Startup Marketing and Sales
by April Dunford

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My New Role as EIR at Communitech


Communitech EIR

In the past couple of years I’ve been trying to do my part to give back to the startup communities I’m part of. This blog has been part of that, I’m an active mentor for a couple of startup accelerators including the excellent FounderFuel in Montreal and InCubes here in Toronto, I give talks and probably do about a dozen calls or meetings a week with startups looking for an hour of advice and/or therapy from a senior marketer.

As of this week I will also take on a part-time role as an Entrepreneur In Residence at Communitech. Communitech has so much going on right now it is almost difficult to describe it. It began in 1997 as a non-profit regional hub for the commercialization of innovative technologies and an a support organization for the other 1000 technology companies in that region. In 2010 the Communitech Hub opened its doors and today is 44,000 square feet housing over 120 companies mixing startups with innovative larger companies like Google and expansion-stage companies like Desire to Learn. Last year Communitech launched HYPERDRIVE, a 30M+, 24 month Accelerator program designed to take startups from seed to Series A. In addition, Communitech runs over 50 programs and events per year, has established North America’s largest peer network, and has coached over 1000 companies through its Venture Services Group.

Communitech also has a group of EIR’s that work with Startups offering advice and mentoring and as of this week I will be one of them. My role and my goal is to spread around my marketing knowledge as broadly in the Communitech community as possible. This is a part-time role but I plan to be hanging out at the Hub 1-2 days a week. You can drop me a note at april.dunford at and we can schedule a time to meet. Also, head over the the Communitech blog where there’s a post with some video of me chatting about startup marketing.

It’s a honor to be chosen for this role. I did my engineering degree at the University of Waterloo and spent a few years working at a startup in Waterloo early in my career. Back then we had nothing like the Hub or the resources that Communitech provides. It makes me happy to be able to provide something that I wished I had access to when I was at my first startup trying to figure out what the heck I was supposed to be doing.

Startup Branding and Selling to Martians


This week I read a couple of blog posts on the topic of Branding for startups that bothered me. Both posts tried to make the same 2 points about startup marketing:

  1. Branding is THE most important facet of startup marketing
  2. Branding is about how your offering resonates EMOTIONALLY with the buyer NOT the benefit you provide. The example used was home cleaning products where the benefit was “cleaning the house” where the “branding” focus should have been “creating more family time”.

This a classic example of advice that would be very good for a company in an established market but disastrous for a startup.

Positioning in an established market is very different from positioning in one that isn’t. Startup prospects are starting at a different spot on the purchase path. If you are selling soap, you don’t have to worry about defining what soap is, what it does or why you might want to buy some. The biggest worry the soap seller has is differentiating themselves from the other soaps out there. Since soap is all pretty much the same it’s going to be hard to do on technical merits (although there are loads consumer products that attempt to do just that such as dishwasher soap with “breakthrough multi-chamber technology” and  toilet paper that doesn’t leave little bits behind) so getting to the intangible stuff right away might be your only hope.

Most startups don’t operate in established markets – they are either breaking ground in new markets, operating at the intersection of markets, or trying to re-define a market. Selling in markets like these is a bit like trying to sell soap on a planet where nobody uses soap or really understands what it is. Selling Martians on the whole family time thing is nice but they aren’t going to buy if they can’t figure out what the heck soap is in the first place.

You can think of it like a cascading set of questions like this:

Startup Marketing Questions

In a well-established market you can skip the first 2 or 3 questions. Startups have to start at the top.

That doesn’t mean that the focus should be on features. Coming back to the soap example, telling Martians about the percentage of phosphates isn’t going to make much sense (unless they are rather scientific, which could be true). You have to start at the beginning. What the heck is this thing? –  Soap cleans things! Is this for me? – This is soap for removing Martian red dirt! If I never talk about that Martians would be left scratching their heads trying to figure out just exactly how is this stuff going to help them hang out with the family. I’ve seen the equivalent of the branding first approach used at startups and what you get is a lovely home page filled with vague platitudes that nobody understands and doesn’t convert.

I am not saying that branding isn’t useful and powerful and important for some companies at some stages of their growth. However I think early stage companies first have to figure out how to survive before they (and their markets) get established enough where branding can be an important differentiator.

Startup Marketing Workshop


I’m an advisor to a startup in Toronto called HackerYou that provides hands-on project based learning for folks in the startup community. They asked me if I wanted to run a Startup Marketing workshop and I happily jumped at the opportunity. It’s happening in Toronto on Saturday and there are still spots available. The cost is basically free (OK, it’s $50 but we do have costs to cover and for 6 hours of crunchy marketing goodness it doesn’t get cheaper than that). Here’s what I’m planning on covering in the workshop:

  • How to get started in building the basic structure of a marketing plan and why planning is important
  • How to asses your who your best target customers are and what you need to know about them to effectively market to them
  • How to develop a value proposition and messaging around your offering
  • How to assess your customer’s buying process in order to optimize it
  • How to choose a starting set of marketing tactics to build and fill your marketing funnel
  • How to measure the results of your marketing activities so you can analyze and improve your programs

I’m going to use a set of templates that we will work through together so come prepared to work on your plan for your business. This is going to be a highly interactive session so I also expect you to bring your thorniest marketing problems and we will set aside time for group discussion and working through specific examples.  I’m NOT planning on doing a deep dive on how to blog/do content marketing/market on Facebook/run advertising/do web events or any other of a host of specific marketing tactics (although I do have some pretty firm opinions on all of those things) – the goal of this workshop is to lay out a framework for a marketing plan that makes sense for YOUR business and how you can decide which tactics to focus on.

If that sounds interesting, you can register right here:

We are trying to keep the group small and spots are filling up quickly so if you are interested, do it now and see you on Saturday!

(Also, see that nifty on-page shopping widget I’ve got there? That’s from Shoplocket a startup I’m also an advisor for. If you sell stuff on the web you should check them out)

Growth Hacking and B2B Startups


The first time I heard the term “Growth Hacker” I got a little excited. I have often said we need a new term for marketing – one that separates the good metrics-driven marketers from the bad “spray and pray” ones.  So suddenly there’s a new term that describes me perfectly: a person that has a technology background (me: Systems Design Engineer, check), a person that deeply believes in testing, iteration, and data as the basis for good marketing (see point about being an engineer, yup), and sees marketing as something that reaches from product to marketing to sales (you might call that product marketing and hey, that’s me too). For a while it looked like I could be a growth hacker. But then I kept reading and it became clear that growth hackers weren’t worrying about the same things I was worrying about.

Discussion around the premise for first creating the term is what first started to make me question it. Growth hackers keep saying that they are differnt from “traditional marketers”, where “tradition” means – “measures nothing.” The TechCrunch series on growth hacking for example describes traditional marketers as being allergic to data and overly focused on PR/promotions without closing the loop back to growth. I’ve seen marketers like that for sure, but I wouldn’t say they were “traditional”, just lousy at their jobs. Certainly there’s no “tradition” of startup marketers that look like that – at least not at any of the startups I’ve been with. We tended to get rid of those folks pretty quickly. I could get into my opinions about how marketing operates at bigger companies but we’re talking about startups here. So where are the startups with this tradition of inattention to measuring results?

I’ve spent my career working at B2B companies rather than consumer-oriented ones. Perhaps in B2C startups, the tradition is more mass-media branding-based and less metrics-oriented (heck, maybe after I fired those puffball marketers they got jobs at B2C startups in the valley – I always wondered what happened to those people). That would make sense given the different dynamics of working to get a massive subscriber population on board quickly in order to make money from it. The more I read, the more I understood that the “growth” in growth hacking stands for B2C user growth and not necessarily revenue growth. The TechCrunch series on growth hacking for example, never mentions the word revenue once and most of the specific examples mentioned (i.e. the Facebook growth team) are focused on driving user signups not growing a (paying) customer base. I can only assume a different group at Facebook worries about the growth in paying customers.

Does Growth Hacking apply to B2B? I believe that it could. But B2B growth hackers would speak a different language. If I were to talk about it there would be a much, much bigger emphasis on customer learning than I’ve seen in what’s been written about growth hacking so far.  I can’t hack B2B growth without getting a deep understanding of who my customers are (and they aren’t everyone), who the buyers are (and there are often more than one per deal), and how the buying process works. Most of my early experimentation is oriented around figuring this out. Experiments around channels and referrals and spread work much, much better if you are basing them on what you know about your targets and how they buy rather than just trying random stuff based on intuition. That is a very B2B view of the world where the universe is segmented into folks that are likely to pay you and folks that aren’t. Most B2B startups aren’t in a “f@#$ing landgrab” as the Facebook growth team describes it. We are in a targeted f@#$ing landgrab. It’s different.

I’m starting to feel that the debate around growth hacking (the TechCrunch comments show that startup folks either love the term or hate it) is more a debate around styles of marketing. For B2B folks, the whole measure, iterate, learn part doesn’t look all that different from what we’ve been doing for a while now (at least us folks that don’t suck at our jobs), while the B2C folks see data collection as something new that they can finally do at scale. On the other hand B2B folks look at all the focus on users and wonder where the revenue is while the B2C folks hope that revenue comes after the user base is large enough to make money from it (or to sell the company to someone who can).

So what the heck do we analytic, B2B, revenue-oriented marketers call ourselves so we can get some respect, huh? Marketing doesn’t do it justice but we aren’t just hacking growth for growth’s sake either. We’re smart folks, surely we can come up with something?


A Startup Customer Worksheet


I’ve been blogging a bit about how to build a startup marketing plan, including some thoughts about an overall approach to marketing planning and execution, modelling the customer buying process and creating value propositions. The first step however in developing a great marketing plan is understanding the customers you are targeting.

This might seem obvious but in my experience this is often a difficult process. In every startup where I’ve been the head of marketing, getting a crisp definition of our targeted buyers was a process of discovery, testing and revision. I realized that it was very important to capture what we knew and what we assumed about our target buyers so that we could have a working record to guide our marketing efforts. Below is a generic version of the customer worksheet I’ve used for years.

What This Template is Not

This is NOT a buyer persona exercise which some companies do as part of their product management process. I believe in marketing doing a deep dive on personas in some cases, (where you sell to complex buying teams or you have a large marketing team that doesn’t have deep customer knowledge). If you want to learn more about personas I highly recommend you check out Adele Revella’s Buyer Persona Institute where she has a ton of resources available and knows more about that stuff than you, me and everyone we know piled together.

A Worksheet for Startups to Document Assumptions and Focus Their Marketing Efforts

The context here is to think about buyers purely in terms of what you need to understand in order to build a marketing plan in a startup environment. The goal is to outline enough about your segments and buyers to begin to build marketing programs that target them. This worksheet might be filled with more assumptions than facts on the first try but that’s OK.  Part of the value of using a tool like this is that the team can get a shared understanding of what is REALLY known and not known about buyers at a given moment in time. You’ll be coming back to this document after you’ve got new marketing program performance data that will help you refine it.

Like everything else on this blog, it’s based on my experiences as a head of marketing at a series of startups. My background is B2B so the template is biased toward that (but that said, I think it works for B2C as well). Here’s the template and some notes on how I use it:

Startup Customer Worksheet

A Startup Customer Worksheet

Offering Name and Date – The reason I’ve included a date field is because this is not a static document. This document is an input to the overall marketing plan and is reviewed regularly when you have a new set of marketing statistics to analyze. In particular you are looking for potential shifts that would impact what you have on this sheet (either confirming assumptions or calling into question the accepted facts). Therefore it’s important to know when this document was last reviewed.

Segment Name – I would have a worksheet for every target segment. For example I talked to a startup this week that had an offering related to student loans with 2 distinct segments – Universities, and Banks that handle large numbers of student loans.

Company Characteristics – Obviously this one is for B2B companies only. The key here is to capture in as much detail as possible, who your ideal target companies are. This will include the obvious stuff (geographic region, language, company size) and things that are more specifically related to the solution you are selling such as organization structure, supply chain, technology used, risk tolerance, compliance environment, etc.

Buyer Characteristics – You might have a single buyer or you might have multiple people involved. Here I am using the word “buyer” to represent anyone who has a good deal of influence over a purchase. For example, if you are selling toys for young children you will have to worry about marketing both to kids and parents. Technically parents are the “buyer”, but kids still have a lot of influence over what toys get chosen. Similarly when selling to larger enterprises you might be selling to a single buyer or a decision-making team. Deciding which of these buyers you will need to focus on depends a lot on how influential they are in the purchase process, which is why you will see a spot to capture that on the template. The characteristics you capture here need to be as specific as possible. Job titles alone for example are usually insufficient to describe who you are really going after, you need to get into facets of what your buyers know and have experience with, their tolerance for risk, and sometimes their desires and worries.

Purchase Motivation – Sometimes this is really related to a specific pain that the customer has (project failure rates are high, our order entry process is too slow, our employee retention rate is too low) or it could be more oriented around a desired outcome (I will look smarter, my friends will be impressed, I will get promoted). Sometimes there is a specific purchase trigger (such as a specific product/process failure, a pregnancy or engagement, a new regulation to comply with), if so those need to be captured here as well.

Gathering Spots – Generally if you can describe a group of target buyers in a very specific way, you can identify places where they gather. This could be online in specific communities or on specific social networks, or in person at events, conferences, association meetings, training or certification meetings, etc. This will serve as a starting point when thinking about marketing channels and where to get in front of your target prospects.

Information Sources – This is where your target buyers go and who they look to when they are looking to learn, do research, get inspired or simply find out what’s new. This will include online and offline news sources, experts, celebrities, industry review sites, vendor information sources, their peers and places where their peers share information.

Facts versus Assumptions – The Magic Happens Here

Companies fail for lots of reasons but in my experience most bad marketing happens because of poor assumptions about target buyers. I’ve had times where we were blowing our budget marketing to the wrong person in the organization or trying to reach them in places they just weren’t. I see this a lot today with startups spending a lot of effort building a profile on social networks or working to get coverage in certain publications that their target buyers simply don’t know about (shockingly not everyone reads TechCrunch or uses Pinterest). Color coding the information in this template helps highlight what is known and not really known but assumed. Here are some important points about this:

  • Anecdotal information from your sales team (or anyone else, including you) is not data – Your sales team will tell you that they understand your target buyers better than anyone else in the company but without data to back it up, they simply have an opinion – one informed by the last handful of customers they spoke to granted, but simply an opinion. Data comes from campaign results, sales data from a larger number of customers, survey data (but only when the survey was smartly executed in the first place) or when all else fails, data compiled from having conversations with a TON of prospects. If I’m doing it the last way I start feeling comfortable after 20 conversations, I feel like I’m really good after 50.
  • Some Assumptions Need Immediate Testing, Others Don’t – Some assumptions, if they turn out to be wrong could be disastrous, others not so much. For example if you have assumed that a particular buyer is the budget holder in an organization and it turns out they often are not, you could waste some serious budget trying to market to them. I would want data on that before I got started. You will have to make a call on which assumptions need to be explicitly tested and which you can simply mark as assumed and look for data that gives you clues about whether you assumed correctly or incorrectly.

I would really love your feedback on this one. Does this work for you? Are you using something similar? Are there obvious holes?

7 Ways Rock a Startup Accelerator Mentor Day


I spent the day yesterday at FounderFuel for their Mentor Day. If you aren’t familiar with FounderFuel they are a very successful startup accelerator based in Montreal. And what a day it was – 8 startups pitched and then did roundtable breakout sessions with over 50 mentors including VC’s, angel investors, entrepreneurs and senior executives. Here’s my mentor’s perspective on how a startup can really get the most out of a day like that:

1/ Pick your Target Mentors Ahead of Time: 50 mentors is a lot and they represented a wide cross section of folks that have deep experience in different consumer and business markets, and have a range of skills from technical expertise to sales, marketing, finance, and legal experience. Selecting a subset of the mentors with experience relevant to your business will help you target your discussions.A handful of the teams that needed marketing help reached out to me by email before the day and that helped to make sure that we connected at the session which I thought was pretty smart.

accelerator mentor day2/ Ask for Feedback on your Pitch: The mentors are both experienced pitch artists, and listen to pitches a lot. What better folks to give feedback on what worked and what didn’t work with the pitch you just gave? In this case the companies are all still in the early stages of the accelerator program so it’s a great time to get feedback that will improve the ultimate pitch you give on demo day. The feedback will also give you a feel for the differences in what an Angel investor might be looking for over what the more traditional VC’s are looking for in a pitch. “Tell me one thing that would have made my pitch better” or “What was missing from my pitch?” would both be great ways to start that discussion.

3/ Ask for Specific Help: The mentors are ready and willing to help but they can’t guess what you need. Coming with a set of specific requests helps shape the discussion in a way that is most helpful to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for specific introductions – even if the folks in the room don’t have the answers you need, chances are they know someone who does.

4/ Listen, Ask Questions (and Filter later): – The mentors yesterday came from really different backgrounds and had worked in a broad range of industries (consumer, gaming, retail, enterprise, financial services). Sure we’re all smart folks but you wouldn’t believe how different our opinons were about questions the startups were asking. For example, at my session with Openera – a tool for automatically organizing files and attachments – we got into a discussion about selling to consumers versus enterprises as a starting point. I ALWAYS tilt toward enterprises when people ask me that because I know/love enterprise sales. The mentor beside me, Yona Shtern, the CEO from Beyond the Rack on the other hand thought selling B2C (or B2C2B) was just fine. Only Openera can decide who’s got smarter advice for their business (yeah OK, in this case it’s probably the smarty-pants Beyond the Rack guy but hey you get what I’m trying to say here). Another example – in the discussion with InfoActive (a very cool tool that lets you easily create beautiful interactive data visualizations), I immediately saw the applicability to creating interactive marketing materials. I’m a marketer, that’s the obvious use case for someone like me.  The mentor beside me (James Duncan, CTO at Inktank) on the other hand saw the value in selling to IT departments that need a way to easily create good looking dashboards to help IT communicate data to business folks. That’s a great use case that a marketing person isn’t going to come up with. Both ideas might be worth investigating but only InfoActive can really decide that. Avoiding “mentor whiplash”, as the FounderFuel gang refers to it, is a critical skill for startups in accelerators that have deep rosters of active mentors. Remember too that time is limited so you don’t want to waste it having a long debate with a single mentor over a specific point. Listen, probe a bit if you need to, and then move on. You can always schedule follow-on time with a specific mentor to explore an idea later.

5/ Take Notes:  You put a couple of CEO’s a VC, a senior exec and a CTO at a table together and guess what happens? We talk. A lot. Not only that but the conversation moves very quickly from one point of view to the next. Some teams were recording the sessions but the room was loud (did I mention we talk a lot?) and figuring out who said what later might be a challenge by voice alone. Having someone taking notes is a good idea to make sure that you’re capturing ideas as they are flowing.

6/ Work the Edge Time: By far the best way to get 1 on 1 time with a mentor yesterday was to do it over the break or over lunch. That also gives the mentor a chance to ask questions they might not get a chance to in a round table session.

7/ Don’t Forget Everyone’s a Potential Investor : The VC’s are easy to spot (and there were a lot of them there) but most of the mentors I talked to are also doing a bit of angel investing as well. For companies at this stage anyone that’s willing to invest time with your company might also be likely to invest cash as well.

So there’s my advice. I’m sure the other mentors all have different opinions – yep, we’re funny that way.


How to Make Prospects 100X More Likely to Talk to You


I’ve managed inside sales teams before and we always had long discussions about when was the best time of day to try and contact a prospect. I had reps swear that first thing in the morning works best while others said lunch worked because folks would eat at their desk and still others theorized that right before 5PM folks were more likely to pick up the phone. Whenever I looked at my own data the only pattern that I could see was that the faster you called a prospect back, the more likely they were to pick up the phone.

It turns out I’m not the only one seeing this pattern. have been doing research on this topic for years. Their data (free registration required) drives home the fact that follow-up time is THE most important factor by far in contacting a lead. Here are 2 key highlights from the original (2007) research:

  • The odds of contacting a lead within 5 minutes versus 30 minutes are 100 times greater
  • The odds of a lead entering into the sales cycle are 21X greater if the lead is called within 5 minutes versus 30 minutes

This data has been kicking around for a while. Surely we are getting better at following up with leads by now right? In 2011 they looked at over 3000 companies that were sponsors and attendees at Dreamforce (’s user show) and submitted a web inquiry during normal business hours to see what the response times/rates looked like. I like this study because many of SalesForce’s customers are small and mid-sized businesses that you would expect to be pretty good at this stuff and the fact that they have made an investment in SalesForce tells you that they are tracking revenue and a pipeline in some fashion. So how are we doing? Some of us better than others it seems:

  • 18% responded by email within 5 minutes
  • 1.8% responded by phone within 5 minutes
  • The average initial response time was 48 hours
  • 51% of companies didn’t respond at all

This tells me that some companies out there are knocking it out of the park but a large number of them aren’t even in the game.

Their latest study looks at members of the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals. Now surely here’s a bunch of folks that are surely thinking about their inside sales processes more than the rest of us. You would think. Similar to the DreamForce study submitted web forms to the almost 700 companies where AAISP members work. Here’s what they found out:

  • 23.9% of companies responded within the first 5 minutes (yay!)
  • 83% of those responses were email auto-responses (less yay)
  • 35.8% of companies never responded at all. (no yay whatsoever)

(Additional commentary on this data can be seen in a Forbes article here)

The data on responses is a bit mushy to me. I would like to see how they determined if an email was an auto-response or not. I see a big difference between the standard “Thanks for filling the form, we’ll get back to you” email and something more targeted/intelligent. I personally have seen decent conversions from automatic (i.e. generated by my marketing automation system) emails that come from the inside rep’s email address and include some useful additional content that is relevant to the action that triggered the lead in the first place. Those types of emails may or may not be included in this data.

Regardless of the way some folks are following up, the most troubling statistic here is the one that shows that a significant number of web leads aren’t followed up on at all. In my mind this data makes a strong case for why marketing needs to keep a very close eye on response rates and times to make sure that our hard-earned leads are actually treated as such.



A Value Proposition Worksheet


Creating a great value proposition is a critical step in building good marketing messages but writing effective value propositions isn’t easy. Marketing schools still teach the standard for creating value propositions from Crossing the Chasm that looks like this:

For (bulls-eye customer)Who (purchase motivation)Our product is a (customer language)That (benefit)Unlike (competitors)Ours (differentiators)At a price (vs. competitors).

I wrote a post on this style of value proposition a while back and another on how you might craft a set of simple value statements. Lately however I’ve been thinking that there’s a step missing from the way we traditionally create these, namely the step that shows how you got to the value proposition in the first place.

Why a Value Proposition Worksheet?

Your value propositions will be based on a set of facts and assumptions. The assumptions will shift or become facts as you run experiments and execute on marketing programs. The facts will change too, as you evolve who your ideal target customers are, as new competitors enter the market, and as your own product changes with additional releases.

I’ve been using variations on the template (I sometimes refer to this an “offering template”) for a while and I think it works:


What Do You Do? – this is the simple statement that describes what you offering does. This isn’t the value you provide (that comes later) but rather the starting point of how you would frame what you do for someone you have never pitched before.

Competitive Alternatives – this is what a prospect would see as an alternative to using your offering. It could be “do nothing” or “hire someone” or “use Excel” or it could include an actual competing offering in some cases.

Target Customer 1, 2, 3,… – This section is for capturing a high-level description of who you are trying to market to. For B2B companies you need to think both about what types of businesses you are trying to reach along with the purchasers inside those businesses. For B2C you are focused here on segments of target consumers.

Key Differentiated Points of Value and Proof Points – For each target customer this section captures what the key differentiated (meaning clearly different from the competitive alternatives) points of value are and what proof points you have to back up that claim. For example if you say you are the fastest, best designed, most intuitive, etc. solution on the market, you need to think about how you can prove that using performance statistics, customer testimonials, 3rd party reviews, etc.

One Line Value Propositions – Lastly the template captures the value propositions. I like to have one over-arching one that applies across all of the target segments and then another set for each target segment.

What do you think? Is it missing anything?


Be Your Authentic Self…no, not THAT Authentic Self!


Marketers talk a lot about how companies can form deeper connections with customers through social media. Part of building this connection, the thinking goes, is demonstrating what the company stands for and showing that those values are similar to the values of their customers. I’ve seen this referred to as “Authenticity.”  One of the ways that companies show off their authentic selves is by having representatives on sites like Twitter share information about the brand, interact with people and show people through a constant stream of comments and interactions, what the brand is all about at a very human scale. That sounds good right?

Then you get stuff like this:

pabst tweet no fat chicks


Looking at the stream for Pabst Canada you can see that the person managing this account is clearly enthusiastic about beer and seems to be joyfully interacting with folks in a very non-corporate way that I think some folks would describe as “Authentic.” But somewhere along the way he forgot that he couldn’t be COMPLETELY authentic because he’s representing the point of view and values and attitudes and beliefs of his employer. Needless to say, the above Tweet doesn’t represent the values of Pabst Blue Ribbon or PabstCanada, just the point of view of the (stupid jackass, sorry) that runs (or used to run) their Twitter account.

Authentic, but in an Corporate kind of a way?

But as you might imagine, folks were offended and they weren’t just mad at the guy that posted the Tweet. They were pissed off at Pabst. Which just goes to show you that all of this authenticity stuff is fine as long as you aren’t an offensive jerk.

Oh and don’t forget that most of us are offensive jerks occasionally when we’re not at work yet we manage to stay out of trouble because we understand that when we’re on the job we are held to a higher standard, authenticity be damned.

The Bar is Much Higher than Authenticity

That’s where I have a problem with the term “authenticity.”  I worry that it can be interpreted as “just being yourself.” Except for the boatload of times where being yourself would put you completely at odds with the goals of your company. So you can’t really be yourself at all. You have to be your Pabst Representative self. Is that authentic? What do companies want their representatives to be like? They want them to be trustworthy, nice, respected, engaging, knowledgeable, human, and a bunch of other inarguably positive things. Companies might say they want authenticity but what they really mean is they want you to be the best possible representation of what they stand for. They want you to be less corporate in a likeable, relate-able sort of way, not in a regular I’m-human-therefore-I-come-with-my-own-unique-baggage-and-potentially-offensive-biases kind of way. Which of course isn’t the tiniest bit authentic.

Maybe companies would see fewer screw-ups like the Pabst Canada situation if they were more open and direct in admitting that the bar is much, much higher than just acting in an authentic way. The goal is for company representatives to be nothing less than the best they can possibly be.


How Should You Market Your Startup? The Definitive Answer


The most common question I get from early-stage startup founders is “How do I market my startup?”

Experts are full of answers to this question telling startups that for great marketing all they need to do is social media, inbound marketing, SEO, hire a better sales team, build a better website, build a better product, do better media relations, get more customer advocates, or be more likable/remarkable/authentic. Every day I read a blog post telling startups there’s a simple key to revenue growth and oh by the way that simple key is different from the previous 20 simple keys I just read about.

You don’t have the resources to follow all this advice and even if you did not all of it applies to your business. But what if you’re not a marketing expert – how the heck are you supposed to know what pieces DO apply to you? So you call someone like me who’s run marketing at a bunch of startups and you ask me the question “How do I market my startup?”

To which I respond – “I don’t know.”

Yeah, that sucks. It’s not the answer you want to hear. But it’s the answer you need to hear.

The reason I don’t know is not because I’m an idiot (at least not all the time) so stick with me and I’ll explain.

Tactics are just Tactics

Most of what we talk about in marketing is tactical and there are many folks that are experts in certain tactics. I’ve got some experienced opinions about content, email, inside/outside sales support, strategic relationships, messaging, and some other stuff. If you need help with SEO I can recommend a book to read and a couple of experts to talk to. The same goes for PR, website design, events, affiliate marketing, channels, AR, advertising, bus. dev., community, blogging, and a bunch of other tactics.

Not All Tactics are Right for Your Business

What I CAN’T tell you is which of those things you should be focusing on to maximize your revenue growth. I can’t because I don’t know your customers, their buying process, your market landscape, or your offering. This is what makes your business different from every other business. Your customers aren’t the same as other people’s customers, your offering is different, the market landscape you’re in is different, how your customers decide to buy your solution looks nothing like how other customers buy other solutions. Your business is different therefore your marketing will be different. You need to understand this FIRST before you start thinking tactically.

You’re marketing to IT managers at mid-sized businesses that are looking for a better way to manage their budgets? Maybe blogging and PR isn’t the best way to reach these folks and email marketing might work very well. Your early adopters are Mom’s in New York buying baby stuff – you might focus your energy on existing places where those mom’s hang out. You’re selling high-end services to Fortune 1000 CMO’s – I’d be over-rotating on target account planning and spending less time on email marketing. Maybe. Or maybe not because those single sentences don’t really capture enough detail about your prospects to really understand them.

Doing the Work

If you don’t know how to market your startup yet it’s because you’ve still got work to do to understand:

  • Your target customers – who they are, where they hang out, how they find out about offerings like yours
  • The customer’s perception of your offering – what market are you in, how do they describe the value you deliver, what are the competitive alternatives
  • The customer buying process – what stages does a prospect move through on the way to a purchase and what can slow this process down or speed it up

Once you understand these things the question will change from “How do I market my startup?” to “How do I make it easier to be found on Google because I know that’s how prospects find solutions like mine?” or “How do I coverage in publication X, Y, Z because my prospects read them?” or “How to I expand my email list?”

Instead of asking “How should I market my startup?” you should be asking “How do I get to a point where I know how to market my startup?”


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