Big Company vs. Startup Marketing
There are differences in how you approach Marketing when you work at a big company vs. when you’re a startup. These differences fascinate me because I have been in the deep trenches of both sides, and I’m able to see them clearly.
But these differences aren’t well understood or well documented, and they cause confusion when a traditional marketer looks at startup marketing practices and shakes their head, or when a startup marketer rolls their eyes as they read about what preoccupies a big company marketer’s mind.
My current world revolves around startups and their evolutionary growth. So, with that lens in mind, let’s contrast a big company CMO’s view of the world vs. a startup’s.
A recent post from a CMO who had just won an award, CMO Leadership: How to succeed in the modern era caught my attention, because the advice he gave is barely applicable to a startup, at least, not without modification.
There’s a bulleted section in that post entitled “Data, Knowledge, Wisdom and Foresight” I’d like to dive into and outline the differences I see with startup marketing:
Always start with data.
Ok, but what data? A startup doesn’t have a data department. The data is coming in real-time mostly. It’s buried in analytical dashboards that need to be deciphered so that the actionable insights come out. And half your data is in your guts, because many decisions are influenced by your hunch and intuition, more than by the data. Data comes with a grain of salt for a startup that is in its early formation, but it can become gradually important as product/fit is reached and things become a little more predictable.
Try and ensure that every decision made has considered all available insights.
The challenge with startups is that insights are always ambiguous, and subject to various interpretations. It’s hardly ever a black or white situation.
Establish a marketing sciences team and empower them to always provide recommendations with any analysis.
“Marketing sciences” is maybe their version of “growth hacking”. Growth hacking and lean analytics are probably the closest to “marketing sciences” that a startup will get.
Create a structured, uniformed segmented view of the market so everyone is looking at the market in the same way.
A startup relies on a number of hypotheses that are to be proven. A clear segmentation of the market may not be as clear initially.
Set targets based on market / customer segments so you can better gauge progress at a micro level.
That’s a great idea, but the reality is that a startup hasn’t always defined their market segment precisely, and it is often a moving target.
Make sure objectives are based on business outcomes and not just on specific activities as these end up being proxies.
Very logical of course, but a startup is going to be focused on user acquisitions, activations, trials, conversions, engagement, user experience and learning what growth hacking techniques work and what others don’t.
Apply the concept of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) so you report performance across all stages of the customer lifecycle in a joined up fashion. There is no benefit in doing 4 out of 5 things well if that one element that you don’t do well breaks the chain.
That’s a tough one to understand without additional context, especially that it depends on the type of product you are selling. For a startup, what is important is rather the Cost of User/Customer Acquisition, both for a consumer or B2B product. And in a SaaS situation, the Lifetime Value of a Customer matters.
Don’t Believe Everything About Marketing
They key point of this post is that big company marketing is different than startup marketing. And I will be writing more about that.
This is really true. Having launched my first startup just 3 weeks ago, I can vividly see the differences between traditional marketing channels/strategies/philosophies and startup marketing. It’s almost like navigating through a forest and picking up subtle clues that lead you in different directions; you’re not always going in the right direction but you learn more and navigate better.
Great. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Too many uncertainties and ambiguities in a startup which make it more interesting nonetheless, and you can be more creative that way.