As an engineer entering the land of entrepreneurship, you know (over simplification warning) design can be split into two philosophies: hack & patch, or engineer it. I suspect that all but lazy people would prefer the “engineer it” method over “hack & patch.” Unfortunately, we aren’t’ always given enough time or resources to do it right, which leads to the common expression: “Never time to do it right, but always time to do it over.”
A similar concept applies in marketing; except that if you do a rush job on a brochure, no one gets electrocuted. Much less is at stake, and sometimes the “hack & patch”, or “rush job” is more appropriate. With marketing, you can still get by with a rush job if that’s all the time you have. You just have to do it properly. In fact, early on in your entrepreneurship journey, you’re usually better off putting the majority of effort into getting your product right, and only the minimum effective into marketing. Shoot for the minimum effective point in your marketing and put the rest of your resources into the product.
Minimum effective marketing does not equal “ugly” (although, it might very well be). It means, even though you’d love great graphic design, what you need, is simply a clear, accurate message. The message is always the most important part of marketing, and it can stand on its own. A design without the message, however, can not.
Keep in mind that if you’re a well-funded company, you’ll have people to do the marketing for you. That’s not what I’m talking about. This is for the shoestring engineer trying to get a business going. As the entrepreneur, you have three stages of marketing to concern yourself with.
Stage zero marketing
A count typically starts at zero in the digital world, but stage zero marketing is no marketing at all. Don’t go here. You have to do some or no one will know about your product.
Stage one marketing
This is the most common starting place for a new small venture. It can be done wrong, or it can be done right. Please do it right. Done right, it’s clear and concise. It’s easy to read and understand.
In the print world, stage one materials are simple typed information on a page. In the digital world, stage one is a template-based website, simple posts on Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn, and a few photos or illustrations. The photos aren’t overly cluttered. It’s all simple, inexpensive, easy to produce, and gets the message across. Form isn’t or primary importance. Your only criteria on the form is that it can’t be so poor that it gets in the way of function. If stage one is all you’ve got the time for, go for it. No need to be clever. Just be clear, and don’t try to push too much.
What you want to say isn’t important. What is important is what your potential customers need to know in order to make an informed decision. This is not the time to be in love with yourself. Think about what would be important to a customer and focus on communicating that.
Stage two marketing
You’re a little further along and want to present a better image, so you invest in some layout, either in house, or contracted. Stage two materials are still fairly simple and very clear. Efforts toward making it nice just enhance the message. Form does help, to the extent that it makes the message more readable and more approachable. Polish is there to enhance, not clutter.
On the web, you’ve got a decent layout, with information divided up into bite size pieces, and well organized. The imagery fits what you are trying to do, and can be related to by your customers. You’ll be more active in the appropriate social media and will be building a following.
Stage three marketing
This is where you decide to say: “We’ve arrived!” You’ve got funding, or have hit a revenue threshold, and want to show the world that you’re somebody. You’ve created a world beater and it needs to be dressed like one. It’s time for the Tesla and the Armani suit. You’ve earned the splash and flash and anyone who says otherwise just doesn’t get it.
Right? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?
I speak from experience; almost every startup gets to this point, and it’s easy to spot. In the print world, it comes in 8 x 10” brochures, extra thick paper, high gloss or metallic ink. On the web, it’s elaborate FLASH animation, high production value videos, and a lot of “look at me” messaging. The problem with stage three, is that the urge to stand out and be clever overrides the instinct to actually communicate.
I’ve seen numerous examples of stage three material over the years. They are all beautiful, and they all communicate virtually nothing about what is being sold and why anyone should care. Stage three is also far more expensive than it needs to be. It’s usually so expensive, that it has to be rationed out. This is the type of material that gives marketing a bad name.
Stage four marketing
If you’re wise and care about sales and profit, you’ll skip over stage three and jump here, to stage four. Stage four is only a bit more elaborate than stage two. Again, form is only important to the extent that it helps the message. Stage four materials are attractive. They’re clear, and convey a message of value. Prospects and customers feel connected to what you’re selling and can easily find the information they need.
Appearance is important. That’s why cars come in more than one color, but appearance is always secondary to communication. If anything you do in marketing does not help potential customers understand you and your product, toss it.
The Empire’s new clothes are no better than the Emperor’s