Marketing make or break a company. When people ask me what the number 1 thing I would do to help a company grow massively is focus on marketing. Time course.
I learned a long time ago that the best product doesn’t always win. It’s often a “good enough” product combined with killer marketing, fueled by unique customer insights. As a VC, I’ve seen this happen several times. Many companies get stuck in “features and functionality” marketing, which means they miss out on the opportunity to create durable brands. This happens when you elevate messages to higher-level needs that solve a pain point for the end consumer and delight them on an emotional level.
I’m passionate about helping companies discover new channels or reinvent old channels in a way that moves the needle. Finding a new way to make established channels like TV, direct mail and radio generate recognition around a brand can be a huge competitive divide and propel a company to exponential growth.
I’m not saying it’s easy. The job of a marketer gets more complicated with each channel that arises. Among the latest challenging trend lines:
- It’s noisier than ever. Next year, marketers expect a 40% A/A increase in the number of data sources they use, according to the seventh edition of the annual Salesforce marketing status report, for which they spoke to more than 8,200 global marketers.
- The bags are tightening. According to Gartner, marketing budgets as a percentage of the company’s revenue dropped from 11% to 6.4% in 2021. The company reports that “this is the lowest proportion allocated to marketing in the history of the company. Gartner Annual CMO Spend Survey.”
- The ponds are overfished. A decade ago, just 17% of global ad spending went to the top five ad sellers (Google; Viacom and CBS; News Corp. and Fox; Comcast and Disney). Today, ad networks are much more crowded, with 46% of global ad spending taking place on the top five networks (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba and ByteDance).
With this downward pressure on the effectiveness of marketing dollars, it’s important to listen to customers, stay curious, and stay open to crazy ideas that have the potential to stand out. Over the past year, I’ve had dozens of conversations with top marketers to ask what’s really working for them and what crazy idea they tried that seemed ridiculous at the time.
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Here are some highlights of what I heard and what I now share with all the CEOs and marketing leaders of our portfolio companies:
With developers, marketers need to be problem solvers, not salespeople
“Developers are very quick to sniff out any kind of marketing pitch or BS. They are looking to get the answer to a problem they have and then move on. How can you get them to the correct documentation as quickly as possible? How can you keep them up to date on the products that are available today, not the ones that will be available two years from now?
Your job is to help them get their hands on the code as quickly as possible. Give them direct access to other like-minded developers in the community who can help solve some of their issues in real time.” — Sara Varni, former Twilio CMO.
Avoid free trials at all costs
“At the beginning of Curology, we had the hypothesis that by not charging anything for a product trial, it was very easy for people to get it without having any kind of mental commitment. We started experimenting with getting people to pay the shipping cost, $4.95. [That price] it was still a very low barrier for people, but we learned that it dramatically changed the perception of value and mental commitment in the eyes of our customers.