One of the many challenges marketers face today is an executive's understanding of the complexity of the function. Which is why marketing models are useful tools to have in your playbook.
For marketers working in very early stage companies, I propose a simple model you can use to explain the delta between your marketing activity, the company's product investment, and time to product-market fit.
If you're interested in the origins of product-market fit (PMF), I recommend Tren Griffin's post on the a16z blog.
Product marketing truths
There are two things I assume to be true about early-stage product marketing:
- Marketing trails strategy. That a very clearly defined business objective already exists that marketing activity will either prove or disprove over time. If the executive vision changes regularly or is not well articulated, you need to get clarity.
- Product development leads marketing. The product organization should deliver a roadmap defined by customer feedback, and in early stage companies this process should be established long before marketing is hired.
Since writing this post in 2019, others articulated the idea more coherently through the concept of product-led growth.
Delta to product-market fit
The time to scale x-axis will be many months, but hopefully not years. The market value y-axis typically represents financial value.
Using product-led growth to deliver market value
In our ideal state, we see a rapid acceleration of product development, delivering almost all market value growth. In the early phase of growth, customer value perception is almost entirely based on features and benefits.
Meanwhile, marketing is building future demand for the company's solutions through strategic narrative (messaging), value articulation (brand), and at least some level of direct marketing activity (revenue).
The marketing team is grinding it out, testing hypothesis, investing frugally until they find the precise tactics that accelerate adoption. Although this is now a highly data-driven exercise, storytelling will forever be central to a successful growth strategy.
The "delta to market-fit" is where marketing needs to explain a clear plan for and path to future growth. Basically, how they are generating the future demand for the company's solutions.
It is during this time that marketing should be researching and understand customer behavior, determine the company's market reality, and deeply understand how and why prospective customers' buy.
Essentially, why anyone should care.
Meanwhile, marketing leadership needs to hone their skills negotiating for finite organizational resources, especially with sales to prevent them hiring ahead of pipeline. All these things vary from business to business.
At the end of the day it is a great time to be a marketer, whether in an early stage startup or a multinational brand. Good luck to us all.