Five Questions on Marketing for Startups

When I was asked to speak on a panel about marketing for startups at TiECon, a conference for entrepreneurs, I thought that the best way to prepare would be to pick the brains of some of the smartest, most experienced minds in the industry—and then steal their brilliance. I wrote to Josh Todd, the CMO of Localytics; Stacey Epstein, CEO of Cotap; and Keith Eadie, TubeMogul’s Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer asking them all the same five questions on the subject.

The panel, which took place last weekend, went great. (More on that here.) And Josh’s, Stacey’s, and Keith’s insights on the matter certainly informed what I had to say. In fact, what they wrote was so astute that I think they deserved to be shared with entrepreneurs everywhere.

Therefore, without further ado, here are five questions about how early state companies should approach various marketing challenges, and a slew of trenchant responses. (Lightly edited for clarity.)

1. What should you look for in a VP of marketing for an early stage (post-Series A) startup? How are B2B vs. B2C different?

One thing to avoid is someone who tells you they “have a playbook,” especially when you are taking talent from companies where the candidate has seen success scaling. Their success will be dependent on their ability to apply what they have seen and know to a new challenge. Every company is different and the right marketing candidate will be an athlete that can succeed in many events – think decathlon.

As for B2B vs B2C, it’s hard to make generalizations, but here are some generalizations. For B2C you are likely dealing with a shorter deal cycle, the key skills are scrappy awareness, brand, testing (volume should come with time), paid channels, social, and search. For B2B, the person needs to be high on empathy, with an ability to understand the business needs and motivations of individuals. The deals tend to involve multiple players, so s/he needs to be strong on personas and messaging. S/he will also need to be able to speak publicly and mine their owned assets (like customer usage data) to get press coverage. – Josh Todd, CMO at Localytics


I wrote an article on this a while back. As for B2B vs B2C, honestly I’ve never really done B2C, but my take is that branding is more important early on for B2C, and for B2B product marketing more important early on. Also, in B2C, marketing is typically generating a sale; whereas in B2b they are generating demand for another team (sales) to close the sale. So alignment with and understanding of a sales team is really important in B2B. – Stacey Epstein, CEO of Cotap


Find a “doer.” Following a Series A, a marketing team will typically be two to five people. The VP has to be able to contribute to most marketing activities at that size—writing press releases, writing web copy, building decks, negotiating event contracts, setting up a lead gen system, etc. Find someone who focuses on explaining what your company does as simply as possible. This is not the time to define a new category. New category creation comes later—marketing at this stage has to clearly explain to buyers what the product does and what it replaces. Everything replaces something.


B2B vs. B2C. B2B is obviously more feature/functionality driven, but marketers should never discount the emotional aspect of a B2B buyer. People impute quality from every touch point they have with your brand: your sales deck, your signage at an event, your product update email, your Instagram feed, your logo on water bottles. People buy quality—make sure that’s what they think of your brand. – Keith Eadie, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at TubeMogul

2. What do you think CEO’s get wrong/don’t understand about marketing?

They tend to give lip service to the idea that they understand marketing, the intricacies, the art versus science, but in the end they tend to want the easy answer—I do this, I get that. That’s fine if it is not a considered purchase, but especially in the B2B world things tend to be more complex especially as the size of the deal increases.

CEOs intellectually understand that they may not personally fit the “profile” of your target market, but because they have been so close to the customer during the early stages they can conflate their own personal biases with the customers. This is when you get a CEO that does not “like” the corporate website—its feeling, not fact. A strong marketer will balance gut and data and get you to the right place, even if the CEO does not like it.

CEOs should not get involved with the small stuff. As the company grows and they evolve as a leader, they can’t hold on to the small things. Breaking from them is a great way to build trust and confidence with the team on things that are above the water line. – JT


Here are a few:

· Good marketing can make your company. Bad marketing can break it. It’s not just a nice to have or have not. It can be the determinant.

· Just because you can’t measure it or assess an ROI, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Take PR. Very hard to measure the effectiveness of good press because it doesn’t typically translate into actual leads, but it can make a big difference.

· Marketing’s first and constant task should be to define your positioning and messaging framework. This is like putting your company’s mission and value into words. No one knows this better than you, so participate in the process. And be consistent with how you talk about the company in your own conversations and presentations.

· EVERYONE can benefit from media and presentation training. Be willing to be coached in this area.

· Marketing exists to either generate or serve up sales. They should be measured not just in traditional marketing metrics like leads/impressions, but also by hitting revenue goals.



They often think it’s just about driving brand awareness via splashy, public-facing activities. Early-stage marketing is about customer acquisition and cultivation through “blocking and tackling” activities—high quality sales decks, insightful content marketing, qualified lead generation, steady PR presence, etc. –KE

3. What advice do you have for a post-Series A startup on leveraging social media or PR effectively?

Social is not one person’s job. You do not hire a social media manager and call it a day. The exec team and the entire organization need to embrace social. Especially in the early growth phases, you need every touch point you can get and you will build an army with social muscles that become a core part of your DNA. Educate the team about what is in it for them personally over the long term, how to do it effectively and why it is important to the company. There are some great tools like TrapIt that can help make it easy to get the team going. The only other point I would make is to divide and conquer. Prioritize the channels that are most important for your business and then assign individuals a primary and secondary channel. Same for execs, but each exec should have a specific message thread they weave into everything they do. This focus helps you get the most out of your social efforts. –JT


In terms of PR, look from within—what owned assets do you have to work with—there is always something? Does your product produce data or reveal interesting behaviors? Use that to leverage existing story lines. Agencies can also help early on as you build credibility. They have relationships that can accelerate your time to market.

Don’t be afraid to hire an agency, BUT know that an agency is only as good as the person managing them. I’ve seen CEOs hire PR agencies thinking they’ll work directly with them. You need someone who understands external comms on your team driving both the vision and execution. Agencies can participate and facilitate the process, but they will never know all the details of what you’re actually working on. –SE


PR is about a steadily increasing drumbeat of coverage that continually builds on a company’s defined positioning and value proposition. (It’s not about the one big profile piece per year.) All PR should tie back to a company’s core positioning. If it doesn’t, don’t do it.

The importance of social media varies depending on the company, but should adhere to the above principles—every post should tie back to the core positioning and value prop, as well as reflecting the company’s culture through a consciously chosen “voice.” And quality—great photos, no typos, smart use of URL shorteners, etc. (It’s amazing how often the basics are poorly executed.) –KE

4. How do you define and then measure ROI for marketing?

ROI will always take the form of payback over some period of time. There are a lot of approaches that can be successful. For me it all comes down to how aggressive do we want to be. Start by first understanding the LTV as best you can. Once you know what a customer is worth you can set a target based on how long of pay period is acceptable to your business. You will always be looking at success through two main lenses (and many more in between): What is the overall payback of all of our marketing investments? And, how are the channels, and more granularly, the tactics within the channels performing? Watch the balance. Your CEO will want you to manage the returns at the granular view. This will make you efficient, but may stifle growth if the category is new or undefined. Attribution is never perfect, so you need agreement on how you will deal with business that you cannot directly attribute. If you solve this and are aligned with your CEO you will thrive. Not getting alignment will cause the goal posts to continuously change and success will be difficult. –JT


I always have a pretty sophisticated model that has metrics throughout. At the top is bookings goals. Add in ACV and start dictating the metrics. How many deals do we need? What’s the opp to win conversion rate? So how many opps do we need? This then drives pipeline goals and lead goals. And you can start breaking it down further by region, product, segment, even down to the territory level. Then you can directly measure the success of the sources and campaigns. Which converted to leads? Which eventually converted to wins? How big? How fast? Trade shows bring in a ton of leads, but they don’t convert, and they have a higher CPL—do less! It’s really down to that level of scrutiny. The harder ones are the ones like PR, and then it’s more about what the field says about these programs. I listen to sales a LOT. –SE


We aspire to tie everything back to revenue influenced by marketing activities—easier to do for some activities vs. others, but with a solid implementation of Marketo, most marketing efforts can be associated with revenue. This gets complex fast, but every touch point a prospective or existing customer has with our marketing activities is tracked by Marketo and associated to a Contact in Salesforce, who has a set of Opportunities, and ultimately Revenue, associated with them. –KE

5. What are the 3 most important tools in your current MarTech stack?

Marketing Automation, Attribution Tracking – are key, but then you are talking about key areas like web and lead conversion, testing, etc. depends how you are defining the stack and how deep you want to go. –JT


Analytics (mostly Google Analytics at early stage), marketing automation, and Salesforce. –SE


Marketo—supports the execution of all digital campaigns, measures each touch point with a customer and enables the tracking of revenue by each customer. Kapost—supercharges content marketing execution and provides excellent content discovery to sales teams. Domo—ties together analytics from Marketo, Salesforce, web analytics, and more to give you a holistic picture of your marketing efforts in a single dashboard. –KE