3 startup CMOs share what makes a disruptive marketing strategy

Ben Eatwell, Andrew Balint and Craig Davis dish details on what it’s like being a CMO for a disruptor firm

Writing the rulebook

Eatwell said the fact there’s no 'best practice' guide is one of the toughest aspects of his role. In turn, this can affect the hiring process at the company.

“Lots of people say they want to work in a startup environment, but it's hard when there isn't a normal way of doing things. Some flourish, others find out fast they prefer to work in a more stable environment," he said. "This doesn't mean they are not amazing at what they do, but understanding who can thrive in uncertainty is important as a leader."

Eatwell said the other main challenge is capturing marketshare. Being first doesn't always translate into success.

“As soon as you show success, there'll be very smart people trying to figure out how to be better or faster. So moving as fast as you can whilst delivering incredible value for your customers is essential - it's all about having a growth mindset and building scale into everything you do,” Eatwell said.

Davis said it's very easy to get distracted and lose sight of what’s most important, which is to stay close to the customer.

"Responding to feedback in clever and creative ways is a never-ending challenge," he said. "If you are genuinely disruptive, as determined by the market, then you can expect to get more than your fair share of feedback.

“All this feedback - the good, the bad and the ugly - is a gift for the business if you acknowledge it, make good decisions, and respond to it quickly. Listen. Learn. Test. Repeat. These are ongoing priorities for us, and our marketing model is really just a framework that enables us to move through this cycle at a high cadence.”

‘Must-do’ marketing steps

Eatwell positioned marketing as all about impacting some sort of behavioural change. When traditional business models are upended, and there are new ways of doing things, companies need to be even more focused on changing people’s behaviour. The problem is the scope of change is so much greater when companies are trying to disrupt a market.

“For me, there are three main tenants to affecting change. The first is showing why you should change. This means speaking in a language your prospect understands and clearly explaining why it's so important to move from the status quo," he explained. 

“Second is how they can change - knowing that you should eat less sugar is one thing, but if it's too hard to work out how to eat less sugar, you end up back in old habits. And third is who else is changing - humans are social animals and like to follow norms, even when that norm is being defined by a minority. So having clear social proof of the benefits or reduced losses associated with your solution is essential to encouraging change."

For Balint, taking risks and learning from mistakes is key to having a “killer marketing strategy” for any disruptor.

“We encourage our people to come to the table with ideas that might challenge us across all elements of marketing. Often, new ideas we might consider too ‘out there’ when put forward end up being reshaped into something incredibly valuable and out of the ordinary. 

"That said, people should also have the attitude that they are spending each dollar as if it were their own. This ensures money isn’t used unwisely. Finally, all activity and communications in every channel must contribute to building brand affinity.”

For Davis, there are three things any disruptor CMO must do in order to find success. The first involves having a strong and coherent narrative - one that describes the purpose and vision of  the brand in ways that make the future irresistibly better for customers than the status quo.

Sendle's Craig Davis
Sendle's Craig Davis

“For example, ours is one that puts small business [Sendle customers] on a level playing field with the big end of town."

Davis said the CMO also needs a marketing model that helps build connections and community both upstream and down. This ensures the company and its stakeholders are all subscribed to the vision of a better future and are all invested in the company’s success.

“Finally, you need a way to measure the effectiveness of your marketing in a way that is sensitive to your particular business model. That way, you’re making a business case for investment, as opposed to a budget case for expenditure," he concluded. "We have very particular growth metrics that we focus on and use to guide our decision making.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu  

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