Late last year I took the plunge back into a start-up environment. I looked at this change as a chance to reinvent my approach to the craft of marketing — and so far, it has not disappointed.
During the last four years, I ran a team of 80+ people and was responsible for marketing a product I considered to be very mature — data and data-oriented solutions — regardless of what some of the media might think. There are a few “winners” in this category, and the audience, for the most part understands its value. Marketing this kind of product is about differentiation more than education.
Now I’m marketing in a brand-new category that requires a lot of education as well as differentiation. The differentiation I have to create is one not of us vs. other competitive products, but us versus more entrenched habits.
In both cases, I’ve found that marketing is a series of singles and doubles, with the chance to swing for the fences from time to time and hit a home run.
Customer acquisition requires a foundation of tactics that deliver results in an ongoing fashion. You need to be delivering a steady stream of new users — a feat accomplished by a core set of initiatives that include SEO, SEM, content and social marketing. These are the foundation of your line-up, the tools that will get players on base and build reach and frequency in the eyes of your target audience. My recommendation is always to have no more than three partners focused on these areas; one dedicated to SEO and SEM, one developing content and one managing your social efforts.
Next comes the depth of your order. These are the tactics in your lineup that give you the chance at some extra bases. For these tactics to work, you need to leverage what you learn from your content and social strategy and apply it to things like influencers, an ambassador strategy, referral programs and paid media. You take ideation from social and content development, understand which messages resonate the best, and apply them to your next wave of efforts through great creative ideas.
Paid media is the easiest to implement in this bunch because you take what you learned in social and push it out through paid efforts like native or display advertising. You also look at tactical ideas that some people call “organic,” but I refer to as “organic with a lot of work.” These are the influencers, ambassadors, etc. who can help light a fire virally if you get them on board, but these do not happen overnight. They require work, focus and persistence to make them take flight. Nothing is truly organic and this is an area where you have to allocate a lot of resources on faith that they will pay out over time.
Next: the clean-up hitter. This is where you make a big gamble on a player or two who can knock it out of the park. This can be a creative or a media idea. It can be your “Dollar Shave Club” video, an experiential event — or even something as simple as an affiliate program with wide-reaching implications.
It’s always a gamble: that line item in your strategy that looks like a larger allocation than you should be giving it, requiring more resources than you are likely comfortable giving to it — but if it works, it can make your year. This is your monster swing for the fences, and if you whiff, the rest of the year is that much more difficult because you are hoping to grind out the win rather than run through home with your arms raised pointing upwards.
Marketing is absolutely a game, and I love the idea of going back to basics to better understand the strategy behind the craft. For me, the best part of the last five years has been talking to CMOs from some of the greatest brands in the world and learning what they did that worked.
In more than a dozen discussions with truly influential marketers, I have learned that this sports analogy is adopted by everyone.
The best part of this analogy is that baseball is about to get started. Let’s celebrate that fact as well!