My 10 principles of startup marketing
A very personal list of things learnt over a decade and a bit of my career
For a few reasons, these last couple of months became a time to reflect.
I made lists, got through a few of them, procrastinated on others, and thought about my career and its direction a lot. And as I did this, one thing became clear to me with respect to marketing: I was forgetting stuff I knew. I was aghast, but this isn’t rocket science. Experts have been saying this for a while: If you don’t keep reminding yourself of things you know, you will forget.
So I went back, across all my essays, bookmarks, and saved screenshots, and compressed them into a few principles I could go back to easily.
This took me a while, but I have my list, and here it is:
1. Good software is opinionated
This is one of the secrets of startups that have great marketing. Their software has an opinion, a worldview. It has something to say about how the world should be, and wants to shape things into that vision. The corollary is that the founders understand this, and are good communicators of the vision. If both these things happen, if the marketing team has a story and a narrator, that’s the best place to start from.
2. Simplify, simplify, simplify
The most successful business models are the simplest. The best performing team structure is the simplest. The best marketing model is the simplest. I can go on, and I have seen this multiple times in my career: Anything that’s not good is usually the result of some kind of complicated manoeuvring or engineering or planning. Most times that complexity is not needed. It needs to be removed, because simplicity scales.
3. Most marketing analytics are unnecessary
Go look up the number of things you measure in your weekly/monthly marketing report. Write them down, and check how many decisions in the last month were made on the basis of the data in front of you.
I will not say any more because I don’t need to.
A better way is to first figure out the things you want to improve upon and measure only them, so you can optimise and take better decisions.
4. Your startup needs an enemy
It does. You enemy can be an industry behemoth, or can be a staid, slow, big competitor, or can be an idea whose time has come and gone. But there has to be an enemy, something you are in opposition to. This correlates to having an opinion as a software, but here I’m also talking about picking a fight.
And always remember, you never pick a fight with someone smaller than you. Always punch up, never down.
5. You have to have a competitive advantage in at least one marketing channel
At a startup, you don’t need every channel to work for you. That can come later. But first, a startup marketing leader’s job is to discover and double down on that one marketing channel that can be relied on for a clear, stable source of leads and business. Until this channel is discovered and stabilised, nothing else the marketing leader does is important. There has to be a competitive advantage in one channel, and with that done, other channels can be explored.
6. Content has to be consistent, different, and entertaining
Modern content marketing is attempting to break through a relentless cavalcade of noise to deliver its message. Everything is competition: Netflix, Twitter, and Verge’s new redesign. To actually get across and make an impact, content needs to be three things: consistent, different, and entertaining. Consistent, in that you need to be repeatedly in front of your prospects. Different, in that there needs to be something to attract and hold their attention. Entertaining, in that it needs to be enjoyable enough for prospects to remember.
7. Prioritise BOF content
By BOF content, I mean, simply, sales enablement. It’s simple: Helping convert that enterprise customer is a better use of the marketing team’s time than anything else you can imagine. This is why sales enablement is one of the best kept secrets of successful marketing teams.
8. The best marketing doesn’t look like marketing
This is something that I learnt very late in my career. Every little signal, every bright light that attracts your attention and makes you look something up, could have been part of a marketing campaign. Except they don’t look like campaigns, and they don’t register in your head as one either.
Apple, Starbucks, and Netflix are masters at this. Just that you and I wouldn’t notice. We would just be influenced, and we would move on, without knowing that we have been influenced.
9. Quality of content = Quantity of content
The only way to increase the quality of content and its effectiveness is to put out more of it. There is no secret, this is it. The reason is that there is no formula to virality or content success, except increasing the surface area and publishing a lot of good stuff. The more content you produce, the better you’ll get at producing content, and you’ll give yourself more chances of success.
10. Think calendars, not campaigns
The campaign is dead, long live the campaign. Customers are now online 24x7, they are reading, viewing, and responding to stuff continually. Anything more than 24 hours old is irrelevant. Social media and companies’ presence on it means that the expectation is that of an always-on brand.
The combined effect is that out-of-sight is now definitely out-of-mind. You need an organic content machine that churns out constant, continuous creativity. That’s why the calendar is a better way to think about marketing than campaigns.