GUEST BLOG: "Marketing should be part of your start-up's DNA from day one"

We live in an extremely time-pressed world. We are bombarded from all angles by companies looking to capture our attention. Entrepreneurs need to realise that competition has evolved: we are no longer vying for position within our immediate industry alone - we are all competing for attention and wallet share.

Marketing cannot simply be an afterthought. It is a set of cultural behaviours and activities that need to be part of the start-up DNA from day one. Every decision made along the start-up journey needs to be considered in the context of its ability to attract, engage and retain consumers.

Firm foundations start with a great customer proposition, a strong brand, a memorable domain name and a well-designed website. This needs to be backed up by a strong level of customer intimacy where customers are engaged with early on to ensure that their needs are being met. Once the foundations are set, the entrepreneur can then venture forth in confidence, advertising the offering to the target market.

The easiest way to start is to draw up a sales and marketing plan which ensures marketing activities are thought out in advance and prioritised according to budget and efficacy. Again the context is important here as the level of marketing budget required will depend on a number of factors including; whether the offering is a consumer or business proposition, industry competitiveness and knowledge of the typical customer including key demographics. These factors will then dictate which media are most appropriate when seeking to target this market effectively.

The importance of a strong web presence goes without saying. This fact may be commonly known, but it is difficult to achieve in practise. A good starting point for entrepreneurs is to draw up a list of the top keywords you would like to appear in Google for e.g. 'business plan' or 'career planning'.

Once you have the list drawn up you can assess search volumes for the terms using Google's Keyword Tool. Assuming the search traffic is sufficiently large you can then use these terms to generate some compelling content for your site which will form the basis for an outreach campaign where you build links to these pages.

This step is important. Too many entrepreneurs use language on their sites that is overly technical or does not relate to the phrases people use when searching Google for solutions to their needs.

Without interesting content people lack an incentive to link to you. The amount of sites linking to you is one of the strongest signals to Google that you have something of interest that should be pushed up the organic rankings. For any new business, awareness of search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) as well as the emergence of social media as a powerful marketing channel is knowledge that will play a vital role in ensuring your proposition secures attention from your target market without costing the earth!

Alan Gleeson is the General Manager of Palo Alto Software, Ltd, creators of Business Plan Pro®. He holds an MBA from Oxford University and an MSc from University College, Cork, Ireland. For further information on writing a business plan, visit www.paloalto.com

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