Category Archives: Startups

6 Lessons from New Balance and Almighty on Creating Content with a Purpose

Cross-posted from LinkedIn and

The (Retail) Content-Powered Organization

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend a day at the FutureM conference in Boston to hear Marketing innovators share their stories. One panel in particular stuck with me, and here’s a summary of lessons learned.

Moderated by Michelle Heath from Growth Street Marketing, the panel included Patrick Cassidy, Global Digital Strategy Head at New Balance and Ian Fitzpatrick, Chief Strategy Officer at Almighty.

The theme of the session was to share lessons learned by both agency and client in their journey to create meaningful content that delighted customers while aligning with business goals. Each lesson was presented and translated into takeaways from both the client and agency side.

Lesson 1: Build a culture that obsesses over the basics.

It’s easy to lose sight of basic rules like speaking in the language of the customer, not touting the intricacies of product features, and using internal terminology not meant for the outside world. In many cases, content is created in a vacuum without keeping the consumer of said content in mind.

Brand: We have to be careful about talking to ourselves. ‘Plush leather upper’ said no one, ever.

Agency: Don’t be above anything. As long as it fuels client business results, be open to it.

Takeaway: You’re not creating content for yourself. Always keep the customer in mind, and be open to what works even if it is uncomfortable.

Lesson 2: Treat outside communities as inside communities

Don’t engage for engagement sake.

Brand: We have to think about engagement on a business goal level. What kinds of interactions can we connect to conversion, and what sorts of ongoing interactions will that require of us?

Agency: Great content lives in the margins. Sometimes, our best role is in helping to identify the interesting (and interested) inside the organization.

Takeaway: Find the conversations that are taking place and determine how you can contribute in a way that is authentic, valuable, and meaningful.

Lesson 3: Find your organization’s beginner’s mind.

From Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

Don’t restrict yourself to the tactics that you’ve always done in the past, be open to trying new things, testing, tweaking, and trying again.

Brand: Iterate doesn’t mean anything if we’re not prepared to test. We can improve conversion if we are willing to do the legwork to find out why people aren’t buying a product (and then develop content to address it).

Agency: Don’t be a means agency. When you can be objective about an approach, you’ll build better partnerships.

Takeaway: Committing to trying new things is great. But simply cranking out new ideas without measurement is activity without knowing its value. Resist the temptation to throw more X at a problem. If you’re an advertising person, it’s easy to say, “let’s buy more ads”, a PR person “more PR”. Just because you do X, X isn’t always the only answer.

Lesson 4: Be very valuable to a few rather than loosely relevant to many.

Personality doesn’t scale to everyone. People aren’t passionate about one-size-fits-all.

Brand: We have to fight the urge to find scale in everything. Determining how we’re going to measure the success of content upfront is key to having small victories.

Agency: From scale limitations, content value. The cost constraints of niche markets allow agencies to flex their strategic and media thinking in exciting ways.

Takeaway: While I tried, I can’t put it better than fake grimlock:

Lesson 5: Tap what already exists in the culture around you.

Creating, educating, and evangelizing are hard. Contributing to a movement without trying to exploit it is easier. It’s a fine line, but creative brands are able to find their place in the culture.

Brand: Resist the temptation to lead the way when there’s an emerging crowd to join. This isn’t a call to do more crowdsourcing, but rather a call to stay plugged into the cultures in which your brand is immersed.

Agency: Don’t be precious about where ideas come from — be diligent in shaping the where they end up. Embrace the truth that ideas are fungible and value comes from connecting them to business value.

Takeaway: Don’t try to put a net around a market and claim it as yours. Support it organically and provide value.

Lesson 6: Build a proof of concept culture.

Any brand committing to producing creative, timely content has to be nimble.

Brand: Fight the urge to build consensus. Grabbing a camera and chasing an opportunity is often the best way to sell an idea that would die in committee.

Agency: Put skin in the game. Build a relationship that doesn’t constantly hinge on signed SOWs, so you can be part of the spontaneity.

Takeaway: The process of pitching an idea to a committee, creating multiple drafts, running through legal, and finally launching content neuters personality and results in stale content. I’m about to shoot a great ice bucket challenge video next week that should really do well.


Whether you work for a global brand or a small startup, these six lessons are universal. I hope you’re able to apply these guidelines to your own content strategy to create campaigns that have personality, heart, value to your audience, and of course, line up with your business goals.

How is Startup Marketing Different? 5 Challenges and 5 Advantages

Cross-posted from LinkedIn.

What’s the big deal about Marketing at a startup? Is it really that different than the Marketing function within an established company? The following article takes a look at 5 challenges and 5 advantages to startup Marketing.

The Challenges

Whether yours is a bootstrapped side project or well-funded and venture-backed, you face several challenges when going to market. Each is relative and unique, but overcoming these challenges is unavoidable.

1. No one knows who you are – Obvious, but important. You have no reputation, no track record. Not only will prospects be more guarded and reluctant to buy from you, they may never consider you in a purchase decision to begin with.

2. You don’t know what your target market wants – Many (if not most) startups begin by trying to solve a problem that exists for a defined market segment. But even with a perfect solution to a nagging problem, it takes time, iteration, and numerous sales cycles to come to the right mix of product, price, sales process, and delivery model. The world is littered with companies that had great products that never made it for this reason.

3. Time is the enemy – There simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. If the following list is a good sample of Marketing tactics startups should consider, how will you do all of them in a given day, week, month, or quarter? You can’t without sacrificing quality.

4. You likely have a small budget – You can’t outspend your competition, so spending to do more isn’t an option. While a massive awareness and PR campaign could be a shortcut to letting prospects know you exist, the expense alone is probably prohibitive (and not a great long term strategy).

5. No one wants to be first – “This sounds interesting. Send me at least two case studies from customers in my industry with a similar employee count and switching from the product I’m currently using.” Sound familiar? Trying something new is risky.

The Advantages

Though the challenges above are real, don’t feel defeated! In fact, the optimists among us read each of the above while seeing how each could be seen as a competitive strength and opportunities to beat the competition.

1. No one knows who you are – No baggage! When no one knows who you are, you can create your personality. You can assume a voice and tone without the weight of existing perception. You don’t have to play it safe, and that alone can make you stand out in the market.

2. Your target market doesn’t know what they want – Though they know the problem, your target market may not know exactly how they want it solved. This is a beautiful thing, letting you experiment with different solutions including delivery models, trials, ROI calculators…the list goes on.

3. Time is on your side – In a startup, you can have an idea for a campaign in the morning, content written by noon, and emails, landing pages, ads, and social all up and running before 2. The ability to move quickly cannot be underestimated.

4. Constraints equal creativity – Not enough time, budget, or resources require creativity. Some of the best Marketing campaigns are created because of constraints.

5. Everyone roots for the underdog – One of my favorite campaigns right now is from Act-On Software, a Marketing Automation company that competes with Marketo and HubSpot. Their tagline: Marketing Automation for the Fortune 5,000,000. People root for the underdog, and that’s especially true when it comes to startups facing established incumbents.

Startup Marketing is different. It’s difficult. It’s the art of creating something out of nothing, convincing the world that a product will solve a problem, and making the customer feel that they’ve made the right decision. And if you’re a marketer, it is simultaneously the biggest challenge and most fun you’ll ever have.

Startup Marketing Toolkit 2014

Cross-posted from LinkedIn

Tech startups exist because they have the audacity to believe they can use technology to do something better than larger companies with more resources and bigger budgets. The only way they can compete is to create more efficiency, speed, and innovation.

As a Marketing guy at a startup, I often have conversations with other marketers about what tools we use. The following is a good starter list of Marketing tools for startups:


  1. Google AdWords – I have a love/hate relationship with AdWords. 90% of incoming leads converting from AdWords campaigns are total garbage. Sales people tell me constantly that people signing up for a B2B product have no memory of submitting a landing page form from an AdWords campaign, and there are widespread accounts of click fraud from AdWords. However, no ad platform will give you better insight into the types of content people are searching for, the difficulty of ranking, and how popular a term is than AdWords. I’m also a fan of rapid iteration, and AdWords lets you see how a campaign is faring in nearly real-time, allowing you to adjust.
  2. Bizo – They were just acquired by LinkedIn, so I’m not sure how they’ll continue to operate, but Bizo is an ad platform that puts your display ads in front of a previously identified audience. Think of retargeting without someone ever visiting your site to get a cookie.
  3. LinkedIn – LinkedIn ads have been a total dud for me. They take forever to get any impressions, clicks are expensive, and conversion is zero. However, the targeting and eyes are there. I’ll add this to the “there’s an opportunity, needs more research” category.


  1. Google Analytics – Free, dependable, and gives you 95% of what you need to report on aggregate site stats.
  2. KissMetrics – Google Analytics tells you what’s happening. KISSmetrics helps you optimize it.

Anonymous Account Identification

  1. LeadLander – Lets you see which companies have visited your site even if they haven’t converted.
  2. Visistat – Apparently they give you contact information on anonymous visitors to your site. Haven’t tried them yet.


  1. – SaaS pioneers and CRM leader, is the de-facto CRM for startups. It connects to many of these other tools and systems, and is where sales should live.
  2. – New guys on the block competing with by including click-to-call, automatic email tracking, making salespeople spend less time entering data. I’d try them if I were just starting out, but they lack integration with Marketing Automation providers at the moment.


  1. Olark – Adds the “Questions?” chat box to your website whenever a designated operator is signed in. Allows you to chat with your site visitors and see which pages they’ve visited.

Design/Development Work

  1. oDesk – A huge directory of freelancers from designers to developers. I’ve used them several times in the past for short development projects.


  1. Litmus – Lets you see how your email will look in any email client and browser, checks for spam words, gives optimization tips.
  2. Yesware – Email for salespeople. Track opens and clicks, get alerts when things happen.


  1. – Use meetup to create a local group interesting to your target market. Just don’t be too salesy.

Landing Pages

  • Unbounce – Dead-simple, great looking landing pages that are focused on conversion. Unbounce connects to many of your other systems (like, letting you push unbounce conversions to your CRM.
  • Optimizely – Automatic A/B testing for landing pages.

Marketing Automation

  1. Marketo – I’ve used Marketo for years, and it’s my favorite software of all time. It works flawlessly to capture leads via forms, score them through behaviors, and send segmented emails. It’s part lead capture, part lead nurturing, part email automation, lead prioritization and scoring, and analytics. I can’t recommend Marketo enough.
  2. Act-On – When I first joined MineralTree, we needed to update our website quickly and had no lead capture forms in place. I knew I couldn’t get Marketo up and running in less than a week and found Act-On. A lighter version of what’s available in Marketo, Act-on had 80% of the features at a much lower cost. I could argue both sides, but at an early stage startup with few inbound leads and a small database, I would start with Act-On.
  3. HubSpot – I can’t leave HubSpot off any list about Marketing Automation. The only problem is that I haven’t used the product in years, and am not qualified to compare them to the others. However, I’d strongly recommend adding them to your list of vendors to evaluate if you’re looking for a Marketing Automation product.

Planning/Time Management

  1. Mingle – Thinking of making the switch to Agile Marketing? Mingle will let you prioritize your backlog and select which items you’ll complete in your next sprint. Free for teams under 5.
  2. Asana – Great tool to manage tasks.


  1. ZoomInfo – Find contacts at your target accounts. Integrates with
  2. NetProspex – Find contacts using the technology you support.


  1. ZipRecruiter – Add your job post once, ziprecruiter distributes it.


  1. Moz – Check keyword difficulty, ranking, and compare your target keywords to competitors’ rankings.


  1. HootSuite – Manage all social profiles from one interface.

Stock Images

  1. Shutterstock – Huge database of images for your website and blog posts.

Web Hosting

  1. ASmallOrange – My favorite web host. Reliable, affordable, and responsive when you need them.

Video Hosting

  1. Wistia – Video hosting that gives you the most control.


  1. GoToWebinar – Easy to use webinar host with and Marketo integration.

Feel free to suggest your own. I’ll add to the list. (Cross-posted