5 questions startups should consider before making their first marketing hire

“Who should my first marketing hire be?”

This is (by far) the most common question I’ve received since starting as Fuel’s CMO, and for good reason. Your first marketer will have an outsized impact on team dynamics as well as the overall strategic direction of the brand, product and company.

The reality is that anyone who excels across all marketing functions is a unicorn and nearly impossible to find.

The nature of the marketing function has expanded significantly over the past two decades. So much so that when founders ask this question, it immediately prompts multiple new ones: Should I hire a brand or growth marketer? An offline or an online marketer? A scientific or a creative marketer?

Once upon a time, the number of marketing channels was fairly limited, which meant the function itself fit into a neater, tighter box. The number of ways to reach customers has since grown exponentially, as has the scope of the marketing role. Today’s startups require at least four broad functions under the umbrella of “marketing,” each with its own array of subfunctions.

Here’s a sample of the marketing functions at a typical early-stage startup:

Brand marketing: Brand strategy, positioning, naming, messaging, visual identity, experiential, events, community.

Product marketing: UX copy, website, email marketing, customer research and segmentation, pricing.

Communications: PR and media relations, content marketing, social media, thought leadership, influencer.

Growth marketing: Direct response paid acquisition, funnel optimization, retention, lifecycle, engagement, reporting and attribution, word of mouth, referral, SEO, partnerships.


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As you can imagine, that’s a lot for one person to manage, let alone be an expert in. What’s more, the skill set and experience required to excel in growth marketing is quite different from the skill set required to succeed in brand marketing. The reality is that anyone who excels across all marketing functions is a unicorn and nearly impossible to find.

So who do you hire first?

Unless you’re lucky enough to nab that unicorn, your first hire should be a generalist who can tend to the full stack of the marketing function, learn what they don’t know, and roll up their sleeves to get things done. Someone smart, savvy and super scrappy who understands how to experiment across marketing channels until they find the right mix.

#brand-management, #brand-marketing, #column, #content-marketing, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #growth-marketing, #marketing, #product-management, #product-marketing, #startups

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Growth marketing amid the pandemic: An interview with Right Side Up’s Tyler Elliston

Growth marketers are busy today helping all sorts of startups take advantage of the market boom, but it has been a hard journey through the pandemic.

We caught up with Tyler Elliston, founder of growth marketing firm Right Side Up and occasional contributor at TechCrunch, about his experiences and what he’s seeing now.

It’s part of our new initiative to find the best growth marketers for startups based on founder recommendations. (Have a recommendation to share? Please fill out the survey here.)

Keep reading for more from Tyler about maintaining focus and resources on the right kind of growth, even when the markets are rollicking.

It’s been a while since we last spoke with you. How have the trends in growth marketing shifted between the beginning of the pandemic and now, as we begin to exit lockdowns?

Tyler Elliston: It’s been a rollercoaster! Early in the pandemic, we saw plummeting CPMs and slashed budgets. The rebound started relatively quickly over the summer of 2020 and accelerated into the fall and now 2021.

First, it was e-com companies, both those with strong pre-COVID sales online and historically brick-and-mortar brands scrambling to shift online to find much-needed sales. Then many other businesses — both new and existing — emerged with new products, value propositions and positioning to survive or even thrive in the pandemic.

Now, we continue to see very high consumer demand broadly and a corresponding eagerness amongst brands to accelerate customer acquisition, including through paid advertising. Very active investors have been a strong tailwind with respect to budgets.


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We’ve talked before about how you like your team to be treated as a partner rather than a vendor. How have they been able to accomplish this during the pandemic?

The biggest thing is that we were able to lean on our reputation for being a good strategic partner that serves our clients’ best interests. Because they know we’ll tell them when we don’t think they should keep paying us for something, they also trust us when we say something like “I know this sounds crazy right now, but you should increase your budget due to a shift in your demand curve and channel economics.”

We were proactively honest with clients about what we believed the pandemic meant for their businesses, points of view we reached through a framework we outlined on our blog. For some, that meant supporting immediate termination of our partnership for them to conserve funds. In other cases, it meant pushing them to consider leaning into their performance marketing to capitalize on the changing environment and channel economics.

During the recovery, many companies have looked to external agencies and consultants to fill a temporary staffing gap in a lower-risk way. Shifting attitudes towards external resourcing and the evolution of company processes and culture to support remote workers have helped us more quickly and fully integrate with our clients’ internal teams.

In a previous conversation, you mentioned, “We regularly tell companies, ‘You don’t need any growth marketing right now. Focus on product-market fit.’” How can startups tell that it’s the right time to come work with you?

Growth marketing is an amplification tool. It shines a bright spotlight on a product or solution, believing that if only people knew about it, they would want it and love it. The “want it” and “love it” represent product-market fit. To measure these, we look at customer reviews, referral activity leading to organic growth, retention, product engagement, and ultimately realized and expected lifetime value.

Seeing good conversion rates and attractive customer acquisition costs in small-scale channel testing suggest that not only is there a group of people that love it, but that they can be reached. These are prerequisites for sustainable growth, in my view.

If an early-stage company has limited resources, how should they prioritize their funds in regards to marketing?

First, invest in the product to make it excellent, as judged by real, paying customers. Marketing plays a role in this iterative process of traffic acquisition, funnel measurement and feedback collection; it’s just not “growth marketing.” It’s better considered to be “go-to-market marketing,” typically staffed by a product marketer or similar.

Once the product is in a good place, I typically recommend at least some investment in non-paid marketing efforts and some testing of paid advertising, most often Facebook and/or Google. It’s rare for a company to find a great scalable channel if neither of these work. They serve as bellwethers for online marketing performance, generally speaking.

The best non-paid marketing investments are highly contextual on the target customer and a company’s differentiation from the competitive landscape.

What do startups continue to get wrong?

Focusing on growth before finding product/market fit is the biggest [thing that startups continue to get wrong]. Early-stage founders are under intense pressure to grow successfully. For all but the lucky few who find incredible early customer success, finding product-market fit requires an unbelievable dose of patience. I think this is one of the reasons we see a pattern of success among founders who are solving a problem they deeply care about personally. For them, it’s first and foremost about solving the problem for themselves, not others. It’s not about money or some notion of macro success. It’s about micro success. From there, it’s an easy jump to passionately share this solution you so desperately needed.

From an advertising standpoint, many companies try to run too many channels at once and expect success too quickly, leading to false negatives. Most channels are quite nuanced at this point and require both expertise and patience to crack, for most businesses.

How do your growth marketing strategies change when working with early-stage startups as opposed to mature companies?

With very early-stage companies, our work is typically not related to growth, per se. It’s more about getting a foundation in place (ex: pixels, tech stack, initial value props, early staffing), driving traffic through new funnels to gather early data, or setting up email campaigns. Once the product is in a good place, we are often working with a founder or first marketing hire to stand up their initial paid channels and try to get them from 0 to 1. Can we spend 5k, 10k, 20k/month with a good return?

On the non-paid side, it could be executing a content strategy, launching a referral program or cultivating partnerships. Once a company is spending hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars per month profitably, we are typically helping them improve channel performance, better measure the incremental impact of their spend, break through to a new level of scale, or diversify channels (paid or non-paid).

#growth-hacking, #growth-marketers, #marketing, #product-management, #product-marketing, #startup-company, #tc

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Even startups on tight budgets can maximize their marketing impact

Search engine optimization, PR, paid marketing, emails, social — marketing and communications is crowded with techniques, channels, solutions and acronyms. It’s little wonder that many startups strapped for time and money find defining and executing a sustainable marketing campaign a daunting prospect.

The sheer number of options makes it difficult to determine an effective approach, and my view is that this complexity often obscures the obvious answer: A startup’s best marketing asset is its story. The knowledge and expertise of its team, together with the why and the how of its offering provides the most compelling content.

Leveraging this material with best practice techniques enables any startup, no matter how limited its budget, to run an effective marketing campaign.

Many startups make the mistake of choosing systems and employing procedures to solve the immediate needs of the department that requires them.

I know this approach works, because this is exactly what I did with my co-founder Alex Feiglstorfer when we set up Storyblok. To be clear, we are developers not marketers. However, our previous experience building CMS systems taught us that the main driver of organic engagement for most businesses was customer conversations around content.

Specifically, sharing experiences, expertise and what we learned. We had committed nearly all of our available cash to developing our product, so we knew that the only way to market Storyblok was to do it all ourselves.

As a result, we focused solely on problem-solving content. This took the form of tutorials on web development and opinion pieces on headless CMS and other topics within our areas of expertise. The trick was that what we published wasn’t made just for marketing, it was based on our own internal documentation of problems we encountered as we developed our product. In essence, we were “learning in public.” Through this approach we were able to acquire thousands of customers in our first year.

Retelling this story isn’t to blow my own trumpet, it’s to make clear that you don’t have to be a marketer by training or commit a huge amount of time and resources to successfully market your startup. So, how do you get started?

Getting your structure and technology right

Although there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how you organize your startup’s marketing function, there are some basic principles that apply in nearly every situation. A recent survey of 400+ executives from CMS Wire helpfully identified the following factors as the “top digital customer experience challenges” for businesses:

  1. Limited budget/resources.
  2. Siloed systems and fragmented customer data.
  3. Limited cross-department alignment/collaboration.
  4. Outdated/limited technology, operations or processes.
  5. Lack of in-house expertise/skills.

Challenges two to four are the pitfalls that we can focus on avoiding. They are directly related to how a startup produces, organizes and distributes its content.

With regard to the siloing of systems and fragmentation of customer data, the overriding goal is to ensure all your systems are integrated and speak to one another. In practice, this means that the data gathered in different departments — whether its feedback from sales, engagement on your website, customer service responses or product development information — is collected in a uniform and methodical manner and is readily accessible across the business.

#brand-management, #column, #content-marketing, #customer-experience, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #ec-marketing-tech, #marketing, #pr, #product-marketing, #public-relations, #startups

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One CMO’s honest take on the modern chief marketing role

There’s no shortage of commentary around the chief marketing officer title these days, and certainly no lack of opinions about the role’s responsibilities and meaning within a company. There’s a reason for that. CMO is the shortest tenured C-suite role — the average tenure of a CMO is the lowest of all C-suite titles at 3.5 years.

CMOs either produce the numbers or we find another job.

That’s because the chief marketing officer’s role is increasingly complex. Qualifications require broad, strategic thinking while also maintaining tactical acumen across several functions. There’s a big disparity in what companies expect from CMOs. Some want a strategist with an eye for go-to-market planning, while others want a focus on close alignment with sales in addition to brand awareness, content strategy and lead generation.

Still other companies want their CMO to emphasize product marketing and management. Ask 10 CMOs how they define their role and you’ll get 10 different answers.

So, I’m sharing my honest, straight from the mouth of a tenured CMO take on what the role actually means, plus the key attributes of today’s modern CMO.

We must be the Master Builder

Hat tip to “The Lego Movie” for this analogy. Today’s marketing executives must bring functions and teams together. From sales and marketing alignment to product and everything in between, chief marketers are the connective tissue between every function. Driving alignment between these functions is table stakes.

Same goes for people teams and culture — I’ve experienced an increase in CMOs serving as the linchpin of a company’s culture. My CEO lives by the famous phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and driving culture alignment now sits squarely on marketing’s shoulders.

Consistently drives new opportunities

Ah, demand generation. Driving new opportunity creation will continue to be a top priority for CMOs, of course. I’m not sharing anything new here, but the stakes are higher. CMOs either produce the numbers or we find another job. Doesn’t get any more straightforward than that. But, simply generating leads to check a box doesn’t cut it in board rooms anymore.

#brand-management, #cmo, #column, #ec-column, #ec-marketing-tech, #marketing, #product-marketing, #startups

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4 ways martech will shift in 2021

The tidal wave of growth is upon us — an unprecedented economic boom that will manifest later this year, bringing significant investments, acquisitions, and customer growth. But most tech companies and startups are not adequately prepared to capitalize on the opportunity that lies ahead.

Here’s how marketing in tech will shift — and what you need to know to reach more customers and accelerate growth in 2021.

First and foremost, differentiation is going to be imperative. It’s already hard enough to stand out and get noticed, and it’s about to get much more difficult as new companies emerge and investments and budgets balloon in the latter half of the year. Virtually all major companies are increasing budgets to pre-pandemic levels, but will delay those investments until the second half of the year. This will result in an increased intensity of competition that will drown out any undifferentiated players.

The second half of 2021 will bring incredible growth, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time.

Additionally, tech companies need to be mindful not to ignore the most important part of the ecosystem: people. Technology will only take you so far, and it’s not going to be enough to survive the competition. Marketing is about people, including your customers, team, partners, investors, and the broader community.

Understanding who your people are and how you can use their help to build a strong foundation and drive exponential growth is essential.

Tactically, the most successful tech companies will embrace video and experimentation in their marketing — two components that will catapult them ahead of the competition.

Ignoring these predictions, backed by empirical evidence, will be detrimental and devastating. Fasten your seatbelts: 2021 is going to be a turbo-charged year of growth opportunities for marketing in tech.

Differentiation is crucial

The explosion of tech companies and startups seeking to be the next big thing isn’t over yet. However, many of them are indistinguishable from each other and lack a compelling value proposition. Just one look at the websites of new and existing tech companies will reveal a proliferation of buzzwords and conceptual illustrations, leaving them all looking and sounding alike.

The tech companies that succeed are those that embrace one of the fundamentals of effective marketing — positioning.

In the ’80s, Al Ries and Jack Trout published Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind and coined the term, which documented the best-known approach to standing out in a noisy marketplace. As the market heats up, companies will realize the need to sharpen their positioning and dial in their focus to break through the noise.

To get attention and build traction, companies need to establish a position they can own. The “mashup method: (Netflix but for coding lessons) is not real positioning; it’s simply a lazy gimmick.

It is imperative to identify who your ideal customer is and not just who could use your product. Focusing on a segment of the market rather than the whole is, perhaps counterintuitively, the most effective approach to capturing the larger market.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-news-analysis, #enterprise, #entrepreneurship, #marketing, #product-marketing, #stripe

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How and when to build marketing teams at deep tech companies

Deep tech startups develop cutting-edge innovations with the power to truly revolutionize society. The founding team members at these companies often come from deeply technical backgrounds, which powers rapid product progress but can create bottlenecks on the go-to-market side.

In this post, I outline the answers to four key questions around marketing at early-stage deep tech companies that are post-revenue:

  • What marketing teams at deep tech companies do.
  • When to hire the marketing team.
  • Whether the marketing team needs industry experience.
  • How to source and evaluate talent for the marketing team.

From this post, deep tech startups can formulate their marketing hiring strategy and attract and cultivate top talent to drive their go-to-market plan. Without business execution, even the most groundbreaking innovations do not achieve their intended impact.

What do marketing teams at deep tech companies do?

To set the context, I share below the typical projects of deep tech marketing teams, which look different from marketing in other industries given the greater product focus and complexity, regulatory oversight and longer time to market.

Go-to-market

Marketers leverage the strength of the IP to establish collaborations with large companies, such as pharma companies and institutions, such as the government, universities or hospitals. To this end, marketers develop creative ways to gather lists of, and information on, key contacts at these potential partners. They also build sales collateral, such as demo videos, pitch decks and one-pagers, to more effectively reach and build long-term relationships with these prospects.

More broadly, marketers also develop the go-to-market strategy beyond partnerships. To this end, marketers conduct in-depth market research on business models, monetization strategies and reimbursement channels.

Communications

Marketers create original content to establish the company as a thought leader, build the company’s brand credibility through social media and apply for awards and honors to validate the potential of the company’s solution.

Forecasting

Marketers work with finance and product teams to formulate projections as the company moves into the clinical phase.

When should deep tech companies hire marketers?

The CEO and other members of the founding team take on marketing work in the formation stage to better understand and empathize with the needs, capabilities and opportunities in the department before bringing someone on full time.

Once the product shows signs of repeatable revenue, a marketing lead is needed. Specifically, this is ahead of a large Series A round, after a small Series A round or when a commercial partner has expressed interest in larger, long-term contracts. Instead of the typical chief marketing officer or chief revenue officer title, deep tech startups call this person a chief commercial officer or chief partnerships officer.

For additional support in the formation stage, companies bring on MBA interns and work with their investors. Prior to the Series A, platform teams at deep tech venture-capital funds are hands-on in helping with marketing through actually doing marketing projects for their portfolio companies, ideating on long-term marketing strategy with the founders through regular feedback sessions and connecting founders with vetted marketing contractors or agencies.

For companies that require FDA approval, commercial advisors, consultants and board members fully take on the partnership strategy work (which represents the bulk of the marketing needs) prior to the Series A round. Similarly, external consultants, such as marketing agencies, can take over major projects like launch strategy. External consultants can then join the team should their performance be strong.

For drug-development companies, the marketing leader is most crucial when the company enters the clinical phase and prepares for trials, regardless of funding stage.

Do marketing hires need industry experience?

Of course, it is ideal to hire someone with experience selling into the space and someone who is comfortable with the complex supply chains and long sales cycles. However, if the choice is between someone with functional expertise but no industry expertise and someone with industry experience but limited or no functional expertise, it is better to hire the former candidate and leverage the rest of the team for domain expertise. Deep tech is a niche area, so the other team members can support the marketer in developing industry expertise.

#deep-tech, #ec-entrepreneurship, #ec-marketing, #growth-marketing, #labor, #marketing, #product-management, #product-marketing, #startups, #tc

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3 tips for SaaS founders hoping to join the $1 million ARR club

Building a SaaS company from the ground up is never easy. In fact, it’s generally a grueling, all-consuming process that strains every fiber in your being.

But it is much, much more difficult if you approach it without a tried and true process. After starting and scaling five successful companies, I can tell you that there absolutely is a repeatable process to building a successful SaaS business, one that can reliably guide you to product-market fit and then help you quickly scale.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it does mean that you won’t waste years of your life pursuing a solution that nobody wants.

Begin with finding the right problem

In the earliest stages, the process begins by finding the right problem to solve. At this point, you likely already have a few hypotheses about that problem. But no matter your conviction, you must test those hypotheses against a consistent set of criteria. For example, these are the questions that my co-founder and I used to evaluate the earliest concept of our current company, Drift:

  • Is the problem big enough?
  • Is the market big enough?
  • Does the problem have a recurring use case?
  • Can we build the solution for the problem?

If this sounds like a simple, straightforward exercise, it’s because it is. But not enough entrepreneurs ask themselves these questions at the beginning of their journey. We successfully avoided wasting months or even years of precious time building products that didn’t fit these criteria. This simple step will save you an incredible amount of pain and aggravation.

The only way to find product-market fit

Once you settle on a problem to solve, it’s time to build a barebones product that solves it and to then test that product against the market.

My co-founder Elias and I approached it this way: First, we personally spent hours each day in communities like LinkedIn, Twitter and Product Hunt, giving folks early access to our product and asking them for as much feedback as they could offer.

We were happy if they responded in the comments or to our direct messages, but we always went deeper by asking them to speak over the phone or on a video chat. We also hit the pavement by going to in-person Meetups and events around our hometown of Boston. We even took flights out to small events around the country so that we could interact with potential customers in-person.

If this sounds inordinate, it isn’t. This is the kind of attention that you need to devote to gathering intelligence from potential customers, so that you can relentlessly laser in on a product that they will actually use, value and pay for.

#column, #drift, #entrepreneurship, #growth-marketing, #product-marketing, #saas, #software-as-a-service, #startups, #tc

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Drive predictable B2B revenue growth with insights from big data and CDPs

As the world reopens and revenue teams are unleashed to meet growth targets, many B2B sellers and marketers are wondering how they can best prioritize prospect accounts. Everyone ultimately wants to achieve predictable revenue growth, but in uncertain times — and with shrinking budgets — it can feel like a pipe dream.

Slimmer budgets likely mean you’ll need more accurate targeting and higher win rates. The good news is your revenue team is likely already gathering tons of prospect data to help you improve account targeting, so it’s time to put that data to work with artificial intelligence. Using big data and four essential AI-based models, you can understand what your prospects want and successfully predict revenue opportunities.

Big data and CDPs are first steps to capturing account insights

Capturing and processing big data is essential in order to know everything about prospects and best position your solution. Accurately targeting your campaigns and buyer journeys necessitates more data than ever before.

Marketers today rely on customer data platforms (CDPs) to handle this slew of information from disparate sources. CDPs let us mash together and clean up data to get a single source of normalized data. We can then use AI to extract meaningful insights and trends to drive revenue planning.

That single source of truth also lets marketers dive into the ocean of accounts and segment them by similar attributes. You can break them down into industry, location, buying stage, intent, engagement — any combination of factors. When it’s time to introduce prospects to your cadence, you’ll have segment-specific insights to guide your campaigns.

AI realizes data-based insights

You might find that your data ocean is much deeper than you expected. While transforming all that data into a single source to drive actionable insights, you’ll also need the right resources and solutions to convert raw data into highly targeted prospect outreach.

This is where AI shines. AI and machine learning enable revenue teams to analyze data for historical and behavioral patterns, pluck out the most relevant intent data, and predict what will move prospects through the buyer journey.

#artificial-intelligence, #big-data, #column, #customer-data-platform, #customer-relationship-management, #ecommerce, #finance, #machine-learning, #marketing, #online-advertising, #product-marketing, #targeted-advertising, #tc

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What can growth marketers learn from lean product development?

Old-school approaches to marketing were often described as “spray and pray.” Marketers would launch a massive campaign in as many places as possible and hope that something worked.

More customers would show up, so it would appear that something had in fact worked.

But nobody could be sure exactly what that something was.

When we can’t predict what will have an impact, we need campaigns that cover all the bases, and those campaigns are consequently huge. They take a long time to create, are expensive to launch and come chock full of risk.

If a spray-and-pray campaign is a total failure (and we don’t have to go far to find examples of those), it’s quite possible an entire year’s worth of marketing budget has just been wasted.

Instead, marketers need to take a page from lean product development and begin creating Minimum Viable Campaigns (MVCs). Rather than wait until a massive multichannel launch is perfect, we can incrementally release a series of smaller, targeted, data-driven campaigns.

Over time these MVCs coalesce to look and act much like a Big Bang-style campaign from the spray-and-pray days, but they’ve done so in a much more data-driven and less risky way.

What exactly is an MVC?

Just as with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), it can be easy to misunderstand the real definition of an MVC. It’s not something thrown together with no regard for brand standards or strategic goals, and it’s not a blind guess.

Instead, a good MVC represents the smallest amount of well-designed work that could still achieve some of the campaign’s goals. Before we have any chance of figuring out what that looks like, we need to know the ultimate goal of the bigger campaign or initiative. If we don’t know this, we can’t possibly measure the effectiveness of the MVC.

#column, #entrepreneurship, #growth-marketing, #lean-startups, #marketing, #product-management, #product-marketing, #social-media, #startups, #tc, #verified-experts

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