Thoughts on startups by investors that
fund them & entrepreneurs that run them

Marketing Beyond Acquisition

In my conversations with people in the startup world – from angel investors through entrepreneurs and employees with vast startup experience – I often hear about their perceptions of the marketing role as being pretty limited to acquisition. It is shocking to me how prevalent this POV is. I can’t count the times I heard people saying that “product development defines the product, and marketing gets the customers”. Always in this sequence.There are several factors to potentially explain this perception. First – startups are often strained for resources and people have to divide and conquer. Rarely can teams afford to play roles beyond their own, as people are already overworked with their core responsibilities. Second – timely, cost-effective customer acquisition is a matter of life-or-death to most startups. Whether you need it to actually fund your operations or to hit milestones for investors and other stakeholders, acquisition and CPA are the things that keep most marketing people awake at night.

I’d like to argue, however, that expanding marketing’s role into helping define the product could save companies a lot of headache. Taking the time to identify the value propositions that are most enticing to customers, and how these translate into product features customers would actually engage with (not to mention pay for) is the heart of the marketing discipline. When this process is followed, organizations actually end up with products that cultivate users and possess a lot more viral power. In other words, the role of marketing, in addition to finding customers, is to help create a product that will barely need marketing. There’s only one catch though: it takes a complete marketer to make that kind of contribution, and the skill set of a complete marketer goes way beyond, let’s say, managing a PPC campaign.

Surprisingly so, some large corporations seem to have nailed this type of cross-pollination better than some startups. It’s almost counter-intuitive. While in many large consumer product organizations new product development is a marketing function, in many startups marketing is still handed the product and limits itself to crafting messages and managing acquisition efforts. One hypothesis to explain this is that it’s been generally accepted that growth in the startup world comes from technological innovation, not from great marketing thinking permeating an organization. I would argue that expanding the definition of the marketing role could take success rates to whole new levels.

Written by Ilana Grossman

user Ilana Grossman

Ilana was the CMO of Gust with experience at Digitas and Organic. There, she led the development and implementation of several CRM and digital campaigns for clients such as Bank of America, Sanofi-Aventis, Johnson & Johnson, and Astra Zeneca.

prev next

You might also be interested in

7 Elements Of Inspiration From The Steve Jobs Model

Quote from Steve Jobs via Flickr

Steve Jobs was one of those entrepreneurs who seemed universally either loved or hated, but not many will argue with his ability to innovate in the technology product arena over the years. He was instrumental in creating Apple, which has pioneered a dazzling array of new products, and even surpassed Microsoft, to become the

Read more >

What are some of the keys to assembling a great board of directors at a company?

There is a saying in the not-for-profit world that your board members should all fall into one or more of three categories in which they can deliver: Wealth, Work or Wisdom.

In my experience, those same qualities also apply to for-profit boards:

Wealth, as in investors who can write checks and help with fundraising in future rounds;

Work, as in directors with specific

Read more >

What’s a typical day like for a full-time angel investor?

There is no such thing as a full-time angel investor (or if there is, I’ve never met one.)

If you mean someone investing mostly other people’s money through a seed fund, they are venture capitalists, and their days are spent like other VCs, meeting with prospective investments, mentoring portfolio companies, raising money from limited partners, negotiating deals, and so forth.

If you mean

Read more >

Thinner Slices of an Extra-Large Pizza: Mathematical vs. Economic Dilution of Startup Equity

Back from a hiatus, it’s time to venture forward once more.  I appreciated hearing from those who asked about upcoming posts.  Thanks in particular to the reader who reminded me that Part II of “Bored” of Directors Can Become Clash of Titans is still in the queue.

Let’s get right down to business: Dilution of founders’ and other early shareholders’ equity in startups

Read more >

Managers: You Can’t Get Rid of the Bad Apples Fast Enough

Academic snobs such as myself often place a lot of value on hard skills when hiring. No news here. Of course, we also look for great attitude and fit, given that so much – if not all – one conquers at the workplace nowadays is the result of collaboration and teamwork.

While most people in managerial positions agree with this approach

Read more >


One thought on “Marketing Beyond Acquisition”

  1. World Moto says:

    “…expanding marketing’s role into helping define the product could save companies a lot of headache.”

    This process is incredibly valuable, it’s like the choice of designing your dream home from ground up or remodeling an existing house.

    Another way is to write a patent. My partner and I spent three weeks writing a patent, which forced us to think about every potential use for our product, then, and into the future. Three years of product development condensed into three weeks. Many ideas were absurd but a few led to breakthroughs that are so obvious in hindsight that I wonder how we could’ve initially overlooked them.

    Paul Giles
    World Moto