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Most startups, particularly early-stage startups, are afraid of marketing.

The problem? Marketing is not about the product, it’s seemingly not about driving sales and it involves new ways of doing things.

startup marketingBut marketing is also a critical ingredient for startup success. It amplifies a product’s value and benefits while supporting and differentiating sales activities. If a startup isn’t marketing, they’re failing to capitalize on their potential.

In working with dozens of startups over the past seven years, four keys to marketing success are paramount:

Commitment: In some respects, marketing is a leap faith. It’s the willingness to buy into the idea that marketing can drive a business forward. It’s an acceptance that marketing doesn’t need to be complicated, intimidating, mysterious or expensive.

As a marketer, marketing is obviously a no-brainer; it has to be part of the mix. But many entrepreneurs have little or no experience with marketing so, not surprisingly, they are cautious about it, particularly compared with investing in product or sales. The reality is marketing success starts with embracing it as a positive development.

Cash: You’ve probably read stories about successful startups who claim to spend no money on marketing. I don’t believe these assertions because “marketing” comes in different shapes and sizes. And I don’t buy into the belief that startups can get away with not investing in marketing.

Another truism is marketing involves spending money. It could be investments in technology, services, people or product. Marketing is driven by creating things – campaigns, Websites, templates, conference booths, etc. And marketing is driven by people, who need to be paid a salary or a fee for services. In some respects, marketing is like the old Fram oil filter commercial, which declared, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later”. At the end of the day, you’ll need to spend money on marketing.

Cojones: Good marketing often means taking chances, thinking out of the box or doing things that make you feel uncomfortable. Marketing is not a black or white proposition. It involves creativity, subjectivity and, to some degree, uncertainty. In that respect, startups need to be courageous and brave when they move forward with marketing.

Sometimes, success means crossing your fingers that everything will work as planned, even it hasn’t been tried before. One of the benefits of data-driven marketing is it is easier to track and measure the effectiveness of campaigns. You still have to be brave, but data provides more confidence and a safety net.

Citizens: Yes, marketing can be automated but it is also powered by people who make the magic happen. You need people to plan, strategize, execute and measure. The size of the team depends on how much marketing is being done, but you need people to support and grow your marketing activities.

One of the biggest issues is what kind of marketer to hire. For some startups, a generalist – someone who can do it all – will meet their needs. As startups grow, however, they will probably need to hire specialists so they can excel at specific activities such as SEO, content marketing, social media or marketing automation.

Startups that can get their heads around the four C’s can be more successful with their marketing. From the outside looking in, marketing can seem strange and mysterious but you will discover it’s just part of doing business.


If you’re looking to jump-start your startup marketing, I can help you make it happen. I recently published a book, Storytelling for Startups, that provides strategic and tactical guidance to entrepreneurs looking to embrace the power of story-driven marketing.

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