Startup Marketing and Sales
by April Dunford

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Tracking and Adjusting Startup Marketing Assumptions


A good marketing plan is based on deep customer understanding – who they are, how they view solutions and how they buy. That said, I’ve never built a marketing plan that wasn’t based on at least a dozen different things that I didn’t know and simply had to assume were true. Early in my career I didn’t worry too much about those assumptions as long as I had marketing tactics that seemed to be working. Until they stopped working. Then I worried about them a lot. Now I find I spend a lot more time exploring what my key assumptions are up front and then looking at what clues my metrics give me about how those assumptions might be refined or shifted.

Here are some examples:

Target buyer assumptions – You might have assumptions about who your target buyers are. For example, I’ve built programs aimed at business buyers where we made an assumption that IT would be largely in charge of the purchase and would be the budget holder, while line of business folks were merely influencing the purchase. One of my campaigns – a combination email and inside sales call-out campaign showed that business buyers were increasingly becoming the budget holders and we needed to shift our list building efforts, programs and tactics. At another company we assumed that buyer persona’s in one vertical were similar to those in another. After a couple of fairly unsuccessful campaigns was discovered that smaller companies in the new vertical used completely different job titles and we were often targeting the wrong person in the organization.

Messaging/Offering assumptions – You will often have assumptions about what customers think are the most important features of your offering and how they describe the value of those features. These are likely to shift over time as not only your product evolves but also your competitive landscape evolves. For example I was once marketing a graphing tool for developers where our biggest advantage was the large number of different types of charts we supported. However at one point our largest competitor got close to us in terms of the number of charts they supported and what we assumed was our key differentiator didn’t seem all that different any more. Going back to our customers however revealed that our assumption wasn’t exactly correct and that they were interested in having many different kinds of charts but the flexibility in being able to customize them was really where the value was.

Buying cycle assumptions – you might assume that a purchase goes through a certain process and then later your sales data might indicate something else is happening. For example at one B2B startup I worked at we mapped a sales process that included approval by purchasing as the final step to a deal. Legal teams might be involved but we assumed that they were largely driven by purchasing and weren’t a significant step in the buying process on their own. This was true – but only for smaller companies. As we pushed into larger companies we were seeing increasing legal involvement and started creating materials to address the common concerns that came up when our contract when to a prospect’s legal group.

StartupFest logo

Startup Marketing: A Systems Approach


I gave a talk last week at The International Startup Festival on startup marketing. I’ve been thinking a lot about how many startups I see that are extremely tactics-oriented in their approach to marketing. My worry with many of them is that rather than starting with an exploration of their target customers (who they are, how they view offerings, how they buy), many marketers are jumping straight into tactics (i.e. choosing to focus heavily on social media or inbound marketing and excluding other potential tactics).

It’s not a bad approach per se, particularly if you are measuring results and culling out the bad tactics and doubling down on the good ones. That approach does however lead to a few bigger problems in the longer term. First, the tactics tend to run independently and as a result lack consistency. Secondly assumptions are often not tracked across tactics and when they are, the measured results of the tactics are rarely used to re-asses those assumptions. Thirdly, because tactics were somewhat randomly chosen rather than chosen based on where the friction or best potential accelerators are in the buying cycle, any new tactic suggested is just as good as any other until you test it.

Here are the slides

I had an amazing time at the conference. The speakers were great and I literally lost my voice chatting with startup folks in various tents including the speaker tent, the FounderFeul Mentor tent and the Women in Tech tent. If you didn’t go this year and get a chance to next year, you should.

Lastly if any of you reading this saw my talk and has some feedback on it – I would love to hear what you think.



Modelling the Customer Buying Process


Startup marketers need to develop a deep understanding how prospects move through the buying cycle when structuring a marketing plan that drives customer acquisition. Mapping this process requires an understanding of the stages that a customer moves through from not understanding that they have a problem through to purchase, and renewal as well as what will either speed up or slow down the customer as they move through the process.

The explicit stages will differ somewhat from company to company but in general, the process looks like this:

For each of these stages you have Accelerators and Friction points. Accelerators are things that help move people from one stage to the next. Friction point are things that can delay a prospect from going from their current stage to the next one.

For example, if I was looking at purchasing CRM software for my business here’s the stages I would pass through:

No Need – I am managing my contacts on a spreadsheet and I think that works just fine. To get to the next stage I need to understand what a CRM tool could do that I can’t do in a spreadsheet.

Need – I now understand that I have a need. That may have happened because my customer base got bigger and dealing with a large spreadsheet is getting hard. It may be that I am looking to capture transactional information about customer interactions and storing that in notes is hard. It could be my sales team is growing and sharing a spreadsheet is hard and impractical. I’m not actively looking at different solutions yet – maybe because I think the spreadsheet is good enough, because I’m worried CRM tools are too expensive or that there will be a lot of work involved in getting my spreadsheet into a CRM tool.

Evaluation – I’m now looking at solutions. The pain has become acute enough that I’ve started thinking about how I might address it. At this stage I will be making a short list of solutions (maybe) and thinking about what I specific things I need that solution to do. I may never make it past this stage if I don’t come across solutions that seem to work for my business or if I can’t figure out how I might decide which CRM tools should make my short list.

Buy – At this stage I’ve decided which CRM solution I am going to purchase and I’m executing the transaction. I might not move past this phase with a specific vendor if I keep delaying the purchase either because I don’t have the budget to buy right now or I think I might be able to get it cheaper at another time or if purchasing it is a hassle in some way.

Enjoy – At this stage I’ve purchased and trying to use the product. I may or may not end up actually using it in my company depending on the user experience, customer service, or how hard it is to get my sales reps to start actively using the product.

Renew – This is where I am signing up for the next term to use the product or renewing my maintenance agreement. I may not decide to do this if I never ended up using the product or haven’t really seen the value I hoped to see out of using it.

Once you have the buying cycle modeled you need to figure out the metrics that will track how prospects are flowing through the process. Those metrics will give you an idea of where prospects are getting stuck and where you might want to focus some effort.

Startup Marketing Plan

3 Reasons to Build a Startup Marketing Plan


Startup Marketing PlanMany startups aren’t executing against a documented marketing plan. I’ve heard loads of excuses for why a plan doesn’t exist. The 2 most common ones are that things are changing too rapidly to plan or the marketing plan is so simple everyone can track it in their heads.

I’m not a fan of overly complex, long-term (i.e. more than 3 months) plans for anything in a startup. I am however a big fan of having the assumptions and inputs to a marketing plan written down and an rolling monthly operational plan that the team (even if it’s just me) is working against.

There are a bunch of good reasons to create a marketing plan, work against it and maintain it.  Here are three:

  1. Documenting assumptions/expectations– There are a set of inputs to any marketing plan: known information about the segment/buyers, how the buyers see the value of your offering versus alternatives, and the steps in the buying process. There are assumptions around each of those inputs based on things that are very likely to change over time such as the competitive landscape, the current capabilities of the product, and buyer behavior. You, and the other members of the team may not be in agreement on those (or even conscious of them). Getting those documented will both reduce the risk of incorrect or mis-aligned assumptions and will allow the team to recognize and react to changes that impact the assumptionHere’s an example: A few years back I inherited a marketing plan for an enterprise software application that was sold through a direct sales force. Until that time that type of software was purchased by IT departments with only minor input from the department that would ultimately be the end users of the product so the marketing had always been aimed squarely at IT buyers. What I was hearing from customers however was that budgets were shifting and business users were getting more of a say in the purchase process.  I added a “target buyers” section to the plan that sparked a discussion around whom we should be marketing to that started with the head of sales saying “What the *&% – I assumed we were already marketing to business buyers!!” Clearly, there were assumptions in the plan the team weren’t in alignment on.
  2. Keeping folks focused – Some people are naturally organized and very good at working through a plan kept only in their heads. The rest of us however, are easily distracted by the daily crises that form the regular pattern of how most startups operate.  Responding quickly to opportunities and threats is strength of smaller companies but some things in marketing take time to produce results and if you aren’t working against a schedule they won’t get done. Inbound and Content Marketing programs are often the first things to go out the window. It’s easy to skip a blog post, delay an article, not get around to responding to folks on Twitter, etc. when there are events to run and sales folks to respond to and a folks pounding the table asking why are there fewer leads this week than there were last week and FIXTHATRIGHTNOOOOWWWWW! This is the reason you see so many company blogs with only a handful of posts. Working against a schedule with regular checkpoints not only lets you assign tasks and hold people (including yourself) to deadlines, it also helps keep everyone focused on the longer-term (meaning this month rather than this minute) goals.
  3. Visibility into what you aren’t doing – One of the most important inputs to a marketing plan is documenting the customer buying process. Getting your arms around that helps you understand where prospects are getting stuck and what you can do to take the friction out of the funnel. It’s easy to be working on a set of tactics that are all focused on getting buyers from one particular point to another in the path when the sticky point in the process could be up or down stream and requires a different set of tactics to move folks along.

I usually end up having a set of short documents – a customer worksheet, an offering worksheet, a buying process chart, a leadgen spreadsheet, a media relations and speaking calendar, and a content calendar (depending on the tactics of course). Then there’s a spreadsheet and some dashboard tracking metrics.

What are you doing to track your marketing plan? I’d love to hear it in the comments.


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Should Only Startups with Products Get Funded?


The “trend” of startups without a well-defined product idea getting funding was discussed in a recent Forbes blog post. Here’s an excerpt:

Having some kind of notion what line of business your fledgling company might want to pursue used to be a prerequisite to raising capital. Now, it’s a mark of hubris. You don’t tell the market what it needs; you gently offer it a series of options, which are less viable concepts than ritual sacrifices aimed at cultivating the favor of the start-up gods. It’s called “iterating.”

The gist of the post is essentially this: if there’s no product, there’s nothing to invest in, yet people seem to be investing anyway and OMGITSABUBBLEWE’REALLGONNADIE!! (ok, I’ll admit my version has extra drama).

The post doesn’t offer up much to back up the thesis that startups with no specific product idea are getting funded left and right (positioning Instagram as a typical startup is, in my opinion, bonkers) but it raises an interesting question – is there really value in a company that doesn’t have an offering? Suppose you invested in a company with a product, that later changes the offering significantly – does that mean you screwed up?

Pivots aren’t new. Admitting we do them is.

I’ve been involved in loads of version 1 product concept/development/launch exercises I’ve yet to see one where the offering didn’t significantly change after initial customer feedback. At what point in the product life-cycle these “pivots” occur however is shifting earlier and earlier as most self-respecting entrepreneurs have read Steve Blank and are now embracing the concept of early customer feedback and “customer development”. If anything, I think we are seeing less iteration post-investment than we ever have before because many startups are getting it done earlier.

I’d make the argument that previously startups were embarrassed to talk openly about pivoting precisely because we did it after investments (and investment cases based on selling a set product in a well-defined market) were made. We often pivoted, but we were sneaky about it. A shift in target market for a later-stage startup was an “expansion to serve a new customer set” or a “refined market focus” and a major product shift was a “next-generation solution”. Unlike their later-stage peers, early stage startups can more freely come out of the pivot closet because their shifts put less money (if any) at risk and often serve to demonstrate a growing understanding of the market, making them more attractive to future investment, not less.

Just because you have a product, doesn’t mean anyone wants it.

But hey, just because folks have been investing in pre-pivot companies all along doesn’t make it smart (VC returns on average DO kinda stink). Coming back to the question – Is your startup really worth anything before you’ve settled on your exact offering?

Leaving aside the issue of the skill of the team (which is difficult to assess and there’s an argument to be made that previous success doesn’t necessarily predict future success), it still takes two to tango. There are markets/desires on one side and there are offerings on the other. The money only comes when both are viable and a match for each other.

I know there are cases of companies that have developed/launched solutions without knowing what problem they would solve or what market they would eventually serve that were later successful but I think doing it that way requires a lot more luck and effort than doing it the other way around. If you get what customers are trying to get done, why they want to do it, who they are, how they make decisions, how they want to buy and how much they are willing to pay, then you essentially have the basis for a solution because you understand the requirements and the constraints.

On the other hand, simply building and releasing an offering doesn’t prove that your company knows anything about the market or that anyone wants it. You might have that knowledge but you can certainly build stuff without it. And by “stuff” I mean crap nobody wants or will pay for.

So if both have no customers, why on earth would a company with an offering necessarily be more valuable than one without? There is absolutely no inherent value in effort put toward something nobody will buy. The value comes with market knowledge that informs the development of the offering, which in turn, increases the chances of market success.

Is a startup with deep market knowledge but without a well-defined solution yet worth investing in? I don’t think anyone can know for sure but if I were a gambler I would bet my money on the folks that were certain about demand but uncertain about the way to meet it over the folks that had a solution they weren’t sure anyone wanted.

(thanks to Mike McCarrell @mmccarrell for pointing me the Forbes post :)

Weekend Startup Marketing Reading April 20


I’ve been on vacation this week and spending more time on the beach than on the internet. That said I did come across a couple of neat posts this week. Enjoy!

William Mougayar of engagio had a great post over on StartupNorth this week about his lessons learned over the past 3 years. I agree with a lot of what he has to say here about relationships, the danger of believing your own story if nobody else does and how helping people is important. I don’t agree with him that selling to enterprises is a dead end – but I do agree that it’s very, very different from selling to individuals. (full disclosure, I am an advisor to engagio)

Mark MacLeod at startupCFO had a nead post called Vision can Come Later talking about startups that start as services businesses that later transition to product businesses and the resulting domain expertise that comes with that. His thinking is very much in line with mine on that topic – there is no substitution for hands-on market experience.

The Content Marketing Institute has a summary of the results of the Brandpoint 2012 Digital Content Marketing Survey with some interesting data around social content, outsourcing and storytelling.

Earlier this week I posted about what startup folks are looking for in a marketing hire. MarketingProfs has a related post this week called 7 Traits of an Ideal Marketer. I agree with all of this in particular the desire to have marketers that have had some sort of sales training and also the need for great writing skills.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be in China next week working and eating as much food as I can in 6 days. I’ll be posting here but if it takes me a while to respond to comments, I will blame that on my spotty internet access. Have a great weekend.


marketing job

6 Skills That Will get you a Startup Marketing Job


I get about 4 calls a week from people looking to hire a startup marketer. The skills startups are looking for in a marketing hire are remarkably consistent. These are the skills I hear about the most and how you might easily get them.

Here’s what startups are looking for in a marketing hire:

  1. Content creation – Folks that can create engaging, relevant content are in short supply. Most are looking for writing skills but being able to create video, build infographics and create presentations are desirable skills too. Bonus points if you are a decent public speaker and can represent the company well on video (and face to face).
  2. Community management – Great social media marketing programs require folks that can work with the community to help build an engaged audience. Social media skills are important here but equally important are good people skills, especially around relationship building.
  3. Analytic skills  – Companies are getting better at tracking their marketing efforts through clicks, conversions, impressions, keywords, links, mentions, along with more traditional pipeline stage tracking measurements. Being able to not just gather data but make sense of it is a skill startups are looking for.
  4. PR contacts – Later-stage startups might use outside PR help but most are getting the word out to blogs and news outlets on their own. Having a set of relationships with key influencers in a particular market makes you very valuable to a startup.
  5. E-mail marketing – Still the cornerstone of most digital marketing programs, email programs are getting smarter and more sophisticated. Marketing automation tools from simple things like MailChimp through to more feature-rich tools like Eloqua and Marketo are now widely used. Knowing your way around those tools and having some experience in multi-stage email marketing is a rare and valuable skill.
  6. – Many startups are using Salesforce as their CRM system and although it’s easy enough to get started using the tool, using it to it’s full potential isn’t, particularly when it comes to tracking and analytics.  There are also loads of tricks to learn around account visibility, pipeline staging and customer segmentation that aren’t intuitively obvious unless you’ve got some time with Salesforce under your belt.

The good news is that it’s pretty easy to pick up many of these skills right now regardless of whether you currently hold a startup marketing job. Any one of these would get you skills that would make you hireable:

  1. Start blogging and creating stuff – I don’t think anything teaches you more about what works in a blog better than blogging and the more you write the better you get at it. It also gives you a place to experiment with other media. I’ve done a bunch of video, podcasts and graphic content in this blog and unlike my regular work I get to experiment a lot to see what works.
  2. Get active in your community – Being an organizer for a group or project can teach you a lot about what makes communities tick and what it takes to get them engaged and motivated. These groups are always looking to help out and getting involved is usually as easy as raising your hand.
  3. Track yourself (and learn some SEO) – This goes along with #1 but if you have an online presence, set goals and learn how to track them. There are loads of great SEO blogs out there. My two favorites for practical advice are SEOmoz and Portent (formerly Conversation Marketing). Runing experiments to put what you have learned into practice is probably the best way to build skills in this area and having specific example to share with potential employers will help you prove that.
  4. Make friends with bloggers/journalists – I think networking is the best thing that anyone at any stage in their career can do. If you have a set of relationships with folks in the media, journalists or bloggers that are influential in a particular space, those are very valuable to a startup that doesn’t have them.
  5. Learn how to manage a mailing list – Much like the point on SEO, this is an area where there are a ton of amazing resources available online to help you get smart about this topic really fast. For email marketing stuff I like the Mailchimp blog. Although the topics they cover are much broader than just email the Eloqua, Marketo and Pardot blogs are also great sources of information. There are also some low-end tools that you can use for free that can help you fool around with some of the technology in the space to learn it. As I mentioned in the above point on community management skills, community groups are always looking for help. Being the person that manages email lists can help you get smart on this and provide you a theatre to run experiments and learn about tracking, analytics and what works.
  6. Play around with Salesforce (or some other CRM) – Sure not everyone uses it but lots of startups do and the principles that you will learn from fooling around with Salesforce are pretty applicable to other CRM systems. If you have access to SalesForce where you work try creating a set of dashboards or reports that are useful to you. If you don’t have access, you can play around with one of the free CRM tools (ZohoCRM is the one I hear about the most). CRM tools are all different but the underlying principles of managing accounts, tracking pipeline, capturing and managing activities, creating reports and dashboards are all pretty similar across tools.



Weekend Startup Marketing Reading


Here’s this week’s batch of interesting stuff for startup marketers.

The folks from the startup Pipedrive, a pipeline management tool wrote a great post looking back at how they grew to 1,000 paying customers. The post includes a great discussion about how they learned to say “no” to customers that wanted one-off features, how they ramped up their growth by spending more time with key influencers and removed as much friction as they could in the their sign-up process. This is a great lessons learned post.

An older article on Demand Gen Report, “Why Demand Generation Shouldn’t be Focused on Marketing Qualified Leads” inspired this post this week from B2B Digital Marketing called “Looking beyond Sales and Marketing Alignment“. The original article looks at the problem of Marketing’s continued struggle to provide good leads to sales and proposes that the solution to the problem is better orchestration and coordination between Marketing and Sales. We are focusing too much on MQL’s (Marketing Qualified Leads) when in a perfect process all leads should be marketing influenced as well as sales influenced. In the second article, the author takes this line of thinking one step further to make the argument that sales and marketing should just be “aligned” but actually “integrated”. These are two great articles to read if you are struggling with lead generation process issues related to a salesforce.

Over at SingleGrain there was a really interesting post on using competitive research to analyze a new market. This post describes the process the writer used to launch a new online business website from a very SEO-centric perspective. He describes the tools and methods he used to determine traffic potential, assessed demographics, analyzed key words and how he researched competitor’s tactics. A great read and useful even if you aren’t launching something from scratch.

Lastly, Michele Linn over at Savvy B2B Marketing had a good post on how to be a better listener in content marketing. The post describes how she monitors and discovers content from a variety of different sources using a variety of devices in a very streamlined manner. If you feel like you are spending too much time on Twitter, your inbox is overflowing and your RSS reader is a mess, this is the post for you.


Startup Marketing: Does the Competition Matter?


I have heard people make the argument that startups shouldn’t think about their competitors. I agree that many spend too much time worrying about how their feature set stacks up against another offering’s feature set. On the other hand, prospects are evaluating your solution against alternatives (which may not be products) and communicating how you are better than those alternatives is a key part of great startup marketing. Simply put – you should care about competitive alternatives if your prospects do.

Startups are not Big Companies

I very rarely see useful competitive analysis done by startup marketers, mainly because they are trying to do it like big companies do it. The big companies I’ve worked for have had departments dedicated to creating large detailed check mark matrices that showed how our feature set compared to competitive offerings. These matrices almost never included any feedback from customers. Needless to say, the products and their markets were very mature.

This approach completely falls apart within the context of a startup. Your competitors, from a customer point of view are almost never so easily defined. For startups, your offering is often competing with “do nothing”, “hire someone to do it”, use spreadsheets/documents/paper, or some other solution that might be completely unsuited to the task but is free/easy/what has always been used. Comparing features of one of these alternatives to your startup’s offering to makes absolutely no sense in this context.

A More Customer-Centric Approach

In the context of a startup the only competitive analysis that makes sense is the one that is happening in side the heads of your prospects. The more you understand about that, the more you can use that knowledge to improve your marketing.

Instead of the traditional competitive comparison matrix, a more useful competitive alternatives snapshot for a startup would look at what customers perceive to be the major benefits of the alternative, what risks they see that might stop them from choosing your solution and how you might address these issues in your messaging.

An Example

Here’s an example for CRMster, a fictional solution aimed at mid-sized consulting businesses to help them manage their customer information. The points here are just to give you some ideas about how this might look:

Competitive Alternative Benefit customers perceive Risk in selecting your offering Value of your offering Proof points
Do nothing – we don’t use a CRM tool and that’s fine by us Free
Zero effort required
Budget spent on this will mean less money for other thingsConsultants will have to learn the tool and record data they don’t today More accurately predict future workloads so you can budget/staff accordingly and increase your profitability.Gives consultants access to more complete customer information making it easier to do their jobs. 3rdparty data: Research shows companies using CRM are X% more profitable.Customer data: CRMster customers have x% average increase in revenue/profitabilityEnd user quote “CRMster makes collaborating easy. I want to marry it! ”Customer case studies
Manage customer data in spreadsheets FreeEveryone knows how to use a spreadsheet Budget spent on this will mean less money for other thingsConsultants will have to learn the tool Eliminate the need to consolidate spreadsheets – a process that is time consuming and introduces errorsEasier, more effective team collaboration means projects are delivered on time, on budget. Customer quote: “Consolidating spreadheets was a pain and our data stank. CRMster lets us accurately forecast our business.”Customer quote: “CRMster got our teams working together better so we could deliver projects on budget”End user quote: “So fun to use I gave up playing Angry Birds at work!”Analyst opinion: “Folks using spreadsheets are big losers”
Use CRMFree, a free CRM tool Free Budget spent on this will mean less money for other things Expert customer supportProvides features for consulting companies that generic CRM tools don’t have. Analyst data: X% of CRM deployments fail because end-users don’t get good support.Customer quote: “Their support is so great we send them chocolates on valentine’s day”Press quote: “If you are a consulting company you are an idiot if you buy anything else”Customer logos, case studies
Use BigWig CRM, a CRM tool for mid-sized businesses of any type A safe bet: an established brand CRMster might go out of businessThe software might be unproven, buggy crap CRMster is way cheaper.Provides features for consulting companies that generic CRM tools don’t have. Pricing and guarantees.Screen shots, product demosTeam bios – emphasizing successes and background in this market.Investor profiles, investment announcementsCustomer logos, case studies

For this example, only the last couple of rows get into any discussion of product features and even there those aren’t the only considerations. The other thing to notice is that the feature discussion can happen as part of a higher-level theme (we’re better because we are cheaper, more targeted to this market, or a more elegant solution) rather than a checklist of niggley esoteric features like you would for mature products in a mature market. If you are going head to head with an established player in the market you’re doing it because you have something radically different.

The Output: Better Messaging

The next step is to look at the themes and develop key messages that highlight your differentiated value while addressing the potential big concerns. I’ve written about messaging here and here and I’ll talk more about how you would take the next step and construct messaging upcoming post.



Lipstick on the Enviropig: A Tale of Messaging and Manure


We marketers are optimistic by nature. We’re trained to see the most desirable aspects of the products we sell and minimize the potential drawbacks. This optimism can be a problem however if we lose sight of how customers actually perceive our products and start to believe everyone sees them the way we wish they did. In my first marketing job my boss gave me some very wise advice:

Don’t get caught smoking your own marketing

Which brings me to this example. Here in Canada, the University of Guelph announced a research project called “The Enviropig.” From the site:

The Enviropig™ is a genetically enhanced line of Yorkshire pigs with the capability of digesting plant phosphorus more efficiently than conventional Yorkshire pigs. These pigs produce the enzyme phytase in the salivary glands that is secreted in the saliva. When cereal grains are consumed, the phytase mixes with the feed as the pig chews. Once the food is swallowed, the phytase enzyme is active in the acidic environment of the stomach, degrading indigestible phytate in the feed that accounts for 50 to 75% of the grain phosphorus.

Simply put – this pig can digest phosphorus from pig feed more efficiently than regular pigs. This means the pig doesn’t need to get fed expensive phosphorus supplements and also produces manure with less phosphorus. Phosphorus in pig manure is a major source of freshwater pollution. Hey, less pollution, that sounds pretty good! The site even goes so far as to helpfully point out that raising an Enviropig is just like raising a regular pig:

…the technology is simple, if you know how to raise pigs, you know how to raise Enviropigs!

The obvious pig, er, elephant in the room however is the fact that we are raising these pigs, not to consume grain and produce manure, but to feed them to ourselves and our children. What are the risks involved in ingesting a few months worth of eggs over easy with a side of Envirobacon and pulled Enviropork sandwiches? The folks in Guelph decided that the best approach would be to simply avoid that question. Their discussion of “Societal and Ethical Issues” (notice the word “health” is avoided) contains nothing on the subject (although they do assure us that the pigs are very “fit”).

This head in the sand approach didn’t work out so well for the Enviropig project. The backlash was quick and loud. The “Frankenpig” was criticized by consumers, food groups and politians but most of all by environmentalists who quickly pointed out that:

  1. Regular old pigs are pretty environmental when not raised in gigantic mega pig farms and
  2. Pigs are being fed grain which they are not able to fully digest and changing the pig’s diet or adding supplements to it would also help fix the problem with no genetic engineering required.

Of course both of these things would be costly for conventional pig farmers.

So upon closer inspection, the Enviropig wasn’t a solution to an environmental problem at all. All the marketing in the world couldn’t change the fact that the Enviropig didn’t benefit anyone but pig farmers looking to grow cheaper pigs.

Consumers and the general public reacted with a hearty “hold the bacon!” Last week the project lost its funding from Ontario Pork and the University announced that the pigs will be euthanized. Optimistic marketing wasn’t enough to make those pigs fly.

So here’s the marketing lesson. You can’t ignore how customers perceive your product. Saying it’s great does not make it so and failing to address customer concerns won’t make them go away. Optimistic messaging won’t turn a crappy product that nobody wants into a winner.

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