Time’s wingéd chariot doth ever appear in our rearview mirror, tailgating us well into a frenzy during our startup phases when short-term growth harries any long-term sensibility. There are no hard-and-fast rules regarding how often a startup should evaluate its market; much of the analysis frequency occurring during the launch stage results from excitement, panic, and/or obsession. Nonetheless, here are a handful of guidelines that we generally follow at Bad Brain to keep our clients growing without feeding anxiety.
Enterprises will typically update their segments every 2-5 years but a startup is just discovering their market, simultaneously working to build awareness. Audiences, therefore, should be checked weekly after launching to properly survey market nuances. Do not react to every change but do log every change. Modify your audiences every 3-4 weeks to slough off audiences that barely, if at all, perform. After 6 months, evaluations can slow-down to either bi-weekly or monthly check-ins of adjustments made during the initial 6 months. Zooming out, during the remainder of the first 5 years, we run monthly and quarterly inquiries and updates to audiences.
We have seen clients react rashly to changing audiences in the first year alone, throwing away segments that show interest but do not convert. If you have segments that demonstrate an interest in your product but do not convert, review your creative, communication, and UX to effectively acquire and retain these audiences.
For example, we had a client with younger demographics (25-44) that showed tremendous interest in a product but did not convert into a purchase as well as older segments did. Rather than working to convert these young, serious lurkers, the client stopped targeting them altogether. They reasoned that “low-hanging fruit” would yield the best results for the moment and they would leverage that return later to capture their younger audiences — nobody ever wants low-hanging fruit for the long-term and therein lies the problem (short-term goals leading to long-term trade-offs). This brand survived because we are good at our job, but they effectively made itself a brand for the low-hanging fruit segment and have suffered proportionately for it. They are struggling to squeeze returns out of a segment that they have branded themselves with, unable to tap the much bigger promise of younger categories who now see the brand and product as “something for grandma”. When a brand builds a growth strategy founded in the low-hanging fruit method of marketing, they are solving for the moment, waiting for an audience to drop into their lap rather than cultivating audiences for growth with a better yield and they will reap what they sow. Remember that cautionary tale when you review and update your audiences.
Here is an example of shifting audiences for a client who does not subscribe to the low-hanging fruit method of marketing and actively works to acquire younger audiences after they found a similar trend of younger audiences showing the strongest interest but hesitating to purchase. These are results from a 31-day period in the second month of the client’s launch.
The first 15 days of the testing period are on the left and the last 16 days are on the right. The first 2 weeks of testing indicated that 25-44 year-olds were most interested in the client’s product but less likely to purchase. In the following 2 weeks, after introducing new creative that appealed to younger audiences, their purchase conversion rates increased and, overall, we see segments trending younger and striking a better balance.
This leads us to how we optimize campaigns…
Creative alchemy requires constant action and several measures of patience. At the onset of launch, brand equity is flexible for a few years, allowing for rigorous and dynamic creative testing. Though creative testing should occur throughout the lifetime of a company to achieve optimal positioning for the cultural changes inherently therein, a brand will never need to test with the same fervor that they will as a startup.
A general rule of thumb is to deploy at-whim because a startup’s brand is elastic; there is no dominating majority of earned awareness and much of what will work is unknown unless it is tested. During this time, the brand should test conversion copy, color choices, and subject matter.
Hire a team with depth in social and behavioral methodology and statistical formulation. Stay away from multivariate testing; do not blindly trust platform reporting when utilizing their native tools for multivariate, “dynamic” ads. Test in cohorts, especially if the brand uses a subscription model. In the course of three years, a startup will amass insurmountable Everests of data; organize early-on so future teams can easily understand how conclusions were reached. The startup creative testing phase provides endless fodder for bets, so do setup betting pools with colleagues based on testing brackets.
Within the first week of testing, strategy teams will understand the hierarchy of creative (which campaign creative outperforms others); performance details will require at least one month’s worth of data though we have made adjustments in as short as two weeks if we see a piece of creative lacks adequate momentum to compete further.
Startups should not spend their budget on loads of impressive creative until at least six months of data have been collected. During the first six months, the startup should find someone on their team that can shoot photography or create “good enough” mock-ups with stock photos and renders. These images might not be ideal, but they will help the brand understand what consumers gravitate toward. After those first six months, the brand may put together a brilliant creative brief and shop for a creative agency.
Lastly, unless the startup is a publisher, studio, or other massive content production house, there is no need for an in-house content studio outside of a few people for the day-to-day; beware of charlatan creatives masquerading as marketers, preaching that a health and wellness, tech, etc., company needs an in-house content studio (we’ve personally seen this and that charlatan half-sunk that poor company).
Start gathering customer feedback from day 1 and never stop. The minute you see a favorable trend, optimize and amplify that. If you see a negative one, do not sweep it under the rug — fix it. There are many more facets of a launch strategy a startup should concern itself with but this page is already terribly wrong and at this point, if you want to hear more, contact us. □