Heart, Sweat, Code & Zero(s) – The Marketing Plan for Startups You May Not Like

Jun 04, 2019 in Marketing
Posted By : Upendra Namburi


I’ve engaged with startups across Asia, Europe and Africa. These are new initiatives within organizations or true blue startups, who are putting everything they have on the line.

There is one common challenge for all. How do I market this? There are blogs, books, podcasts, courses, mentors, advisors and experts on this subject. I will tread this subject cautiously, as there are many people who have shared their knowledge and experience on this subject.


1. What didn’t work?

Write down all the stuff which hasn’t worked for you, your team and with all the people you have interacted with, in the context of marketing. We all remember our victories and successes.

However, our mistakes, learnings and failures are more dangerous when repeated. Remember, you’ve got it all on the line. Make mistakes.


Avoid making the same mistakes one. That’s going to save you a million bucks.


2. What are you good at & What are you incredible at?

There is stuff you can learn, then there is stuff you can do, and then there’s that stuff you’re incredible at. Maximize the third bucket!

Yes, you can learn SEO and funnel optimizations and content. But, be clear. That’s the stuff which may be falling in the learn and do buckets. Get all the help you can.

Think of all the memorable people you’ve met and interacted with. The one thing you’ll remember is what they were incredible at, and the rest is just inconsequential. And, this is a great method to be followed for our businesses and plans.

If you’re incredible at something, learn to get even more incredible at it.


3. Coding & Heartstrings

There is code and then there is deep code. In reality, for most businesses to succeed, be it IOT or food delivery. It’s going to be about people. The sexiest code isn’t going to be enough. It’s the people who are going to take it over the line.

What’s your people philosophy?


4. Who are your stakeholders?

I’ve seen many marketing plans, where the sole subject covered is the consumer or the customer. If you’re selling tampons via the retail trade, it’s the consumer, the consumer’s circle (family, friends etc.), the retailer & distributor, your packer, the R&D team, media, regulators, suppliers and of course investors.

Have you jotted down what you’re doing for each and every one of them? What’s your proposition for your suppliers? Yes. How are your suppliers going to get excited with your product? They are consumers as well, right?What’s going to excite your distributors and retailers?

If your channel is excited, you’ve won half the battle!


5. What’s your Proposition?

We have all heard about the elevator pitch. Very few get it right! It’s not genius. It’s just tons of iterations and practise.

If a seven year old child can’t understand what you’re saying, go back to the drawing board, or teach the kid coding

6. Personas

Create personas of your target consumer. Those are the ones where you want to hit the ball out of the park. Those are your first 10,000. Those are the ones for whom you’ll let go of thousands of others.


Maithili, is 30 year old, working executive, married, mother of one. Married to an entrepreneur. She hails from Bengaluru, studied in Mumbai and now works in Gurgaon. Parties quite often and practises yoga. She’s religious, likes to be health conscious, but she’s quite miserable at it.


Get the picture?

Share those personas with everyone in your team, especially the coders, sales and customer support staff. They need to be able to visualize whom they are solving for? Talk about Maithili in your team meetings before the next release. Is your sales teams meeting Maithilis in their market visits?

Most importantly, how many Maithilis are you meeting every day? No corny jokes on this please

7. The Experience Set

If you’ve been to Pizza Hut, there’s a bell which is rung when you’re leaving the restaurant. There’s that warm welcome when you walk into a hotel lobby. Seek inspiration from the service industry. Map down what you want them to think when they see, touch and consume your product. Is it a smile, laugh, relief. If it’s indifference and there’s nothing memorable, get back to the drawing board. That smile(y) is your pot of gold

Have you found your bell?


8. How are you going to get all of them to sell?

How can each of them help you sell the first pack and then the next ones. Growth hacking is a term often used. There are two aspects to this. The first is about hacking for awareness and the other for consumption. The principles and approaches are different. Referral progammes are passe. There’s too much clutter for your referral or loyalty programme to work? That’s over-reaching.

Amplify the experience at the time of awareness and consumption.

Don’t worry about scalability. Get that aha with 10, then you’ll solve for the 100

If they ain’t selling for you, you’re doing a lousy job!


9. Scale and scalability

You want to sell 1 million units. What gets you to sell 100 may not work for 1 million. Quite often the approaches will have to be different. You’d love to believe that they are the same.

Be prepared to have a plan for 100, and then scrap it when you’re solving for the next 10,000. That’s the way of the world.

Design and activate only what is a must need. If you don’t need Instagram to sell to those first 100, don’t bother. Let it go.


What got you to 100, will not take you to 1 million. That’s the natural law.


10. Where’s your balloon?

Several years back, we were undertaking a promotion to sell cards. It was a shopping mall and we had to be accost the poor shoppers on their way out. Free holidays, cashbacks, free sugar just didn’t do the trick. We couldn’t do much for the families to give us a patient hear for a few seconds.

And, then we gave balloons to their children. The children were thrilled and we had their attention. You get the kids and you get the parents!

Incentives need not be expensive. You need be pulling the right emotional levers!


11. Zero Budget

Make a zero-budget plan, using the above elements. Yes. Once you’ve tapped out on all the above, start opening your purse strings!


Zero is the most beautiful mathematical invention of all time. Let’s use it more often.

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