How to Hire a Good Marketer (for Startups)

It’s the question I hear second-most often, right after “How do I hire a good developer?”. Marketing is one of those skills a startup can’t do without, and realistically, probably shouldn’t be started without. Most founders have at least some marketing skills, and that works for a while. But they reach a point where they want to focus on what they’re great at, and don’t know how to determine if someone else is as good at marketing as the founder is at coding, business, etc. If you’re in that spot, or just in the unenviable position of trying to attract customers / users to an idling completed product, here’s your guide to choosing someone who can help turn up the heat.

What is Good Marketing?

Good marketing exists at the intersection of awareness, analysis, and creativity.

  1. Awareness: Of the market, of how it will perceive different messages, of what others are doing to reach your market, of how your market communicates with each other, and of trends within related markets that may be applicable to yours.
  2. Analysis: The ability to take information and create meaning. Being able to answer more than one “why?” about a change’s occurrence. Being able to predict more than one scenario, and explain the factors that make each more / less likely.
  3. Creativity: The ability to create new methods, rather than just improvements to existing ones.

What Skills Does a Marketer Need?

Every marketer must have a well-honed talent for effective communication. Someone with average communication skills can take information and restate it in way they’re better able to understand it. Someone with above-average communication skills can take information and restate it in a way that others will be better able to understand it. Above-average communicators can take the same content and frame it many different ways (“in need of repairs” becomes “fixer-upper”). Most importantly for applications, above-average communicators can translate features into benefits.

For web-based businesses, a marketer also needs to be skilled at the following:

  • Knowledge of incentives. Understanding what motivates people (to purchase, to participate, to create) is essential for marketing.
  • Search Engine Optimization. Search engine traffic drives signups/sales directly, assists with referrals, and provides additional opportunities. A marketer should know how to identify what terms to target, how to find out how often people are searching for different terms, how to increase your rankings, and how ranking well for different terms will accomplish your business goals.
  • Content Creation. For cash-strapped startups, being able to create interesting content is key for inbound marketing strategies to bring users. Even if you’re not trying to bring in customers, creating interesting content will get you noticed in your industry, and in the media, leading to partnership, investment, and acquisition opportunities.
  • Analytics. Startups that want to accomplish their goals must be able to measure them, and they must have a marketer that’s able to test different means of accomplishing them. You can only improve efficiency by seeing what affects it, whether it’s A/B testing your site, or determining which of your marketing efforts are getting the most bang for your buck (or effort).

How do you Find a Good Marketer?

The best marketers combine passion with the ability to communicate it. A good marketer for your startup is going to be one that understands your target audience, preferably by being a member of it… unless your target market is people who are bad at marketing.

One of the best ways to find candidates is to identify the marketing people at related, but not competing, services targeting a similar demographic, and ask them to recommend someone.

How do you Determine if They Have the Skills?

The best evidence is always just that: evidence. If they can show the results they specifically generated for projects (“I increased…”, not “My company increased…”), that’s excellent.

Some questions you may want to ask in an interview are:

  • How would you describe my company to a friend you wanted to use it?
    • Their answer should describe benefits, from a user point of view, rather than features.
  • What are two specific types of potential users you think we could better focus on reaching, and how? – or – What are two specific ways you can see our product being used, and how should our marketing target people who would most use it one of those ways?
    • They should demonstrate an ability to make some kind of intelligent segmentation of your overall market into audiences that you can create specific messages or use specific mediums to reach.
  • What trends do you see in our industry that we could tap into, to attract more users?
    • Here they should either show you that they know the scene well, or that they’re motivated enough to do research about it. The trends they recommend tapping into should be people-focused.

Be Open to Change, but Establish Trust & Test It

A good marketer can only help you if you let them, and that may mean changing that front-page description that you think is just fine, or targeting search terms that seem counter-intuitive. But remember that there’s a reason you’re looking for marketing help: they’ve learned lessons you haven’t yet!

Work with a new marketing team member to create clear, measurable goals. Provide clear priorities for how you want different resources (their time, development time, money) used. Pursue new marketing efforts with set expectations for when and how they’ll be measured, and let the results speak for themselves.

1 Comment to How to Hire a Good Marketer (for Startups)

  1. October 24, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    This is very useful and informative, it has made me think about how I now need to start marketing a business, or someone I should hire is more correct. I will seek a marketer who has evidence of their work being effective for businesses. Let’s just hope hiring someone will do wonders for my bottom line! Here’s to hoping…

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