Why Your Marketing Campaign Sucks

Posted on Mar 14, 2013 | 34 comments


This article originally appeared on TechCrunch.

Creating awareness for your brand and products is one of the lifebloods of technology startups yet in a world where so many companies are being created it becomes difficult to rise above the noise.

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 6.09.00 AMEver notice how some companies tend to be in the press all the time and your big new product launch struggled for inches?

Mostly it’s because your marketing campaigns suck.

Or more directly – they are likely narcissistic resuscitations of your newest features or bragging points that nobody but your marketing team and your mom care about.

I recommend that companies move beyond narcissistic marketing to what I call “point-of-view (POV) marketing.”

Here’s what I mean …

Let’s start with what it takes for a journalist to want to write a story. Here’s what’s going through his/her head:

  • Is this story “newsworthy” or am I being asked to publish a press release?
  • Do I have an “angle” from which to write the story (first company to do X, company does biggest X, consumer behavior is doing X)?
  • If I’m covering a company can I get evidence of what the competition is doing so the story is balanced?
  • Do I have data or facts to present so the story has legs?
  • Can I get sources to talk on-the-record or off-the-record to lend credibility to the topic?
  • Will I have information that other journalists don’t have (otherwise known as a “scoop”)?

But mostly they’re thinking, “Will my audience even care about this topic?”

The ultimate measure of success for a journalist is viewership so if nobody cares about your shitty little company and the story you’re trying to pitch then the journalist doesn’t want to publish. And it’s their judgment that becomes the ultimate arbiter of this.

And beyond eyeballs they also care about “journalistic integrity” (aka their reputation) so they want to be sure they’re not being gamed. That’s why having long-term relationships with journalists matters and why having people close to the journalist who can vouch for you.

So how exactly do you break out then?

If you start with a POV rather than product features / functions or your own internal news story you’re already a long way down the track of answering the above questions. The idea is that you put out information with data and a point-of-view and that becomes the story rather than you.

Why would I want to have a POV rather than talking about my cool new features?

The major battle for press is a battle for “mindshare” and it’s exactly the reason I blog. I am a VC. I hand out money. How differentiated is that? But through expressing points-of-view I can raise above the consciousness of my customers (entrepreneurs and limited partners who invest in VC funds) in ways that I couldn’t without breaking through the noise of the hundreds of others of VCs who also have money.

Think about Luma Partners. They are an investment bank that targets the technology & media sectors. They basically help companies get sold and help buyers determine which companies to buy.

Their website proclaims,

“LUMA Partners is a different kind of investment bank. We provide strategic advice to digital media companies in a manner that reflects how corporate development is actually done. This more strategic approach produces better outcomes for acquirers and target companies alike.”

Can you imagine that ever getting inches in the press? Or somebody reading that and thinking “Yeah, I get it. Let me be sure to use me some Luma Partners. They’re different. More strategic. Must call. Now. Dialing.”

Of course not.

But everybody knows Luma Partners in our space. Why?

Because they produce the “LUMAscapes” which are essentially visually guides to all of the major players in a technology market. It’s brilliant.

LUMAscapeEvery corporate buyer of technology and/or technology companies knows the LUMAscape and uses it to figure out which vendors they should consider. And thus every technology company in that space fights to be sure they’re on the LUMAscape.

And every time a new LUMAscape is published it is newsworthy. Why?

A journalist has a visual chart they can use. That chart has information on it. Some people were added to the chart. Others were removed. There’s drama. Intrigue.

It doesn’t talk about Luma’s strategic approach. But everybody knows that Luma produced it.

Now of course there’s a lot more that goes into building a brand like the fact that the founders of Luma have long reputations in our industry and people respect them. Plus they run conferences with the top people (which is another form of POV marketing by the way).

But mostly they break through the noise of many other investment banks by having a POV.

One of the masters of this in the startup technology world is Flurry. Consider this blog post titled, “Christmas 2012 Shatters More Smart Device and App Download Records.” In the post they list four charts with data showing how Christmas day is a huge driver of downloads for mobile applications (obviously because many people get new smartphones for the first time). It’s why every major mobile app developer gears up for the holiday season by trying to be as high as possible on the charts because when the newbies come searching for popular apps in the app stores you get a huge additional bump if you’re already high in the charts.

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 6.05.00 AMFlurry doesn’t talk about all of their analytics features and functions. They offer a point-of-view about their market. And they back it up with data. And journalists eat that shit up because it has all that they’re looking for: facts, charts, an angle, news, something that their readers care about, etc.

And Flurry always gets mentioned. So when somebody is going to the purchase aisle and thinking about buying a mobile analytics platform they have the brand recognition that matters.

Final example. PwC. They sell accounting services. You can imagine the press release, “New innovative model allows us to do audits differently than the competition!” Or I guess that was the slogan for Arthur Andersen. Ouch. Kidding!

But look at what PwC actually does in this report, “CEO Surveys for Business Growth” which has a POV, two charts and a video to watch. They have configured the charts to be easily downloadable and sharable directly from the page and the video to be embeddable. Their marketing team ought to gets some pats on the back. Making it extra easy to copy charts / data just increases the lift the story gets.

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 6.06.23 AMBy publishing your data on a blog (as in the case of Flurry and PwC) you get the added benefit of driving traffic back to your website as the journalists often link to the “full report” and thus you get all of the SEO juice to drive future search traffic also.

So next time you’re thinking about how to get coverage for your new downloadable widget that third-party vendors can install and instantly get optimized gobblygook for some feature they didn’t know they needed and want a journalist who doesn’t give a fork about optimized gobblygooks and frankly doesn’t even understand what that is … think about leading with POV marketing instead.

When you get your potential customer talking about your brand, linking back to your website to learn more and show curiosity that’s when you want to hit them with, “have you ever thought about …?” But by then that person is a qualified lead that has shown enough interest in your website to pay you a visit.

If you want more marketing & PR tips I summarized a few of them over here on my blog, BothSidesofTheTable and I’ll add to the mix over time.

And I’m sure it’s not lost on you that my tips and my blogging are, in fact, POV marketing. After all, my money has the same president on it as everybody else’s in the US.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    Mark, what you have described is Marketing Communications, not Marketing. There’s a difference, and it’s a trap several startups fall into. They think that announcing & getting coverage is the extend of their marketing.

    Furthermore, it’s a double trap because unless your target users are the same as the readers of TechCrunch et al, then you’re pissing your message to the wind. You need to target the publishing spaces that match your targeted user segmentation.

    Anyways, I’m going to be writing a lot more on startup marketing because it’s a neglected topic. Startup marketing is sucky.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    that’s true. I guess that’s why I said “marketing campaign” but point taken

  • http://twitter.com/adamtr adam tratt

    Love this. I think there is also something to be said for having beliefs that infuse a POV with an element of soul that is too often absent from startup marketing. Infographics are nice, but writers outside of the tech bubble respond to stories that humanize a brand and connect on an emotional level.

  • Larry McKeogh

    Agreed William.

    Unfortunately, I’d guess that over half of those not in Marketing would say this is marketing as well which is why “start up marketing is sucky.” Given that marcom is the vocal portion of the marketing department there needs to be some education. Mark’s suggestions provide something more tangible and trackable. I’ll take that start any day rather than a larger tchotchke budget.

    I’ll look forward to your future writing on startup marketing.

  • http://blog.ideatransplant.com Jan Schultink

    Still, it starts with having something good to offer. Crappy product will never lead to great POV. Even if the marketing manager decides to give it a try after reading this post…

  • Louis Chatriot

    Very true, most startup blogs are almost only feature announcement, without a point of view and conveying no emotion.

    That said, whether you need press coverage depends a lot on the type of product you’re building, and sometimes the time you would spend on it is not worth it when you’re early stage. As Jan says, if you something good to offer, your userbase will grow, PR or not.

  • http://www.participate.com Alan Warms

    Mark -
    This is actually also great advice for any meeting with a potential partner, prospect, employee. What the heck do THEY care about first? Why imo you should generally get to showing people stuff/demo FIRST and then have a conversation – don’t torture them with PowerPoints as a tax. Show them something new and cool.

  • http://byJess.net/ Jess Bachman

    It can be helpful to give journalist a great headline. It’s not that they are lazy but that they ‘speak headlines’ and instinctually know what headlines will work and belong on their publication. Look objectively at your headline to see if it might appear in the publication or if you would click on it. “XYZ releases new feature” is not going to fly unless you are Facebook, Google, etc.

  • Martin_Naess

    It goes back to “Why would anyone care about this?” If you can’t answer that, you’re better off paying to put your message in front of people. That’s what (traditionally bad) advertising is for, a trade of of time/money for a message no one cares about.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    Yes, that’s “part” of marketing, but not the only thing.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    thanks. marcom is part of marketing, but there is more. but it doesn’t have to involve big budgets.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2419735 Paul Knegten

    Totally agree. POV + Proof is what has always worked for me. I also owe Terry Kawaja a beer for letting us do this chart :) http://www.businessinsider.com/real-estate-technology-companies-chart-2013-3

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    re: human & emotional – 100%. Thanks for that add.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Of course. You can’t create great marketing for a bad product.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    “if you something good to offer, your user base will grow, PR or not” … If only that were so. What I think he said was a bad product can’t be well marketed. The inverse is not the solution.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    powerpoints can be oh such a tax if not well done and quick

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    ha. but that was a future post for me so I held it back ;-)

  • http://dashthis.com/ Stéphane

    I like this a lot. Having a blog myself, I keep receiving annoying press release to which I always reply “Why would I publish this on my blog?”. Most of the time, I get people only talking about themselves…

    On the other hand, it’s a challenge for my own company and I’ve been thinking a lot on the strategy to get some eyeballs. At the end, there’s no magic recipe. Only few great common sense guideline: Build relationships, not links and create high value content worth sharing.

  • http://byJess.net/ Jess Bachman

    Rising above the noise is just the table stakes. Especially if you are on a limited runway.

  • btrautsc

    i really appreciate this advice. we’ve fallen into the “look at this shiny new button” trap a few times in previous endeavors, and are trying to really rethink the value proposition going forward. thanks for the guidance, mark.

  • Louis Chatriot

    That was indeed badly formulated. I meant to say that you of course need to make your product known if you want traction, but PR is no silver bullet, only an accelerator. Don’t let it take too much time.
    In the end, it’s best if your product takes care of most of the marketing, thanks to word of mouth.

  • http://www.crunchbase.com/company/vumedi Roman Giverts

    Two thoughts:

    1. Marketing with a point of view is the other side of the conviction blog post. If you have conviction, you will have a point of view. If you do a good job evangelizing that point of view, PR will pick it up.

    Too often founders and CEOs give up the marketing function to a VP of Marketing. Anyone who has worked with or sold to many VPs of Marketing and VPs of Marketing Communications should know the profile of these “marketing types” They can be very polished, but are the exact opposite of people with conviction. It’s no surprise that these same people create marketing campaigns that are slick and clever but have no point of view. They create “marketing campaigns that suck.” In early stage companies, I think marketing should be a Founder/ CEO level responsibility. It’s easy to hand this off because you probably have more fun making product and/or selling it, but you must also drive the marketing vision and point of view of your company.

    2. I’ve been thinking about replacing the term marketing with educating. Rather than trying to sell and market your product, you should be educating people about your product. If you are creating a new market, you should also be educating people about your market. The difference between educating and marketing is this: can you teach them something even if they don’t care about your product? Do you have some unique data, unique comparison, unique analysis, unique point of view that everyone wants to know about, but doesnt even talk about the features of your product? If you do, then you are educating and not just marketing. Not only will you get interest from journalists, but educating also gives you credibility for fundraising, direct selling, recruiting, etc.

    If you have conviction and you can educate, your “marketing campaigns” wont suck.

  • kaler

    You missed one point: reciprocation.

    You should be feeding journalists scoops on stories/startups that are not about you. Journalists live on sources. Be a good source and journalists will reciprocate when it’s your turn for the story.

    PR is another case of “Create more value than you capture”.

  • LaVonne Reimer

    Glad to hear you’re going to focus on this and really appreciate Mark’s contributions as well. A couple things I’ve noticed that you may well end up covering. One is the marketing team that came out of established companies. What a difference to be putting out a story for a solution or a brand not yet established. Seems obvious as I write it but I’ve missed this and know other entrepreneurs who have as well. The other is a really recent discovery. I had it in my head that POV marketing was limited to getting press attention. In my sales efforts (currently private pilots) I focused on utility and cost-benefit. The result was a dispassionate and lengthy sales process. I just started experimenting with using POV including telling a bit of my own story and why I care so much about this solution. I got to utility pretty quickly but led with POV. Amazingly, my targets seem to want to fall in love before running through cost-benefit assessment of features!

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    Yes, the differences between what large or smaller companies need to do in marketing is a key aspect of doing the right thing, at the right time. A startup is much more dynamic, but they still have to nail a POV that resonates with their customers/users before they can dream to make it resonate with the media.

    The Tech media is very “easy” to pitch to, comparatively speaking. It’s good and bad. The good part is because it gives everybody a chance to get heard, but the bad part is that it brings noise into the system, so you have to weed that out eventually.

  • http://jasonhjh.com/ Jason HJH

    Sounds great, Roman. I’ve a friend who’s running a a startup with traction and while he’s hiring and expanding, he keeps marketing and closing deals as his main job. :)

  • Tim Woods

    If you check out many of the Web 2.0 companies out there, many pride themselves in being marketer-free. Some admittedly are successful, but most are not living up to their potential.

    For those founders who actually give up marketing to “marketers”, they fall into one of two traps:
    1. They don’t truly give it away – they hire a “yes man (woman)” who will take their messaging without question and push it out to the world. That is an invitation to failure because good marketers are good devil’s advocates. They are there to question how founders perceive their company and product and make it better.

    2. They hire someone who does’t understand what marketing is supposed to do. They hire one of two types of marketers:
    a) a spin doctor who doesn’t have a clue how to market anything
    b) an old-school marketer who thinks that pushing a message will attract buyers

    if you hire someone in the (a) camp, you’re asking for trouble because anything s/he says will come back and haunt you. S/he may get you customers, VC money or publicity, but when its discovered that s/he is a fraud, it’s you who gets the blame, not the marketer (or the marketer is long gone to her/his next victim). If you hire someone from the (b) side of the fence, you are basically transferring your lack of marketing acumen to someone else. That’s not good either because true marketers understand how to ask the tough questions to make a company and its products succeed. Those are the ones who you should make it a point to look for above all else.

    I am a firm proponent in the Content Marketing approach because when it is done properly, it actually makes your customer an advocate for you. Creating unique value proposition and the like are definitely important too, but don’t think for one minute that you can have one without the other. Conviction and confidence really doesn’t matter if you don’t have either of these important details.

    Maybe then you can have marketing campaigns that don’t suck – maybe.

  • http://www.crunchbase.com/company/vumedi Roman Giverts

    Thanks for a really thoughtful reply. I agree completely. A good marketer, even if its the founder/CEO herself is essential for success. The challenge is that If the founder/CEO is not the marketer, finding a good marketer like the kind you describe is really really hard. There’s simply so few good marketers and so many of the traditional marketing types who pretend they are good marketers. often they take credit for their company’s success which was really driven entirely by good product and sales people. I agree companies probably underestimate the value of a great marketer and probably don’t invest enough in the recruitment of one compared to engineers.

  • Guest

    Thanks for a really thoughtful reply. I agree completely. A good marketer, even if its the founder/CEO herself is essential for success. The challenge is that If the founder/CEO is not the marketer, finding a good marketer like the kind you describe is really really hard. There’s simply so few good marketers and so many of the traditional marketing types who pretend they are good marketers. often they take credit for their company’s success which was really driven entirely by good product and sales people. I agree companies probably underestimate the value of a great marketer and probably don’t invest enough in the recruitment of one compared to engineers.l

    Jason,
    Thanks for the comment, love the point. I always cringe when I hear CEOs saying they spend most of their time recruiting. Those companies tend to have great teams on paper but products that never really make it big time or lose out to competitors. Perhaps if the CEO had spent a little less time growing head count and more time growing users
    and revenues…

  • http://www.crunchbase.com/company/vumedi Roman Giverts

    Jason,
    Thanks for the comment, love the point. I always cringe when I hear CEOs saying they spend most of their time recruiting. Those companies tend to have great teams on paper but products that never really make it big time or lose out to competitors. Perhaps if the CEO had spent a little less time growing head count and more time growing users
    and revenues…

  • http://www.crunchbase.com/company/vumedi Roman Giverts

    Also, disqus on mobile is crap. If you leave 2 comments, in the 2nd comment the first comment is also posted–seems like an ajax bug. Sorry for any confusion, tried to delete it but still shows up as guest — another really shitty feature.

  • http://jasonhjh.com/ Jason HJH

    Well, that’s not to say that CEOs should not be people-driven. Afterall, the most prized assets of any company is its people! But yes, I do agree that these are the 2 core functions of any CEO.

  • http://jasonhjh.com/ Jason HJH

    No problems! Thanks for taking time to write a thoughtful reply.
    Marketers, from what I know, are often underpaid compared to salespersons. It’s little wonder they rush to take credit whenever possible! Do you think it’s possible to implement another form of monetary rewards for marketers using their marketing ROI? Perhaps on social media…

  • http://twitter.com/_DavidAnderson_ David Anderson

    Some great points here, and you are absolutely right getting your marketing organised properly is imperative to the success of any campaign. Here’s a thought for you though, and this is something that I have found with a lot of my customers. It’s not always just because you’re running what you assume is a crappy campaign, in many cases the problem is that you have a really crappy customer base. Basically in the past your campaigns have attracted entirely the wrong kind of person. You need to refocus on the kind of customer that you really want. Go on, give it a try your life will become so much easier.