Tight budgets and limited resources make marketing a challenge for nearly all B2B startups. Applying the concept of a minimum viable product (MVP) to marketing can overcome many common hurdles. In this blog, I’ll take a closer look at ‘minimum viable marketing’ (MVM) and how it can help you raise awareness and build credibility with a targeted group of potential buyers.
A refresher on the MVP concept
Eric Ries popularized the MVP concept in his book, The Lean Startup. He defines an MVP as:
…that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.
Ries championed the MVP, but it was Frank Robinson, co-founder and president of SyncDev, who introduced the term in 2001. I prefer his definition because it highlights the need to focus on helping your core customers (bold is mine):
PROBLEM: Teams often brag, “We added 800 new features.” Some even consider feature count a badge of honor. Unfortunately adding features doesn’t necessarily improve the business case. It may take longer, make the product less usable, and carry more risk.
SOLUTION: The MVP is the right-sized product for your company and your customer. It is big enough to cause adoption, satisfaction, and sales, but not so big as to be bloated and risky. Technically, it is the product with maximum ROI divided by risk. The MVP is determined by revenue-weighting major features across your most relevant customers, not aggregating all requests for all features from all customers.
The goal of the MVP is not perfection or completeness but instead to develop the product to a point (“right-sized”) where it can be adopted by customers who provide feedback (“validated learnings”) that will help you expand and improve it going forward.
Those same attributes can be applied to your marketing efforts.
Adapting the MVP concept to marketing
The MVP approach is all about prioritizing what you do, who you target and what you learn from them — exactly what you also need to be doing with your marketing in the early days. Engaging in scattershot tactics without a clear strategy and plan is the marketing equivalent of Robinson’s “800 new features”. You don’t want to weaken your marketing efforts or go at them without a strategy. Minimum viable marketing, like MVP, is about focusing on what really matters.
It’s crucial to clearly communicate the problem your product solves and the value it will bring to the prospective customers. This is not about features (they will be minimum, remember) or how they work (you don’t want to share your secret sauce), but instead should highlight the benefits the audience will realize when they adopt your solution. This is also an opportunity to test the messaging you develop and get feedback, so make sure to capture customer questions and comments for future refinements.
Your initial customers will be early adopters, so you need to define who they are specifically and not target everyone. With a new product, you want prospects to see a chance to be ahead of the curve — not taking an undue risk.
As well, you want to gather “validated learnings” from your early adopters, and even get their help with future marketing efforts — through testimonials, for example. Find out what they’re willing to do on that front. You don’t need, or even want, hundreds of customers at this stage. You need a few quality ones that will help you evolve your product and spread the word so you can grow.
In the early stages of your product development, you’ll want to socialize your concept with potential customers and others to gather early feedback and build awareness. That requires content of high quality to set the right tone for your product and brand. For example, if your message is that your product will make your audiences’ lives simpler, the last thing you want to go out with is a complex and confusing website.
Spend time on a few key pieces of content to establish a solid marketing foundation: a website, a presentation, a solution sheet and a demo or trial. Other content pieces may be needed depending on your specific business context: just make sure you prioritize and only create the critical ones — with quality in mind.
As much as some people don’t want to hear it, you can’t just build a product and expect customers to come. Ideally your company leadership will have a network you can leverage to find your first customers (if not, your job will be a lot harder). But whatever the case, you need to build awareness of your product. The key is to focus on one platform where your audience is most likely to look for information. Don’t try to be everywhere all at once: maximize your budget for awareness. You can also focus on earned and owned media rather than paid to stretch a small budget even further.
Because “validated learning” is a main goal of launching an MVP, your organization should initially target prospects who are most likely to provide feedback — even over customers who might be more profitable. Similarly, you want to be learning constantly from your marketing efforts (well past the startup stage). Data and optimization are crucial to getting better results and you can learn a lot about your messaging, audience and content if you measure and track effectively.
Make sure it’s easy for customers to provide input into not only the product but also your messaging and marketing efforts. Work with them to provide reviews, testimonials, news releases and case studies that can be leveraged for the next launch.
Should you only use ‘minimum viable marketing’ with your MVP?
So how is MVM different from a marketing strategy for a product at a later stage, and will you need to redo it for the next launch? The short answer is that the principles behind your MVM plan are the same for any well thought-out marketing strategy. The core elements of messaging and audience apply at all times, to any marketing strategy, and should never be skipped no matter what stage you are at or what you are trying to accomplish. These will also drive your content and awareness plans.
Going forward, you’ll want your strategy to have a different scope and more options. The key thing is to keep gathering data and feedback and optimize what you’re doing.
If you’re looking to build a lightweight, nimble, “get off the ground” marketing strategy that will generate both learning and early results, the MVM approach is a perfect way to go about it.
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