In some form or another, I've been involved in marketing for the last eight years.
I've promoted events, launched a full service creative agency and worked as a Marketing Director for a technology start up. I've learned a few key things throughout my various positions and jobs in the better part of the last decade. Even as the digital landscape changes daily and there are new ways to reach customers popping up every month, there are some fundamental truths in intelligent marketing.
First of all, 99% of the time founders can't be trusted to market their own companies.
Having founded a few companies, I'm including myself in this bunch. Here is why: No one cares about your product or mission the way you do. The biggest hurdle presented by that hard truth is that your story has to effectively distinguish itself above the noise and honestly answer the "why should I give a damn about this?" question in a clear, well thought out way or no one will get it. In fact, if your positioning isn't strong enough, your own employees won't buy in either.
Taking what's in a founder's head and clearly presenting that to the public is marketing; and it's very, very hard. Being simple, compelling and original is hard. Plus, growing companies need the founders laser focused on operations, business development, sales, culture, pipeline, long-term strategy, keeping the lights on, you name it. Maybe most importantly, marketing is an entirely different skill set than building a company and odds that a strong founder performs well at both are slim.
Traditionally, there are two ways to solve the self-marketing founder dilemma. Hire a CMO or contract an agency.
More often than not, start-ups and early stage growth companies simply don't have the capital resources to hire a proper Chief Marketing Officer. The average CMO in the United States makes $164,601 a year and that's simply too high a price tag for a young company. So, companies will hire a more junior marketing candidate for a fraction of that and task them with way too many bases to cover properly. Experienced CMOs are expensive for a reason. At any given point, they are running point on complex marketing strategies including analytics, tracking, messaging, testing, design, branding, CRM management, creative campaigns and everything else your potential customers might see.
"Chief" Marketing Officer also implies there is a marketing department this leader oversees. That's important for a couple reasons. Marketing is a mix of science and emotion, art and copy, measurement and creative. Forget for one second that asking a single individual to execute these tasks is a tall order, but think about the last person you knew who really fired equally on both their left and right sides of the brain. It's not very common.
I can hold my own among anyone when it comes to creative problem solving, messaging, copy and out-of-the-box ideas that can have a massive impact on business growth. But if you ask me to properly monitor analytics, make mathematically informed decisions or crunch data trends, all of which great marketing requires, I will throw myself out of the office window. I'm simply not wired that way. That's why we have Matt.
The other option is hiring an agency.
This is going to be really expensive. Agencies exist to throw massive fire power at a problem and they love bringing out all the toys to see which one is the right fit to move the needle. Don't get me wrong, the right agency relationship can take a company into the stratosphere, but the timing has to be right. If you start bleeding out capital while a large team develops a plan and hires contractors to shape it all up, you can run into serious problems. If you're not at the right point of stability, it is simply too early for this kind of partnership.
I ran one of these agencies for a couple years. We were really good at what we did, had an office humming with talented people and worked with all kinds of giant and small companies alike. I can tell you that always, and I mean ALWAYS, the work suited the larger companies better. Every time we worked with a start up of any kind, we discovered they weren't ready for our campaigns or ideas to function properly, because there was simply no real foundation in place for the work to sit on top of.
Incredible creative won't go far without some basics in place first.
So, the question is, then what? If founders are often too busy and not suited for marketing and a qualified CMO is too costly and the basics aren't in place for an agency to capitalize on, then what's the move?
When Marcus Whitney, Becky Green, Matt Faulkner, Nicole Patel and myself first all got in a room back in February of 2016, that is exactly what we wanted to figure out. The resulting eight months of development, planning and banging our heads against the wall is The Undisputed System.
We knew there must be an in-between method we could design that would engage a team of people to develop a complex marketing strategy, focus on core fundamentals first like a proper analytical dashboard and ideal customer profiles, as well as partner with clients in the way traditional agencies do, at a smaller cost to both us and the client.
We were right.
There was a system waiting to be designed for this specific place every company finds itself in at one point or another. We decided first to test our new system on ourselves. Jumpstart Foundry, the company behind Undisputed, produces an annual healthcare innovation conference called Health:Further. Since the 2016 conference was only a few months out when we finished designing Undisputed, we decided to run all of the marketing efforts through us.
This was actually a big risk for Jumpstart since this new format hadn't really been tested yet. It paid off.
2016 saw Health:Further reach new customers all over the country, garner national recognition in the healthcare community, double the 2015 attendance and gain 100% growth in revenue. Boom! It worked better than we had hoped.
Since we all believed it could have been a fluke, we applied it three more times to companies in Jumpstart's investment portfolio. All three times, we analyzed the company's marketing efforts, made strategic recommendations, tweaked messaging, added missing tracking methodology and the results immediately poured in.
It was now clear, we were onto something new: a new way of marketing.
So, we officially launched on October 25, 2016. Personally, I've sit on both sides of the aisle many times. I've run an agency, I've been a CMO and I own a company that sells things. This is a pretty exciting new approach on all this, no matter which side you're on.
Because Undisputed is focused on healthcare and even more specifically healthcare technology companies trying to innovate in a slow moving system, we can now partner with a team trying to solve real problems in this space and have a massive impact on their success.
So, even if Undisputed is not the right fit for you or your project, I can say with full confidence now that there are new, lean, digitally focused approaches to winning at marketing other than costly traditional avenues. If Undisputed and our mission resonates, I invite you to reach out and try us.
Jacob Jones / Partner & Creative Director, Undisputed