From Startup to Scale-up: When Marketing Changes

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In startups, marketing is most associated with one function: demand generation. After all, the early stages are the proving ground for getting the product in front of as many prospective users as possible. And for good reason: These at-bats are invaluable for collecting feedback, cementing product-market fit, and securing early revenue.

Today’s tech marketer is armed with an unprecedented toolkit of resources to plan and measure our efforts. While the specific tactics can vary across industry verticals and user types, there’s a general roadmap for launching a brand and growing an inbound funnel. Once we fail fast, adjust course, and reinvest in what’s working, then we reach the promised land of a demand generation: a consistent strategy with predictable outcomes.

So, what happens when we pass this litmus test? In my experience, the game changes. Specifically, there’s the opportunity to deploy our limited resources differently. Now that customer adoption is a reality, the marketing function recalibrates with a larger concentration in customer success. You’ll know you’re in this stage when the investor and management scorecard gets longer. In addition to lead acquisition and conversion metrics, your reporting arsenal cites churn, contract value and promoter scores as meaningful markers.

Here are four observations I’ve encountered in marketing during this second phase of growth:

1. The brand matters. Okay, the brand is always important. But, there’s a point when it becomes more than a color palate. Here, the product positioning is crystal clear and has outpaced the iterative test stage. There are user personas with a well-defined problem and motivation factors. And, most importantly, the team, customers, and partners have bought into what it means to be associated with the company. This is when your brand guide starts to include words like “culture”, “authority”, and “on-boarding”.

2. The leadership team reads Disney. In addition to unconsciously streaming repetitive theme songs, Disney is the master of “experience.” Customer experience isn’t a new concept. What’s changed is that smaller firms are investing in creating an own-able experience for customers (and employees), before it creates itself. In this economy, experience is the currency for being different, forging long-term value and driving retention. One side observation: experience initiatives only work if there’s leadership investment and support.
 

3. Think “inside” the box. If we agree that branding and experience matter, then it’s no surprise that employees come first. In my experience, this “inside-out” approach can be a turning point in a company’s trajectory. Writing a mission or values statement isn’t enough from the marketing department. Integrating employee engagement initiatives into budgeting, company programming and processes is a calculated bet on the future of the business.  In today’s tech, culture is often confused with perks. Water bottles and tee shirts are great; an aligned, empowered team of high-achievers is even better.

4. Build a community. There’s a point of maturity where a “community” is formed around the underlying mission of the company. This group is centered on a shared belief that is larger than the product or entity.  You know you have one when customers refer customers, and employees recruit employees. The marketing function flexes its brand muscle to build communities through activities like user conferences, customer forums, peer socialization/gamification, and recognition programs.

Demand generation will always be a key tenet in marketing, and one that requires continual investment and innovation. Yet, as our product and market grow, we have an opportunity to extend the marketing function to live beside and below the sales funnel.

Phil Daniels is Co-Founder of Springbuk, where he leads Marketing for the leading employer-facing health intelligence platform.

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