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Originally posted by Viola-Notes.
I have been a marketer for ages, but I have only been a startup marketer for the last couple of years and I’m still shocked by how different it is from ‘traditional’ marketing. I would even go as far as to say that it’s the direct opposite of traditional, corporate marketing, and in just a moment, I’ll get to exactly who Michelle and Uncle David are to illustrate my point.
We live in a “dog eat dog” world
Sometimes it feels like this idiom was created specifically to describe the highly competitive world of startups. Thousands of products and services are introduced to consumers all over the world every single day, usually by established companies. But today more than ever, many of these products are created by early-stage startups.
The Annual Report 2015: Startups and Venture Capital in Israel revealed that in 2015, 1,400 new startups joined the already thriving Israeli startup scene alone, so just imagine the global numbers. There are probably gazillions of products and services out there.
The fact is that 90% of all startups fail, so founders do everything they can to avoid failure, and the way they manage their marketing efforts is a key factor towards achieving success (in my humble opinion).
Corporate Marketers: Trusty ‘uncle’ types who have been around for years
If we were to create a persona that represents Corporate Marketing, it would probably be an old(er), trusty ‘uncle’ type: Let’s call him Uncle David (just for fun). Uncle David is a professional who’s been around for a while. He’s mature and is great at making rational decisions. He set his goals years ago and has worked hard at a steady pace to make them a reality. He has patience.
Uncle David’s experience in this world has taught him that no skill or talent will ever outshine solid, proper preparations. He’s most likely suffered a few knocks and bruises in his time but he knows how to roll with the punches. He got through it, he worked hard and is now in a financially stable position with more free income, allowing him to make purchase decisions for which he may or may not see a return on investment in the short term. Most importantly, uncle David had already tried all there is to try, and he knows exactly which roads to take.
Corporate (or traditional) marketing has been around for a long time and works extremely well for well-established, relatively stable brands. Over time, these brands have learned exactly what works and what doesn’t, and they know the exact ROI associated with different marketing initiatives. Moreover, they can survive marketing failures and avoid wasting money on unneeded marketing activities, at least to a certain extent. Corporate marketers may not always succeed 100% of the time, but they’re not easily shaken.
Corporate marketers are not intimidated by expensive tactics, like throwing extravagant events or creating glamorous collateral and communications (Superbowl half-time commercial, anyone?), and they often have huge marketing teams to help manage and orchestrate it all.
In short, traditional, corporate marketers are happy to spend money to make money (because they can!) and they have learned that the long-term investment can be worth it. But this type of marketing usually works only as long as you have the budget and stability to back it up. If your budget is scarce and uncertainty is rife, however, corporate marketing isn’t the smart way to go, and Uncle David definitely isn’t the guy your early-stage startup should hire if you want your business to stay healthy and grow.
Startup Marketers: The superheroes that (almost) never sleep and LOVE to experiment
Contrary to Uncle David, the “startup marketer” (let’s call her Michelle) is young and bubbling with energy. She has a ‘can do’ attitude, no ego, and a willingness to jump in and help at any time. She is someone who is inquisitive and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, nor accept a ‘just because’. She keeps discovering new tools and techniques that get her better results faster and with a smaller budget. She also doesn’t mind a bit of trial and error, always willing to give everything and everyone a try even if it’s never been tried before, sometimes paving the way for others to follow.
Startup marketers are resourceful by necessity. They usually can’t afford to use the same tactics as traditional, corporate marketers, so they must be very creative if they want to survive, let alone flourish and compete with their corporate counterparts. So they often run multiple experiments simultaneously, trying to get the fast answers they need to decide on the right direction for their company.
If your startup is in its early stages, you should consider hiring a ‘Michelle’ type of marketer, not only because you probably can’t afford most of Uncle David’s marketing methods, but because at this stage, you actually need something else. We all respect the sort of patience, precision and long term thinking that traditional marketers are required to invest to achieve their goals, but that’s just not how it works in the world of early-stage startups.
The startup world works a lot like Darwin’s Natural Selection theory. Just like in nature, many startups are born into the world, but only the strongest get to survive, grow and win the game. But, how do you know what your optimal marketing activities should be? How do you identify the elusive mix of activities that you can afford and that will help you reach your goals as quickly as possible? Well sadly, you don’t.
You will NEVER know what your perfect marketing blend is when you start working. Nobody does when they start a brand new venture from scratch.
That’s why successful startup marketers run multiple experiments simultaneously: Online discussions, social communities, content, paid campaigns, media buying of all kinds, PR communications, events, promoted content and anything else that comes to mind, as long as it’s affordable. They are masters of the 80/20 Pareto rule, constantly measuring the performance of their experiments and optimizing as they go in order to reach their KPI goals faster.
Successful startup marketers are both short and long-distance runners at the same time: They must balance between the quality of their deliverables (but never compromise on “good enough” deliverables), and how fast they deliver. The “good enough” concept, in my mind, is a key to successful startup marketing. You’d be surprised to know how hard it is for most marketers to achieve the bare minimum of what’s required in order to pull off a particular task reasonably well, whether it’s a piece of content, a landing page, etc.
While corporate marketers don’t have to deal with this kind of restraint since they’re usually part of a big team where each member specializes in a particular field (e.g. Marcom, Media Buying, PR, etc.) – great startup marketers will only aim for ‘perfection’ if there’s a clear, measurable justification for it against their KPIs.
Corporate marketers are usually expected to invest time and effort to perfect their deliverables, but startup marketers often operate as a one-man show, so they can’t afford to be perfectionists. A good startup marketer has to be a full stack marketer by nature, able to run multiple activities on his own at any given time. That means they need to know enough about Marcom, PR, Email Marketing, Analytics, Media Buying, SEO, Content Marketing and… you get the idea.
At times, being a startup marketer means fighting your nature and not allowing yourself to invest in a single activity at the expense of others. It’s a challenge, and it can be frustrating at times, but it’s certainly never boring, I can promise you that.
To sum up
A successful startup will eventually evolve and turn into a sort of corporate with all that being a corporate entails: Many employees, HR, finance, code of conduct, policies, processes and some good old internal politics. That’s when it’s time for startups to change their attitude to marketing as well, hiring “Uncle David” types to join (and even lead) the team, assigning bigger budgets for activities that will impact in the long term, and embracing the good ‘old’ known and proven tactics.
Of course this doesn’t happen overnight. As time passes and the startup matures, critical knowledge is accumulated, and the ‘multiple pilots running-in-all-directions approach’ is gradually moderated and replaced by a more focused attitude.
I sometimes think it’s a pity that the learning curve is so formidable and that I always need to start over with every new startup I work with, but on the bright side, at least I manage to do it faster and more efficiently each and every time.