Online marketing continues to meddle with traditional marketing practices under the monikers of digital marketing, marketing automation, inbound marketing, growth hacking, and the omnipresent search engine marketing.
Beyond these subjects, I’d like to focus on some important issues I’m seeing for startup marketing in 2014. They are a combination of priorities and trends, some familiar, and maybe others new. These aren’t the only priorities I see, but I chose to focus on them for this post.
1. The Product as a Medium
Marshall McLuhan was prescient when he said: “the medium is the message”. But today, if the product is also a medium, it gives it the ability to be the message, no? This means that the discovery, promotion, awareness and distribution of your product are enhanced via product usage. Of course, that doesn’t apply to all products, but it applies to an increasing number of products, whether they are online or physical.
Twitter and Facebook are quintessential product-as-a-medium creations, because each time you tweet or use Facebook, you propagate their brand. Many products that have a social underpinning are inherently propagating themselves each time users share content or experiences emanating from that product.
Peer-to-peer enabled services also have an inherent medium characteristic because a user has to interact with another user in order to consume a transaction; therefore they are propagating the brand along with the usage. Bitcoin is a great example of a medium that propagates its brand with each usage.
Even a physical product can have a content-based component that is used to propagate the brand. If I share data from a physical intelligent product such as a wearable technology product, the shared data helps to market that product at the same time.
==>Take-away: Giving your product a medium characteristic will lubricate what you can do to market it.
2. Ad Tech Working for You
If you look at the evolution of Internet advertising, the banner was the original innovation, but it ran out of steam due to an elusive ROI. Then, the Ad Exchanges flourished with programmatic advertising, but it was all controlled and centralized by them, i.e. you had to plug into their magic. Today, one-to-one advertising is closer to reality, for several reasons. One, we can have more precision in audience segmentation and targeting via contextual and user behavior data, as well as analytical insights. Two, we can track with incredible precision the entire lifecycle of a user’s interaction, from ad serving, to ad performance, to user engagement, and in some cases down to the revenue line. This makes digital advertising pretty effective, and it allows a new level of real-time optimization that wasn’t possible before.
Of course, social platforms like Twitter and Facebook are ahead of the pack in terms of this level of end-to-end precision. Mobile Ad networks are following closely because the mobile medium is easier to define than the entire web. And some progressive Web Ad networks are also improving and modernize their offerings. This provides a great opportunity for marketers who want to reach their intended customers with a greater level of precision and lower entry costs than before.
==>Take-away: You can start with small budgets, but insist on detailed end-to-end analytics that include optimization, detailed tracking and revenue linkages.
3. The Digital Brand Starts to Matter
We can target customers on social media and online properties, but can we build a brand on them? Marc Andreessen aptly described that conundrum in this recent Fortune interview, noting that Google is not so good for digital branding, having only captured the direct marketing segment. While the topic of branding and the digital brand is a complex one, whether a company can build or enhance its brand online is a pertinent topic. It’s easy to see how Net native brands like Dropbox, HubSpot, MailChimp Snapchat or Vine are top of mind with Internet users, but could you move the needle online for products that aren’t natively digital?
Take Jelly as a new social product experiment. The jury is still out on its usefulness for marketing, with both sides making some good arguments: Why marketers should get ready for Jelly, vs. Goodbye for now, Jelly – it’s not you, it’s the marketers. Maybe it’s a question of timing, but it is certainly a question on marketers’ minds.
There is hope for digital brand development. According to this comScore study, Facebook ads can improve brand preference, citing the effect of vehicle consideration based on campaigns exposure. Pinterest is also expected to become a key player in the digital brand landscape.
==>Take-away: Building your brand online must be done, but there is no cookbook. In the absence of a formal budget for online advertising, use content marketing to spread your brand’s visibility online.
4. Mobile Marketing for the non-Apps
Mobile marketing is a puzzle you will need to solve, whether you have a mobile App or not. Millions of first time users aren’t jumping on desktops anymore. Their first Internet experiences are restricted to tablets or smartphones. That’s why there is a lot of traffic activity to direct users to mobile Apps.
But what if you don’t have an App, and you would like to market to mobile users? Then, your marketing should target two new sectors: a) mobile users that are spending time on mobile content, preferably via native advertising means, and b) in-app advertising, also native to the app, but more contextual in nature (e.g. via YieldMo for both).
==>Take-away: Find your on-ramps to the mobile market.
5. Advocate Marketing Becomes Important
When you look at the 3 horizons that marketing targets, you’ve got 1) building Awareness, 2) generating Demand, and 3) increasing Loyalty. In other words, all businesses have Prospects, Customers, and hopefully Loyal Customers. The highest type of loyalty value is manifested when your customers become Advocates, i.e. when they revel in not just telling others about your products, but also in helping you to get new ones.
As marketers, we spend a ton of money on awareness using a variety of methods (advertising, sponsorships, etc.), and we use a ton of software to manage prospects and leads, but we often neglect to formally manage our best customers (the advocates). Your advocates are probably the easiest group of people to establish a relationship with, because they are totally committed to your product. You just need to lightly orchestrate their actions in areas like referrals, case studies, reviews, and allow them to communicate their expertise to their peers. The outcome is you’ll soon be collecting high quality leads coming from your advocates, or closing other ones with their help.
==>Take-away: Formalize your program and relationships with your best customers via an Advocate Marketing platform (e.g. via Influitive).
6. Getting Inside The Sharing Economy
The peer-to-peer nature of transactions and bottoms-up services delivery is a new and big chapter in the Internet’s evolution. The result is almost an underground economy that is real, but often invisible, and even sometimes unaccounted for. Take any industry, and you will find a new peer-to-peer component that is starting to emerge: venture capital, banking, loans, travel, hospitality, logistics, transportation, education, cooking, shopping, etc.
Newer decentralized networks where power and value lie at the edges are eroding the market shares of traditional centralized electronic marketplaces.
The question becomes how to place your company around or inside this activity, with relevancy and effectiveness? That will be an interesting challenge that marketers will face.
==>Take-away: Find ways to participate in the peer-to-peer economy.
7. Marketing Triage is the Biggest Skill
The most critical marketing skill that startups need to master is not a marketing activity. Rather, it is a triage and timing skill. It’s about knowing which marketing activity to focus on, and which ones to ignore, depending on where you are in your evolution.
Marketing is a mixed set of activities (that’s why it is called “the marketing mix”). It is not one thing, but rather several things, sometimes working one after the other, and sometimes in parallel.
If you work for a big company, your marketing group is probably large, and you’re probably doing each one of about 50 marketing activities. That makes your marketing a lot easier than a startup that needs to figure out what not to do, and what to start doing first.
So, one cannot compare the marketing needs of startups to those of grown-up companies. A larger company manages a portfolio of marketing activities, and choice is not typically their issue, rather they need to do several things well. A startup doesn’t have the luxury (or the need) to implement 22 or 44 various marketing activities. They need to keep it simple initially, and do a handful of things well.
I will be writing more about how startups prioritize their marketing activities.