I have been very lucky to have lived and worked in Silicon Valley, New York, London, Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The further East I traveled from Silicon Valley, the more traditional the companies and marketing I was exposed to. Startups are innovative by definition. You don't challenge existing competition and traditional industries without doing something different. But what really impresses me about startups, particularly in Silicon Valley, is their marketing resourcefulness. After all, if you don't rapidly figure out ways to attract customers and retain them, there is no business. Entrepreneurs quickly learn that great technology does not grow a business, customers do.
The startup is in an almost impossible situation because it is under constant pressure to grow revenues with as little investment as possible. Doing more with less becomes second nature. It's simple math, without highly efficient marketing ROI (return on investment) it is game over... the end of the road... the nail in the coffin (you get my point).
Most of us are simply too comfortable as marketers. Admit it, if it were your own money you were spending you would probably do a few things differently. The larger our organization, the more complacency and lack of accountability typically exist. We do stupid things such as waste money behind the cloak of building "brand awareness" (which is a fancy term for flushing money down the toilet because it can't be measured). We opt for larger marketing teams instead of individual accountability. Simply put, we can afford to fail.
Here are some lessons we can take from Silicon Valley that I hope will make you a sharper, more nimble, and results oriented marketer.
Optimize Everything in Real Time
The concept of optimization is perhaps the area that I see larger organizations fail to execute more than any other. There are a number of best practices from Silicon Valley that any organization can adopt quickly. As a digital marketer, you are managing a pipeline. You are likely responsible for the customer's journey from prospect to engaged user. I promise you that this pipeline is full of holes and opportunities to do things better. Startups understand that optimization is not a goal but a neverending journey of improvement. Silicon Valley companies have to measure, learn, and adapt in real time. Most large companies simply do not and continue to do post mortems only after it is too late and the money is spent. If you still track your marketing in an Excel spreadsheet you can do better!
So how do you become a real-time marketer who eats, breathes, and sleeps optimization? With amazing tools! Here are some of my favorite tools that you will find in many Silicon Valley startups because they are cheap, easy, fast, and accurate. Optimizely and Visual Website Optimizer for website and campaign A/B testing. Unbounce for landing page optimization. Loop 11 and Usabilla for usability testing. Snap Engage and Olark for online chat. Mailchimp, SendGrid, and Retargeter for email list delivery optimization. Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, and Sprout Social for social media management. Wistia and Vidyard for business video optimization and analytics. Geckoboard and Ducksboard for real-time reporting dashboards.
Don't feel intimidated. Simply map your customer's journey from prospect to user and test and apply only the tools that truly help you engage, convert, and retain customers better than you can today. Remember, it's a journey without a finish line. If you are still not convinced, just look at what a 10 percent improvement in your click-through rate, conversion rate, or retention rate will do for your company's bottom line.
Think Like a CEO
A CEO measures success not by advertising awards or vanity metrics in Google Analytics but by profits. Profits, after all, are (or should be) the ultimate measure of success of any commercial operation. CEOs think in terms of ROI. Can I generate more income over time from the investments I make today versus the cost? As marketers, we love vanity metrics like site visits or page views. The CEO understands these are signals but far from a measurement of success. Silicon Valley CEOs are often the CEO, CTO, CMO, CFO, and COO of their business until they are able to prove growth. You will see venture capitalists shudder at the thought of hiring a VP of marketing until they can see proof people actually want the product the startup is selling. So with limited time and money, these CEOs are incredibly resourceful. Not only will you see them hustle to generate sales from inbound marketing, but they are always thinking about returns and not simply "signals." As a marketer, you manage one of the largest variable costs of your business. The sooner you can show your CEO real financial impact and not signals, then the more she is likely to throw more budget in your direction.
"Fail fast" is a term coined in Silicon Valley. It means that companies need to determine if there is a product market fit as quickly as possible. If not, don't continue to drain money and resources. Simply accept it as a failure and either adjust or change direction all together. I think we can apply this same thinking to marketing. In this day and age you can track virtually all of your marketing efforts. It should not take you long to figure out if your creative, value proposition, or user experience is broken. There is no excuse not to pull the plug and try again. I see so many people let poorly performing marketing drag on far too long when the data has clearly demonstrated failure. I have said it before, but I have told my own marketing team that I expect 70 percent of their experiments to fail but I do also expect them to spot the 30 percent that are working and scale them fast. Failure is not an easy pill to swallow (especially in Asia) but it is a necessity to achieve success. Learn, adapt, and implement. Like the Silicon Valley startup you must fail fast and change course to survive and thrive.
Silicon Valley is a small stretch form of land on either side of Highway 101 from San Francisco to San Jose. Asia is slightly bigger. It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. And Silicon Valley has more fight in it than anywhere on the planet. We have a lot to learn.
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Mikaal Abdulla is the CEO and cofounder of 8 Securities. Mikaal has extensive global experience having launched and managed successful consumer Internet businesses and products across Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, India, and the United States. Prior to founding 8 Securities, Mikaal was a senior vice president at E*TRADE where he was responsible for marketing and strategy across 15 geographies. Mikaal holds a M.B.A from both Columbia University and the London Business School.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT