Startup Marketing ABCs

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Startup Marketing ABCs


The following is a guest post from Mike Volpe, the VP of Marketing at HubSpot, who has helped grow our marketing software company from a handful of customers to nearly 3,000 customers over the past 3 years.  You can find more of his thoughts through the HubSpot Blog, on Twitter, and his personal blog.

I was recently asked to speak about "startup marketing" at Atlassian Starter Day in San Francisco.  I have spoken about marketing at over 50 conferences, but never specifically about marketing at startups.  I decided to try to have a little fun and talk about some of the learnings from our experiences at HubSpot according to the alphabet.


Avoid Addiction

Google AdWords and most forms of advertising are addictive drugs to marketers.  They make you feel good (leads!) but they are expensive, and when the good feeling is gone, you need to buy some more to feel good again.  This leads to marketers being lazy, and not building assets that improve the value and business model of the company.
A much more sustainable strategy is to build assets - just like equipment in a factory.  Marketing assets are blog articles, subscribers, inbound links, SEO rankings, social media followers, opt-in email lists, and other tools that help you generate more and more leads over time without ongoing expenses. 

Blog Beforehand

Many startups today have a blog, but most of them do not start blogging until after they have launched a product.  One of the smartest things the HubSpot co-founders did was start blogging before HubSpot had a product to sell, helping to build an asset 
The second mistake most startups make is that they blog about their own product and on topics that they want people to read about.  That works ok, but not nearly as well as thinking about your content from the point of view of the customers that you want to attract through inbound marketing.  Media companies think about what content people most want to consume - you should think of your blog as a media company for your market.  Don't talk about your product much at all, talk about what people are most interested in reading and sharing.

Create Convenience

More and more people have the expectation and the capability to sever themselves.  Making each and every thing that you do to acquire new customers as simple and convenient as possible helps to increase the conversion rates for each step in the process, and improves your yield.
One of the things that has worked well for HubSpot is creating free tools that are really convenient.  For instance with Website Graderyou just type in your URL and you get a pretty useful report back quickly.  Making our tools and content as easy to use and as easy to share as possible has helped them spread far and wide at a low cost.  To date Website Grader has been used to evaluate over 2.4 million websites, and we have spent almost nothing marketing it. 

Data Drives Decisions

Most entrepreneurs know that marketing at a startup requires you to do some experimentation and use that marketing data to drive your decisions.  We have found that taking this to the extreme works well.  Each month the marketing team produces a report about marketing that is over 100 pages long, plus many other special reports.  We produce over 2,000 pages of reports each year, just for marketing.  We have targets for our key metrics and track those daily.  We know within a couple days if we are behind on a certain metric and can adjust our activities to compensate.
Tracking our business each month (or day) helps us optimize and evolve faster.  If you track your business monthly, you optimize and improve your marketing 3 times faster than a company that measures quarterly.  Measuring in smaller increments is key to evolving your startup marketing faster, by experimenting more and learning more quickly. 

Employ the Exceptional 

In the Inbound Marketing Book Dharmesh and Brian talk about the DARC criteria for hiring.  We use those criteria for hiring at HubSpot, also adding criteria for hiring marketing pros that "get stuff done" and are smarter than we are.  Experience is not as important as many people think because marketing is changing and evolving fast, such that too much experience can actually be a liability because you might prefer older and less effective marketing techniques. More than 2 years of experience might not add any additional value in terms of marketing expertise. (It does add value in terms of leadership and management and communication experience.)
What do you think?  What are the most important startup marketing lessons you have learned?  Leave a comment below and share with the community.

Posted by Mike Volpe on Wed, Jun 09, 2010


Marketing is a deliberate effort, not happenstance. It is one of the most vital aspects of starting up a company, yet one of the most overlooked and/or poorly executed. 
Startups need to assign at least one person to be a marketing expert and that person must be held accountable for accomplishing specific, measurable activities. And those activities must be aligned with business objectives, or as described in this blog, the only ROI will just be "feel good".

posted on Wednesday, June 09, 2010 at 12:36 PM by Peter Alberti

I agree the blogging before hand goes a long way at creating value for the traffic that will eventually flow into the site. All to often I seen a new facebook business page, or blog that is "promoted" by the business and when you get there, they have nothing but the skelton in place and no content or value. In my opinion it creates a bad impression right from the start.

posted on Wednesday, June 09, 2010 at 3:44 PM by Jeremy Boutot

How about this for "F" 
Friendly Framing 
Frame your message for the customer. Don't make the customer work to figure out your value, your product, or your features. Too many websites are loaded with trendy buzzwords and acronyms that make it impossible for a customer figure out what it is the company does. 
Don't just supply lists of features. Customers want solutions to problems; you should know the problem and tell them what features they need to solve it.

posted on Wednesday, June 09, 2010 at 7:07 PM by Edwin Oh

@Edwin - Nice one! Maybe we should try to go all the way to Z? :)

posted on Wednesday, June 09, 2010 at 10:10 PM by Mike Volpe

Great article! Our company has recently started putting most of our creative efforts into creating a valuable blog for our customers. Although the results will probably be less immediate than other channels, I think it's a much better strategy. Writing a blog is a smarter way to use my time because a great post that took four hours to write will be around forever. Spending 4 hours on cold calls or optimizing my Google AdWords provides a lot less value in the long run.

posted on Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 9:39 AM by Andy Cook

Mike, going to Z? Now that could be a challenge! I'm stumped at G!

posted on Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 11:47 AM by Edwin Oh

Great exercise. 
I would add a "C" in the word "Chose Carefully". We look at all Marketing, and especially for our startups, as a series of timed experiments. Given that no company ever has enough marketing money, every Marketing tactic not only needs to be carefully invested in and measured, there needs to be deliberate choices made by management as to what's working and what's not. Sometimes chosing not to invest is the most difficult. 
Good Selling ! 

posted on Friday, June 11, 2010 at 4:51 AM by Jack Derby

Great read Mike. SocialGrow actually did start blogging, tweeting and sharing content to educate our readers on their social media marketing questions from the start. It's allowed us to build brand recognition and have an organic twitter following of over $23K at present. 
One other great method of marketing is by sharing knowledge with business networking groups that have email lists, Yahoo! Group email lists, Meetups on topic, and LinkedIn groups. 
As an experiment, I posted a quick note for this article with the link which you used. 
I'd be curious to learn if you see a spike in the next few days as a result of my reposting it to the different groups mentioned above. 
Marsh Sutherland 
@marshsutherland | @socialgrow

posted on Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 11:11 AM by Marsh Sutherland

@marshsutherland -  
Thanks! Things like that work, for instance on 6/15 that link got 129 clicks, far more than the couple days before.

posted on Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 7:16 PM by Mike Volpe

Mike, great post. Love the practical advice that people can incorporate quickly. Also love @Edwin 's advice of Friendly Framing. So important. Finally, is there some way we can find out your secret "...criteria for hiring marketing pros that "get stuff done"..." I'd love to hear that.

posted on Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 6:22 PM by Desmond Pieri

@Desmond Pieri - It is hard to find the folks that are GSD, but we do look for people who have a tendency towards action and roll up their sleeves. You can ask "case" style questions and see if they talk about theory or talk about what they would DO to attack the problem.

posted on Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 10:22 AM by Mike Volpe

Maybe this post that I wrote will help. It will it at least help narrow down the hiring criteria.  

posted on Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 11:03 AM by Edwin Oh

A lot of what you talk about speaks to not only starting and marketing a successful business, but keeping and managing one. There really is no quick “trick” to being successful. It takes hard work, creativity, dedication, and like you mention, the right strategies. 
I went to a business coaching seminar with Brad Sugars and the coaches there teach you exactly that. They have a ton of experience and can give some pointers that really do work. I paid for my tickets to go to the event, but there’s a site that is giving them out for free. It’s through Action Coach. I definitely got a lot out of it and I think your readers would too. 

posted on Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 5:00 PM by Ally

Look and see what they've done in their past. As I said on the panel at the MITX & GreenhornConnect Career Combine, the right candidates are ones who have tackled something on their own initiative. 
As a manager, I don't want to have to do hand-holding. I want to educate them, instill my passion and vision for my startup in them so they can evangelize (even if he/she is a developer), and then turn them loose and support them with goals. Let them figure HOW to get it done on their own and take pride in it. (For instance, look at what Ken Herron has done 
So I want to see someone like Kristin Dziadul who just graduated from college in December and took the local marketing hiring community by storm. 
Between her awesome blog, guest blogging on others, her tweeting, and active involvement in our startup community social events, she's made a name for herself. Now she's running all social media marketing for Backupify, a social media content backup company that just moved to Boston. 
So to find your GSDoer, look to see what they've already done. 
Marsh Sutherland 

posted on Friday, June 18, 2010 at 5:40 AM by Marsh Sutherland

Great post Mike. We are building our dream and have started blogging about it as we have a few months before we launch. 
From the beginning I've known I had to write engaging content for our potential customers but I feel more compelled to tell our story and hope it will interest others but I know what I'm writing will mostly interest others working on their startups. 
So, I have to go put Mr. Ego in check or at least come to a compromise with him.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 12:04 AM by Anthony DeFreitas

Hi, I'm tech geek at one uk startup, I will probably never need to actually "do" the marketing, but I would really like to understand the basics, to have some idea etc. Is there some really good book? Something as good for marketing, as 4 steps is for the customer development, GoF Design patterns for coders etc?

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 12:05 PM by Tomas

@Tomas - I would recommend both "Inbound Marketing" (by Dharmesh Shah from this blog and Brian Halligan) as well as "New Rules of Marketing and PR" by David Meerman Scott. Both of them are great tactical overviews of marketing.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 12:20 PM by Mike Volpe

Great post, Mike! And thanks so much for mentioning me Marsh! 
- Kristin

posted on Monday, June 28, 2010 at 12:21 AM by Kristin Dziadul

Couldn't agree more with collecting and analyzing data EARLY AND OFTEN with marketing campaigns. Without this data, it would be impossible to gauge your success or search for potential tweaks in your plan.

posted on Saturday, July 24, 2010 at 6:59 PM by Stephen

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