The Value of Wearing Two Hats

Every day in business, I wear two hats (metaphorically of course).  The first hat is in the agency world as the Chief Marketing Officer at Rockfish.  The second hat is in the start-up investor world, both as the co-founder of The Brandery and as a partner at Brand Ventures.  While these two professions have more differences than similarities, I know I am better at both jobs because of the other.

On the agency side, each day is spent uncovering the marketing and business pain points of our clients.  These pain points create opportunities which start up companies can capitalize on by providing the solution.  As an investor, I often have one of the first opportunities to evaluate the start-ups that are looking to provide that solution.  Well before they hit the pages of Mashable or the New York Times, many of these start-ups are pitching investors.  In the investment world, venture firms often talk about “proprietary deal flow” where they get a first look at investment opportunities.  In much the same way, being involved directly in the start-up investment space gives Rockfish proprietary deal flow to bring digital innovation to our clients.

Being a practitioner in the world of marketing helps me be a subject matter expert when it comes to brand marketing.  In turn, I become more valuable as an investor because of the subject matter expertise I can bring to start-ups.  And ultimately, the value comes full circle as I can better help the digital innovation strategy of my clients to identify opportunities.

Wearing two hats in your professional life definitely requires double the work.  But at the same time, the return you get for both jobs clearly proves the old saying of “one plus one equals three.”

Why is Fred Wilson hating on marketers?

Last week, quite the debate was started when Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures wrote a post that shared his thoughts on marketing as it relates to start-ups.  I decided to wait a week to respond because frankly I was kinda fired up about Fred’s disrespect to my profession.

You see, apparently Fred has a major issue with the entire marketing profession.  As he wrote in his post:

And I’ll also say that I have seen “marketing professionals” do a lot of damage to our portfolio companies over the years. Most of the damage has come from outsourced marketing relationships with agencies who charge too much and help too little. But I will also say that marketing hires in our companies have had the lowest success rate of any hire and there are many so called experts who have turned out to be bad and expensive hires. I’m angry at the marketing profession for these transgressions over the years and it spilled out into my post.

Now Fred is one of the venture capitalists that I have a ton of respect for.  Like many other fans, his blog posts are daily reading for me.  But unfortunately, I think Fred was way off base on this one.  I think he (and his portfolio) have been burned by a few bad hires and as a result, he is taking it out on the entire marketing profession.

That’s just plain wrong.

After all, I’ve seen more than one case of an investor taking advantage of a young start-up.  But in those instances, I haven’t gone and said all investors or venture capitalists are evil.  That would be ignorant.  Let’s just accept that every profession has exemplary members and those that fall on the other side of the coin.

So let’s get to the heart of what the debate was about.  Is marketing appropriate for start-ups at the early stages?  Obviously I would argue that marketing is one of the single most important things for start-ups.  That philosophy is at the heart of what we are doing with The Brandery after all.

First, lets agree that there is a difference between marketing and advertising.  Advertising is just part of the marketing mix along with design, customer service, PR, and a whole host of other things.  And second, lets admit that there is good marketing and just plain stupid marketing.  Its easy to mock marketing by pointing out the Pets.com of the world who spent millions on Super Bowl spots and elaborate launch parties.  But those are examples of stupid marketing by amateurs (probably a harsh word but if the shoe fits…)

Now with that out of the way, lets talk about what marketing means to a start-up.  Before everything else, the best marketing that a start-up can do is building a great product.  No question about that.  And the second best thing a start-up can do is build a great product that has marketing built right into it from day.  Think about GroupOn as the perfect example of this.  Most people forget that you only get the deal if enough other people buy it as well.  In the early days, this led people to actively tweet, share and everything else to get their friends to buy.  Gilt also built marketing right into the product by creating a sense of exclusivity in the waiting list that they originally had to become a member.

But even when a start-up does both of these things, it probably won’t be enough.  After all, its the rare company that has instant viral success where everyone markets the product for them.

I was talking this very thing with Michael Stich, our COO at Rockfish.  Michael made the great point that:

It’s still possible for trees in the forest to fall and no one hears them. It’s a big internet after all.  There are lots of under-marketed ideas and startups.  Furthermore, certain spaces (Geo, social commerce…) are land grabs right now. The biggest winners will have early users.  Anything to accelerate = goodness.”

Think about Zynga and the millions they spent advertising on Facebook in the early days of Social Gaming.  They have the #1 market share right now because they won the land grab and knew had to take advantage of it (note: I’m saying to spend like crazy and if you get the market share you will win).

Mint is another great example of a Web 2.0 darling who believed in the power of marketing for start-ups.  Just look at their original pitch deck where on page 8 they talk about User Acquisition (ie marketing) through a Launch / Growth / Maturity model that includes tactics such as Direct email, PR and Internet Advertising.  I think Mint did pretty well by thinking about marketing and user acquisition from day one.

In his post, Wilson also argued against spending money on marketing and that you should instead focus on free customer acquisition tools such as Social Media or PR.  Well, I’d argue the neither of those are a cost free exercise.  Social media, talking with press, etc all require the time of the founder or their employees.  That is an opportunity cost and an awfully high one when you are talking about taking the time of founders.  Nothing in this world is free, including marketing.

Needless to say, I’m proud to call myself a marketer and I think my profession does a tremendous amount for companies big and small.  And I think every start-up out there should be thinking about the role of marketing from the start.

This is just one subject that Fred and I will just have to agree to disagree on.

Your product can be better marketing than your advertising

Love this quote courtesy of Bob Lefsetz:

“Before if you were making a product, the right business strategy was to put 70% of your attention, energy, and dollars into shouting about a product, and 30% into making a great product. So you could win with a mediocre product, if you were a good enough marketer. That is getting harder to do. The balance of power is shifting toward consumers and away from companies…the individual is empowered… The right way to respond to this if you are a company is to put the vast majority of your energy, attention and dollars into building a great product or service and put a smaller amount into shouting about it, marketing it. If I build a great product or service, my customers will tell each other.” – Jeff Bezos

5 Stocking Stuffers for Brand Managers

With the holidays around the corner, it seems that everyone is coming out with a gift guide or wish list these days.  You have gift guides as broad as for him and her, and as specific as Pop Culture Fans and Foodies.   But what if you need to buy a gift for someone that spends the whole year marketing to others?  Well if that’s the case, here’s my short list of 5 Stocking Stuffers for that Brand Manager in your life:

  • Mad Men Season One (and Two and Three): Mad Men is one of the top guilty pleasures for those of us in marketing.  In fact, sometimes I think the only people actually watching the show are marketers and agency folks.  But regardless, it is the perfect addition to help us relive the “good old days” when Madison Ave was king.
  • Tumi Business Card Case: Even in the digital age of LinkedIn and Twitter, business cards are a staple of the day to day business world.    Help the marketer in your life upgrade so they are never without a business card again.
  • Roku HD-XR Media Player: The convergence of digital and television has finally started to happen in earnest this year and it is something ever marketer should experience in the personal life.  My favorite option to live this is the Xbox 360 (with Xbox Live) but if you want an option that is a little more affordable, the Roku is a great alternative that allows for streaming of Netflix, Amazon On Demand and Blip.tv.
  • eBook Reader (Kindle DX or Nook): Finally getting an eBook Reader was #1 on my holiday list this year.  It is the ultimate in convenience allowing you to carry the latest business books, all your PDF’s and even a few good mystery books when you need a break from business.  Personally I like what the Nook has to offer (especially in the price) though the Kindle DX is the proven winner right now.
  • The Next Evolution of Marketing: Connect with Your Customers by Marketing with Meaning: Written by Bob Gilbreath, this book is at the top of my list of must reads this holiday season.  For other options, you can check out my post on the “Dozen Books for every Brand Manager’s bookshelf.”

(Note – A good reminder from my friend Ryan Jones that the FTC now “mandates” that bloggers disclose all ties to affiliate programs.  So in full disclosure, be aware that the above items link through to my Amazon affiliate program.)

There is no better time to be a marketer

Over on MarketingProfs, Beth Harte recently wrote an article about “The Value of a Marketer.“  Beth starts out the piece by claiming:

“Frankly, it’s just not a fun time to be a marketer. Those who have a job are fearful and waiting for the axe to fall and those without a job are struggling to secure one in a sea of rough competition.”

No offense to Beth, but I couldn’t disagree more.  You see, the rationale of the article is that in these economic times, “it’s tough out there right now” for a marketer.  But you cannot equate economic uncertainty to mean that an entire industry is unenjoyable and/or faces an uncertain future.

Frankly, I cannot think of a better or more fun time to be a marketer.

Conveniently enough, I was having drinks with Michael Troiano right after I read the MarketingProfs post.  When I mentioned my struggle with Beth’s post, Michael reminded me his manifesto on Scalable Intimacy in which he proclaimed:

Let’s face it folks… marketing has become what HR used to be, before somebody figured out we were spending more money on people than on anything else. It’s the place where arty intellectuals can travel, interact with like-minded pretty faces over cocktails, and hide from the accountability that has transformed every other corner of the 21st century corporation. Most marketing people are mediocre. Most marketing is the sexy part of sales without the pesky accountability, and it is worthless. Harsh, perhaps, but you know it’s true.

Michael definitely put it more bluntly than I would have… but he’s so right.  Over the past decade, marketing has started to undergo a radical transformation.  The days of Mad Men are gone and with it the easy road of a creating a TV spot that made everyone happy.  In fact, I would say there has been a direct correlation between the decline of mass media and the increase in marketers needing to put in serious time and effort into creating brilliant brand building.

And in my eyes, that is a good thing.

Marketing is not and never should have been just fun and games.  Real marketing is hard work in both good times and bad.  It is a job that is about taking insights on your consumer and turning those into brilliant strategies that move more cases.

And for those of us that somehow get a thrill out of this, there is no better time than now to be a marketer.  Why?  Well consider just a few things:

  1. More than ever, management needs leadership on how to grow the business: ROI has always been extremely important but never more so than now.  If a marketer can show management that their marketing expenses are actually an investment, instead of a cost, than this is the perfect time to make the case.
  2. Marketing is more dynamic than ever: Marketing has changed more in the past 5 years than in the past 50 years.  In this age of Facebook, Twitter, iPhones and any hundreds of other shiny objects, marketers have the chance to lead this change.  Marketers have a chance to lead the strategy of how your brands and business will use these new tools to really connect with consumers.
  3. Consumers are expecting more from us: It wasn’t too long ago that marketers had all the control.  If consumers wanted great TV shows, they had no choice but to watch the commercials.  After all, there were no remote controls and DVR was just three letters in the alphabet.  But that’s changed completely today and as a result, consumers have a choice.  And once they have a choice, they are going to start expecting more from us as marketers because they can easily skip us.  That challenge is what makes it fun to be a marketer today.  We have to find the next Nike+ that goes beyond just shouting at people and instead adds values to their life.

Great marketers live for a challenge and they live for change.  Today’s marketing world features both, which means there has never been a more fun time to be a marketer in my eyes.

Now let me end by saying I don’t want to discount the tough times some people are going through because of the economy.  Layoffs aren’t a laughing matter.  But at the same time, we can’t take the view that the industry is “no fun” because of the current crisis.  If anything, these tough economic times present one of the greatest opportunities ever for marketers to show why are jobs can truly build the business.

It is just up to us to be brave enough to seize the opportunity.

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