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How startups can crack the marketing conundrum


Mapping the startup landscape can be an insightful exercise, one that throws up as many don’t’s as do’s. In hindsight, successful or failed startups would point to many defining factors and one that invariably stands out is the viability of a venture’s marketing strategy. We are living in times when stories are all that matter - narratives that are endorsed in a social media driven eco-system and which get translated into the right optics for your product or service. Controlling this narrative is a matter of investing in marketing resources efficiently.   

In a conversation with Forbes magazine, Kipp Bodnar, CMO of HubSpot, a business growth platform, has an interesting observation to make regarding startups and their marketing approach, “They have one marketer. They essentially have 30-50 hours of labour a week. The firm/marketer decides to do the following 1) Weekly email newsletter 2) Social media communication 3) Marketing automation 4) Monthly Blog. In addition, the marketer needs to understand what the company is doing and so they sit on a number of committees / teams / projects. They are essentially doing a little bit of everything. He further poses a question, “What is the cost of doing a little bit of everything and nothing well?

Even assuming that it’s a generalized observation, the question does capture the crux of the challenges that many startups face. For most of them, the marketing function could in fact turn out to be a double edged sword - one you can’t do without, but one so overwhelming that you would gladly resort to what is called the ‘Avoidance Psychology’ -- put off something because it’s too difficult/inconvenient/time-cost intensive, etc.

So what makes marketing such a challenging area to navigate for startups? Well, to start with, for many startups, marketing may be an alien function, one that’s far removed from their core expertise. Added to this is the fact that marketing today involves multiple metrics - consumer behaviour, brand awareness, conversions / sales, post sale feedback and so on. These metrics are defined by data mapped across interfaces and contexts - digital, physical, geographic, social, etc. Arriving at a marketing game plan involves prodding through a maze of this data.

Based on the data, a marketing plan is drawn up, taking into account the target audience and the business objective. Next comes the tricky part- translating a marketing strategy into a sustainable execution plan. This is tricky because it necessitates the integration of many specialist functions - communication, content creation, design, understanding of digital and other user interfaces, data analytics and so on. For a start-up grappling with fund mobilization, this can seem like stretching resources a bit too thin. 

There is also the question of on-boarding the right talent who can conceive of a robust marketing plan and effectively carry it through. This means hiring professionals with multidisciplinary skills sets, a tall order again for a startup focused on cost optimization. On one hand, it is challenging to find professionals who fit the bill - adept at communications, have solid track record, naturally skilled in sales, have good understanding of core product and business domain, creative, tech savvy and so on. On the other, training, developing and nurturing the marketing talent in-house is again a resource, cost and time intensive exercise that often does not deliver the desired results. So what is the way out?

Well, at a time when most businesses are forced to adopt smart, agile and lean practices, concepts like CoHiring, especially when it comes to hiring your own CMO, might just be the answer. CoHiring or Outsourced CMO is nothing but sharing your senior level marketing resource with another non-competing organization. So by CoHiring, you are not only saving costs incurred otherwise by employing a full time CMO, you are also leveraging the multi-industry exposure that such a ‘CoHired’ CMO comes with. Besides, the flexibility inherent in this work model implies that organizational resources such as space and utilities are utilized efficiently for multiple purposes. In effect, the model is similar to that of the Co-Working Space, where office / business space is shared for cost and other benefits . CoHiring essentially can result in gaining the best professional expertise without getting burdened by it. In fact, it won’t be surprising at all, if it becomes the new normal going forward.


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