Marketing before you have a Marketer

So, you’ve just graduated from that incubator, received a round of angel funding, or even secured your series A. You may or may not actually have anyone with any marketing experience handling your marketing. Here are the 5 things I would handle, or hire someone to handle, to tide-you-over until you reach a point where you’re ready to bring-in your first full-time marketing hire.  I can even suggest people who will consult and handle these things for you. Keep in mind none of this is the stuff I specialize in, nor is any of this going to help you grow or scale. These are the fundamentals you should be thinking about before you’re ready to scale.And these are the fundamentals that, across my experiences, often get overlooked and can be expensive – in terms of time, money, effort, and credibility – to clean-up later.

  1. Secure your brand
    1. BookRenter just recently announced a new brand – The reason for the change is covered in numerous press releases – but essentially it comes down to the fact that our name was boxing us in, and we now do so much more than rent textbooks, and have aspirations to grow even further beyond what we do today. We grew. We pivoted. We then had to spend a lot of time & money rebranding and re-positioning the company, and explaining to all our customers & partners what was going on. Not to mention all the SEO juice we need to reacquire. So when you’re creating your very first brand, make sure it’s something broad with room-to-grow.
    2. Also make sure your brand is easy to communicate. Kno had a huge issue with this – the name sounded exactly like the very commonly used word “Kno” which meant confusion in every introductory conversation and endless puns.
    3. Finally, I wouldn’t be a responsible marketer if I didn’t tell you to make sure your brand doesn’t mean anything terrible in any commonly used language. The simplest way is to google it. Microsoft had an internal tool you could use to make sure when you were creating a new brand it didn’t run up against anything.
    4. Google for trademark infringement. You also need to worry about your new brand infringing on an existing trademark. Again, the simplest solution is to do some googling. If someone is offering a product or service in an entirely different vertical you’re fine. If it’s the same vertical, even if they’re doing it badly, you could be opening yourself up to a lawsuit down the road.
  2. Secure your online presence
    1. Domains
      1. Maybe you own People might be talking about your app and not finding you. What are you doing to make sure that they find you if they don’t know how to spell you? Consider buying adjacent domains like,, and
    2. Consistency across platforms
      1. You need to have 1 identity across social media platforms. So securing your identity is important. You don’t want to be but have to use because someone else snagged it first. There are ways to secure these names once their taken, but it’s much easier to lock it down early.
    3. Facebook
      1. This one you probably have handled. Know that there are procedures you can go through – if you are a company – to regain control of if someone else already has it.  I don’t have any personal experience testing out how difficult this is.
    4. Twitter
      1. I’m not a huge twitter fan. I think for engaging with consumers, you’re better off focusing your social media efforts on Facebook. But when it comes to engaging with the digerati, the intelligencia of a community -the tastemakers and bloggers of that industry – then twitter becomes really useful. So make sure you have registered your presence here. And consider putting together an entirely separate strategy for twitter to go after this audience and talk about meaningful issues in your space.
    5. LinkedIn
      1. You’re going to want the About page on LinkedIn to mirror your website
      2. When you’re growing and recruiting, make sure you post jobs to LinkedIn as well. They have a recommendation engine so your jobs will show up to any user who logs in, even if they’re not job-seeking, and some powerful search tools (which you have to pay for).
    6. Wikipedia
      1. This one is often overlooked and is important. If you’re kinda a big deal, you really oughta be on Wikipedia. I once joked that the best gift my friends could give me for christmas would be a wikipedia page, because then I really would be famous.
    7. Pinterest? Tumblr? YouTube?
      1. As these platforms grow, having a presence on them may become mandatory. For now, at least grab your URL for safe-keeping. If you have a site that lends-itself naturally to one of these mediums, you might invest in it early-on, such as an online women’s fashion site like Sneekpeaq investing in a presence on Pinterest.
    8. SEO
      1. This is huge. You need to find someone who knows basic SEO to put the right metatags in the right places to begin optimizing. If you’re getting press & blog coverage, SEO to your homepage should be easy. As you get into a commoditized and more mature market down the road, years of accumulated SEO link juice will help a ton in defending your google ranking. I barely know what I’m talking about in this area, but I know you need to learn it or hire someone who knows it. Search Engines are still the front-door to the internet. Furthermore, there are some cases where SEO becomes crucial
      2. In the case where you can’t get a .com email address and have a funky .net, .ly, or some other, people won’t find you initially, and googling needs to result in finding you immediately or they will likely give up
      3. In the case where your company / product is hard to pronounce and they hear about through word-of-mouth or video, they will try googling. For example Kno was a confusing name – people had no idea if it was spelled “kno” “know” or “no” and if you googled the wrong spelling, or even the right spelling”Kno” without “education” or “Tablet” you wouldn’t be able to find us. Huge potential loss of customers.
    9. SEM Will Jump-Start your customer base and help you prove your model
      1. SEM is a great way to drive orders once you have a site with something to sell
      2. SEM can also be a fantastic way to do quick testing of different messages – you can do a small ad-buy on keywords and test two different ads against one another and overnight have a quantifiable measure of how they compare in click-through-rate
      3. With an ecommerce site, SEM can be a huge driver of revenue. Again, I’m not an expert here, but I know enough to be dangerous. You’ll need someone to handle identifying keywords, creating different ad copy and images, manage the bidding, and optimize the results. Once you have a product to sell, SEM can be the simplest and most direct way of getting in front of the customer at the right moment and getting them to buy your product. You’ll have diminishing marginal returns, and as the space gets more crowded the Cost-per-Action for this channel will increase. But SEM can essentially jump-start a business and help you prove your business model. Then you can go to investors with a model that just needs the injection of more ad-dollars in order to scale-up.
  3. Craft a compelling story and make sure everyone know it
    1. Someone – probably a founder but possibly a marketing-hire or a PR agency – needs to make sure that the company has a really fascinating positioning that people can latch-onto easily. “Kayak compares Expedia, Travelocity, and 8 other travel sites to get you the best price faster.” I can quickly latch-onto the reason for why this is better than Expedia.
    2. In the startup world, we call this an elevator pitch. Make sure everyone knows it.
    3. I met an early employee at Pinterest about a year ago who absolutely could not communicate the product vision.  I totally wrote-off the company.  One could argue that it’s my fault; clearly the company has a great product. But if I had been an internet-celeb, potential investor, or potential employee, the fact that he couldn’t communicate the vision means a missed opportunity to get growth, money, or people – three big drivers of success.
  4. Get a good PR agency
    1. If you’ve done a good job crafting a compelling story and teaching it to people, you’re a step ahead. If not, you need someone who isn’t just good at PR, you need someone great – someone who can get into the heart of the product and tell you what is and isn’t compelling to the press; who can tell you what to build and what to tweak so that your elevator-pitch becomes compelling.
    2. Someone small and plugged in who will work hard for you and has experience driving big coverage for big brands. this can make a huge difference in defining the company. Some of it feels like a massive waste of money but creating the right appearances are important. Good PR can also give you a halo and make your company seem much more substantial than it really is.  Kno had great PR.
    3. PR drives customers – when something becomes the media darling, it gets covered by blogs like TechCrunch, which really is the most highly trafficked blog on earth, and every business-tech person reading techcrunch is also a consumer, a mom or a dad, a son or a daughter, of someone, and can and will recommend products and buy products on their own. This is why Apple seems so large. Would it surprise you to realize Apple has 9% market share among PCs? Compared with 90% for PCs? That’s because they are a media darling. Did it surprise the world that Groupon had terrible revenue and profitability numbers right-around the time that they went public? It shouldn’t have surprised us. But for a long time, Groupon was a media darling, and it took some really catastrophically bad press attention, repeated over the course of a year, for the general sentiment about the company to finally reflect the reality of their numbers. So being a media darling, in a way, insulated them from crises.
    4. PR will help with fundraising. Again, great press will make you seem more substantial than you are, and will demonstrate to VCs that you have an idea that customers and media are latching onto and are getting excited about.   My friend – after 1 article on TechCrunch last week – says he’s suddenly getting a ton of inbound investor interest and has meetings already lined-up this week, including one from a VP @ Facebook.
  5. Build in the right bits to track everything.
    1. Get google analytics working and tag everything you do with UTM codes. You need a clear understanding of what is and isn’t driving quality traffic. Google Analytics is free to use, and requires only that you embed its tracking code in every page of your own site.
    2. Google Analytics also integrates with Google AdWords accounts, so that you can see how each of your SEM campaigns performs BOTH in terms of traffic,  AND in terms of driving orders. This is important because it might help you to discover that your first Ad was driving way more traffic to the site, but none of it was converting, while a second ad was driving far fewer clicks, but almost all of them were clicking-through to purchase, meaning it was driving more qualified leads and a higher overall Cost-per-Action.  Again, I know how to operate GoogleAnalytics and analyze the data, but you’ll need to review Google’s documentation on how to add their code to your pages.

That’s the kitchen sink. From here, you’ll have the fundamentals, and you’ll be ready to really start growing-out your company to-scale. Good luck and godspeed.


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