I’ve been interested in studying how startups use marketing as an essential lever for growth. So, startup marketing will be the subject of my next few blog posts.

I recently asked a VC friend who has seen his share of startups why aren’t startups generally good at marketing, and he told me this via an email: “The marketing hire is the hardest hire for our companies to make. The failure rate is higher than any other.” I asked him why? His response was: “because they are all led by product oriented founders who don’t value marketing“. And about month ago, when I wrote a post on the pitfalls of native marketingBrad Feld had an insightful comment, answering a similar question. He said: “One of the problems with both small and large companies is that their marketing sucks and the marketing leader (CMO or VP Marketing) has a one dimensional view of their role. There are very few real CMOs who have a seat at the executive table, respect of their peers, and the real impact on the strategy of the business. Most end up spending their time doing what you call table stakes as well as thrashing around outside their own areas of competence.” That’s a hard-hitting reality. I didn’t ask CEO’s/founders because I know most would not admit their marketing isn’t great. Yet, there isn’t a successful startup that didn’t master some element of marketing in their journey to success.
  • Facebook. Their early marketing was focused on getting developers to write Facebook apps. I recall those local meetings back in 2008 and 2009.
  • DropBox. They mastered effective viral marketing, where each user was incented to invite others and each received value.
  • AirBnB. They were known to have bot-harvested a ton of responses to ads on Craigslist pointing to their listings to bootstrap responses for their early users.
These all seem like marketing stunts or exploits. But they worked, and if you were to ask a marketing professional 10 years ago if these tactics were in the marketing books, you couldn’t find them. So my first point is that startup marketing is very different from traditional marketing, in large part because of online/digital marketing, but also due to the fact that traditional marketing mostly focuses on established markets and competitors, whereas startup marketing is about creating demand for your product and acquiring emerging user segments, and that’s not the same as fulfilling demand for an existing need or market. In the same way that a startup is not a small version of a large company (said famously by Steve Blank in 2010), startup marketing is not a scaled-down version of traditional marketing. Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 1.06.07 PM