We’re teeming with developers but there appears to be a dearth of startup marketers who can help to nurture and grow viable businesses. As much as many startups may look at marketing as a necessary evil, marketing is a key ingredient for success. Without enough marketing talent, many startups may never realize their potential.
My thesis is based on a growing number of conversations with startups entrepreneurs who are finding it challenging, if not impossible, to find good marketing people.
One entrepreneur told me: “We have a big job and a big opportunity. Where’s the marketing talent?”. Another company is considering recruiting someone from the U.S. to fill a senior marketing position.
So, why the lack of marketing talent?
Does it have to do with the fact most startups are not created by marketing people? Is it the nascent nature of the startup community, which means there aren’t many marketers with solid startup experience? Or is there simply a lack of marketing talent overall in Canada?
Whatever the reason, it shouldn’t overshadow the reality that startups need good marketers, along with top-notch programmers, salespeople, designers, community managers and business developers.
Marketing helps to take your product to the next level, letting it and the brand establish a presence and connect with target audiences. Marketing lets you tell compelling stories in a way that is different or better than the competition.
One the realities for startup marketers is they need to be multi-faceted. They can’t just be good at one thing such as communications or lead generation. Instead, they need to be good, or at least competent, at many things. This could range from writing and SEO to AdWords, social media, strategic alliances and product marketing.
Finding someone with these skills can be a challenge because marketers tend to be specialized. They’re really good at a particular practice but they’re not “five tools” players to steal a baseball term. When you work for a startup, however, being able to multi-task is important, particularly within the world of lean.
One of the best insights into the role the startup marketer was provided recently by Marcelo Calbucci, who nailed it with this paragraph in a Geekwire column:
“You have to know (nearly) it all. You don’t have to be good at everything, but you have to have enough exposure and experience at all levels of the marketing “stack” to be able to make good calls on how to spend your time, money and other startups resources in order to maximize the value you bring to the table. It’s not enough to be a brilliant marketing strategist and not know how to execute those strategies. It’s not enough to have a bag full of tactical tricks if you can’t create cohesion for the company positioning. It’s not enough to be a master of Social Media and have no idea how SEO works.”
A couple of weeks ago, Neil Bhapkar, Uberflip’s director of marketing, wade into the conversation with a lengthy blog post, “The Truth About Startup Marketing” that outlined the different things he had done during his digital marketing career, and how he brings many things to the table to drive Uberflip’s marketing.
“I don’t spend my days thinking about our overall marketing strategy, but rather I spend my days executing, leading, and generally trying new things within the framework of our overall marketing strategy.”
To become a startup marketer, you need a mix of different experiences AND/OR you need to have an appetite to be a generalist rather than a specialist. Within a startup, the marketing needs and priorities evolve and change, sometimes abruptly. It means a startup marketer has to be flexible, agile and able to take on challenges as they emerge.
While it may not be possible to formally train startup marketers, the way to create them is to provide people with hands-on startup experience where they can learn, experiment and gain experience.
Given marketing is still plays a secondary role for many Canadian startups, it could take time to nurture lots of startup marketers but there’s no doubt we need more of them for the ecosystem to thrive.