invest in marketing

There is a strange badge of honor for startups claiming to spend no money on marketing.

They proudly declare their frugality as a positive. “Look at us. We’re in business but haven’t spent a dime on marketing. We are so smart!”

Actually, they’re dumb and misguided.

Smart startups understand that marketing is a fundamental part of their growth engine. It is how they connect with customers and establish and nurture relationships. Marketing drives brand awareness, a competitive edge, leads, sales and customer loyalty.

It is how they connect with customers and establish and nurture relationships. Marketing drives brand awareness, a competitive edge, leads, sales and customer loyalty.

As a result, startups must invest in marketing. They have no choice. Otherwise, the competition will outflank them. Marketing is an integral part of running a business, along with product development, sales, and customer service.

Startups that maintain they spend nothing on marketing are fooling themselves. While they may, in fact, spend little or no money on marketing but they are investing time and people. Like money, time and people are an asset to be managed.

Every business only has so many people and so much time to invest. It has to decide whether to allocate these assets on marketing, or other parts of the business.

Either way, a startup is spending money when it commits time and money to marketing. It is paying people to spend their time and energy on marketing, even though the startup isn’t paying for products or services.

For example, someone spending two hours a day on social media is an investment. Depending on the person’s experience, two hours costs $20 to $200. There is money spent, but it not going to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

The same math works for other marketing activities: meetups, blogging, DIY videos, case studies, etc. You are paying someone to do these things, even if it seems like there’s no money being spent on marketing.

While a startup can spend little or nothing on marketing services or products, it’s a no-frills approach that will hit a wall.

At some point, money is spent on marketing to purchase services, advertising, conference sponsorships, marketing collateral, design, and development. It is not a bad thing; it is a reality of doing business.

Startups that take satisfaction from not spending money on marketing live in a fantasy world. It sounds good to avoid an activity that many startups see as an evil necessity, but it is a false claim if you crunch the numbers.

I’m not sure proud is the right word, but startups should be fine with spending money on marketing. It means they are actively engaged in capturing the attention of consumers to grow their businesses. They realize that growth happens when consumers know the startup exists and it offers something different or better than the competition.

So, let’s get off the “we don’t spend money on marketing” mantra. It’s not true. Let’s think about marketing as a growth accelerator rather than something that happens to solve a problem such as no awareness, leads or sales collateral.

And let’s stop trying to be Scrooge-like about spending money on marketing. It took three ghosts but eventually, Scrooge saw the light!

For the sake of argument, let’s divide the marketing world into two camps: labour

More: Drew Williams makes a good point about when startups should spend money on marketing. It should, he says, when startups know their customer’s needs and interests. Then, they can turn on the marketing pipeline.


I’ve worked with dozens of startups and fast-growing companies looking to accelerate their marketing and storytelling. My services are driven by frameworks and processes to create messaging, strategic plans and content. If you want marketing that makes a difference, let’s talk.

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