The three questions to ask before marketing your new business


When working on a marketing strategy for your new business or startup – don’t be a “tiger-striped bunny.”

What’s that, you ask?


I often show a picture that has circulated on the internet of a bunny with tiger stripes when explaining marketing positioning statements to students and other community groups. It’s the perfect example of what not to do when coming up with a marketing strategy for your startup.

Let’s start from the beginning – once you’ve created a successful, scalable business model – you’ve gotta get customers. You start to market your business by answering three questions:

First – Who are you talking to? Who’s your target market? You can’t reach everyone all at once. So where do you start? How are you going to expand from there? Pick a segment of the population – and work to understand that segment deeply.

Second – Once you know who you’re talking to, you must determine – What are you talking to them about?

In marketing, we call this a “frame of reference,” or category. It identifies who you are, and who the competition is.

You need to understand how customers categorize products and brands. Here’s where that photo of the bunny rabbit with tiger stripes comes in. What IS it? It’s not a tiger. It’s not a bunny.

If people don’t know what you’re talking about, they don’t have a frame of reference. They can’t begin to understand what you are and what you’re offering them.

The brain is this marvelous categorizing device. Once you define what category you’re in, you automatically are perceived to have those attributes.

Take a potato chip. You ask, what is that? Knowing the category it’s in, you know it’s a snack food, which means it’s probably made from potatoes, it’s crunchy, most likely fried but it could be baked, probably going to have some salt on it, and you’re probably only going to be able to eat about ten of them before you hit your quota for the day. These are “points of parity” – ways you are similar to other products that fit in that same category.

The power of falling into a category, or a “frame of reference,” is that you don’t have to waste any marketing spend on the ways you’re similar to others. You automatically get those.

One of the examples that’s frequently used is Subway. It used to be in the category of a sandwich shop, but someone decided they wanted to be “fast food.” Ten years ago, you didn’t think of Subway as fast food. Company reps had to train people that Subway is a fast food. Now, Subway has more restaurants across the globe than McDonalds. Their point of difference? It’s healthy.

Essentially, you need to tell customers who you are – before you show them what makes you different.

That brings us to the third question to ask yourself – Why should they choose you? What makes you different?

What makes you different – is that what makes your brand special. What’s unique to what you have?

To market your business, you must create a statement that fills in the blanks here:

Our (offering) is the only (category) that (the benefits).

Before you go out into the marketplace and talk to customers – You must have this positioning statement. It’s the single most important thing you need in marketing to get started. You must understand your customers and your competitors.

What’s the spot you want to own? If you don’t pick it, or try to create it, who is going to? That’s your number one job. Your homework for the evening from this marketing professor, so to say :)

As discussed at the August 2 Startup Study Hall, put on by The Startup Ladies. The IU Kelley School of Business at IUPUI is a program sponsor of The Startup Ladies, and Kim Saxton is a member of The Startup Ladies’ Advisory Board.

Kim Saxton, clinical associate professor of marketing, and other attendees of the Startup Study Hall hosted by The Startup Ladies in August.