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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Lerner

How to write a startup marketing strategy.

People often ask me to look over their "marketing strategies”, and nine times out of ten, it’s not a strategy at all.

Just a list. A very long list.

And lists are great! But the problem with most startups is that they don’t have the people or cash to do all of those wonderful things on that list (or the resources to do them well).

In the startup world, less is really more. Take a look at any established startup — the majority of their success came from just 1-3 key growth levers.

With startups, 90% of your results will come from 10% of your work. The leverage is in which work you choose to do.

For example, at PayPal, almost all of our B2B growth came from eBay sellers (at first) and later shopping cart partners, web developers & inbound phone sales. (We tried tons of other stuff! But it was marginal).

Canva, Grammarly, Skyscanner & Zapier have grown mainly from SEO.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — obviously, viral.

Salesforce grew from cold outbound email, I’m told.

So, if you just need to find those 1-3 key growth levers, why are you trying to do 300 things with your startup? Because you don’t know which ones will work. That’s humility, and that’s fine. But it’s not a strategy.

So acknowledge what you don’t know, and come up with a plan to test and learn, with the goal of crossing ideas off the list.

How to Prioritise

Let's cross some ideas off now. Before you even start, look at each possible lever and ask yourself:

  1. Can it scale?

  2. Can we do it well?

  3. Does unit economics make sense at scale?

  4. Will it compound or diminish over time?

  5. Do we have the assets and talent to make it work?

That alone should cut your list by 80%. Next, start testing, quickly, each of the remaining 20%. But not too quickly.

Most channels won't work the first time you test them. Don't abandon a channel until you understand why it didn't work. Because you'll take those incorrect practices and assumptions into your next channel. You'll carry that mistake across to every channel you'll try. And you'll blame the channel. And it's not the channel, it's your approach.

If you'd like help thinking through your growth strategy, download my free Marketing Strategy Template PDF.

If you have zero levers working, try to find one you can nail and scale.

If you have one, congrats! Milk it for all it’s worth, and look for a second lever.

All the great startup success stories I’ve been a part of or studied had a maniacal focus on one thing.

Don’t do all the stuff.

Do the right stuff.

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