Don’t think “And we got here with no marketing!” is impressive

Edited excerpt from “No Marketing” Isn’t as Impressive as You Think by Ben Yoskovitz:

Almost every early stage startup that pitches me these days talks about the traction they’ve had with absolutely no marketing whatsoever. When you tell me that you’ve done no marketing what I hear is: “I don’t really know who my customer is yet. I have no idea how to find them. I don’t really understand my value proposition. But trust me, when we do start marketing everything will be awesome.”

Marketing is about genuinely understanding your customer and the pain they have. It’s about reaching out through many channels, multiple times and building relationships with people such that they immediately recognize that you get them. It’s about speaking the right language and using the right messages.

If a smattering of users show up at your website and sign up you don’t know anything about them. You don’t know their motivation. You don’t know who they are. You don’t know if they have any similarities that could guide your future. And because you don’t know anything about the people that showed up at your doorstep, you have no knowledge to leverage as you want to scale.

Marketing is learning. If you’re not learning, you’re not making progress. Don’t tell investors that your traction is “without any marketing” because that just means it’s not repeatable and scalable.

(1) Been there, done that. I made exactly this mistake in a pitch to investors: “We’ve sold x seats of Seeking Alpha PRO without any marketing. Think what we could do with marketing!”
(2) Ben Yoskovitz’ insights are outstanding. They always seem simple and obvious after you’ve heard them. But you didn’t think that way before you heard them.
(3) More from Ben Ben Yoskovitz on marketing and product: (i) How to increase active users, (ii) Product-market fit requires a market, a business model and customer engagement, (iii) Getting users up the engagement ladder, and (iv) How to choose the one metric that matters.

4 thoughts on “Don’t think “And we got here with no marketing!” is impressive

  1. Great point. As a guy who spends a lot of time obsessing on go-to-market approaches, I always hear this as “without spending any *money* on marketing.” Which, imagine if they had spent money on marketing at the earliest stages, you’d think they were really out to lunch… so it’s zero signal when people say this. I prefer people who think hard about getting those early users in a savvy way, and identifying them…

  2. Great article. We face this same challenge at our startup (18 months old) along with every other company – big or small. We’ve spent time thinking about our target customer personae (CMO, Director of Marketing Ops, at companies with the following attributes, etc.). We also use our own product to validate and experiment (AB testing messaging on our website, call/chat offers to visitors based upon target “persona clusters”. Time and data will confirm (or not) that we’re on the right track.

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