Graeme Thickins on Tech

Reflections & analysis about innovation, technology & startups, with a focus on Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes

Category: Marketing/Branding/PR (page 1 of 47)

I Say a New Web Site Every 20 Years — Whether You Need It or Not!

Yes, these are the words I live by. Actually, it was 21 years that I had the same basic web site for my consulting business, before I launched a new site just recently. It’s at my original domain name, (Please tell me what you think of it in the comments below!)

You can see screenshots of the old vs. the new below. Pretty stark comparison, huh? I kid you not: my old site had a footer that read “©Copyright 1995-2016.” It lived a long life! I launched it in early 1995 when I began working  with my first Internet client, Creative Internet Solutions (later acquired), a relationship that actually began in late 1994. The first popular browser, Netscape, was just being launched. Oh, I updated the content many, many times over the years, of course — often adding pages here and there, and unlinking others when they became dated or no longer seemed relevant. But the site used the same, basic, plain-HTML structure for all those years. I built every bit of it myself originally and ongoing — and managed the hosting and did all the maintenance and updating all by my lonesome, too. (Yes, I know how to code — haha — but don’t ask me anything beyond HTML!) 

BEFORE: my 21-year-old web site.

BEFORE: my 21-year-old web site.

For some reason, I never got around to creating a new mobile/responsive site during recent years — even though I knew I should have. It’s the “cobbler’s kids with no shoes” syndrome: I helped many clients create modern new sites during this time, but never had time to do my own! It just wasn’t a high priority — alas, clients must always come first.

AFTER: my brand-new, mobile responsive web site.

AFTER: my brand-new, mobile responsive web site.

Continue reading

The State — or Lack of a State — of Marketing Analytics


Image @VentureBeat

How does one assess the landscape for an exploding technology category like marketing analytics? There’s so much confusion and hype around the topic. You’ve heard it all — too much data, we’re drowning in it, woe is us. And, along with that, too many vendors trying to sell us the latest cure. First we were shocked to hear the number of vendors was 1000, now we’re told it’s 2000! The argument that all these vendors create too many data silos is now a refrain we’re hearing more often. Hard to argue with that.

With such high numbers of players comes confusion, and complexity.

But it begs the question: how in the world do you unify all your marketing data to understand it and gain a competitive edge for your organization? Will a platform or single vendor solution emerge? Some of the big players like Oracle, Adobe, and Salesforce are certainly trying, opting in a big way for buy vs. build. (These three have led a frenzy of acquisitions in the marketing technology space.)

Yet significant roadblocks still exist to widespread adoption of marketing analytics in business today — and for companies to extract real value from it. The lack of data science skills we’ve all heard about by now till we’re blue in the face — it’s the “sexiest job title in the country,” blah blah blah. Big shortages, universities scrambling to launch graduate programs, etc, etc. But should  this technology really require a PhD in every marketing department and agency in the land? That simply doesn’t compute! Why can’t there be more solutions, more tools, that marketers and general business folks — regular Joes and Janes — can use? Why does it all have to be so complex?  Continue reading

There’s Something You Need to Know About Startup Marketing

Here’s a bulletin: it’s damn hard!

Okay, that may not be news to you if you’ve done at least one startup. But what’s not well known is that many HardWork-450winexperienced founders — and investors, too — think it bears little resemblance to traditional brand marketing, and that it can be done with, um, little or no money.

I’m not kidding – they really do. Another guy who’s noticed that is David Murdico, who recently wrote a post lamenting some cold, hard facts:  5 Reasons Startups Should Pay Marketing Agencies More Than Brands Do

(David heads an agency in LA, which has become a hot startup community — a very large one! Here’s his bio.)

“The myth out there is that startups don’t have very high budgets because they’re – you know – startups, so they shouldn’t pay marketing agencies, ad agencies, the gardener, the people at the counter at Burger King, or other professionals at the same rates that those nasty big brands do.

They should pay more.”

Yes, you read that right — that’s what David said. Because startup marketing is in fact harder than traditional brand marketing, he maintains. In his post, he goes on to make an excellent argument about why… which, as someone who’s focused virtually my entire career in this space, I think really nails it.

“Working with a startup team takes every bit as much time, creativity, effort, critical thinking, planning, strategizing, communication and resources as working with the marketing team at a big brand, and probably more.”

David gives five reasons why the above is true:
1. Nobody knows who you are yet.
2. You are every bit as demanding as a brand marketing team.
3. You are very stuck on your own ideas and greatness.
4. You often hire an agency to shut up and do as they’re told.
5. You keep changing your mind about stuff.

You can read more on those points in his post. Now, granted, saying all that is pretty easy — but what can reasonably be done to do something about this problem? And it is a real problem — one that’s holding back too many startups. But let me try, with my own list of 5 things:

1. Founders need to get real about marketing, plan better, and budget more money for it. They can and should seek help in this regard. Good advice is available out there from many disinterested parties who can provide objective feedback or recommendations. Obviously, every startup needs advisors, and you’d be taking a big chance if you don’t have a marketing person on your advisory team! And I say that even if you already have a marketing cofounder — because an advisor can provide a valuable sounding board. The critical, overriding marketing question for your startup is this: what will it really take, dollar-wise, to achieve the level of traction or market penetration that your plan calls for?

2. VCs and angel investors need to better understand marketing. They’re largely finance people. Most VCs don’t even have startup operational experience (yes, angels are more likely to), let alone marketing. In my thirty years of working with startups, I’ve run across precious few investors who are really marketing savvy (unless you count those who actually believe in  the viral-marketing fairy). Sure, some VCs may have taken a marketing class or two for their MBA, and they talk about customer acquisition a lot, and but most don’t really understand all the things needed to make that happen — nor the investment it requires. The lucky startup that just “takes off” via word-of-mouth is rare indeed. (Granted, some of the top-tier VC firms actually employ smart marketing people as part of their portfolio company support team — which is one reason they’ve achieved top-tier status. But these are very few indeed.)

3. Founding teams (and any and all people involved in startups) need to adjust their expectations. There are many misconceptions about startup marketing, and a good advisor can help in this regard. For example, founders have to stop thinking that, if they could just get media coverage in TechCrunch or VentureBeat or some other such media site, all their marketing problems would be solved. “We just need a ‘kick-start’ and we’ll get all the signups we need!” Dream on. I can have you talk to some founders for a reality check.

4. Watch out with that term “agency” — meaning most startups actually don’t need an entire firm (and the overhead that goes with it). Let’s use the term here to just mean a small creative team, often simply two people: a writer and a designer. Those are the key operatives. But they of course need to be experienced startup marketing strategists at the same time, with an understanding of media — or the latter can be an additional team member. What working with an “agency” really means for a startup is the smallest possible team, who can wring the most value possible out of a modest budget. But, because they have startup chops, they should be paid well. Yes, even more than their counterparts on a traditional “brand” agency team, because this is different, more specialized, and harder work that run-of-the-mill work for established brands.

5. As a founder, think very carefully about how much you allocate for marketing in your proposed “Use of Funds” — that is, the percentage of the total dollar amount you plan to raise (or do raise). Investors need a critical eye here, too. Especially watch out for a line-item that says “Sales and Marketing” — that doesn’t cut it! First of all, sales is a subset of marketing in any successful business. It’s the here-and-now, the day-to-day, the “who am I going to sell next?” It’s not marketing, which is about planning and strategy for a longer term than… um, a few days, a week, or a quarter! Sales is heavily oriented toward people expenses (salary, commission, travel, etc) — marketing not so much. Rather, it’s more about media, advertising, research, PR, customer acquisition, even some product development activities. Costs attributed to “Sales,” especially for a startup that must build a salesforce or a channel, can quickly escalate and overshadow dollars that really need to be invested in Marketing. Word to the wise: don’t put the cart before the horse. Good marketing — planning, strategy, brand building — must get attention ahead of investments in Sales. The right Marketing will drive the right Sales.

Yes, startup marketing is hard. Get help, think big, and don’t cheap out.

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