Time for Marketing-Phobic Founders to Get Real!

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A veteran of both the Bay Area and Spanish startup scenes urges founders to stop waiting for their products to magically sell themselves. 

By Masha Kubyshina (Managing Director, Yellow & Young Agency)

Having talked to many entrepreneurs and small business owners in Spain, I realize that marketing is treated as some kind of necessary evil.  Startup people do not believe in marketing, more so, they are sort of ashamed of it. In our startup meetup group in Barcelona very few of us talk about marketing. It is just not fashionable. Ideating and prototyping a great product is fashionable. Entrepreneurs believe that once they have an awesome product it will magically sell itself. Having worked in marketing in the Bay Area for over eight years. I can see how dangerous this mindset is.

The market is full of good products. The ones we know about are the ones that have had good marketing. And marketing is not something you do once your product is already on the shelves or on your ecommerce site. Marking is essential in ideating your product, designing, it, testing it, scaling it and offering it to your potential customers. Marketing is not about direct sales. Marketing is about how you should approach the market.

Yes, Even You Need Marketing

I recently had a series of meetings with a fashion designer who for the past ten years has run a women’s clothing line in Spain. She approached me with the words, “I really do not need marketing. I just would like to have some presence on Facebook.” We started looking at her customers and her product offering and we soon realized that for the past ten years her brand used a shotgun approach. That, in turn, led to the lack of marketing strategy and a huge accumulation of stock.

Here is the first takeaway, as obvious as it is: Having a good quality product does not mean you will be able to sell it fast and grow quickly.

Marketing Isn’t an Afterthought

This is not an isolated incident. I have been encountering the same mindset in Spanish entrepreneurs for the year and a half that I have been living here. Every week I talk to people who say that they need to find more customers for their products, but that they have not really done any marketing so far. Having talked to over a hundred startup founders in Spain, I can safely estimate that only about 5% of these startups have a marketing person on their team, and another 5% are thinking about getting a marketing person in the next year. The rest believe that marking is akin to direct sales and will undermine the quality of their offer.

Thus, the second takeaway is: Think about marketing way before the product has hit the shelves. Get a marketing person on the team prior to designing the product.

You Get What You Pay For

Another interesting phenomenon is that startup founders and business owners tend to underprice marketing. I have recently been asked by an owner of an emerging coffee house chain in Barcelona to price him a marketing program. What he expected to pay for marketing services was about one fourth of what the going rate is. While he did not mind paying a premium for a good location or designer coffee cups, that cost twice as much as the regular ones, his estimation of a marketing budget was way below average.  Overall I have noticed that in Spain business owners do not see marketing as worthy spending their money on.

The last takeaway is: Do not spend your entire budget on R&D and production. You can’t sell with zero marketing budget. As a rule of thumb spend half of your budget on R&D and production and another half on marketing.

To finish, I would like to add that your product does not have to be the best one to be noticed. No doubt it has to be good, it has to be better than average, the quality has to be up to the industry standards and the design should correspond with usage. Nonetheless, your creative potential should be spent on marketing. What should keep you awake at night, if anything, should be how to get noticed —  how to get heard through the clutter of similar products.

Is this phenomenon confined to Spain?

Masha Kubyshina 2013 dec1About the guest blogger: Masha Kubyshina (@MashaKubyshina) is the managing director of Yellow & Young Agency. She mentors startups at ESADE events and at SWBarcelona, and is an organizer of a meetup for Barcelona founders. For the past ten years Masha worked in marketing and business operations in startups in San Francisco and Europe.