Marketing · Brand Development

An Increasing Lack of Strategic Marketing Focus.

Brian Creath President at Cohesion. | The Brand Agency

December 29th, 2015

As an advisor to companies large and small during the past 30 years, I am shocked by the increasing lack of interest in, and understanding of, developing and leveraging a strategic marketing focus. Most people appear to be enthusiastic about finding new tools to reach customers, but have very little interest in worrying about what to say to them once they find them. Which means that those organizations that do build companies and brands with a proper strategic foundation have never had a better chance to crush their more tactically focused competitors.

Paul O'Brien MediaTech Ventures CEO

December 29th, 2015

Brian you are bringing up one of the most frustrating experiences I have with startups.   I've worked with or advised dozens and the pattern is ALWAYS the same: Startups that consider Marketing an investment succeed.  Those that consider marketing a cost and merely a means of acquiring customers fail.

I've seen it time and time again.  Most founders fail to realize that Marketing is anything more than advertising and customer adoption.  Those that fail to raise capital have failed to do the market validation, research, and marketing that results in a meaningful opportunity.  Those that fail to compete have no sense for their market, competitors, and industry.  Those that fail to grow and satisfy customers have no insight to their problems nor preferred solution.  Marketing.

Frankly, I believe this is the single reason that our startup economy has so significantly changed in the last 10 years.  From disruptions and innovations to apps and Lean startups validating customers and yielding for investors $50MM exits.

Peter Drucker, famed economist of the '70s and '80s for those that don't know, said of business

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer,” said Drucker, “the business enterprise has two-and only two-basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Somewhere along the way, founders have been taught that talking to a few people, validating an idea, and getting a few paying customers is all it takes.  That a CEO and CTO comprise the founding team.

I find myself in Austin, TX today, by some measures, the hottest startup market in the world.  And yet, we struggle to attract Venture Capital here.  We have by any measure, a disproportional number of startups per capital relative to the amount of funding available to them.  Simply: we have more potential opportunity than anywhere in the world as too little investment is servicing that demand.   Yet few are asking WHY -> Why is it that we have so many startups but so little support from investors??

When I left Silicon Valley, about 6 years ago, for Austin, I experienced what I think is the reason: Marketing.  In California, the ideal founding team (essentially) is 3 people: founder, CTO, CMO.    Now, I realize, most of us are familiar with companies having two founders and practically speaking, there generally are.  My point is more philosophical - that there, your focus as a startup is vision/strategy/resource (CEO), build (CTO), strategy/demand (CMO).  I had a prolific career there as startups just don't try raising capital without an experienced marketing executive on the core team.  

Austin is a Sales based economy.  Our technology, historically speaking, has been hardware and enterprise: B2B.  The consumer and internet oriented culture that developed Silicon Valley by way of Marketers didn't develop in Austin and thus, today, the advisors, incubators, and indeed even investors (since it's the only experience they have) are teaching entrepreneurs that you validate, build, sell, fund.  No where does marketing exist as anything more than an employee tasked with sourcing leads and customers.

Why do startups fail?  Why do startup cultures fail to develop industries and sophisticated venture capital communities?  Because they fail to appreciate Drucker's wisdom and instead believe that only the innovation matters - businesses are built without the distinguishing characteristic that results in revolutions, instead merely being small businesses with a product, sure, perhaps an innovative product, but not what that's capable of delivering what most investors are seeking: distinction.

Patrina Mack Experts in global commercialization

January 2nd, 2016

The most striking part of this thread was the lack of engagement by entrepreneurs - the very audience who needed to read this exchange.  Many well stated points by consultants who understand the importance but most likely struggle getting their value understood by potential clients.

Sharon McCarthy Chief Marketing Officer

December 29th, 2015

Agreed. But I think the issue is bigger. Marketing is often seen as the tail of the dog -- what you do after the product is developed and the go to market strategy has been launched -- instead of the hub of the wheel as it is in most consumer driven businesses. And the problem is not just with startups.

Brian Creath President at Cohesion. | The Brand Agency

December 29th, 2015

If you've developed a business that successfully competes on price and operational efficiency, alone, you will undoubtedly question the need to invest time and resources in marketing and brand development. And yes, if you have achieved the ‘holy grail’ of innovation in a particular product or service - one that is completely relevant, understood and differentiated, with little explanation or promotion - you may also be predisposed to remain skeptical of marketing’s value.

If however, you find yourself (like most companies) in a competitive landscape of nominally differentiated brands, products and services, each attempting to compete on varying degrees of differentiated features and benefits -- developing and/or re-developing your brand can be the difference between struggling (and eventually failing) and succeeding.

Read more in a recent article, here.


December 29th, 2015

Paul- the Marketer is definitely the person I have in mind. My target market has some interesting challenges - marketing to Baby Boomers and Seniors is not the same as marketing to millennials and many seem to want to apply the same tactics. 

Michealene Risley California State Finance Committee at Hillary For America

January 1st, 2016

I also think it is bigger than marketing.  I think there is a lack of understanding and care for the consumer and consumer experience.   I had mentioned this on Quora's as if the knowledge of consumer, marketing and strategy are de-valued.   It's as if there is not an interest or a desire to being people that are experts in those sectors.   

Part of it, is that we have become so data focused we have forgotten that experience and common sense matter.

Dr. Goulston Speaker, Author, Founder Coach, Consultant

January 3rd, 2016

Speaking of customer experience, we have observed that when you create a "gotta have it" experience with regard to products and services in customers, you don't have to persuade or convince them to buy. They just do it.
We reversed engineered "gotta have it" into a 4 step formula that people like Steve Jobs unconsciously followed to create "insanely great" products.
1. "Whoa" - "I can't believe what I just saw, heard, read or felt"
2. "Wow" - "What I just saw, heard, read or felt is astonishing, amazing or fascinating"
3. "Hmmm" - "This is just too good not to use" or "I can't believe what I'm going to be able to do with this"
4. "Yes" - "I just saw how it could all come together so I'm ready to buy"
Then go back to your marketing and advertising people and ask them if what customers or clients see, hear or read about your products causes a: "Whoa" "Wow" reaction. If not, you're not hooking, grabbing or creating "gotta have it" and are most likely creating, "Nah, no thanks, pass."

Chris Taylor Director, Channel Marketing at Yuneec USA, Inc.

December 30th, 2015

Brian - excellent topic and thread. I've run marketing at many companies and run marketing as a consultant for many more companies...and it has amazed me how often companies big and small don't have a good basic marketing plan that covers the points so many of these posts mention. Just understanding your target market/audience, their pain points, the competitive landscape, market trends, your unique positioning and messaging platform (without kidding yourself and with validation), personas, brand story...and more. As said, these are the foundation upon which to build the demand generation strategies and tactics.

As Kevin mentions, I smile when I see questions in this forum that ask "what's the best way to...?" when the poster has only provided very cursory information if any about their specific situation. Without understanding the fundamentals so often it's impossible to answer those questions.

Paul O'Brien MediaTech Ventures CEO

December 29th, 2015

Alison, why would a CMO want to do what you're doing? I wrote about your very question in detail not long ago, so as not to belabor the entirety of the post there, here are a few thoughts:

It's astounding to me that early stage teams so poorly value Marketers. Not "marketing" mind you... marketers. Marketing is easily misunderstood, especially in our era of Lean Startup, low risk investment, and focus on "what customers want" - not that there is anything inherently wrong with those philosophies and ideas; rather, they too easily teach (inappropriately) that marketing is about acquiring customers. And therefore, that you don't hire someone to do marketing until you have a product, know your customers, and have figured out what to charge you can pay to acquire more.

Marketing doesn't start when your product is launched or after an MVP is up, it defines what your MVP should be. Marketing is the process of understanding the value of your idea in the market and, I don't think anyone would disagree, it's critical to attracting customers (something you'd want to do first before investing in development).

So distinguish a Marketer from marketing. You can hire anyone with opposable thumbs to do marketing, someone with experience in Adwords or email can do some marketing for you. A Marketer is the person who starts by ensuring your product meets the needs of the market through market analysis and segmentation.

A Marketer deals with the set of engagements necessary for successful marketing management including capturing marketing insights, connecting with customers, building strong brands, shaping the market offerings, delivering and communicating value, creating long-term growth, and developing marketing strategies and plans.

Is that the person you have in mind?

Kevin McLaughlin Co-Founder & Principal, Resound Marketing

December 29th, 2015

This notion of strategic vs tactical marketing is certainly worth exploring - as noted a few times in this thread.

I recently sat on a marketing panel attended by over 150 very bright MBA candidates - with current roles at startups to F50 brands - and the most common question was "what works best" as we covered different aspects of the marketing mix.

They were looking for the silver bullet on tactics and tools - but what I repeatedly revisited was the assessment of their customer. What are their pain points, what influences them, and what drives their buying decisions. You need to have a deep understanding of those facets of the customer before you can compose your own corporate narrative (that's truly meaningful), and before you can select the right strategies, tools, and tactics that are right for your company. Your stage and funding resources may dictate the timing and scope of certain decisions, but they don't fundamentally change your strategy.

Whether you have an enterprise software platform or a baby product, the customer remains your North Star.

It's less about marketing wizardry and more about business fundamentals. But I am happy to still wear the cloak and wave the wand for those who need help connecting the dots.