Why Startups Need to Invest in Marketing

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



The life of an entrepreneur isn't easy.

Startup founders are bringing their ideas to life one day, and the next, they are deciding which vendors to pay — and which to ignore.

There is never enough time, and they are scrambling to put together business plans for investors and hire the right talent for their growing team. In addition, many founders find their messaging, target audience, and even the product or service evolving. So why market what's not ready?

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Paying for marketing might seem like another unnecessary expense or something to put off until the "right" time or stage in development. So, we asked this year's recipients of the Top Agencies for Startups award why startups should make investing in marketing in priority.

It’s Not About Tactics — You Need a Holistic Approach

‘Marketing’ is more than a clever email campaign or Facebook ad. Rather, it’s a discipline that should be baked into a startup’s process and product from the inside out. There’s a myth in some circles that building a great product is all that’s necessary for a startup’s success. ‘Build it, and they will come,’ so to speak. But basing your go-to-market strategy on a quote from a movie is a recipe for disaster. Rather, we think of marketing in the holistic sense, including the brand, interface, key messages, as well as distribution channels and, methods for user acquisition. In reality, the lines between ‘product’ and ‘marketing’ are blurred, if nonexistent, and failing to invest in those key areas, such as your name or brand personality, means you’re leaving key product decisions to chance.

- Patrick Woods, archer>malmo

Ideas Need Momentum

You can have the best idea in the world. But if you don’t couple that with a strategy to spread your story, your idea isn’t going to go very far. Most startup founders would agree that marketing is important, but I don’t believe that many still understand how much more complicated marketing is today than it was even five years ago. So, my advice is this: When you’re seeking an agency partner to help spread your story, make sure that partner can both believe in your story and that they also have the strategic insights to spread that story in today’s complicated marketing web.

- Jason Throckmorton, LaunchSquad

Everyone Starts as the Underdog

Studies show that 25% of significant tech business news is about early stage companies, and most of that reporting is about the ‘it’ company of the moment. Think Secret or SnapChat or AirBNB. So nearly every startup begins its PR journey as an underdog. But they have to build market and mindshare from somewhere, and PR, if done right, can be highly efficient. It offers a market voice, validation and significant distribution. But we believe it has to be part of a broader communications strategy that revolves around strategic uses of content and smart leveraging of various channels, social and traditional media, and conventional marketing channels, like direct mail, events (like webinars), and even advertising. The secret to effective, contemporary communications is a precise message conveyed in well-crafted narratives delivered through multiple channels to the many consumptions platforms (phones, tablets, TV, desktop computers, traditional media).

- Patrick Ward, 104 West

It Offers the Best Return

If you think marketing is too expensive, you should try how expensive it is to build a company without it. Marketing is the highest ROI toolset in the startup arsenal. Where else can you find one finely honed approach to 1. market validation and critical early feedback, 2. actual customers, distribution paths, and quite often sales and revenue, and 3. a pipeline for potential partners and employees.

Every dollar invested in marketing has a triple return for a young company. The skill and scalability of the marketing team should be a critical concern for the founding team and investors, and that’s why it often is. A solid product without an addressable market need is called a hobby. An eager market waiting for your next product is called nirvana. The difference is all in the right approach to marketing to shape that market’s expectation even while the market’s expectation shapes the products’ expansion.

- Lisa Calhoun, Write2Market

You Need a Brand and People Who Care

Establishing a strong brand is the best investment a startup can make. Smart marketing can help legitimize a new company, create excitement, and engage potential clients. Nobody knows you yet, so you need to get people to care enough to try what you offer.

- Teresa Lagerman, Condensed

Startups Need Customers — Fast

It's simple: Without marketing, no startup can acquire new customers or clients at a rate that will allow them to grow into a mature company. Marketing can be done internally without having to hire an agency, but it will typically be cheaper to hire a full marketing agency to provide a variety of services and have been tested as a group, as opposed to trying to hire a team and acclimate them to each other.

- Roy Morejon, Command Partners

Small Budgets Don’t Equal a Lack of Options

‘Investing in marketing’ doesn’t mean you have to hire TBWA or you’re done. Thanks to Facebook, SEO, and the blogosphere, there are marketing options for even the tiniest idea. Growing an audience beyond your friends, family, and backers is important for company morale. Once you get some momentum, experimenting with PR and paid media is a good next step. Also, we’ve found social media is excellent for beta testing and consumer feedback. Get some robust numbers and you’ll be into your next series of backing and running pre-roll and bunch of banners we’ll never click on in no time.

- Franklin Tipton, Odysseus Arms

The Time to Build an Audience is Now

You should always be marketing, even before you have a finished product. You don’t necessarily need to launch an incomplete product into the market, but to make launch day a little bit easier, you must start growing your community — whether this be extending your personal brand or that of your startup.

People often approach agencies (especially PR agencies) for help in order to tap into their networks, and to gain access to their ‘rolodexes.’ But imagine already having those contacts to begin with? This certainly makes going at it a lot easier (and cheaper). Start with building solid relationships with a few key players (i.e., influencers, media, outlets and other agencies trying to win your business — they are more opt to help get the word out because they want to win you over)

It’s essential to consider the other reasons why investing in a marketing agency can help you grow your startup: 1. Your time should be spent building a really great product. Leave the marketing efforts to the experts. 2. Agencies have a much more unbiased approach to marketing your startup. They know what the media want to see and hear which isn't necessarily what you think it is. 3. Marketing agencies are really great at crafting compelling stories, the why, of the company. This is what you ‘sell’ to the media.

- Renee Warren, Onboardly Media

Focusing on Design Is Not an Option

With an immensely competitive market, these startups must launch strong right out of the gate with not only a functional product, but with a smart and compelling brand experience. This is the new normal — it is no longer acceptable to keep design as a secondary notion. Design is a critical factor to the success of a startup launch. The market is too competitive and high-risk with expensive and limited (talented) resources. A close collaboration with the startup will not only lead to a more vital brand and product, but also provide an integrated and agile approach to user experience, product development and branding.

- Camillia BenBassat, Avec //

The User Experience Markets Itself

Launching a startup product from the ground up involves a multi-step process, from research and design all the way through development and marketing of their product. We focus on only the UX and UI design aspect of that process (which, in turn, markets itself), which allows startups to refine their ideas through user experience design. The cost of a project, if approaching design and development together, can be exponentially costly. By separating design and investing in solid UX documentation, a client can see their development cost decrease, based on the focused process of defining how a user interacts with that product. The design process is conceptual, and allows for lean iterations.

- Firat Parlak, Awesome

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