“Marketing will always be marketing, and the general principles of this industry can be applied to any product or service.”. That is very of the the starting point for inexperienced startup marketeers to start building their marketing plan. Or worse even, they spend a disproportionate amount of their angel or seed money on an advertising agency that has never worked with an internet startup. Reality teaches us that the new, mainly digital, media and the highly volatile environments startups operate in, demand a totally different way of working and thinking.
To make it clear and understandable for both traditional marketing managers and startup entrepreneurs, we composed this list of nine differences between marketing managers and startup marketeers or growth hackers.
1. The Context
Marketing managers are used to working in a relatively stable environment: product, price and distribution are known factors. Of course markets evolve and marketing plans have to be adapted constantly, but the word ‘evolution’ here says it all. Startups on the other hand, by definition work in an unstable, even unknown, environment. Most elements in the marketing mix are not fixed and the market is unknown territory. Today they may be the only player, tomorrow there are three competitors. Today customers pay for a service, tomorrow one of the internet moguls (Google, Facebook, …) launches the same thing for free.
2. Target Groups
In this unknown environments startups must seek out their customers, who they will be is mostly unknown. Every customer presents a small victory and teaches the entrepreneurs something about who might be the next one. Marketing managers on the other hand work with clearly defined target groups which they get to know better and better through market research.
A marketing manager is operating as part of bigger plan. There are clear objectives for the company and the marketing manager deploys the necessary means to achieve the goals of this plan. The startup marketeer knows the end goal (find customers and grow fast), but has very few intermediate checkpoints. That’s why he will test different channels and approaches without a clear roadmap.
Startups are forced to work with the means available, or better, they work with no more then they can afford to lose in case it doesn’t work. Therefore the goal is to launch the most effective actions with as few as possible means. It may sound as if this would be the same for any marketeer, but it’s not. The typical marketing manager is focussed on making optimal use of the budget he or she got allocated at the beginning of the year.
Marketing managers make a plan, execute it and report about how successful it was. Traditionally a plan covers a full year, in more agile environments a plan covers a quarter. Startups don’t have pre-set plans, they will test a tactic or channel, measure the results and build on what worked. The main difference however is the length of an iteration. In startup marketing and growth hacking we count in weeks and in some cases, say Google Adwords, days or even hours. Entrepreneurs manage their uncertain future by acting in much shorter cycles.
Marketing manager work for marketing directors or vice presidents who want to see their plan executed. They are responsible for reaching preset goals with an agreed budget. Startup marketeers work directly for and with the shareholders (often themselves) and for their customers. Spending one euro on marketing means one euro less in the bank at the end of the month. Good startup marketeers involve their customers much closer, it’s as if they are part of the marketing team.
7. Competition and partnerships
Traditional marketing teaches you to focus on markets where you are market leader, or can reach that position easily. You look for a hole in the market and anyone who comes near that hole is considered a competitor that needs to be expelled. Startups concentrate on finding a market for the hole they discovered, working from their strengths and building partnerships with other market players. This may mean they have to adapt their business model, e.g. change their pricing strategy to get their income at a different point in the value chain. That is a degree of freedom the traditional marketeer does not have.
8. The marketing mix
Startup marketeer must apply their creativity to a much broader scope. Every element in the marketing mix, including the product, is subject to change on the road to growth. Marketing manager on the other hand focus their creative talent on bringing the message or launching the right promotions and much less on say the product itself or the distribution channel.
9. Market research
Marketing managers try to understand their customers through market research to then build a strategy based on that information. In the highly volatile environment in which startups operate, trying to predict the future through market research does not make sense. In a startup environment every customer interaction is a small market research, the first paying customers are their focus group.
Startup marketeer and growth hackers must have other skills and think and work differently from a marketing manager in an established company. They need to work in short cycles, and be on the ball. All aspects of the marketing mix are involved and they are much closer to the customer.
This also has an impact on the way of working with agencies and external advisors. They have to be prepared to take a deep dive into the startup’s world and share their knowledge. The focus will on coaching more than on service delivery, so the startup can grow to a fully integrated marketing approach. Execution will often be done by an internal team, with the help of external experts.
This post was originally published in Dutch: