Minimum Viable Marketing: How It Works And How To Use It

Since Eric Reis’s book The Lean Startup came out in 2011, the idea of a Minimum Viable Product has been a common concept and relatively well understood in the world of startups. As a refresher, a Minimum Viable Product must have three things:

  • Enough value for users to want to give it a try in the first place.
  • The promise of future capabilities/improvements.
  • A way for ‘early adopters’ to provide feedback to the company and have a say in future feature development. 

With these three things, the theory is that you can launch your product and begin to get traction. Many startups have had great success doing this – it allows you to get to market, learn about your audience, and build up a loyal following in real time. 

Often, while startups focus all their energies on achieving MVP they put marketing on the backburner, seeing it as something to look at once the MVP is launched and/or another round of funding has been completed. 

The idea behind Minimum Viable Marketing is that startups that do this are missing a trick: in fact, there are low cost and high return marketing moves a startup can make that can massively improve its chances of a successful MVP launch.


What is Minimum Viable Marketing (MVM)?

As with MVP, there are three main components to MVM:

Value proposition and messaging. 

The creation and testing of positioning, messaging and copy to see what best resonates with your target audience. A startup that is building their MVP can and should also build out a strong idea of who they are, what they do well, and why their target audience should listen to them. Without a good value proposition it’s very difficult to make any marketing effort successful. 

It’s common for startups to have a very product and tech-focused senior team, who are therefore inclined to talk about benefits and features of their product when asked about their value proposition. These are helpful, but don’t go far enough. A tried and tested way of reaching a genuine value proposition is to follow this framework:

Our….[PRODUCT]
Helps….[OUR AUDIENCE PERSONAS]
Who want to…..[ACHIEVE THEIR SPECIFIC GOALS]
By….[OFFERING OUR PRODUCT BENEFITS]
Unlike….[THE COMPETITION]


Demand generation:
Another way to think about it is with the benefit ladder. You should try to climb the benefit ladder to get to the emotional benefit your target audience will get from using your product:

The second main component of MVM is demand generation. Too many startups don’t start to think about how to generate demand until after launch day. 

For MVM, you first need to think about your marketing funnel. What are the major stages going to be. There are various models you can use but they, for the most part, based on the following steps: 

Awareness – making the target audience aware that your company exists.

Acquisition – getting your target audience to carry out your desired action (signing up, becoming a lead, making a purchase) 

Retention – ensuring your customer has a good experience and is given the right communications to encourage them to come back.

Referral – encouraging your customer to refer your product or service to their friends or colleagues.

Depending on whether you’re B2B or B2C, the specific structure of this funnel can vary. But generally those are the main four steps.

Once you have an idea of your funnel, you can begin to consider marketing channels that can affect each stage of the funnel. You may even be able to run small-scale tests on channels, especially if you are building a waiting list. 


Content creation.

The final component of MVM is content creation. This is your way of keeping early adopters engaged and excited about the product’s development. You need to create the right kind of content to build a healthy ongoing relationship with the customers you have already accumulated and the ones you will accumulate after launch day.

It can seem difficult and time-consuming to do, particularly if you have a very tech-focused founding team. But it’s a must, or your early adopters will lose interest. Here are some relatively easy things to do:

-Write blogs, diarising your journey and development.

-Produce newsletters and send them to people on your waiting list. N.B though – there’s no real reason you should be sending them out more than once a week. Any more than that could be annoying and have the opposite to intended effect.

-Produce videos: interviews with founders, video updates and explainers.

-Create a content calendar and accumulate content well in advance, so you don’t find yourself scrambling on a Thursday afternoon for things to put in a newsletter. This can also mean if you have exceptionally busy development weeks you can just put out a piece of content you produced weeks ago.

The most important thing with content creation is consistency. All your content should have a consistent look, feel and regularity. Your early adopters should become familiar with it and know that if they want to learn more about your journey, they can hit up your blog and find regular high quality updates. There is almost no point in sporadic content releases.


What Is The 80:20 Pareto Principle? How can it help my marketing?

The Pareto Principle is well known and very widely used (and misused) in the world of business.

It is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noticed that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population.

In general the principle posits that c. 80% of consequences come from c. 20% of causes. IE 80% of the results of your activities will derive from a vital 20% of those activities. In business, you may have heard it in the form of ‘80% of sales come from 20% of clients’.

Here’s how it applies to marketing: you can be fairly certain that a large chunk of your positive marketing outcomes will come from a minority of your marketing efforts. It may not break down as 80/20, but the general principle still stands.

It’s all well and good knowing this in theory, but how do you use it to make your marketing, and particularly your minimum viable marketing, more effective?

Value proposition – Which 20% of messages/ads account for 80% of conversions? Can you bin the under-performing 80% and rollout the overperforming 20% to the entire campaign with small copy/creative variations for testing? After this, can you identify a further 20% accounting for 80%.

Demand Generation – Which customers are the 20% who account for 80% of sales? What are their defining attributes and how can you use this knowledge for future targeting? What marketing channels are delivering 80% of leads/sign-ups, and can you double down on them?

Content Creation – Which pieces of content and resulting in 80% of shares/clicks/engagements? Can you apply these learnings to future content planning?

It’s important to note that you will rarely come across a perfect 80/20 input/output split. But bearing this principle in mind can help you to maintain an experimental, test-and-learn approach to your MVM. This leads us into our final section.


MVM Versus Traditional Marketing

The fundamental idea behind MVM is to emphasise testing and learning rather than cycles of researching, planning, budgeting, executing and reporting that the traditional marketing function typically uses. 

It’s the nature of doing things effectively in a startup – you don’t have the time or resources to do things the way a big, established company would so you need to find fast and efficient ways to run your marketing. 

In general, what this means is relying on a rigorous process of hypothesis > validation > measurement > learning > improvement. You must consistently be coming up with ideas, testing them, learning from the results and applying it to the rest of your MVM. In this way it has a lot of crossover with growth marketing.

If you’d like to learn more about how to properly run marketing experiments, read our blog on avoiding false negatives or how to build a growth framework. 


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