Marketing is such a misunderstood term because it can be defined so many different ways. Marketing can mean branding, PR, lead generation, inbound, advertising, SEO, Product Marketing and a dozen other things. In larger companies all of these functions are done by separate people in separate groups and when you split them all apart it can be easy to forget why the overall marketing plan existed in the first place. For startup marketers, the biggest problem is staying focused on the things that matter and forgetting about the million things you could be working on that don’t matter to the business.

What is the difference between good and bad marketing? Good marketing drives revenue. That’s it. It’s as simple as that.

You would think this is obvious to everyone, particularly cash-starved startups but I still see marketing plans going completely off the rails where marketers have lost sight of the real prize. Examples? I’ve seen marketing plans with a large amount of budget dedicated to participating in trade shows that have consistently produced few if any opportunities (“…but it will send a bad message if we don’t show up”). I’ve seen teams dedicate large amounts of time and effort into building social media followings without any plan to drive revenue from that (“…our competitors are doing it”). I’ve seen large amounts of money spent on PR that doesn’t reach the company’s target market (“…but all of our friends read TechCrunch”, “…my mom was so proud when I was in the newspaper”).

I’ve found that focus on revenue is also a good benchmark to use when hiring marketing folks. When they talk about tactics and results does it come back to revenue? Can they describe how they measured and tracked that? If yes, you’ve got a good marketer. Are they talking a lot about “branding” and “awareness” and “reach” without ever connecting the dots back to revenue? That’s a sign of trouble.