What should you think about developing an IT product’s marketing and brand strategy?

In many IT startups, product teams operate separately from marketers with no idea of how and to whom to sell it and with what ideology. I may surprise some people, but the product and marketing team must work together because the marketing strategy and the brand positioning affect the perception of the product, the user experience, their LTV, the company’s revenue and the product life cycle.

This article is about the first main steps in Go-to-Market and Brand Strategy, which you can’t skip if you want to do it right. My name is Daria Volkova, I’m the Head of Brand Marketing and Product Marketing Manager and have worked with IT products for a long time. It would be great if you could avoid the mistakes many people make when creating a marketing strategy.

To begin with, I will give you a short product roadmap. Here you can see five main stages which teams do from 1 to 5:

I’ll describe all of them:

01. Analytics and market research, market evaluation, finding a problem that a product can solve. This is a preparatory stage, which founders and business analysts usually do. However, marketers can (and should) also participate in idea validation.

02. Product concept, product design and development, testing. The toughest and most exciting stage is where the product is created. Of course, the product will be constantly updated and supplemented, so we can say that this stage is cyclical. A product team works here, the result of which will then need to be sold to marketers.

03. Product marketing strategy, brand strategy. A critical stage that cannot be passed. It is here, should formulate your promotion and sales strategy, which will determine your further actions.

04. Name, corporate identity, tone of voice. Creativity should be meaningful and add value to your product. Today, the brand’s visual design must change once every two years. It may not be a radical rebranding, but creating only a fresher style.

05. Community building & product promotion. This stage lasts as long as the company exists, because the development of the community must be constant and continuous.

1. Finding Product-Market Fit means finding customers ready to buy your product and the conditions under which you can scale.

2. Formulate the main idea, positioning and value proposition.

3. Calculate the CAC (customer acquisition cost), LTV (lifetime value) and marketing budget.

4. Create naming, brand identity and all branded materials including website, social media and compelling presentations for investors and partners.

I start working with any brand with questions that may seem too simple, but only until business owners or top managers SERIOUSLY answer them.

These are the five questions:

  • Who you are? A positioning of the company and what idea you want to convey to the masses.
  • What you do? A clear and understandable statement of activities based on facts, and achievements and supported by positioning.
  • How do you want your brand to be perceived in the future?
  • How you differ from direct and indirect competitors? A unique value proposition, brand legend, founder’s personal brand, etc.
  • Who is your ideal client/user persona?

Try to answer them. These questions will help you focus on choosing the direction of your brand strategy from now to where you need to be in 1, 3 and 5 years. This is a long-term vision that is often blurred by ongoing operational challenges.

The business that does not dream of turning its brand into Love Mark is hopeless.

Love Mark is a brand image that creates an emotional connection with the user. A high level of customer loyalty leads to increased sales.

A user persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer. A persona is generally based on user research and incorporates your target audience’s needs, goals, and observed behavior patterns.

You should think about user persona in stage 01 and later because you need to understand who you are making the product for and which problem you are solving. Your user persona may change depending on product development.

The user persona does not necessarily have to be one, there can be several of them depending on the user cases in which your product is used.

Also, you must understand who is NOT your user persona.

Below you can find a short list of questions to help you portray your user persona. Finding all the answers at the product launch stage is difficult, so you can write a high-level image, gradually updating the information and adding details.

Answering the following questions will help you think rationally-emotionally and get closer to understanding how your users think:

  1. What are the values, ideas, beliefs, and attitudes of users?
  2. What makes them happy, and what makes them sad?
  3. Where do they live? What is their cultural background? What do they see every day on their way to work or going out for groceries?
  4. Who do they envy? Who do they want to be like?
  5. What impractical expectations do they place on your product?
  6. How are they currently dealing with the problem your product solves
  7. What do they brag about to their friends? What do they talk about at the water cooler with colleagues?

Imagine that the user is your friend. How would you describe it to other people? For example, your friend is Elon Musk. Then it will be something like this:

“He is 51 years old and lives in the USA. He is a successful entrepreneur — number 1 in the Forbes billionaires ranking. Elon founded a company that builds rockets, his other company makes electric cars, he builds businesses in the energy and AI industries, and he bought Twitter. People say he has Asperger’s syndrome and sometimes doesn’t understand the cultural context. He named his child XÆA-12 and often manipulates crypto and stocks. A very controversial person!”

Branding combines all specific (name, logo, font, color, packaging, slogan, price, etc.) and abstract (brand archetype, company culture, consumer attitude, communication style, etc.) brand elements.

All those elements should create added value to your product or at least not contradict the essence of your product.

To understand whether you have made the right choice in branding, you must answer the following questions:

  • Is our brand unique?
  • Is it believable?
  • Does it have to do with users?
  • Is it easy to get?
  • Are the elements consistent?

And then, you will know whether it works if users remember your brand as a unique and meaningful that makes them tell others about it.

When I analyze the user flow of digital products, it is usually easy to notice which functions on the site or application are fulfilled according to the requirements of the technical task and which are designed to attract users and increase brand loyalty.

The following masterpiece level for product designers and marketers is to make it invisible, so the entire user experience is smooth and enjoyable. A considerable role in this is played by communicating with users and collecting feedback, finding unsolved problems and options for solving them, creating a single integrated design system, creating space for creativity and much more.

So, how do you check that your IT product is developing in the right direction in branding? It must meet the following criteria:

  • Memorability. You can achieve this through specific elements, such as a logo, name, corporate sounds, and colors. Your brand must be noticeable, readable, and easy to reproduce to be well remembered.
  • Meaningfulness. The functions and promises of the product should be clear to users — what, how and why is happening in the product.
  • Sympathy. The presence of aesthetic appeal to users. Moreover, this is not about beauty, but about attractiveness for those who will use your product. If people who love biker aesthetics use your product (dark tones, leather, chrome, tattoos), then the pink-mint-peach gradients from Dribbble trends will be clearly out of their understanding.
  • Scalability. If new features, services, or sub-products are to be added, the branding must support them. A good example is Atlassian products (Jira, Confluence, Trello, Bitbucket).
  • Inclusiveness and kindness. If you know that people with visual or hearing impairments can use your product, your mission will be to make their experience more enjoyable. For example, in trading applications, taking into account people with color blindness, it’s worthwhile to approach the visualization of indicators and the “Buy” (green) and “Sell” (red) buttons more carefully in terms of accessibility — they should be distinguishable even in monochrome mode.
  • Security. Brand elements must be protected by law, especially if you enter the international market.

Launching an IT product and creating a marketing strategy requires a lot of work from many people. Therefore, all participants must have a common understanding of the final result. If you’re a marketer creating a product marketing idea, make it clear to the entire team and customers.

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Daria Volkova

Brand Strategist, Product Marketer, Startup Mentor. All about branding, marketing, leadership and business culture — without clichés and pathos.