Is Advertising Marketing? The Best Marketing Advice to Give a Startup Founder

Paul O'BrienAdvocacy, Education3 Comments

Given the work that we do (that many of you do), I want to challenge our peers in media to teach this.  Share this.  Be explicit.  Through our work in media innovation, Collective, our incubator is talking with startups daily and not to presume you’re aware, I’ve personally been working with startups for 15+ years directly and throughout incubators such as DivInc, Bunker Labs, Mass Challenge, and even SXSW Pitch (which is coming up by the way, are you coming?); consistently, the biggest gap in entrepreneurship is proper prioritization and understanding of what Marketing actually means.

If you’re a founder or in a startup scoping out what Marketing really means, ping me/us and let’s go deeper on this.

What is the Best Marketing Advice to Give a Startup Founder?

Advice given by someone far more respected and experienced than I… economist Peter Drucker, “Only two things create value in business, innovation and marketing, and marketing is the distinguishing of the two.”

He went on to note that the job of marketing is to make Sales superfluous.

His observations reflect that Marketing designs what you do. How you do it. Where. When. And with and for whom.

If you need people selling, Marketing hasn’t done as much as they can (should).

Note that disturbingly too many people these days think Marketing means Advertising or Promotion. That’s inaccurate. Those are things Marketing does having determined that the business needs to do so.

Marketing is the study of and research into you market to establish what you’re doing and create all forms of demand (customers, partners, media attention,people wanting to work for you, investors wanting to fund you). A simple read would be the articles about the “4Ps” … product, people, place, promotion… (and by the way, there are more Ps… and I may not even have all the 4 accurate). Our team at Gladiator Consulting is exceptional at this (I should probably just ask them to remind me).  The point is, Marketing is responsible for THAT.


Studying competitors. Studying the history of your space. Determining what the developers should be doing. Guiding the business model.

I fully expect you won’t capably invest in this. Most founders don’t. Not a judgement of you, I don’t know you… I’m playing the odds. If you look at the “reasons startups fail” slides and articles, most reasons are because of inadequate prioritization of Marketing.

For example, I had a great chat with our good friend Lyndon Johnson of COMMS.BAR about how PR weaves into the consideration…

“Building and maintaining mutually-beneficial relationships with the people that are key to achieving a specific goal,” he noted about Public Relations, whereas, “Marketing is activating relationships to compel them to take a commercially-valuable action on behalf of your venture”

Publicity is communicating at scale and doing that capably is an outcome of Marketing.  Johnson shared that, “no single ‘best’ PR or marketing strategy – that it is situational. The best strategy is the one that delivers a specific commercially-valuable outcome. The Framework is a tool that helps entrepreneurs to determine THEIR best strategy.”  To assist, he’s put together a framework akin to the Business Model Canvas but for Public Relations & Marketing – he’s working to bring together two established methodologies: Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and Eric Ries‘ Lean Startup to help drive Marketing, and Public Relations, throughout your organization as a guide; where it should be.

I’ve witnessed first hand a few hundred startups. I can affirm with near certainty that the only startups that did well are those that brought an experienced Marketer (VP/CMO type) onto the founding team. Maybe not as “founder” but as a first and most important leader.

As “CEO” or such, founders, your job is resources for what the business needs: bringing people, capital, and attention, to those two things that create value: Innovation and Marketing. Those two roles essentially run the company while the CEO makes sure they have what they need to execute efficiently and effectively.

3 Comments on “Is Advertising Marketing? The Best Marketing Advice to Give a Startup Founder”

  1. Eloquent, succinct and valuable – as always.

    For organizations that can’t afford an experienced CMO/VP of Marketing I’ve developed a system that enables them to build, test and measure [pr] and marketing strategies to find the ones that work.

    I always explain that for most startups the marketing action is a sales transaction [so the Drucker quote is one I will borrow]. It doesn’t have to be, but for early stage businesses looking to generate revenue it should be.

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