I was speaking last week at a Panel on Internet startups and Branding. One of the underlying assumptions to this panel was the fact that in Israel we are strong in making great technos but not so great at marketing them. I would say this is strongly changing mainly because a new wave of entrepreneurs is getting more and more exposed to consumer ventures and face the challenge to build brands and service that address directly the end user specially in the internet space.
Historically most high tech ventures in Israel have been non end-consumers oriented and more enterprise focused. I remember when i first arrive in Israel four years ago i could count on two hands the number of companies with an international internet consumer brand.
This has now changed a lot. You can find here dozens of new projects addressing directly end users. But those project have to face the difficult phase of attracting users and keeping them. Which requires a strong marketing culture within the company.
One of the attendees defended the idea that the same way you can outsource finance, legal and other stuff you can outsource marketing in order to solve that issue. I answered this was wrong to believe that someone else can do better something that you should do with excellence from day 1.
Finance and Legal are very rarely key competences in the young life of an internet startup. they are important but not key. Therefore it makes sense to outsource them. But if your service is all about seducing, attracting and understanding the user, the marketing is a key competence of the company. Even more: the whole DNA of the company should be imprinted with marketing. From the CEO to the product team. Marketing is not a function or a title: it is the company. Marketing is about having a great product, a great user experience, a good logo and brand identity, a good customer service, a good distribution road map, a good customer acquisition program and even more important a good customer retention program. Marketing is not about sales (which is always mistaken in israel where there is only one word for both). Marketing is not Business Development. Marketing is about how your company interact with your users at all level.
I do not know any successful web service that did not have a great understanding from within when they started. And one of the key symptoms of that is the quality of the execution. If you do not know how to execute well and assimilate fast the feedback around your execution there is low chance you'll make a difference and there is low chance your users will feel it too. This is why it is recommended to get out there with your product early and start to learn on to improve things with your users.
Let's take PR for example: do you need a PR firm from day 1? There are great PR firms out there, but you can start to do the job without at least at the beginning. StyleShake is a company we have invested in: they do not have a PR firm, not even a PR person inside. but the product and the concept is so good that they are naturally covered by the best papers and blogs (BBC, Wired, Financial Times, SpringWise...)..If this goes one they will have to scale it probably with a PR firm. But for now they do very well. You can the attention of bloggers by simply talking to them directly (of course not by sending a Press Release) or by being smart (Twitter for example just put wide screens at SXSW conference last year to get attention of bloggers)
If you think you don't have the necessary skills inside the company for that, then here is my advice: spend all your energy in finding the right key persons and bring them within the company.
Later, with scale, once you have proven you start to find the right pattern for success you will need to outsource some part of it (PR, media buying, SEO, strategy maybe,..). If you have some budget you can afford a consultant that will assist you. But outsourcing rightly is not replacing what you should already know and it requires time and skill.
There are at least 3 good reasons you'll never get a great outcome from a marketing provider if you don't know how do it yourself
- You won't know how to best select your provider
- you won't know how to best brief and pilot your provider
- You won't know how to best evaluate him
Like a great yogurt brand says in its base line: all the goods things start from within