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For your startup to grow, you’ll have to own real estate in people’s minds. Here’s why.

In the beginning stages of growth, targeting people with the problem your startup solves makes sense. Tapping into existing demand, from people in the market right now, is important to help you gain traction. And this tactical approach can help you find product market fit.

But many startups don’t evolve beyond this short-term strategy early enough, and lose momentum. Sometimes even fail.

Around the 3 year mark, all the tactics that once worked like a charm stop being effective, and acquisition becomes harder, and more expensive.

Here's the unpopular truth: There are a lot more people who are not in the market for your product right now, but will be one day. This holds true whether you’re B2C or B2B.

And if you’re not talking to those people, even while they’re not in the market, they won’t know you exist when they are. (By which point, your startup likely won’t be the only player out there.)

There is a way to insulate from this but it’s gotten a bad rep because its effects don’t show up immediately. As a matter of fact, it can take *gasp* up to 6 months or longer.

Thinking that far ahead though, can be tough to embrace in a startup with limited runway. Investors and CEOs want to see ROI, efficiency and results.

But here's the rub: you have to integrate long-term strategies into the mix for growth. Things like:

- Widening your reach to include a broader audience. This tends to be frowned upon in an age of personalization. Talking to people who aren’t in the market is considered “waste”. But it’s important to lay the groundwork for future buyers.

- Building a brand through distinctive assets, communication, and experience. Doing this consistently is critical for creating the mental associations and memory structures consumers need to choose, if not favour, your product.

These are important because familiarity breeds preference. It’s called the mere-exposure effect, referring to people’s tendency to develop a preference for things just because they’re familiar with them.

Which is why your startup should aim to own some real estate in people’s minds.

Start investing early, and watch your efforts appreciate in value over time.


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