The music on the White Album was so good, the Beatles didn’t need to spend any money on the wrapper. This is exactly what a VC meant when she recently said to me: “marketing is the place money goes to die.” This comment was central to her (and many others’) view on how scale-ups invest in order to grow.
The logic goes like this: if what you’re building isn’t entirely new and disruptive, to the point where people will distribute the concept for you with ever-increasing network effects, then forget it.
There’s some truth to this. If the base proof of concept isn’t there — that users or customers like what you are doing, can be acquired fast and at low-cost, then monetised over time — raising funds to have ‘marketing’ perform some kind of wizardry isn’t an option. Sure, marketing’s history was re-imagining a mass-made can of cold beans into a national scientific breakthrough — but those days are long gone.
So, the first question before marketing is: do I need marketing investment in the first place?
Do I need to help spread word to the right people, at the right time, in the right way? Or do I need to go back and reassess who I am for, what problem I solve, the product or service, technology, pricing, distribution and so on? (The latter of course is the purest definition of marketing whereas here we are using the term in its common form, meaning marketing communications).
The second question: is it the right time for marketing investment?
Let’s face it, many things don’t catch a wave the second they launch. Some are brimming with potential and need that first cohort of users. Some need pivoting after taking advice from the wrong people. Often the idea is taking off, has performed well on social, through PR and performance marketing, but needs to go to the next level. Yep, those channels are cheap, but they max-out quickly.
The third and final question is: how much do I invest and what do I do with it?
Unhelpfully, there are a lot of different ways to plan and no stock answers, it all entirely depends on which of the above (and beyond) you might be tackling.
You’ll need some external help, which comes with pros and cons. Agencies have had a bad rap lately, and deservedly so. But you will need specialist instincts and experience that can help navigate the market and avoid you getting a bad deal. There are contemporary agency options available that work in an agile and fused manner to complement your team. Gather your gang. They will be creatively wired, media savvy and able to access the best way of producing things.
From there, you’ll still be faced with a blank piece of paper. So, here’s a short list of things I’ve gathered together from experience and asking around various successful Founders I’ve worked with. It’s not exhaustive, but can be used to tickle out what might be right for you, or at least get the right conversation going:
- Focus — do one thing (channel or idea — ideally both) really, really well and as big as possible. Back creative thinking and aim at plenty of ‘overspill’ into other channels. Don’t over-complicate. Be big, be bold, be brave.
- Don’t muck around. Get into the highest reach, highest impact media as quickly as possible. Traditional channels are likely to matter if you want to step-change the business. Demand the most innovative digital things you can do with them. But don’t necessarily back a traditional media plan — though that may be right. There are many upside-down ways of working with one partner or platform.
- Be responsive, but not tactical. Set sights on a strategic play, so that investment has a second dividend in the form of cumulative brand equity, alongside the immediate results needed. Brand may not matter now, but it does in the end -just ask Uber.
- Everything is communication. Now is a good time to revisit brand design, tone of voice and any generic, lazy posting you’ve been doing on Instagram. When campaigns go live, make sure it all joins up across your online presence, your social channels, any physical presence you own, sales forces and internal teams. Being consistent across the brand and enterprise is a force multiplier.
- Test and learn sensibly. Pre-modelling is essential, but this isn’t the time to set in stone how the model is going to work. CPA might go up in the short term as the first investment increases for example. Over-investment is inevitable initially, but attribution tech is available to optimise your media investments at speed. Within your creative idea, set up variants so you’ve an opportunity to understand where the heat is going and why.
Finally, if you’re a new idea, find a simple, bold way to say ‘hello’. You have been living your company, idea and brand through a rainbow of emotions, experiences, competition and pressures. The audience hasn’t. You’ll be amazed what the right welcome to a new idea can achieve, without much explaining.
This article first appeared in Total Business here.