How to apply startup marketing thinking to all organisations

How this marketing chief is tackling strategy in a technology startup and the lessons every CMO can learn from it

The CMO of tech startup, Silver Peak, has been lucky enough to be one of those few with a long career in marketing, and as such, has seen its evolution from using transparencies on projectors, to being data-driven and targeted.

Commencing his career in larger companies, John Vincenzo made the switch to startups 10 years ago, and loves the innovation these types of organisations allow. He says marketing innovation on a lean budget in startups need actually leads to better marketing, and the key lessons he has since learned can be applied across marketing, no matter the size of the organisation.

“Being in marketing in a startup is both a blessing and a curse. Early in my career I was a marketer at 3Com, and what I loved about that was we had high brand recognition, and a high level of credibility – we didn't have to explain why we were there or what we were doing," he tells CMO. "But we really weren't able to be very innovative in terms of marketing or messaging, because we kind of had an established cadence and presence. And so change was going to be really hard to make

Vincenzo went to a startup company because it was disruptive and was changing the market. "There were opportunities to try new things and be different. The challenge with that is a lack of visibility and credibility, so you spend as much time explaining who you are, as what you can do," he says. 

“But what I loved about the entrepreneur environment was also what made it difficult to do my job as a marketer.”

Vincenzo has been senior VP and chief marketing officer of Silver Peak, and SD-WAN platform provider, for five years, following nearly four years as VP of marketing at Embrane. Operating in such agile environments has led Vincenzo to develop a method of adaptive marketing he says all marketers should use.

“The first thing is making sure you have a clear message of what you want people to take away. Too often, companies like to talk about their product first and their speeds and technology features, and so on," he comments. "Marketing messaging can get lost, especially if you're in a market where there are others competing or trying to say the same thing.

“We had that problem at Silver Peak. There are 60 different companies in our market, all trying to say the same thing. Most of them are startups, and we were trying to insert ourselves into that conversation. So we spent a lot of time asking: What is a message that will resonate? What's in it for the audience? What is the problem we can solve for them?"

Tather than trying to compete with everyone, organisations should pick one key competitor and focus on differentiating from them, Vincenzo continues.

“Making sure you have a real, clear message of value you can provide is important. The other thing I think is really important, especially in a very competitive market, is the knowledge that trying to differentiate against everybody is fruitless," he says. "Pick one vendor that's your number one competitor, the one you're most often seeing in engagements, and the one with the most mindshare in among influencers. And if possible, find something and say something you know they would have a hard time saying themselves.

“Now you have a message. Of course, it has to be credible, and you have to be able to deliver against it." 

It sounds simple: Focus, find something of value you deliver nobody else does, particularly your number one competitor, and be consistent with it.

"It's about consistency, consistency, consistency. And so the notion is pick your message, make it differentiated and clear, but then repeat it and repeat it through all channels. If you're not consistent, it's going to be hard for people to remember you," Vincenzo says.

"In North America, we have the Super Bowl, and historically everybody has these great ads they will run during the Super Bowl. But you won't hear about it again. It may be the funniest ad in the world, but you don't necessarily remember who it was after the event.”

Not only is consistency the imperative, this consistency needs to originate and resonate throughout the organisations from the employees out, Vincenzo says. Again, he's experienced this challenge first-hand at Silver Peak.

“Every sales rep was giving their own spin on what Silver Peak does. They had their own messages around what our value was. And then the website and other vehicles were saying something completely different again," he recalls. "So if a person had a conversation and they liked it, they would go to a digital ad or they would go to the website, and it would say something completely different. It's very hard to stick with a customer in the face of that. 

“For any size company, being consistent with your message and carrying it out throughout the entire organisation, starting with your employees, is vital. Oftentimes, employees are forgotten or the last thing people think about, and I think they're the most important people in this process.”

The same but different

As for the longevity of his career, Vincenzo agrees much as marketing has changed over the years, yet key values remain the same. 

“The tools we have at our disposal, regardless of size are just so different and dramatic and impactful compared to what we had when I first started out," he says. "I hate to say it, but when I was doing presentations in my early career, we were using transparencies to project them. So I've been around for quite a bit. Just the tools we have, the technology at our disposal, allow us to be much more effective in general.

"And we have become so targeted. Most companies don't have a lot of room for waste, so you have to find a way to get the most out of it, the most impact out of out of your campaigns and your programs, and technology is now allowing this. This is particularly through using digital technologies and automation."

These days, Vincenzo talks to his team about taking on an 'adaptive marketing' strategy, with ‘a’ in adaptive being account-based.

"This is one of the things that's changing and people need to think about it. Sellers sell across accounts. Traditional marketing has always been about the lead, a person comes in, they do something and we focus on that person. And that person is very important, but chances are pretty good that there are multiple people within an account who are active," he explains.

“People are doing research, there's multiple people involved in projects. So a lead shouldn't be the single source of success or failure, it should be at the account level and what's happening within the account base. 

“Digital obviously from the adaptive standpoint is big, and using technology channels to target and be very focused is highly important and very successful." 

Yet one of the things that hasn’t changed and Vincenzo still sees as important is advocacy and being advocacy-driven as a marketer.

"It's so much better when you have customers and partners and influencers telling your story for you. So really focus on creating an environment where your advocates are supporting you and driving your message," he says. 

“When it comes to personalisation, from a customer’s perspective – what’s in it for them? I need to know every various audience, no matter who it is, who the buyer is, and remember they care about what's in it for them. And so making sure that when you target, even if you're having a conversation with an analyst, it's who's their audience, and what do they need from it? And how do I carry that message to them?

“I don't have a lot of resources, most companies don't have enough. So being targeted is important."

Marketers also need to be able to touch multiple points, and Vincenzo notes it takes seven or eight touches to get something to stick with people.

"If you have a campaign, making sure you're running it across multiple channels, and having it very integrated, so it all comes together nicely, with clear messaging is key,” he says. 

Data-driven versus the human element

Informing this is being values-focused, while also being data-driven. For Vincenzo, the current focus from both regulatory bodies and customers on privacy will ultimately lead to better marketing

“It’s vital we are very focused on the value provided. There's a time and a place to talk about technology and speeds and features, and I don't want to discount it. But I think what business value can I drive for you and for and for your managers, your bosses, is more important – that‘s what your customers want to know," he says.

“Within that bucket is the analytics, and what do we learn from what's happening and what's effective and what's not effective. But we don't want to lose sight of the human element. So you have a balance of tech and personalisation and the human element. You want to be data driven and targeted and personalised, but you don’t want to be a stalker."

As marketers and brands learn to adapt to privacy changes, Vincenzo sees the game changing quite a bit, because again.

"But I think if you have a compelling value, if you have a compelling message, and a good story, there are ways to get that point across to people and then, as they opt in and agree to become involved, it leads to far better marketing,” he adds.

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