Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

Marketing makes or breaks a company. When asked what the #1 thing I would do to help a business grow massively, it’s marketing. Period of time.

I learned a long time ago that the best product doesn’t always win. It’s often a “good enough” product paired with great marketing powered by unique customer insights. As a VC, I’ve seen this play over and over again. Many companies get stuck in “feature and functional” marketing, which means they miss the opportunity to create sustainable brands. That happens when you elevate messaging to higher-level needs that solve a pain point for the end consumer and delight them on an emotional level.

I am passionate about helping companies discover new channels or reinvent old channels in a way that moves the needle. Finding a new way to publicize established channels such as TV, direct mail and radio around a brand can be a fierce competition and propel a company to exponential growth.

I’m not saying it’s easy. A marketer’s job gets more complicated with each channel that pops up. Among the latest challenging trendlines:

  1. It’s noisier than ever. Over the next year, marketers expect a 40% year-over-year increase in the number of data sources they use, according to Salesforce’s seventh edition of the annual State of Marketing report, for which they spoke with more than 8,200 global marketers.
  2. Wallets are getting tighter. According to Gartner, marketing budgets as a percentage of company revenue fell from 11% to 6.4% in 2021. The company reports that “this is the lowest share allocated to marketing in the history of Gartner’s annual CMO Spend Survey.”
  3. The ponds are overfished. Ten years ago, only 17% of global ad spend went to the top five ad vendors (Google; Viacom and CBS; News Corp. and Fox; Comcast and Disney). Today, ad networks are much busier, with 46% of global ad spend occurring in the top five networks (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, and ByteDance).

With this downward pressure on marketing dollar efficiency, it’s important to listen to customers, stay curious, and be open to wild ideas that have the potential to break through. Over the past year, I’ve had dozens of conversations with leading marketers asking them what really works for them, and what crazy idea they were trying that seemed ridiculous at the time.


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Here are some highlights of what I’ve heard and now share with all the CEOs and marketing leads at our portfolio companies:

With developers, marketers should be problem solvers, not salespeople

“Developers are very quick to spot any kind of marketing language or BS. They look for the answer to a problem they have and then move on. How do you get them with the right documentation as quickly as possible? How can you keep them updated on the products that are live today, not the ones that will be live in two years?

Your job is to help them get their hands on the code as quickly as possible. Give them direct access to other developers in the community who feel the same way and who can help solve some of their problems in real time.” — Sara Varni, former CMO at Twilio.

Avoid free trials at all costs

“Early on at Curology, we hypothesized that by not asking for anything at all for a product trial, it was too easy for people to get it without any kind of mental commitment. We started experimenting on getting people to pay the shipping cost, $4 .95. [That price] was still a very low threshold for people, but we learned that it drastically changed the perception of value and mental engagement in the eyes of our customers.

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