As a marketer, it’s not uncommon to feel tempted to emulate the marketing strategy of another company you admire.
While there’s nothing wrong with drawing some inspiration from great companies, there’s a big risk involved with following someone else’s footsteps: they may be at a different point on the path, or might be on a different path entirely.
Or they might be drunk, and moving in the entirely wrong direction. (Hey, even the best companies make marketing mistakes).
This brings up something every marketer should consider before developing a marketing strategy: the state of the industry you’re trying to enter.
Which State Is Your Company In?
In case you were asleep that day your marketing professor went over “industry life cycle,” here’s a review. Industry life cycle is typically broken up into these four stages:
Emerging – a new product category. The industry may not be growing yet; heck, people may not even be aware it exists.
Growth – how do I explain this any simpler? Smartphone adoption from 2010-2015 is a perfect example.
Maturity – overall demand isn’t growing much, but it’s not going away anytime soon. Airlines have been a mature industry for quite some time.
Decline -Desktop computers, standalone GPS units for your car, and thankfully, those tacky Bluetooth headsets with the insufferable blinking blue light.
Yes, startups exist in all four of these industry states. Because each state has different dynamics at play, the role marketing plays will vary too. Let’s take a closer look at each state to find out why…
Psst… if you want a quick-and-dirty version of what strategies work best in each stage, just skip to the end for a cheat-sheet.
Emerging: Be An Evangelist
What’s going on: Being part of an emerging industry might be sound cool, but it’s actually kind of a pain in the ass. Very few people know about you or your industry. If you have a great product; you’re one of the few people who know about it. That has to change.
Do this: Marketing needs to focus on just two things: (1) helping people understand why they should care about your product category; and (2) reducing barriers to using your company’s version of it. That’s it.
Don’t do this: Since there’s going to be very little search traffic related to what you do, don’t waste much time on SEO and SEM. And since you don’t have many customers to nurture through email, that shouldn’t be much of a focus either.
Remember: This is not the time to fine tune your marketing. It’s more important to experiment and see what works. Optimizing won’t matter if you can’t first get people aware of what you offer and why they need it. Content marketing, PR, and events can really help here, even if the outcome is hard to measure.
Growth: Have A Plan, And Go Crazy
What’s going on: If your entire industry is taking off, the biggest risk might lie in spending too little on marketing. Why? If you don’t capture market share, someone else will. Have a plan, and don’t hold back.
Do this: Now is the time to really dive into your marketing KPIs. Once you can establish a performance benchmark (like “we can pay up to $37/lead), spend as much as you can while still hitting that goal. Now’s the time to start exploring opportunities in search advertising as well.
Don’t do this: Just because you’re spending more on marketing doesn’t mean you should be wasteful. Perhaps the biggest temptation here to think you can “buy your way out of a problem” – leading you to overlook your fundamentals, like establishing good buyer personas, creating a brand promise, and enforcing consistent messaging.
Remember: Just because more marketing tactics are potentially available doesn’t necessarily mean you should pursue all of them. Stay disciplined by only focusing on those activities you can do well and are relevant to your goals.
Mature: Optimize, Optimize, Optimize
What’s going on: Because the overall market is pretty stable, if you want to grow business, you’ll have to steal it from somewhere else. Outside of that, your main focus is defending your territory from others.
Do this: Optimizing for search traffic really becomes important. There’s already demand for what you’re offering; whether you get that business depends on getting found when people look for you. Similarly, brand awareness really starts to matter, as you want to keep your name top of mind when people are making buying decisions.
Don’t do this: Be careful not to spend more than you need to. Because mature industries approach a zero-sum game, any spend that’s not helping you gain market share or retain customers is going to yield little results. At the same time, spending too little leaves you susceptible to losing business.
Remember: This is where fine-tuning your marketing machine really becomes important. You’re not likely to make massive changes in your marketing budget, so being able to squeeze as much out of every dollar is key.
Declining: Spend Just Enough, Then Reinvest
What’s going on: You’re going to die. It’s just a matter of when. All you can really do is try to sustain life and profits for as long as possible. Trying to generate more demand is a waste of money; you should be using those funds to invest in new products.
Do this: Your marketing needs to focus on three things: (1) making sure the world knows you’re still alive and kicking, (2) continuing to optimize for any search traffic that might come your way, and (3) nurturing your existing customers as well as you can.
Don’t do this: Trying to generate new demand would be like working really hard to keep the sun from rising in the morning: in ain’t gonna happen.
Remember: If you’re a startup entering a declining industry, you’ve either (a) made a terrible mistake, or (b) are planning to disrupt the industry and resuscitate it in the process. If that’s the case, you need to approach your marketing more like an emerging industry than a declining one.
You Could Have Just Skipped To Here
So how does this all affect what marketing strategies you should employ? The younger your industry, the more you should be focusing on “push” strategies that inform your audience about what you offer. And as your industry gets older, you need to focus less on generating new demand and use your time “pulling” any market interest towards your brand.
There are going to be exceptions to the below (which is based on my subjective and mostly certainly flawed opinion anyway), so if you have ideas on how to improve this, let met know in the comments.
Oh, and you really want to geek out on this topic, take a look at a book called Creating Strategic Leverage: Matching Company Strengths with Market Opportunities. It’s about as riveting as the title sounds, but the content is really solid. I gleaned most of the insights in this post from that tome, and if you want to explore how market stage affects every nuance of marketing, I’d highly recommend it.