Jean-Marc Demers

Start-up marketing: when and how to start investing?

You did it: you’ve developed your product, set up your distribution chain and hired your first employees. Slowly but surely, your vision is taking shape and now it’s time to get your products on the market.

Marketing pour les startups

Now you need marketing to get your name out there, reach your target audience and, ultimately, reach your sales objectives.

Like many entrepreneurs, you’re probably wondering how to start investing in marketing, and more importantly, how to get the best return on investment. If so, read on, because we’ll tackle all of these questions in this article.


When should you start marketing? 

When you launch a business, everything is a priority: the product, the business plan, managing the day-to-day, etc. It only stands to reason that marketing can sometimes play second fiddle to operations until the company is up and running.

Far too often, start-ups wait until they have money before investing in advertising and communications. What they may fail to realize, however, is that advertising is what will help generate the sales needed to grow and reach their targets.

It’s important to understand that marketing is not a step we take when we are successful. It’s a step you take to become successful.

So the right time to start investing in marketing is as soon as you have the structure in place to deliver – because obviously, there’s no point in rolling out big advertising campaigns if you’re not equipped to meet the demand.

Marketing is not a step we take when we are successful. It's a step you take to become successful.

Main start-up marketing needs

When you first start out, you need to get your name out there, explain to your audience why your product is exceptional, and structure your marketing activities to ensure consistency. In our opinion, there are three marketing elements to prioritize: your brand image, your website and your communication plan.


Brand Image: your brand image is much more than your logo. It also includes your positioning, your visual identity and your brand universe. In short, it’s how you present yourself to the world.

Whether it’s your website, packaging or social media posts, all touch points with your consumers should always be consistent with your brand image. Consistency is key, because that’s how people will get to know and remember you.


Website: transactional or not, your website is the central element of your marketing. It is the platform where users interested in learning more about you will come. Your website should include the following features:

  • Mobile-friendly navigation (responsive, mobile-first or adaptive)
  • A simple, clean and modern design
  • Clear and structured information
  • Quality images and texts
  • Optimized content for organic search (SEO)

Also, never forget the three-click rule. All users should find the information they need on your site in three clicks or less.

Braque tip

Your website is a goldmine of information about your consumers. Connect to Google Analytics and Google Search Console to find out who your customers are, how they found your site and how they act on the platform. There are also plugins, such as Hotjar (free) and Lucky Orange (paid), that allow you to observe visitor behavior on your site.

Never forget that everything that can be measured, can be improved.

Communication Plan: a communication plan is a strategic document that brings together all the marketing actions and tactics to be deployed in order to achieve your objectives. Often done annually, it ensures that all your marketing efforts follow the same guidelines and get you exactly where you want to be. It’s a bit like your treasure map.


Our marketing advice for start-ups

You don’t need to spend a fortune to start marketing. Instead, the goal is to invest progressively and intelligently. Here are our best practices to get you there.


1. Outsource strategic planning and keep operational tasks in-house

Expert en marketing

The day will come when you’re ready to hire your first full-time marketing employee. Since this person will be in charge of all marketing activities, you’ll probably be looking for someone who can do it all: planning, digital campaign management, social media, PowerPoint presentations…

Few people know how to do everything, and even fewer know how to do everything well.

Our recommendation is to have an external professional, such as a consultant or agency, do the strategic planning and have an in-house employee do the operational tasks. In other words, have an expert create your communications plan, and have your employee execute it.

After all, you don’t need the idea of the century every week. Your strategic thinking needs are limited to three or four times a year. But you do need someone in-house to manage your day-to-day communications activities.

Braque Tip

Several grants are available to finance your marketing and commercialization projects. In food, for example, the Agriconseils network (in Québec only) offers financial aid that could cover 50% to 85% of the costs of creating your communication plan by an expert, and the MAPAQ Proximité program (in Québec only) could help you with your marketing and commercialization. The BDC also offers advantageous loans for start-ups wishing to invest in a digital project.

Do your research and keep an eye out for grants in your sector, it could pay off!

2. Invest progressively in advertising

When you start advertising, you get to know your audience better. You discover that your customers may not be the audience you were aiming for, or that your target audience prefers a certain communication channel to another.

Most importantly, you get to determine the return on investment (ROI) of your campaigns and the cost of acquiring your customers.

This information helps you structure your marketing investments over time to achieve your goals. For example, if you see that the ROI of your acquisition campaigns is 500%, you know exactly how much to spend to reach the sales target you set for the year.

This not only allows you to better plan your expenses and revenues, but also your growth, as you have a better idea of how many resources, employees and space you will need in the coming years.


3. Choose appropriate media and tactics

Your marketing strategy will always depend on your industry, your product and your target audience, but we’d still like to suggest some effective and accessible tactics for start-ups.

First of all, a social media strategy is a must. Chances are, your target audience uses at least one social media outlet regularly, and these are ideal platforms for building relationships with your community, bringing your brand image to life, and sharing any content you create.

Speaking of content, creating newsletters, blog posts, videos, infographics and other value-added content is a great way to get people interested in your brand, assert your expertise and stay connected with your community.

Press relations also make sense for start-ups as a launch is always a good opportunity to get the word out there. However, we recommend that you entrust your press relations to an expert, as you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

On the paid media side, we recommend experimenting with social media advertising and paid search, as these types of campaigns are fairly simple to set up and can be adapted to any budget.

As a general rule, your strategy should combine free and paid media, since free media will serve to solidify the relationship with your community, and paid media to reach consumers who are not yet part of it.

Braque Tip

We often recommend digital marketing to start-ups. Firstly, because costs are much more flexible and affordable than traditional media, but also because it allows you to measure everything through data.

This makes digital marketing ideal for testing on a small scale, with different audiences and different media, and then replicating successful campaigns on a larger scale.

We know that you are probably unsure about investing in marketing. Fear of risk is normal, but always remember that you went into business to win.

Marketing is an essential tool to propel your growth and pave the way to achieving your goals.

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