Startup Marketing: Operating with Urgency or Panic

January 23, 2015

Startup marketing is brutal and invigorating. Quite often a startup has brilliant domain experts, inventors, and engineers who develop the big idea. Often the marketing function is last to ramp, either with full time employees or agencies to support the business.

Early stage startup marketing typically focuses on business development and finding early adopter customers and investors. At this the point pain from not having a focused marketing resource tends to bubble up, and that’s when startup marketing can go down two paths that either have a sense of panic, or a sense of urgency.

One path leads to a greater chance of success. The other leads to sadness with painful levels of angst and consternation.

Unfortunately, too many startups choose a sense of panic as founders without marketing experience want an immediate sales pipeline. Marketing is often viewed as “easy” and once a good press release hits the wire and that first email is sent the perception is that leads will immediately flood in. Compared to writing code, marketing is simple! Right?

Fear, uncertainty and doubt creep in immediately when leads don’t flow from a single marketing tactic. Questions fly on whether the marketing resources know what they are doing. Comments are thrown out like “marketing never works” or “this is why I hate spending money of marketing” or “marketing is easy and I don’t understand why you can’t generate leads ” or “I have a board meeting next week and I need to show them some results on how we are growing by then.”

Sound familiar?

Panic puts the focus and scrutiny on the wrong small areas. For example, a single tactical email, or two emails and a webinar over two months are not accurate barometers for marketing success. Yet startup founders and execs view tactics as if they were strategically engaging.

The classic “since we built it, they have to know how cool it is and they will come” attitude only adds to the panic.

Startups that pursue marketing with a sense of urgency are headed down the right path. A sense of urgency brings strategic purpose, patience, customer focus, planning, execution, measuring, and adjustments.

When a single tactic fails or doesn’t perform as well as hoped, it’s a learning experience for the next tactical element. A well-developed strategy will help guide the marketing effort. When the strategy is known, the startup is mobilized behind the effort with a sense of urgency.

Are your startup marketing perceptions and efforts based in urgency, or panic? Here are some ideas to help focus the right way.

1. Build a plan and work the plan. The startup that succeeds with marketing objectives has a clear marketing strategy. However, plans and vision without execution are hallucination. If the plan is approved, the organization and people are bought-in, it’s time to execute.

2. Set the objectives. Panic forces people to operate without clear objectives. Perpetually reacting to criticism puts the focus internally instead of on customers. Doing something for the sake of doing something and expecting a miraculous outcome is folly. A clear objective creates purpose and everyone, including the CEO and founders, need to openly support the objectives.

3. Stop doing random acts of marketing. There’s a difference between being opportunistic and making weekly demands for random marketing tactics. Opportunistic behavior keeps the focus on the plan but allows for Navy SEAL-like flexibility to pounce on a unique situation. Random behavior is distracting and based in panic, and fails to make any connection with the target customers. An example of random panic is when you decide to have a webinar next week with unrealistic expectations that massive amounts of people will magically register and attend.

4. Why should customers care? A sense of urgency keeps the focus squarely on the intended audience in ways that should matter to them. With the right plan the customers are kept at the center. When panic ensues the efforts are inwardly focused acts of desperation that are doomed for failure.

5. Marketing tactics are not marketing campaigns. Look at the forest. Not the pinecone on the forest floor. A single email is not a campaign or a strategy. It’s a tactic. Stop viewing single tactics as campaigns. When startup leaders look at tactics as a strategy, the scrutiny is wrong.

6. Seek first to understand, and then be understood. A classic Covey principle. Startup leaders need to trust their marketing advisors and resources. If a marketing resource or agency advises startup leaders against a certain action, ask why, and seek to understand the advice. The same goes if marketing partners or agencies advise startup leaders to pursue an opportunity, find out why.

7. Base hits are good. Homeruns are rare. Successful baseball teams don’t win games by counting on a homerun from one at-bat during a 9 inning game. Games are won with base hits and strong fundamentals. Hyper-focus on a single tactic to turn into the homerun will lead to disappointment and failure. Focus on the entire game plan.

Startup marketing isn’t easy. Having the right focus and mindset improves the chances of success. Operations based on panic and random efforts won’t drive the desired results. Build a good plan and execute with a sense of purpose and urgency.


This post originally appeared on the Heinz Marketing Blog. Republished with permission.

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