Moving your marketing from startup to scaleup
It’s not obvious when you need to start shifting your startup marketing tactics to scaleup tactics. There isn’t a Companies House date or valuation point where it’s clear that you’ve entered the next phase.
Although some have a specific definition of what a scaleup is, eg. the OECD says “a scale-up is a company who has an average annualized return of at least 20% in the past 3 years with at least 10 employees at the beginning of the period”.
Tech Nation says “a scaleup is basically a high-growth company.”
Great, so that’s all clear.
Tangible or not, clear or not, as a marketer you’ll one day have a conversion about your company’s startup approach and you’ll wonder whether the shoe still fits. You’ll realise that you’ve grown up. And you’ll need to start evolving your marketing tactics.
All up for grabs
As a startup you had a clean marketing slate, right? No rules. Just whatever it takes.
Of course there will be competition coming at you from all sides, whether it’s direct competitors within your vertical or other brands fighting for attention in this attention economy. But your playbook is your own to forge.
Your main priority is figuring out how you’re going to connect with your target audience and embed your product-market fit. In the very early days the budget and resource limitations might be frustrating but the gift (which you won’t appreciate at the time) is that it gives you focus. There’s nothing like limited resources to focus the mind.
Move fast, get shit done, try things, test AND LEARN.
As a startup, you want to be focusing your MarComms efforts on:
Speed with purpose
Speed is a much hyped factor in building successful fintechs - but speed with purpose is where true success lies. Move fast, get shit done, try things, test AND LEARN. Embed an experimentation mindset in your marketing team, and as 11:FS CEO David Brear, keeps telling us ‘execution is everything’. But don’t just do stuff. Iterate, adjust and learn. The learning part couldn’t be more important.
In the early days it’s easier to create an emotional connection with your customers, especially if you have a compelling story to tell or your founders are building in public. But finding your tribe and going all out to create that community has proven effective time and time again. On this side of the pond the obvious fintech example would be Monzo. Their whole marketing approach was built around creating a community from the start. Monzo understood that their early traction and early adopters would come from a younger urban audience, so that’s where they focused - from gathering feedback, building brand love, creating advocates, and taking product feature requests. It’s a self-confessed key to their early success. This technique, tried (and failed) by many, was also used very successfully in Apple’s now iconic Think Different campaign with their TV advert opening “here’s to the crazy ones”. It created a sense of belonging, community and connection, that the brand is still benefiting from today.
Sidenote: don’t underestimate the amount of work and dedication it takes to build a community. This is not a part-time job you give your social media intern. If your community is at the heart of your brand then you dedicate resource to it, you build your product roadmap and your brand around it.
And last but not least, don’t underestimate the importance and power of being seen. As the Ad Contrarian, Bob Hoffman says, “it’s a hell of a lot easier to sell stuff if you’re famous” (yes, I’m paraphrasing).
But whether you stand out by running through the streets naked to land your message like Wise (previously Transferwise), building FOMO through exclusive access, creating hype like Nothing’s record breaking fundraise, or partnering with bigger brands to borrow credibility and access their customer base a la Minna Technologies and Visa, as a startup you do whatever it takes.
It helps to have a “monster” to fight against, a big problem you’re solving. Your monster could be a competitor like big banks, or a social problem like lack of access to education and healthcare. It helps to focus your message and cut through. And it helps to make your solution relatable to your audience. FS has a unique flavour of distrust for the incumbents due to the financial crisis.
A business that is working towards profitability vs a business that is pushing for customer/revenue growth have very different masters.
Here are my 7 tips to scale up your marketing:
1. Less talk more action
The new kid on the block can point the finger at big banks and social issues and talk about how they’re going to solve those problems or do it better. After a few years, you have to start showing you can actually do it. You have to start delivering the goods, the case studies, the real solutions & products built with customers in mind. Show how you’re solving real problems. You have to show success and have some reference clients to point to.
2. Put scalable/replicable processes and systems in place
As a marketer you’ll reach a point in a growing startup where you realise the aggressive, scrappy, guerilla tactics work for a 3-person team. But how do you scale that if you’re 10 or 20 in the team, and stay aligned with a 200-people business?
Implementing the right level of process is a balancing act at this stage. You want enough process to allow your teams to maintain their speed, or even move quicker, without creating policies and protocols for the sake of it.
A few things:
Keep challenging yourself to make decisions quickly - Jeff Bezos’ two-way door works for us.
You want to establish team ways-of-working and rituals that centre around collaboration, feedback, and continuous improvement
Establish clear KPIs for each campaign before anything goes live
You’ll also want to start thinking about what your MarTech stack should look like. From comms tools for email to social monitoring, to website optimisation to CRM. There’s more options and opportunities than resource, so make considered choices about tools that will add value, not distract. And tools that can scale if you’re investing a lot in configuration and setup.
3. Team structure (startup = everyone does everything)
It’s not uncommon for a startup marketing team to be made up of generalists with skill sets skewing to comms & brand. In other words you’ll have people that can manage everything from the website through to social to the brand to some Google Ads.
As your business starts to scale you’ll need more specialists - performance marketers, data & analytics experts, product marketers, CRM, etc.
In my experience a marketing team of under 5 will be a group of generalists. They might have distinct job roles, but they can pretty much all cover for each to some extent. When you grow over 5 in the 5-10 range, you’ll want a matrix of generalists and specialists.
In a marketing team of 10+ you’ll probably start creating specialist sections with a few generalists to bind it all together.
For your team leads you’ll want to make sure they remain practitioners, not just managers. Ex-Facebook VP Dan Rose recently shared his experience with Sheryl Sandberg who always pushed managers to do “real work”.
4. Working towards growth or profitability?
A business that is working towards profitability vs a business that is pushing for customer/revenue growth have very different masters. A marketing brief that asks for growth vs one that wants profitability is the difference between putting your foot on the gas of awareness and engagement versus obsessing over CACs and acquisition numbers.
We see this with VC backed fintechs all the time, they’re buying customers and buying scale. How you transition your marketing to attract and retain profitable customers might require a different channel mix, but it’ll definitely require a different approach.
5. More data, not just intuition
As a new business you’ll have none of your own benchmarks, you have to source industry benchmarks and (as many of us have done) use your last job as a reference. You also might not have robust tools and expertise in the team to use those tools.
As you scale up your team and business, you’ll want to make significant mindset and process shifts towards being more data-led. You might not have enough data to build 5-year LTV customer profiles, but you’ll have a richer dataset that you need to use to drive improvements. Hire smart people to help you analyse and manage your data, and find a balance between art & science.
6. Stay focused
Focus focus focus. I can’t emphasise this enough. I’ve seen so many businesses hitting a growth phase and losing focus, trying to do too much. It always slows the business down. Eric Fulwiler champions the to-don’t list at 11:FS, and I’d go as far as to say it’s probably as important as your to-do list.
7. Stick to (or rediscover) your story
As much as we all want a compelling story to tell about our business’s roots, not everyone has a personal founder story about two friends coming together to solve a problem. And that’s okay.
Your story could be just as compelling if you stay laser focused on addressing customer pain points. Dropbox’s 2017 rebrand took them back to their roots of collaboration, focused on a design community. It got a mixed response, but people started recognising it as more than a file sharing system, and they’d probably class that as a success.
Think about what’s true for your brand. Make sure it’s authentic (and true!) and tell your story consistently over and over again.
Figuring out what will get you there isn't easy. In the marketing team here at 11:FS, we’re constantly asking ourselves this question as well. It’s not easy to keep disrupting yourself, but acknowledging your next phase is a start.