Software startup strategy: Launch and grow with content

Oct 9, 2017 | Focus Fast

“What startup strategy should we use to launch and promote our new software product?”

I’ve heard a variety of answers to that question from entrepreneurs during my multi-decade career in the software industry. But usually those replies fall into one of these buckets:

The Mousetrap Strategy: “Our features are so great that people will just (beat a path to our door and) buy the product.”

The Ego Strategy: “I’m smart enough to build cool software. How hard could marketing it be?”

The Old Tricks Strategy: “In the last company I started we ran ads and went to events. Let’s do that again.”

The Name Drop Strategy: “I know so-and-so. He/she will get us into some big deals.”

The Minimalist Strategy: “Let’s just create a two-page feature-laden brochure. That and the website our programmers have designed are all we need.”

See any problems here?

Instead of relying on any of these non-strategies, let’s consider how content marketing could be just the startup strategy you require.

You’re always in startup mode

Whether you’re creating your first mobile app, launching a new Cloud service or working on the next big thing, you’re always in startup mode in the software business.

That means that for each new offering you need a startup strategy for development, finance, sales and yes – marketing.

Just like writing code, marketing your software requires a proactive plan and a managed process, not a haphazard free-for-all. And ideally you’ll use the same repeatable marketing system for both launch and ongoing promotion of your software.

Content marketing, when executed using a proven framework, is a good candidate. It’s a highly disciplined go-to-market strategy. And it works equally well for both initial launch and ongoing customer growth and retention.

A startup strategy for intangible products

One of the biggest challenges in launching and promoting software is that you’re selling an intangible product. You can’t hold it, smell it, feel it or taste it (at least not yet).

All software can do is resolve a business or personal need for people through a particular series of clicks, taps and data entries. No wonder marketing it is so challenging!

Well, guess what. That makes software the perfect product for content marketing.

That’s because content marketing helps you make the intangible, tangible.

First, well-crafted content helps your target audience identify and name their pain (or need), which earns you the right to carry on a conversation with them.

At the right time in that conversation, other content positions your intangible software as a feasible solution to their pain.

And finally, still other content helps buyers feel confident when they’re ready to buy.

Try getting all that from an ad or a brochure!

Content marketing, when planned and executed properly, gives your software company a presence at every stage of the buyer’s journey. It turns the intangible, tangible, making it the best startup strategy to launch and promote your software.

The mistake of starting in the middle

“We need a product brochure.”

“Let’s build a product page on our website.”

“Our sales team needs a feature list.”

I’ve gotten these content requests more often than any others as head of Entente Marketing, my content marketing agency serving the software industry. Usually a CEO utters these requests very shortly before a software launch!

Of course, sooner or later, almost every software company needs content in the form of a brochure, a product page or a feature list. But the problem with starting with these deliverables is that they’re in the middle of an effective startup strategy for launch and promotion.

A startup strategy framework

To help CEOs – and you – understand a better way to go about the process of marketing with content, I’ve developed the CM Startup Framework™. This Framework provides a proven five-stage progression from content strategy to content creation to content enhancement.

startup strategy

The first two stages are critical, and should always come first before actually writing that brochure or web page. These stages are strategic in nature. They help you determine your content goals, unique business value and the profile of your ideal target audience.

The middle stage is where content gets created to match your unique business focus and your audience’s needs.

The last two stages involve tactics that encourage people to engage more with your company and that optimize your content management, measurement and efficiency.

Most software companies jump right into creating feature-focused brochures. Instead, follow this strategic progression to create a system of content that will be more effective in the short term (the launch) and the long term (customer growth and retention).

What content should you create?

Although every software company will have unique positioning and audience dynamics, there are some general guides to the types of content you should create.

A rule of thumb is to have at least some content for each stage of the buyer’s journey: Education, Solution and Selection. That way, you’ll be able to assist potential buyers no matter where they’re at, with content that’s appropriate to their readiness to buy.

Market research firm SiriusDecisions has sketched out the kinds of content that fit well in each of these three buyer journey stages.

startup strategy

If you already have some content but aren’t sure where it fits, use a content review to determine your gaps.

  1. Assess existing content to determine if it primarily
    • Helps buyers understand a problem (Education),
    • Describes software features and benefits (Solution), or
    • Helps buyers justify a purchase decision (Selection).
  2. Using this review, map existing content to the appropriate buyer stage.
  3. Look for opportunities (gaps) to create additional content that will fill out your information resources across the buyer’s journey.

This kind of review helps you create a clear content development strategy rather than taking shots in the dark.

If you need to develop a lot of content to cover all your gaps, consider using a content tree. This technique organizes related content into cohesive campaigns, leveraging common themes and giving you more bang for your content creation buck.

Startup strategy applications: Acquire and retain subscribers

Two excellent applications of content marketing as a startup strategy for subscription-based software companies are customer acquisition and customer retention.

Customer acquisition involves getting initial subscribers (your software launch) and then adding additional users to grow your subscription base. Use the principles of Education-Solution-Selection throughout this process to find invisible buyers who have a problem you can solve and then nurture them with content that leads to a subscription.

Customer retention is equally important for subscription-based software companies. After working hard to gain subscribers, use educational content to bring subscribers on board, ensure early success with your app, offer upgrades, and improve the overall customer experience.

Startup strategy in real life – 4 examples

I’ve had the privilege to help numerous software startups with their content strategy and execution. Here are four short examples of how software companies in a wide range of industries brought content marketing discipline to their startup strategy including launch, growth and retention efforts.

Startup strategy: Grayhair

Grayhair provides on-premise and Cloud applications for direct marketing, logistics, mail tracking and postal operations.

Although they were already an established enterprise software company, Grayhair turned to content marketing to launch a repositioned suite of software and some new thought leadership in the insurance industry. (Remember, you’re always in startup mode!)

Grayhair first engaged in a thorough assessment of their buyer-centric marketing capabilities and strategies including resources, skills, personas and value propositions. From that, they defined a campaign that would communicate with potential buyers at all stages of the buyer’s journey.

The result was an initial campaign organized as a content tree. The centerpiece (root) of the tree was a well-researched ebook that examined insurance industry trends and emerging technology forces. The branches and leaves of the content tree included unique publications aimed at insurance executives, curated articles, several email series, social posts and more.

The overall campaign generated nearly 2 million impressions and resulted in several leads for new engagements.

Startup strategy: Argos Risk

Argos Risk is a subscription-based software company with solutions for managing and monitoring B2B credit and business health risk.

A relatively new business, Argos Risk needed a startup strategy to launch and grow a significant upgrade to their core application.

Their content efforts started with a detailed assessment of marketing resources, capabilities and strategies. A gap analysis revealed a number of opportunities to create new content to target specific industry segments, strategic partners and key enterprise customers.

They developed content for strategic alliances and partners, onboarding materials, case studies and tradeshow support content. Their content efforts resulted in significant new partnerships and new flagship customers.

Startup strategy: IFX Forum

IFX Forum is a software standards development organization in the financial services industry. Their software offering is a business-messaging SOA standard for banks, credit unions and credit card companies.

Although they’re a well-established software entity, IFX recognized a need to move ahead with the evolving technology trends in their industry. They used content marketing to re-launch and reposition their emerging offerings.

First, IFX gained tremendous understanding of their target market by developing multiple buyer personas. From that foundation, they completely rebuilt their website, upgraded their email content and refined their overall messaging with clarity and purpose.

Startup strategy: MasterMine Software

MasterMine provides important add-on value to GoldMine CRM users and managers.

Mastermine’s content startup strategy began with an in-depth development of persona profiles. That effort provided a basis for three “explainer videos” aimed at specific buyer personas. Using animation in short 1- to 2-minute videos, Mastermine created engaging visual content that directly addressed the business challenges of specific job roles in their target audience in a story-based manner.

The result of this content strategy was increased engagement and inquiries from the company’s core prospects. That’s what content marketing is all about!

Software and content marketing matchup

If you’re looking for an effective startup strategy for your software company, look no further than content marketing.

Ideally suited for the intangible nature of software, content delivered using a proven strategic framework is perfect for software launches, customer acquisition, customer retention and more.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts with the rest of this community using the comment section below. Thanks!

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