Agile as a mindset
Technical startups are wriggly creatures, especially those that are grown in the wild, outside of larger corporations. The stereotypical bootstrapper with a vision will be unable to lay out any accurate roadmap for the business, technical development or marketing roll out. Why? Well, simply because they cannot predict what it will be in 6 months from the day they commit and pull the trigger by setting up a company.
And as my co-founder and CEO (at Movebubble) Aidan Rushby often reminded me,
“it’s just about starting the journey!”
Once committed to a vision, there is an understanding that the journey is likely to change. In fact it’s pretty likely that you will have pivots, big or small along the way. Whether you are changing the product or marketing direction your journey will be fluid. Your value proposition malleable whilst you figure out what really does work, and what really does offer value to your customer. Now I speak more from a software/website development startup perspective but I would imagine that the same is true for hardware too.
So how does marketing deal with this constant state of flux? Good question.
Lets go back a little and look at what marketing was.
Marketing was the demonstration and monetization of value.
Having just written that sentence down for the first time since I learned it on my MBA I can actually see how flawed it is. The ‘demonstration’ of value to me implies that a business should show, advertise and sell its benefits and features, highlighting how this is valuable to customers. Now this is still true, in part, for those businesses that know how their products deliver value and are effectively a marketing led organization. But in agile development startup environments, unless you’re delivering something with IP, then you’re solving social problems, communication problems, integration problems, and the business is ultimately (and should be) product led. This is correct because you are ultimately testing and failing every day, building more of what people use more of, and less of what people use less of.
Until there is demonstrable value being delivered from the product, the role played by marketing is exhausting and incredibly difficult. It is not for the faint hearted, but if you understand the role of marketing in a startup you can add a phenomenally powerful competitive advantage to the business. Now i have limited experience to many, but it feels like this is a rarity in the startup world. I think that people view marketing in a startup exactly the same as performing marketing in a more established business. Before the ever-illusive product-market fit marketing is in a perpetual state of change, always in catch-up as it tries to re-communicate the shifting value proposition. This can be truly exhausting, and I can talk from experience on this one.
The strategic role of marketing in a startup
It was however only when I truly began to understand my role as the strategic arm of marketing within the business did I begin to get that it was about supporting the business at it’s current stage and not sticking rigidly to an MBA text book. I know people talk about it all the time, but the key is to learn to tell a narrative. Turn marketing into a storytelling machine. The reason is not what you might expect. If you are telling a story, the plot is allowed to change. It is expected to change actually, and in doing so becomes interesting. What marketing must learn to do is manage change. It must become comfortable in motion, and very specifically build processes, strategies and hire people to manage this movement.
There needs to be an understanding that what we are doing today will be irrelevant tomorrow. It is becoming much like agile development, however agile marketing is unable to check the rendering of a story on a screen, and must instead analyse both quantitative and qualitative data to understand whether it is on course.
So what processes am I specifically talking about? Well, there are many but for me it is about speeding up the time between knowing whether something is working or not. It is about automating reporting metrics that are important to the business and being able to take action every single morning to move the needle back in the right direction. The more you can turn the function of marketing into a machine, the more marketing can do its job of leading change and growth from within the company. Because ultimately I think that marketing’s new role in startups, is to be able to lead a group of people to work together and pull in the same direction.
Marketing as the change agent
Marketing has so many channels open to it today, that it is impossible to ‘do’ them all. But what is not impossible is to establish a set of process, from the bottom up, that empower your team to test and make decisions to ultimately guide change.