Marketing Directors at Start-ups Have to Be …?


New companies are very needy when it comes to marketing.  Nobody knows the company or the products, and there’s no company track record to fall back on.   Very frequently the CEO and most of the others in the company don’t have a good understanding of marketing. It’s extremely important for a start-up to have an experienced and talented marketing  director because the tasks at hand are daunting: develop marketing strategy, carry it out and explain it to the boss, all at the same time, and, at least in the beginning, without any help.

I’ve asked several people who have been marketing directors at startups, or who have had to hire to fill this position, what they think the keys for success are in this important position. They have agreed to give Bridgebuzz readers their thoughts.  So, what does it take to do the job?

Chris Carradine, Vice President, Marketing, ecobee
(Toronto-based green tech company):

  • Selfless team players – while this is an overused term,  their approach must be about the greater health of their companies, not their personal aspirations for awards and recognition.
  • The mind- set to do whatever it takes – build the plan, write the copy, do the calls, send the kits – it’s all up to you.
  • Its all about the “runway” – marketing directors at start-ups should not be so focused on spending to the level of their budgets but rather should challenge themselves and their teams to manage expenditures below the budget, while still achieving success, since every dollar saved “extends the runway”.

Michael Lamberson, Director of Marketing, Appature, Inc.
(Seattle-based software company)

  • Vision. I think having a clear vision of what you want your brand to stand for and how it helps drive the business model is extremely important. And, having the ability to articulate and sell that vision upwards and communicate it internally is really important for people to “see” something that is ethereal and really get behind it.
  • Action. Having a good system of prioritizing actions, based on criticality, not necessarily urgency, is super-helpful.  Since you are probably 12-24 months from build-out of your marketing “dream team,” you will have to rely on your own hard work and your network of “experts” to execute things that need to happen.  And, it is critical that you helicopter up and down to ensure you are tracking to your overall brand building vision and your CEO and organization at-large see the connections.  Don’t forget (and someone gave me this wise advice): the team you are working with may not, and probably doesn’t, know the value marketing can bring to a start-up, so don’t lose sight you will need to chalk up early wins as you are building and executing the long-term vision.
  • Have fun.  If you are truly passionate about brand building and creating something the world has never seen, you will undoubtedly be successful.

Joan Rothman, Vice President of Marketing, CoreMatrix Systems LLC
(New Jersey-based software/CRM consulting firm)

The most important qualities, in a nutshell:

  • Must be comfortable working in a constantly changing fast-paced environment
  • To head up marketing at a start-up, it’s very helpful to have extensive “roll-up your sleeves” experience
  • Outstanding ability to collaborate with triple A personalities is mandatory!

Takeshi Yamakawa, CEO, SNBL U.S.A.
(Seattle-based contract research organization – he was founding president of SNBL Clinical Pharmacology Center in Baltimore)

I think the most important quality is confidence in himself/herself.  Since a new start-up is yet to be tested by the market, he/she must be smart enough to judge the company, its strategies, management, plans. etc. and its competitiveness in the markets it is going into.  Without confidence in his own judgment about these things, he/she cannot lead the marketing activities as representative of the company, or cannot market the start-up to customers who have never experienced its services.  The marketing director needs to be confident in his/her judgment in joining the company in this position, one of the most important functions a start-up company needs.  Self-confidence can help both the marketing director and the company go through the huge challenges they will face.

Lucy Siegel

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3 Responses to “Marketing Directors at Start-ups Have to Be …?”

  1. Glenn C. Van Deusen Says:

    I agree with many of the points offered by your panel and offer one more.

    A key to success for the lead marketing person at a start-up company is a constant eye on the bottom line. Start-ups typically have much lower financial reserves and a far greater need to carefully manage cash flow than well established companies. As such, every marketing expenditure needs to be reviewed with an understanding of how it will increase revenues short-term while building the brand for the long-term. Setting the right priorities by distinguishing between must-have and nice to have activities is essential. We often find ourselves advising start-up companies not to pursue various brand strategy and design services in order to focus on those that will give their business the greatest acceleration.

    • Bridge Global Strategies Says:

      Glenn, thanks for the comment. I’d comment on your comment that the point of discussion between us and start-ups is very often a debate about what will give them the greatest acceleration. Frequently, concentrating mostly on PR (including use of social media) can get a company and/or a product off the ground. But it depends on the business, the audience and the product. For example, direct marketing and sales promotion are probably the fastest ways to sell subscriptions to a new publication, not PR or advertising.

  2. Tweets that mention Marketing Directors at Start-ups Have to Be …? « BridgeBuzz -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Leslie Aun, Lisa Graham-Stolz. Lisa Graham-Stolz said: RT @prnewser: Marketing Directors at Start-ups Have to Be …?: http://t.co/cWYuxvF via BridgeBuzz << Applies to established companies too. […]

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