How to create the perfect startup marketing strategy: Michelle Heywood of Quivr

Michelle Heywood owns sales, marketing and business consultancy Quivr, where she is ‘Chief Archer’. Michelle has set up 7 diverse start-up businesses from scratch and helped numerous others to launch and grow. Over the years she has devised a useful process called SOAR which can be used to create any strategy or plan. Here Michelle explains in her own words how to use SOAR to create a marketing strategy.

“SOAR is a process made up of four distinct stages. You can easily add other business models into these stages should you wish, but here I explain the basic steps to creating a marketing strategy and draft plan.

The ‘S’ of SOAR = Seed

    • Firstly you should comprehensively research the market you’re in to determine who else is operating in the same space as you. Find out who they are, how long they’ve been established, what services they offer, what prices they charge, who their customers are, who their suppliers are, and what their USPs are. Don’t just look at companies in your own country – you’ll learn a lot from looking at businesses all over the world.
    • Research how and where your competitors advertise and how they market themselves. Where do you fit? What tone of voice do you want to adopt and what customer demographic(s) do you want to target?
    • Meet and speak to potential customers to find out what’s important to them.
    • You need to understand what is happening in your industry too – and not just now, but all the time, in order to keep ahead of the game. What innovations or trends are on the horizon? How might these changes affect your business proposition? Research each area to avoid any potential shock discoveries later down the line!


    • Plot all of this information in a spreadsheet so you can easily compare and make sense of the information. Put your details in this spreadsheet too, so you can see where you sit amongst your competitors. Lay out the information however it best makes sense to you.
    • Take screengrabs of your competitors’ websites and marketing or advertising material, print them out, and put them on the wall. Add your own if you have them already produced. This will help you easily see what key messages your customers are already seeing and ensure you can stand out from the crowd.
    • Note down all the marketing channels used in your sector/business area. The way I do this is to put each channel on a sticky note and then put them on the wall/sheet of large paper, under either online or offline columns. If you want to be really detailed, it’s interesting to use a different colour sticky note for each of your key competitors – you can then easily see if one channel is saturated with advertising or marketing, and decide where you would be best investing your marketing budget.


    • Don’t fall into the trap of following what everyone else is doing just for the sake of it, or assume that if they are doing something it must work. Research and test everything to see what works for you.
    • Don’t ignore your findings and just follow your gut. This could be a costly mistake.

The ‘O’ of SOAR = Ostrich to Owl

Now you have the basic information, reevaluate your previous plans and assumptions and get wise about your strategy. It is all too easy to ignore any information which may affect your initial plans. Use the information you’ve found to ask further questions and gather even more information.

    • Write your marketing objectives – what do you want to achieve? Make sure they’re SOAR SMAARTER objectives - i.e. each objective should be Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Accountable, Realistic, Time-bound, Economically viable and of Racehorse calibre (more on that later).
    • Use sticky notes as before to decide which marketing channels you feel are appropriate to your business. Place your business in the areas on the wall and see how they compare to what your competitors are doing. This is just the starting point.
    • Now you need to research these channels and gather information about all the key players in each channel including their audience, reach, distribution and pricing. Some of the channels your competitors are using just may not be right for you. The channels you should consider include both online and print media, email marketing, social media, direct mail, local marketing and sponsorship – but there are many more.
    • Think outside of the box. Where and how else can you reach your potential customers? Can you negotiate a special package? Is there a better way of marketing which isn’t offered in the normal list of advertising or sponsorship opportunities? When I launched CheetahMail into the UK, an email marketing business now owned by Experian, I made our budget go further by negotiating a series of small yet impactful ads which were placed within the editorial sections of key marketing press. As they weren’t normal ad placements they really stood out, and as they were quite small they were a lot less expensive.
    • Create your key message(s) – if appropriate create a one-line ‘buy-line’ which succinctly describes what you do or offer. Mine is ‘Helping businesses soar’. This message, along with your branding, needs to be consistent across all your marketing.

The ‘A’ of SOAR = Arrows

Now you’re in a position to choose what marketing you want to do, via which channels and which media, based on your research and your budget. These are your arrows.

    • You will probably create a plan which requires more budget than you actually have. Save this plan, but copy and paste it into another worksheet and remove activity until you have a plan which is affordable. The ideal plan may be something you can afford to do next year.
    • Plot all of the activity by month for the next 12 months. Some activity, like email marketing, may well be included in every month. Others, like presence at an exhibition, will be date-specific.
    • Finally, you can now implement your plan, but don’t forget to evaluate and tweak as the year goes on.
    • Keep a record of every piece of marketing you implement, including the information you initially compiled, so you can evaluate everything you do in a relevant way. Add the results to this record to determine if you feel it worked for you

The ‘R’ of SOAR = Racehorse

ALL entrepreneurs have a never-ending stream of thoughts and ideas, but this can sometimes be overwhelming and also can cause you to lose focus.

    • You need to rein in your racehorse – plot your ideas in a safe place so they are not forgotten but equally they are not a distraction. Every time you see some marketing you like, make a record of it for the future.
    • However, I always like to have at least one ‘Racehorse’ marketing objective – one which makes me push the boundaries and shoot for the stars. But always determine the possible consequences of your activities and make sure they won’t kill your business before it takes off! For example, if you run a campaign that really works, can you meet customer demand - and do you have the cashflow?

I use SOAR to create plans for everything I do – not just in marketing. It is a process which helps focus the mind. And being creative, I needed to create a process to prevent me from being continually distracted! I hope this works for you too.”

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons