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Building Out Marketing at a Growth-Stage Company: What You Need to Know

For growth companies in the lower middle market, there is a ton of confusion about how to structure marketing. This post brings us back to the fundamentals, which are still relevant for the digital-first buyer journey.
Gary Schwake
Demand Generation, Product Marketing, Brand, PR … there are so many (loosely defined) terms used within the umbrella of “marketing” that an executive team can quickly get tied in knots trying to prioritize the build out of their marketing team.
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While every company and situation is different, for growth companies in the lower middle market, there are a few building blocks that are universal. The best place to start is to stop thinking in terms of departments and consider instead two core functions of both marketing and sales; content and distribution. This framework will help you sift through the noise of departments and titles and bring you to the fundamental components and skill sets you need to drive growth.

For Growth Companies, Content is King

Content has likely become the most ambiguous term on the planet. It means so many things to so many people. So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s think of Content as the “thing” that is “consumed” by your customers and targeted prospects. A great analogy is that Content is the lure at the end of the fishing line. You can have state-of-the-art fishing equipment in your hands, but if the wrong lure is on the end of the line, you will go hungry.

Related post: No More Excuses. It's Time to Pivot to Account-Based Go-to-Market

The challenge most companies face is that they demote the creation of content to the writing of blog posts, infographics and videos, focusing only on the medium and not on the message.

Content is the second most important strategic asset your company will create.

So what does it take to produce great content? A lot. In fact, this is best considered a strategic role, most often associated with Product Marketing. Unfortunately, many companies, when hiring their first product marketing manager, focus simply on project management and collateral creation skills and not a more holistic, strategic view.

Three Key Pillars of Product Marketing

With some guidance from the Pragmatic Institute, three key pillars of effective Product Marketing can be identified, which support the strategic nature of the role:

Research - This includes market and/or industry research, customer research, competitor research and more. This research helps bring a deep understanding of the market in which you operate, the customers, the problems they face and how they are being solved. This is a critical element to your go-to-market strategy.

Messaging and Positioning - At a basic level, product marketing is often described as the role that determines how to talk about the product/service and articulate the value propositions to buyers. But if you consider the depth of research required (see #1 above), we hold this role to a much higher standard. To properly develop messaging and position it effectively, the Product Marketer must design content that is specific to:

  • the customer segment being targeted
  • the member of the buyer group within the targeted segment
  • the stage of the buyer within the journey

Product Lifecycle Management - Each product is at a different stage and therefore requires a different approach. A customer acquisition strategy will be very different from an expansion strategy (upsell / cross-sell). The Product Marketer will help develop go-to-market strategies relevant for the stage of each Product. Note that, given the foundation in research, Product Marketing plays a critically important role in product pricing as well.

It is important to note that you do not need an expert in your respective industry to lead product marketing, especially if your company already has industry expertise in product, sales, customer success or with the founding team. What’s more important is understanding how to extract this knowledge and make it actionable.

Check out our Growth Resources section for a free template of our Buyer Journey Content Matrix to help develop a relevant, highly targeted content strategy.

Common Elements of Great Product Marketing

Great product marketing is like great design, you know it when you see it, but a few foundational elements include:

The Customer at the Center: Effective product marketers will leverage a deep understanding of the customer and the market in everything they do.

Simplified Messaging: It is easy to talk about your killer product, high-quality services and unmatched internal support, but none of that is relevant to your customers. They don’t care about you, they care about solving their problems. Great product marketing explains what your product does and how it helps your customers. No jargon, no buzzwords.

Integrated and Timely: Product marketing does not live on an island. It informs and guides every customer facing team on how to speak to and solve for the needs of customers and the market.

Example Output of Product Marketing

Below is a select list of examples of tangible output from a well run product marketing function, whether you sell a product, service or both:

  • Example (website/landing) pages (for every use case)
  • Comparison pages (you vs. competitors)
  • Segment pages (your product/service in each market segment)
  • FAQ pages (publicly answering common questions and objections)
  • Testimonials/Case Studies (text is good, video is better)
  • Explainer videos
  • Animations, GIFs, and explainer graphics
  • How to / product/service education content
  • Product demos & videos (snippets and long form)

Distribution: Content is Worthless if Nobody Sees It

Now that you have created all of this high-quality, relevant content, you need to get it in front of your prospects and customers. Unfortunately, we find most companies just want to hit the “easy” button by hiring a “demand generation” person or agency and firing up the spam cannon to send thousands of emails to a list that was purchased. In the meantime, sales is typically off saying and doing its own thing, with little coordination with marketing.

There is no easy button!

Distributing Content for Impact

I’m sure you’ve seen the frequently quoted statistic that the average attention span of an adult is now less than 8 seconds … similar to that of a goldfish. Combine this with another statistic that it takes at least 7 consecutive interactions with your message before any meaningful recall by the recipient and you now understand the challenge.

In a digital first world, every single touchpoint from your team should be considered “distribution,” and needs to be integrated and coordinated for maximum impact.

Most go-to-market teams are divided by function, which means the message being distributed often varies widely. For example, the marketing department oversees demand generation, “brand” (organic social), newsletters and nurture emails. The sales department has sales development reps and account executives. The customer success department has account management and support. It is common for these functions all to be sending messaging that focuses on different (sometimes even conflicting) problem statements and value props.

Now imagine if you aligned these distribution channels to deliver content that was relevant to the buyer and their respective stage. In a short period of time, the buyer was exposed to:

  • Promoted post on LinkedIn
  • Helpful guide sent via marketing email
  • Case study video sent via a Sales Development rep
  • Related educational articles when they visited the website
  • A targeted ad when they searched for something similar
  • Additional guides via a nurture email

This example “campaign” orchestrates the delivery of content that is relevant for this specific prospect across demand generation, organic social, outbound marketing and sales development. The consistency and frequency of the message drives results. Based on several recent studies, companies that integrate messaging across 3 or more channels outperform those using single or dual channels by as much as 300%.*

It is important to note, however, that “content” on each of these channels varies and requires input from the distribution team. For example, the demand generation team may want to use a variety of text-based ads for search, short video for LinkedIn and a carousel of images for Instagram. This team would also want to test several versions of each. In every case, this content would ultimately bring the visitor to another piece of content; a landing page, a whitepaper, an infographic, etc. that would also have several variants for testing.

The Content Distribution Team

For most growth companies, the distribution team will likely include the following disciplines:

Organic social - someone responsible for consistently representing the brand on social media. The content distributed through this channel tends to be a combination of telling the overall story of the company and high-level educational content. Consistency and frequency are key.

Paid social - this role needs to know each of the paid platforms well (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and have an understanding of the types of content that perform well relative to the targeted buyer and their stage. They need to be maniacal about testing. This role can be filled by an agency, as long as you have measurements in place to ensure down-funnel quality.

Email marketing - this role typically knows and runs the marketing automation process, both short-term campaigns and ongoing nurture tracks based on the inbound source.

Sales Development - this role is responsible for designing the structure of the cadence/sequences utilized by the sales development team as well as determining the content within each message (email, social outreach, voicemail drop, call script)

Sales Enablement - this role is responsible for the creation of content that supports the sales team. Ideally, much of this content is used by the entire distribution team, but in some cases needs to be more customized depending upon the size of the customer and/or potential transaction.

For many growth-stage companies, several of these roles are executed by the same person. That is OK as long as you acknowledge how each of these works together to drive results. Over time, as you scale, these roles will start to be filled by specialists. Integration becomes increasingly important as the team grows, so consider that fact as you select the leadership team.

The consistency and integration of messaging across the channels is much more important than volume within any one channel, so focus on that as your first priority.

Measuring Success

If you’ve spent time on our site, you had to know we wouldn’t finish a post without referencing data and measurement :-)

The ultimate measure of success is that these efforts combine to produce revenue, so a well-architected attribution strategy is extremely important. In addition, the ideal way to measure the performance of an integrated effort is to utilize cohort-based reporting, which enables the examination of a specific group of prospects through various stages of a marketing and sales process, relative to another group from a different time period.

For a deep, deep dive into cohort-based reporting, check out our post Blow Away the Board: Cohort Analysis and Other Reporting Fundamentals You're Missing.

The Fundamentals: Content + Distribution

For growth companies in the lower middle market, one of the most vexing challenges is how to structure the marketing team. Don’t get distracted with arbitrary titles and functions and focus instead on the content and distribution capabilities you need to drive your business forward.

If you want to accelerate the development of your company’s go-to-market engine, take a look at our Growth Audit Guide to help determine the areas on which you need to focus.


Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

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