch and iteration
As former General Electric Vice Chair Beth Comstock puts it, “Marketing’s job is never done. It’s about perpetual motion”. What it means is that there’ll be much more to do after your initial launch.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind:
9. Turn your plan into actionable steps
Once your plan is ready, it’s time to execute. You have a detailed launch timeline in place and now you need to follow through. Give each member of your team specific actionable steps to take every day, such as developing and publishing content, writing emails, or engaging with your audience on social media.
10. Create a performance dashboard
Once you’ve decided what your key metrics are going to be, you need a dashboard to monitor and analyze them. This will be the control center overseeing the performance of your marketing tactics. Tools like Looker Studio can help you convert data into reports and dashboards. Other comprehensive tools for performance analytics include Datapine and BambooBox. Some tools will come with their own performance dashboards, such as MailChimp which helps with email marketing.
11. Monitor, iterate, adapt
The best way to grow is through testing and learning. If you monitor your marketing strategies rigorously, it’ll become easy to find what you need to change. Having the right tools to analyze your marketing strategies is important, but you also need to have the courage to identify ways to change for the future.
The best way to build a marketing roadmap
Building a robust marketing strategy takes a lot, especially given the endless list of tools and tactics you can use. We’re confident, however, that your marketing roadmap for the first year of business will propel you to success as long as you put in the effort.