The Most Frequent Mishire in Startups

The most frequent mishire in startups is the first head of marketing. Many different disciplines fall under marketing's purview. The question facing founders recruiting marketers is: which is the most important to prioritize?

Marketing expertise falls into three segments: product marketing, demand generation, and brand marketing. Each of these kinds of marketers have critical skills for a startup. But the reason many marketing hires fail is the business doesn't hire the right expertise at the right time.

Let's describe each:

Product marketing is critical but the least well understood. Product marketers are responsible for bringing a product to market. What does that mean? Hubspot listed the 7 steps of product marketing in a recent post, and it's a terrific summary.

PMMs (product marketing managers) research the customer, craft the story of the product, produce content that relates the story, develop the launch plan for the product, coordinate the launch, engage the users and analysts, and product content to enable sales to sell.

Demand generation marketers serve a different role. Demand generation marketers acquire leads using a portfolio of techniques. They use software and tools to find potential buyers. This acquisition portfolio spans search, advertising, social media, events, podcasts, ebooks, outbound calling, and many other techniques. Product marketers’ research informs the personas and the stories that demand generators employ to attract prospective customers.

Brand marketers are the third type of marketer who develops the market's awareness of a company. A brand is a huge strategic asset that can represent a huge fraction of a company's value; nearly half of Coca-Cola's value is its brand.

The market leader or the category creator often captures the majority of the market value. And this a reinforcing effect, a flywheel. The more a company is recognized as a leader, the more business it should garner.

Which should you hire first? Many founders seek a demand generation marketer. After achieving product market fit, it's a natural time to scale lead generation.

But over the past decade or so, I've found hiring a product marketer first leads to more consistent success. Why is this?

Though the startup may have achieved product market fit, the company may not understand the fit. Who is using the product and why? How does the buyer journey evolve with time? How do buyers describe the product amongst each other? Few early stage companies can answer those questions accurately.

Establishing this foundation enables the company to determine which messages to proclaim and which customers to pursue. Having this framework aligns the business and typically increases marketing efficiency because campaigns are well targeted and resonate better. Demand generation and brand marketers will reap the benefits of this work. So will the rest of the business because it deeply understands its customers.