By Ryan Stoner, a serial entrepreneur and leader in brand strategy and marketing. He is currently Principal & Head of Strategy at Dendro†
As the founder of a fast-growing startup, it’s hard to know what to do now because there are so many things to do. After reaching product-market fit and getting your first round of funding, the avalanche of tasks can be overwhelming. One of those tasks is dealing with the harsh reality that customers don’t naturally flock to the product or service you’ve worked so hard to develop.
I’ve seen a screenplay come true over and over. A founder realizes that he needs someone who is responsible for marketing his product/service. Marketing can be a complex and constantly evolving process that many founders don’t have the skills or time for – they focus on fundraising, product roadmaps, sales, recruiting and a whole host of other tasks. This is a crossroads that can shape the future of your brand. That’s right, I said brand. Because whatever you do, ultimately you need a strong brand to grow and be successful.
In this less successful scenario, you hire a mid-level marketing executive to take charge of marketing. Why middle class? Because that’s probably the only type of marketer willing to take a shot at a startup, and that’s what you can afford. The mid-level marketer does what mid-level marketers do best: establish a demand generation funnel that drives sales and brings the product to the attention of potential customers. This leads to short-term success, until the market fills up with new entrants, making your product one of many.
An abundance of opportunity means an abundance of competition. And in a crowded market, focusing solely on customer acquisition costs, or CAC, won’t help you retain customers and differentiate your business for long-term success.
Returning to the crossroads, there is another choice. Rather than just responding to the short-term pressures of bringing the new product to market, you can make a decision to ensure both short-term and long-term success.
Hire a strategic brand consultancy before hiring their marketing person (or while hiring). Let me clarify what I mean by a brand strategy agency. This is not a design store or a website company that also does brand strategy. I mean a company focused on creating your brand purpose, positioning and unique story – a compelling story for investors and customers that can guide everything you do. A brand strategy agency should:
• Be able to outline your best potential audiences and create a messaging strategy that will resonate with them and earn their hard-to-get attention and dollars.
• Being able to make you a category of one and keep you that way when newcomers try to achieve your success.
• Create a strategic brand playbook or growth roadmap that starts with developing a brand rather than assigning a product or service. This is essential for long-term success. The result is an increase in lifetime value, or LTV, while decreasing how much you spend to acquire a customer.
While an important part of marketing is telling a story about your startup, building a brand playbook allows a founder to guide all business activities beyond verbal and visual communication.
As with many start-ups, you may encounter a list of growth opportunities, future decisions, and channel opportunities that must be guided by a well-defined, strategic brand base.
With definition and focus on brand strategy and growth plans, anyone you hire to execute marketing has the strategic priorities of goals, opportunities, partnerships and marketing channels at their disposal. They also need to have the tools to guide future design and experience development as product and website updates are made.
With this branded playbook, a mid-level marketing executive can create lasting success. Agencies that are hired should help provide good direction. And you can tell a better story to investors and potential partners. Win, win, win.