Why Not Both? The Strategy vs. Demand Generation Startup Dilemma

I'm not sure the punishment for using the word "unicorn" in a non-My Little Pony context, but I'm going to take the risk this one time and one time only. 

The marketing unicorn exists. And you, sir / madam, can have it. 

Strategy or Demand? Both. 

I work with a lot of young startups. Many of whom have yet to hire their first marketer. Usually that's a big part of my job - helping them define who they want to hire, setting up the building blocks they need to make that person successful when they're onboarded. And I've realized it would save me a ton of time if I just had printed on the back of my business cards:

Thou shalt not choose between strategy and revenue.

They are the same. You'll see incredible impact on every initiative you take when you think about, define, and execute them together.

Action, Not Activities.

We all hope our business is around for awhile. Connecting your short and long-term initiatives is the quickest way to do so. Measuring and adapting your long-term brand and business strategy every day is as important as creating and calculating the impact of your short-term marketing campaigns based on those strategic goals.

I see these disconnected a lot -- just as much with established brands as startups. They'll try to shoot for some quick wins via a viral campaign under the guise of "growth hacking." It usually just ends up confusing the hell out of their audience, not knowing what the brand stands for or how it's valuable to them, if at all. Those initiatives often look something like this:

  • Shipping an alpha product that doesn't fit their core offering in order to get some buzz in TechCrunch. They usually name them something funky to help with that one-off attention. Makes for a sexy headline, but usually doesn't build equity into the brand. 
  • A Facebook sweepstakes with a C-list celebrity. Gets lots of shares and comments so marketing manager calls it a win, when really it's just the fans of that celebrity commenting, not your product's target audience. Rarely does it sell product. 
  • Renting space on a big-time publication with loads of traffic. You'll end up with a bunch of views on your syndicated article, for sure. But likely they're not people who would consider buying your product and often times they aren't even people who would normally read that publication. They're buying the traffic to your article with your spend. 

Why don't those work? They're just activities. Things to throw money at without a connected goal. True action has a larger purpose, a short and longer-term pay off built on one consistent idea you're building in the minds of your audience. Here's the difference: 

  • Spotify launches a year-end campaign to discover how much music you listened to this year. Their brand is all about discovery from Discover Weekly playlists to ending this 2015 review with suggestions on the tracks and artists you missed. Beyond just adding to a consistent strategic message, it promotes more engagement with its product which is Spotify's bottom line. 
  • Newcastle created a campaign that lived around but not during the big game. Their strategy is a "no bollocks" approach to life (and beer), hiring Hollywood's adorable straight-shooter Anna Kendrick to represent. They poked fun at themselves and the media industry and it all resulted in a lot of beer sold. Why? Because it made sense for their brand and was delivered directly to their targets on Gawker and Reddit. 
  • Chartbeat PR push to prove differentiation in metrics. I worked on this one, so yes, completely a not-at-all humble brag using this example. But it's a good one, promise. Web analytics company Chartbeat has a totally different way of measuring online engagement. Instead of clicks, it understands the second-by-second attention people give to an article (or don't, as it were). The problem was, Chartbeat wasn't known for this different data; it was known for the pretty design of its products. So, we partnered with some smart quirky journalists to prove the difference between clicks and attention and got lots and lots of unpaid attention -- huge win for a young (read: poor) startup. 

There's power in knowing your audience, what they want, and how your brand can deliver that differently from anyone else. The magic is in putting that all to work today and every day.