Two unconventional marketing tips for hardware startups

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In a hardware startup environment marketing is often not the top priority. As short-sighted as this obviously is, it’s easy to understand why it happens. Hardware startups invariably consist of electronic, mechanical, and product engineers who love technology, features and specs, not marketing hoo-ha.

Marketing is a multi-faceted subject that a lot of large, experienced companies fail at; for hardware startups, it’s even trickier. Many hardware inventors don’t understand that the mainstream consumer tends to react differently to a product that they and their geek friends rave about with the result that that its market reception isn’t as strong as they had expected. Here are a couple of tips to help prevent that from happening.

Begin marketing early

You can avoid this pitfall by starting your marketing process in tandem with your product development. But how do you promote a product that you are still working on? You write content about the process. You share your knowledge and experience. You create expectations. By the time your product is ready for launch, you have a captive audience eager to test drive the gadget they have been reading about for months. By engaging them from the start, you have created your own target market.

Even if your first product isn’t a huge success, you have a captive audience that’s returning again and again because you are already producing something of value besides a product, like unique content, thought leadership, helpful resources for other hardware startups or unique data – you can think of more. This takes time, but it will be worth the effort in the end.

Here’s an example of a company that was built on the back of a blog. Moz is a software as a service company (SaaS) company. Though not a hardware company, the same principles apply. Rand Fishkin, Co-founder at Moz writes: “For the first 18 months of our “product,” we had very little except a few tools (many of which were available in free versions elsewhere on the web) and some guides I wrote. But, because we had a large audience – 10,000 marketers a day read the blog when we started our subscription in 2007 – we could iterate, grow, and learn with their help. By late 2008, we had a unique product that was pulling in subscribers far beyond just our community of blog readers.”

Great marketing involves more than telling the story about your unique product

Did you know that the market leader is usually not the greatest product? At least two conclusions can be drawn from this statement: people buy solutions and benefits, not products; and the right marketing can turn a merely good product into a market leader.

It is not enough to tell the story of how your product is unique or even the best. Let’s face it, we all think we are unique, but there are so many “unique” stories and products that the world is quite done with the concept. Also, don’t tell people you’re the best. It’s too easy to say and they’ve heard it many times before. Rather, suggests Dharmesh Shah OnStartup, it’s about how you frame those aspects into benefits and value for your customers, for instance:

New products or services: Share lessons learned during the product development process; describe ways you listened to customers and determined how to better meet their needs; explain the steps involved in manufacturing products overseas, especially including what mistakes you made.

Landing a major customer: Describe how you changed your sales process to allow you to compete with heavy hitters in your industry; share stories about major sales that got away and what you learned from failing to reel them in; detail the steps you took to quickly ramp up capacity while ensuring current customers’ needs were still met.

While it’s tempting to aggressively hype your new hardware product in order to get above all the noise in the market place, taking a much more measured and authentic approach focused on the real benefits your startup delivers to customers is much more effective in the long term.