We chuckled when we read this piece in Forbes describing why start-ups are reputed for their aversion to marketing.  Not that we find marketing or entrepreneurs especially amusing.  It just seems odd to us, in an age bristling with new tools and techniques to quantify such things, we still hear “wanna-preneurs” whining about their inability to measure the marketing function.  Hello? With folks like Eloqua and Marketo so visible and prominent, not to mention the abundance of so many online choices for determining if and how your marketing efforts are working out, the old fears about wasting-half-your-money-but-not-sure-which-half should seem archaic, right?  Apparently not to everyone.  Here’s a brief summary of the alleged fears, and our responses:

1.  Start-ups don’t understand it.  Only the business-challenged ones. The best and brightest young entrepreneurs share this in common with their seasoned elders: they “get” marketing.  They know that a company eschewing it will very likely struggle to acquire customers in the necessary volumes.   Or, as we like to say, marketing doesn’t start with a product, it starts with a customer.

2. It costs money.  So does everything else that adds value.  For that matter, useful things are rarely cheap. What did you go to all those meetings with VCs and angels for, their bottled water and coffee? We know damn few investors who are shelling out good money to striplings and greenhorns who’ve not cut their teeth on product launches, rollouts, roadshows and all the “marketing” that those efforts entail. Yes, all this is marketing.  Knowing what people place value upon is marketing. Understanding the difference between a real value proposition and hyped elevator pitch is marketing. One more thing: there’s a lot fizz out there about how to get “free” marketing or publicity and how to make people basically work for nothing besides the pleasure of associating with you.  We say this: the old adage about getting what one pays for is as true today as it was when it was coined. Pun intended. BTW, here’s the real-world definition 0f a value proposition: it’s the dollar difference between the value assigned by the customer to the product’s benefits minus the sum of the product’s price + adoption cost.  The bigger the remainder after the subtraction, the more compelling the value.

3. They don’t see it as a priority. See #1 above. Serial entrepreneur Joel Gascoigne’s thoughts express ours precisely. “I think a very valid fear when starting to consider marketing a start-up is that you only get one chance with people you reach. The idea that someone will make their final decision based on their first impression is very believable. We’ve found out this is far from the case…I believe that what feels like ‘too early’ is in fact a great time to start marketing. Most people have probably delayed much longer than they should”.

4. It’s hard to measure success In fact, it’s never been easier. There’s an entire category of software (SaaS) that analyzes your outreach, lead-volume, targeting efficiency, lead nurturing, close rate, time to close, cost-per-close, and revenue-per-new customer — to name just a few metrics — that’s being utilized like crazy today. By start-ups. Gartner expects this category to outgrow  I.T. budgets in another two years.

5. Not knowing whom to hire. A start-up would be wise to outsource some functions, depending on expertise level of the founding team.  As far as vetting, it’s no different from any hiring process. You look for domain expertise, certainly, but savvy (and significant accomplishments) in the specific function you want, e.g., PR, web development, content creation, and social media, in our opinion, trumps technical credentials. Be diligent about reference checking and seeing recent work samples.  Finally you want someone you’d be comfortable and confident sharing a foxhole with. Because in the early going you’ll be in one sooner or later, together.

Remember the old saying on the wall of the dentist’s office: “Do I have to floss all of my teeth?” “Only the ones you want to keep.”  Here’s the marketing version: “Do we have to market all of our products?”  “Just the ones you want people to buy.” 

When Stan DeVaughn is not ranting on this site, you can read him and his comrade-in-communications, Peter Davé, on The Write Stuff, the blog of Write Angle–Silicon Valley’s premiere technology writing and content creation agency for the I.T. industry.


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