We all remember starting out as a marketers. A little lost, drowning under a lot of work,  high expectations coming from our bosses or colleagues… If you had the opportunity to go back and give some advice to yourself, what would it be? 

Lauren Bigland, VP Brand & Communications at S4M, a startup itself, has had lots of experience within the challenging world of marketing for start-ups. She looks back on her early career and offers a lot of advice to any marketer starting out. When everything is possible, it can sometimes be overwhelming, and that’s just as well, because she shared all her secrets with us on the Marketing Wild Wild West day on Saloon.

The wild wild west of marketing

Launching the marketing strategy of a B2B startup -or being the first person in charge of marketing for a growing startup- is a lot like being in the Wild West, Lauren says. Every decision you make can have consequences that go beyond the marketing plan. Often, you’re alone: no team, not a lot of resources… so no safety net. 

Setting up a B2B marketing strategy for a startup is tricky, especially because the company we work for has its particularities : 

  • competition is fierce, our day-to-day ruthless (less than 50% of the startups outlive the 5-year mark) and our industry is often dominated by big names with a large budget; 
  • teams growth is exponential and can lead to many internal communication problems; 
  • we report to the founder or CEO of the company… who created the brand from scratch and for whom any marketing strategy, digital or operational, impacts something they deeply care about. 

But who are these crazy people who go to work in this hyper-competitive and fast-changing universe? We are! Because we love a challenge. Lauren is the proof: working for a startup is exciting and challenging. To help us start off on the right foot and love what we do on a daily basis, here is her advice for any BtoB startup marketer.

1.Everyone is a marketer

When we are the first person to take a job in marketing, digital communication, content creation or events for a startup (often an all-in-one package, let’s face it), we have to assume that you’re not the only one who has a say in marketing. 

The reason is simple: recruiting a marketing assistant often comes late in the day for a company, a marketing manager, even more so. In the development phases, the co-founders already have a good idea of where they want to go and focus particularly on sales.

On average, marketers are recruited after 2 years of company development, which means that everyone in the company had, at some point, something to say about marketing before we came along. This can create, Lauren says, situations that might make us want to eat our hat, like: 

  • a colleague who organised parties at uni, thus tells you how to organise a professional event; 
  • colleagues who change the typography, colour and messages of the company for a presentation; 
  • someone rewriting one of your texts because they “thinks it sounds better”;

In these cases, (apart from screaming at the ocean), what can we do? Lauren simply advises us to… teach them to be better marketers. By listening to their ideas, but sticking to our principles and explaining to them why we preferred something different, we will gently -but surely- evangelize the staff. Above all, let’s not forget: we were recruited for a reason! Some ideas will be very good -and we must listen to them- but the last word must be ours.

2.Pick your industry with care

Especially at the beginning of our career, we tend to look for a job first and not be too picky about the type of industry we settle in. At the very least, Lauren advises us, we should choose an industry that interests us, especially if we work for a startup. 

It’s impossible to miss out on in-depth research in order to set up a marketing and operational communication strategy: we become, by default, the industry reference in our company as we have to keep on our toes for anything new. By choosing a sector that interests us, this will be easier for us, because we are actually interested in it!

3.Master your field

Each industry and type of product has its own codes: knowing them means avoiding flops, and saving costs. She gives us three tactics to help, little by little, better understanding the codes of our industry: 

  • Start small and experiment: there are so many ways to market a startup’s products! By starting small, evaluating, and deciding if this or that technique suits us and allows us to better reach our audience, we will be able to grow without losing money by trying to make too much too soon; 
  • try new things and get out of our comfort zone: creating original content that brings value can be done without spending a lot of money (apart from working time) and achieving excellent results. As startups, we are challengers: we can be different, bold and new in content we create; 
  • build a team with complementary skills: this is the best way to deliver original content in the long term without spending too much money externally: social media, design, SEO, content… It will make a world’s difference. 

4.Being a manager is an actual job

With a team growing around us, we will find ourselves at some point having to manage people. In a startup, however, this is often done in a very informal way, and one would think that managing someone is ‘natural’. Not at all! It’s a real job that requires skills that we have to go out and look for. To do this, she recommends that we: 

  • educate ourselves on the issue, read blogs, books, ask experienced managers how they organise themselves. Not doing so, and telling ourselves that we can “wing it” will not help our team; 
  • be direct and clear: it is difficult, in a startup where everyone knows and appreciates each other, to get good feedback. Without getting sentimental, we have to make sure that our instructions and feedback are as clear and objective as possible. Not only do we help the people who work with us, but our team performance will be better for it; 
  • review our own goals: being a manager is a job, and it takes time. It’s up to us to adjust our personal targets in order to concentrate time and energy on our team, which will give it back to us in the long term! 

5.Multitask without being afraid 

If multitasking is not really our thing, it might mean working in a startup is not really for us. It’s also the best part of the job, Lauren tells us: our days are not the same and no task is beneath us. Thinking this way also allows us to be part of a collective effort and to see more than just our marketing plan. 

6.No one cares about our product, especially journalists

That’s the harsh reality: as marketers for startups (and especially in B2B), our potential customers are in a constant hubbub -and the journalists we want to court clearly don’t have the time to deal with us. 

How do we do it, then? Create value and rely on word of mouth. Lauren tells us that a case study or customer feedback will always have more impact than a press release. Yes, we would all like to have the same attention as Instagram every time they vaguely change the colour of one of their buttons but, let’s face it, that’s not going to happen. Oh well! 

7.Measuring performance is terribly difficult

In an ideal world, Lauren tells us, we should be guided by a set of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) showing us the return on investment of all aspects of our work. In reality, we often have to make a choice between : 

  • putting money into activation; 
  • putting money into measuring our activation performance. 

Let’s not kid ourselves: we all choose #1 first. To compensate, we have to base our learning on trial and error, again and again. Lauren, in this case, advises us: 

  • to measure our actions by finding other KPIs, if the first ones are hidden behind a paywall; 
  • to listen to the feedback from sales people, work with them for content ideas, and gather feedback on our prospects’ needs and new trends;
  • to pay close attention to what our industry and customers say about us.

8. Do not be paralysed by perfection 

It’s a trap we all fall into: we want everything to be perfect, measurable, adjusted… and that’s a good reason not to do anything in the meantime. Our position as a challenger, Lauren tells us, gives us even more right to fail than our competitors! 

It’s a reality that can be hard to swallow but in the end it is freeing: the eyes of the world are not on us and everything we do. It is up to us to take advantage of this to test, fail, test again and be ever more effective afterwards. 

9.Accept change

This is the nature of startups: the product changes, adapts to the prospects and the market, and sometimes we have to change our entire communication strategy accordingly. Our digital strategy must not be too rigid, our contracts too binding: we must always keep in mind that we may have to change a lot of things – very quickly. 

Lauren advises us to do three things: 

  • take the time to talk to other stakeholders in our industry, to see how our positioning is perceived and what could change; 
  • take time to review and measure our actions and overall marketing strategy; 
  • try to remain as flexible as possible with our budgets and contracts (service providers, tools…) so that we can review everything in function. 

If you followed closely, Lauren’s last advice is missing. It is, however, very simple: if you’re still  reading this article, you probably love your job and your day to day life. Starting in marketing for a BtoB startup is never a straight line, but it is an exciting and challenging experience to overcome. What advice would you like to give to your “you” starting out? To see Lauren’s entire conference, her case studies and detailed advice, head on over to Saloon!


Marie Nodet

Marie Nodet