“Marketing is the company, not the technology”

May 18, 2016

If there’s one thing that I’m passionate about is marketing. Telling great stories and creating real relationships with people, is really the reason why I get out of bed every morning (after a couple of snoozes I must admit, I’m just not a morning person). So, when I found out that David Alston, who was considered by Forbes as one of the top CMOs in social media and founder of Radian6 (acquired by Salesforce), was giving a Masterclass on Marketing at Beta-i , it immediately grabbed my attention.

I spoke to David last week about all of this. About his unique definition of marketing, of how social media can change the way we interact with customers and help us create real relationships, of how content marketing is becoming a glory of the past and what a marketer can do to turn it around, and many other interesting topics.  

If you’re as passionate about marketing for startups as I am or if you want to learn how to attract customers and grow your startup, check out these tips and advice from David Alston below.

Redefining the concept of marketing

When David first told us the main highlights of his Masterclass, he was very clear: “This Masterclass will re-define the way most people look at marketing”. This really got me thinking…

So, what is marketing after all? Well, according to David, “marketing is a bit of a journey, where you’ll learn as you go”. The whole point here is to learn from the people who are as passionate about your space as you are.

“Marketing, as I see it, is not ‘what do we want to tell everyone’, but what do we want to learn from the people we’re reaching and how we can create solid relationships with these people”. And when David generically says ‘people’ he’s not just talking about customers, but also advocates of your product and influencers in your industry that can help you grow your business faster.

However, even though most startups acknowledge the fact that social media and marketing is important, they end up not focussing too much on it. But, according to David, that’s a big mistake right there that can really be a deal breaker. “To me, marketing is the company, not the technology, because if you have a technology but no customers, you don’t have a company, you have an invention.” In other words, think twice when it comes to your marketing strategy.

Do your research and start talking

However, even though all of this looks good in theory, how do you get it started? How do you create these relationships? As it turns out, social media plays a huge role here.

Truth is, social media has definitely changed the way we interact with people and nowadays it’s much easier to find those who may truly care about what your product. “Many times people are sharing what they’re interested in, what they’re liking, retweeting, thinking about, commenting on… So, with a reasonable search, you can find a list of people that are interesting for you”, said David.

But, social media is not just a promotional channel, it’s probably the most interesting channel for customer development. When David built his own startup, Radian6, a social media monitoring platform that was later acquired by SalesForce, social media and listening to what people were saying, was baked in the culture of the company, at the executive level. So, while most startups look at social media and marketing like if it was an administrative task, Radian6 had all the founders, like the CEO, the Head of Product, the CMO, constantly interacting with people online.     

“To me, social media, is an extension of the real world, you don’t separate the two – it’s a communication feedback channel, not just a promotional channel.” Therefore, social media plays a big role in the early days of any startup because, as David puts it: “in the really early days you don’t know if your product is gonna hit that nail on the head, you think you do, but you don’t, and the whole idea is that you need to get it out there in front of as many people as possible, to get their feedback.”

How to create real relationships with customers and influencers

In order for all of this to work, David kept on insisting on this thought: “think of customers like people and think of marketing like creating relationships”. You need to show people that you’re interested, that you care.

Be relevant, by creating interesting content and building things that matter to your audience, be personal, by creating a context that’s specific to that person in particular, and grab people’s attention, by telling them how you’re gonna help them right now.

And for this particular point, David gave me a simple example. “I get thousands of emails and it takes me like a quarter of a second to find out if it’s some generic message or a bunch of junk and then I instantly delete it. It’s the ones that actually care enough about what I’m up to and bother to check it out that get my attention, those who give me a reason to care. It’s someone that took the time to do some research and put some personality into the email.”

In other words, you’re better off sending 10 quality emails that you’ve properly researched and customized, instead of some junk general email to hundreds or thousands of people.

Next big thing on marketing after content?

Everyone is talking about content marketing, everyone is doing content marketing, everyone is preaching content marketing. Why? Because for the past few years content marketing really worked. However, now that everybody else is doing it, content is not as efficient as before. When David started Radian6, 8 years ago, content marketing was still not a thing and they placed most of their bets on it. But as David puts it: “just because you blog about a bunch of stuff doesn’t mean you’re gonna get tons of traffic. Sure, it helps with the google juice in terms of SEO, but it has to resonate with your audience or the google juice won’t work either.” People still need to find it, read it, like it, share it…

So, at this point, that content is not providing the wanted results, what comes next? According to David, “there’s no one hit wonder on this thing. It’s not a matter of following the book, like, ‘oh if I do these 5 things it’s all gonna work’. It doesn’t work this way, anymore.” The trick is “to find your unfair competitive advantage, leverage on your assets because that’s something your competitors can’t do.”  

In the end, it all comes down to passions and relationships, to learning and adapting, to hustling and pursuing. There are no silver bullets, it’s pure hard work, and it all depends on the business you’re building.