How to introduce marketing into your startup and make it successful
Marketing is an exciting and dynamic function with seemingly endless possibilities, which attracts smart, creative people who have a strong desire to try new things. This can be both a blessing and a curse if you are charged with overseeing marketing.
Having spent much of my career selling to marketers and managing marketing teams, I’ve met hundreds of marketers over the years but can count on one hand the number who didn’t want to go in ten directions at the same time. It’s hard not to.
I like to have guiding principles for solving problems and my guiding principle for marketing is simple: Marketing Amplifies Sales. Whether you are running a B2B or B2C business, you need to have your sales funnel working before you ramp up your marketing, otherwise you are just going to burn lots of money with nothing to show for it.
You can break down startup marketing into 5 core disciplines:
Product Marketing—reducing friction in the sales process.
Content Marketing—helping active shoppers enter your sales process.
Paid Marketing—creating a predictable flow of qualified opportunities.
Public Relations—establishing a consistent, credible story for the company.
Brand Marketing—telling your story to your addressable market.
They are listed in this order because each discipline builds on the discipline that precedes it and improves the yield from the discipline that follows it.
For example, the yield on paid marketing depends as much on the content being helpful and the sales process being smooth as it does on the targeting, creative and bids being optimized.
Here’s a rundown of the goal and strategy of each marketing discipline, the top tactics to get you started, what to measure, the common mistakes you see startups make and the signs you are ready to add it to your marketing function:
1. Product Marketing
Goal: Reduce friction in the sales process.
Strategy: Transition from a product-centric sales process to a customer-centric sales process. (This is a journey that all startups have to go through eventually).
Top Tactics: Tighten your ICP, build your sales pitches around unique insights, define SLAs for lead follow up, use call reports to collect feedback, build adoption plans for new product launches.
Measurement: Higher win rates. Shorter sales cycles.
Common Mistakes: Skipping this discipline because it can’t be measured in isolation. You can only get so far selling a product. At some point you have to solve problems.
Signs you are ready: Low but predictable win rates, unclear product priorities (sales wants X, engineering ships Y), slow adoption of new products.
2. Content Marketing
Goal: Help active buyers enter your sales process.
Strategy: Solve the needs of buyers who are already shopping for solutions, rather than trying to convince prospects that they have a problem.
Top Tactics: Creating comparisons against your direct competitors gives you a chance to frame the buyer’s decision making process against your strengths rather than the lowest common denominators of 3rd party review sites (here’s a good example on Figma). Create “how to solve problem X” articles with frameworks that buyers can apply to their own business (similar to some posts here on my blog), publish unique insights that tie using your product to solving their problems, build simple ROI calculators if your ROI is demonstrably better.
Measurement: Growth in organic visitors, leads and visitor to lead conversion rate.
Common Mistakes: Focusing too high/early in the buying funnel and generating a ton of unqualified leads that you don’t have the resources to nurture.
Signs you are ready: Low volume of organic search traffic, low conversion of website visitors to leads, not enough leads for salespeople to hit quota.
3. Paid Marketing
Goal: Increase the volume of qualified opportunities for your sales team.
Strategy: Maximize the bottom of the funnel (active shoppers), then slowly work your way up.
Top Tactics: Adwords on your brand name, competitor names & specific phrases. Retargeting visitors to pages that drive the highest organic conversion to lead.
Measurement: Volume of qualified opportunities, Cost per qualified opportunity
Common Mistakes: Focusing on volume of leads instead of opportunities and setting the criteria for qualified leads too low.
Signs you are ready: Low share of available search traffic on Adwords.
4. Public Relations
Goal: Establish a consistent, credible story for the company.
Strategy: Create a predictable flow of newsworthy content. The more predictable the flow, the more you can control the story vs the story controlling you.
Tactics: Human interest stories > Industry stories > Product stories. People like to read about people, so build a narrative around what makes your founder(s) or customers unique and it will likely get written over and over from different angles. Customers also like to read about industry trends and competitors, so create an industry index or data set that you can update every 1-3 months. Product stories are the hardest, unless you are willing to share your growth metrics.
Measurement: Google search volume on your company name, volume of direct traffic to your site (i.e. people typing in your domain name), response rate to your sales emails (prospects recognize your company name), number of stories with favorable coverage.
Common Mistakes: The biggest mistake startups make is trying to get journalists to write a big one-off story about you, rather than incorporating yourself into what they are already writing about in bite-size pieces. Its also a very bad idea to position yourself as having no competitors, as nobody wants to watch a one-horse race.
Signs you are ready: Predictably shipping product, not getting mentioned in stories that mention your competitors, or getting described inaccurately.
5. Brand Marketing
Goal: Tell your brand story to your target market.
Strategy: Your brand is ultimately the sum of your customer stories and how your customers feel about your company.
Top Tactics: Industry events, targeted sponsorships, customer conferences
Measurement: Google search volume on your company name, volume of direct traffic to your website, number of followers on your social media accounts, increases in unaided awareness, and favorability.
Common Mistakes: Creating messaging in a vacuum without incorporating customer stories, losing sight of your target market in an effort to do a stunt or one-off campaign, focusing on doing things that have never been done before instead of nailing the basics.
Signs you are ready: You have a clear idea of how your customers feel about your brand and can consistently communicate it to others.
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