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

Gust Launches Comprehensive Equity Management Platform for Cap Table Management and 409A Valuations

Gust announces acquisitions of Sharewave and Preferred Return; creates the most robust and affordable equity management solution for early-stage startups.

June 22, 2016 – NEW YORK, NY –  Gust, the global service provider powering the entrepreneurial ecosystem, announced today the launch of a comprehensive equity management platform, Gust Equity Management. The new platform provides early-stage companies with powerful

Read more >

From Accelerators to Venture Capital: What is best for your startup?

With startup growth up 61% since 2014 and more investment programs emerging, it can be overwhelming for founders to know just where to jump in. As the most startup-friendly accelerator on the planet, MassChallenge has helped 835 startup companies around the world, who have raised over $1.1 billion in funding and created over 6,500 jobs. We have seen startups at

Read more >

Valuation Part I: Peeling the Onion, or How Top Investors Value the Startups They Invest In

Early-stage technology company valuations are generally a crap-shoot. Bill Payne did a great post about this in October 2011. This post builds on top of his work, and attempts to shed additional light on the valuation process.

New founders may think that startup valuations work like this:

I figure out what the value of my existing company is I figure

Read more >

Starting a startup as CTO / Head of Product

After less than a year, Glassbreakers is now a team of 10, we have thousands of active users on our free product, we’ve expanded into enterprises with paying customers and raised over a million in seed funding. After a few of my Glassbreaker matches inquired, I started to reflect on what it’s like to build a startup

Read more >

Raising Capital As A First Time Founder

A year ago, in mid September 2014, I walked out of a Starbucks in San Francisco with the very first check from an angel investor for Glassbreakers. Though it was only $5,000, it was enough to prove to myself and my co-founder, Lauren Mosenthal, that we could actually fundraise for our startup. We already had 1,000 women signed

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