Growth marketers today are busy helping all kinds of startups take advantage of the market boom, but it’s been a tough journey through the pandemic.
We caught up with Tyler Elliston, founder of growth marketing firm Right Side Up and occasional contributor to TechCrunch, about his experiences and what he’s seeing now.
This is part of our new initiative to find the best growth marketers for startups based on recommendations from founders. (Do you have a recommendation to share? Please complete the survey here.)
Read on to learn more from Tyler on keeping the focus and resources on the right kind of growth, even when the markets are picking up speed.
It has been a while since we last spoke with you. How have growth marketing trends evolved between the onset of the pandemic and now, as we begin to emerge from the bottlenecks?
Tyler Elliston: It was a roller coaster! At the start of the pandemic, we saw CPMs drop and budgets cut. The rebound started relatively quickly in the summer of 2020 and accelerated in the fall and now into 2021.
First and foremost, it’s the e-com companies, both those with strong online sales before COVID and the legacy brands scrambling to go online to find much-needed sales. Then, many other businesses – new and existing – emerged with new products, value propositions and positioning to survive or even thrive during the pandemic.
Today, we continue to see very strong consumer demand overall and a corresponding desire from brands to accelerate customer acquisition, particularly through paid advertising. Very active investors have been a good tailwind when it comes to budgets.
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We’ve already talked about how you want your team to be treated as a partner rather than a supplier. How were they able to accomplish this during the pandemic?
Most importantly, we have been able to build on our reputation as a good strategic partner that serves the best interests of our clients. Because they know we’ll tell them when we think they shouldn’t keep paying us for something, they also trust us when we say something like, “I know this sounds crazy right now, but you should increase your budget due to a change in your demand curve and your channel economy.
We have been proactively honest with clients about what we think the pandemic means for their businesses, views that we have achieved through a framework that we have described on our blog. For some, that meant supporting the immediate termination of our partnership so that they would keep the funds. In other cases, it meant pushing them to consider leveraging their performance marketing to take advantage of the changing environment and channel economy.
During the recovery, many companies turned to outside agencies and consultants to fill a shortage of temporary staff in a less risky manner. Changing attitudes towards external resources and changing corporate processes and culture to support remote workers have helped us integrate more quickly and fully into our clients’ internal teams.
In a previous conversation you mentioned, “We regularly say to businesses, ‘You don’t need growth marketing right now. Focus on product-market fit. ‘ How can startups say it’s a good time to come work with you?
Growth marketing is an amplification tool. He shines the spotlight on a product or solution, believing that if only people knew about it, they would like and adore it. The “do you want it” and “like it” represent the fit between the product and the market. To measure them, we look at customer reviews, baseline activity leading to organic growth, retention, product engagement, and ultimately realized and expected lifetime value.
Seeing good conversion rates and attractive customer acquisition costs in small-scale channel testing suggests that there is not only a group of people who love them, but they can be reached. These are, in my opinion, preconditions for sustainable growth.
If a start-up business has limited resources, how should it prioritize its marketing funds?
First, invest in the product to make it great as judged by real paying customers. Marketing plays a role in this iterative process of acquiring traffic, measuring the funnel, and collecting feedback; it is just not “growth marketing”. It is best thought of as “go-to-market marketing”, usually made up of a product marketer or the like.
Once the product is well placed, I generally recommend at least an investment in unpaid marketing efforts and paid advertising testing, most often Facebook and / or Google. It’s rare for a business to find a good scalable channel if none of these are working. They serve as barometers for online marketing performance in general.
The best unpaid marketing investments are highly contextual about the target customer and differentiating a business from the competitive landscape.
What do startups keep getting wrong?
Focusing on growth before finding the product / market fit is the most important [thing that startups continue to get wrong]. Early stage founders are under intense pressure to develop successfully. For all but the lucky few who are incredibly successful with customers, finding the right fit between the product and the market takes an incredible amount of patience. I think this is one of the reasons we see a model of success among founders who solve an issue that is close to their personal hearts. For them, it is first and foremost to solve the problem for themselves, not for others. It is not about money or a notion of macro success. These are micro-successes. From there, it’s easy to passionately share that solution you desperately need.
From an advertising standpoint, many businesses try to manage too many channels at once and expect success too fast resulting in false negatives. Most channels are quite nuanced at this point and require both expertise and patience to crack, for most businesses.
How do your growth marketing strategies evolve when working with start-ups rather than mature companies?
With businesses in the early stages, our work is usually not related to growth per se. It’s more about setting up a base (e.g. pixels, tech stack, initial value props, early recruitment), driving traffic through new funnels to collect early data or setting up campaigns through E-mail. Once the product is in the right place, we often work with a founder or first marketing employee to set up their initial paid channels and try to get them from 0 to 1. Can we spend $ 5,000, 10,000 $, $ 20,000 / month with a good come back?
On the unpaid side, it could be executing a content strategy, launching a referral program, or cultivating partnerships. Once a business is spending hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a month profitably, we usually help them improve the performance of their channels, better measure the incremental impact of their spending, cross a new scale level or to diversify the channels (paid or not).