Critical Marketing Activites For A Startup

Question: When taking a new start up out to market, what is your advice in terms of critical items to consider in terms of marketing activities?

Answer (Brad): Anyone that knows me has heard me say “I hate marketing” so I’m probably biased against this question.  Of course, I have Regis McKenna’s legendary HBR article “Marketing Is Everything” (1991) sitting on my desk to read so it’s equally probable that you could call me a hypocrite about marketing.

While this is an impossibly broad question to answer (and one that has spawned many management books on marketing), I’ll point out the three things about marketing for software / Internet startups that I’ve learned over the last twenty years.  If you make industrial machine parts, you might as well stop reading since I’m even more clueless about that.

1. 98% of launch-based marketing sucks.  Every now and then you find someone that is brilliant at it.  When you do, hang on to them for dear life.  Let them do their thing.  See #2.

2. Great launch marketing does not require very much money.  A company I was an investor in once spent $2m on a print advertising campaign to launch its first product.  I knew I was in trouble when I got a 4’ x 5’ poster of the ad framed with a note from the VP Marketing that said “congrats on the new ad campaign.”  When I read the ad, I had no idea what the company did.  I sat down and cried for a little while.  Fortunately it was 2000 so I was soon to be not alone in my misery.

3. You don’t need a VP Marketing to do launch marketing.  You’ll eventually need one, but when you launch, you need an amazing CEO (is that you?), a great technical visionary (you or your CTO / partner) and a couple of passionate user-facing evangelists (regardless of the type of product you have.)

If you think I’m wrong, go ahead and spend some time with “Marketing Is Everything.”  The summary is: “Today technology is creating greater customer choice, and choice is altering the marketplace. Six principles define the new marketing: marketing is a way of doing business that pervades the entire company; companies must dispel their limiting market-share mentality; programmable technology promises to open up almost limitless choice for customers; a feedback loop is making advertising’s one-way communication obsolete; the line between services and products is eroding; and the marriage of marketing and technology is inevitable.”