Imagine if you will, a bunch of marketers sitting around trying to write code for their tech startup without an expert on hand. They’d be mocked and dismissed, and probably write some code that is full of bugs and will quickly need to be re-written. For good reason it’s generally not something that you see done.
So, why is it so common to see developers attempt to position and market a business without any help? Perhaps it is because marketing appears simple at first glance. Everyone is exposed to online advertising and company web sites every day. We all think we understand what works and what doesn’t and as individuals we feel qualified to try our hand at doing something we are so familiar with.
But that can be a tragic mistake for companies trying to get their first sets of funding and customers because while pivots are common, you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression with the people who could make or break your business.
As a marketing guy with a passion for startups, I am obviously biased on the topic but there are a few really good reasons to have a marketing (and/or business development) pro on hand through the early days of a company. Because while developers might have good marketing ideas, they usually don’t have the developed skill set to actually get people to investigate, use, and recommend a product.
1. Positioning the product for each of the key audiences. Marketers bring unique skills in understanding how people buy and the emotional, not just functional parts of the process. In many cases the “best” technology doesn’t win, the one with the clearest and most compelling message does. They also understand that the pitch for investors may be different than consumers and know how to decide what features should be highlighted where.
2. Help focus development on the things that sell. We can all agree that early stage development is all about trade offs. Marketers bring the customer perspective to the table to help identify which features will actually entice someone to start using a product and drive referrals, and which you can add later.
3. They know how to say it simply. Developers are usually super smart people who want to build cool things. They understand and will happily tell you why building on one code stack or development platform is better than another or how bleeding edge a product is. Which is great, except most buyers can’t understand what that means or why it matters. Marketers are great at simplifying the message into the key points that potential users care about and making people feel like they are making a smart choice instead of being confused and feeling dumb.
4. They’ve actually done the work before. I’ve often said that doing marketing for a day is easy. Doing it every day is really hard. But just because you’ve read about how to do social media, email marketing, create and test landing pages, funnel analysis and more doesn’t mean you actually know how to do it. Reading lots of articles can’t prepare you for what it’s really like to continually produce content and optimize your marketing. Sure, people can learn and even an experienced marketer will make mistakes but with critically low marketing budgets (time and money) you don’t want to make rookie mistakes with your startup.
5. Proper data interpretation: Research tools like Survey Monkey and Delighted make it really easy throw up an NPS survey and analytics tools like Google Analytics and Mixpanel make it easy to track behavior. (I love all of those by the way.) But understanding what is good or projectable data and what is not can be tricky. Even for marketers, the urge to think a little bit of data is anything more than directional can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s so important to have someone on hand who really understands what they are looking at and how to spin it for an investor meeting.
Am I saying that you have to have a founding CMO or even a marketing head? Not necessarily. But knowing what they bring to the table is essential so you can decide whether you actually need them or not.