Shira, you are running your own successful agency in the Silicon Valley, called "Hunter and Bard". What kind of services do you provide to startups in the Silicon Valley?
We're an inbound marketing and branding agency that works with revenue generating, fast growing SaaS companies. We work with companies on lead gen, inbound marketing, strategy, design and brand building. While you didn’t ask, I thought I’d offer an explanation of our firm’s name. Hunter stands for hunting for leads, sales and market. Bard is the storyteller, which is how we present our client’s message to the marketplace. It’s our way to describe inbound marketing and branding.
And how do you keep your creativity and innovation edge in such a dynamic environment?
I read non-stop. I also follow key people on Facebook and Twitter. I'm always online. I'm also going to events nearly every week and chatting with friends. Outside of Silicon Valley and San Francisco you have your tech friends at work / industry events and your non-tech friends at home. Here there is no break - everyone is in tech. That means everyone you know has some connection or information or idea that’s new and exciting.
For example, I have a lot of good friends in tech PR who send me information about new cool things. Plus as a mentor at 500 Startups I get to see what startups are coming in, which shows me interesting market trends and funding.
Is there a chance to sum up some specific trends or directions in this continuous flow of information?
Kind of. What I do is figure out who and what are getting funded, and what kind of marketing will be needed for these companies in the future. Not everyone needs a blog, not every company needs Twitter or LinkedIn or even Facebook. Every marketing effort should be based on a goal. It all depends on where the customers are, and what the company’s goals are for that particular time. It also gives me the opportunity to see what companies are getting wrong. It's amazing how this process works for virtually any industry. I'm working on a Behavioral Engineering Canvas that will help companies sort through what's important and will help marketing and product work together. It’s also a great overview for management to see why certain decisions are made by their teams.
Sounds interesting, and at the same time quite simple. How can you do marketing without an idea about the needs of your customers? So what’s going wrong here, and why do companies make the same mistakes over and over again?
Hubris, it's a real thing. No one has a magic crystal ball that gives them all of the insight into their customers. There are no shortcuts. You have to map out your assumptions, map out what you know, do user interviews, and test. That's the only way to learn. I have a lot of experience, which gives me some insight, but even I'm constantly testing everything to monitor shifts in consumer behavior. Of course you have to start from somewhere - and we start with assumptions. The problem is that companies often don't check the data enough and adjust accordingly. The best companies I know test, learn and iterate constantly. They are focused not only on the acquisition, but the retention of customers as well. It sounds simple. It's quite hard when you're actually in it. Companies often get drunk on vanity numbers. Having someone on the outside (like an agency, advisor or mentor) helps things stay focused.
Shira, how do you see the role of strategy in a disruptive eco-system – in other words: how do you balance short-term opportunities and middle/long term objectives?
Short term versus long term decisions are a big issue. Short term growth is valuable, but it's often at the expense of the firm’s long term goals. Companies need to be extremely cautious not to blow their brand just to get a short term win. Example, if you have sales every week on new goods from the week before people have no incentive to buy the previous weeks goods. They could just wait a week and get it at a discount. Your sales might jump in the beginning due to a discount, but your brand will suffer.
This varies from company to company, but my favorite example of a short term win and a long term fail is Groupon. While I think Groupon is great, they didn't think enough about the long term and their current versus former stock price reflects that.
You can’t, but this exactly is the challenge: how to balance the opportunistic behavior of a start up (that is solely focused on their customers and generating cash flow to survive) and a long term (brand) strategy, that definitely needs some planning in advance?
There is no simple answer on how to balance short term goals and long term goals. It's on a case by case basis. A lot of SaaS companies want to be free to start in order to get numbers in - the question is, if you have a product to sell, are non-paying customers important? And if so, why? Only the company will be able to answer that. When do you ad advertising to a social network? If you do it too soon you’ll lose the interest of your user (who is the product). If you do it too early or late you won’t survive - the former you lose too many people and the latter you run out of money.
By the way, being focused on the customer isn't a short term strategy. What I'm referring to is more the focus on acquiring a volume of customers and not on retention and client satisfaction. That's short term thinking. Saying you don't want to fix your newsletter even though you know it's terrible and putting all of your time and money into ads for acquisition is short term thinking. Newsletters have the highest ROI of all digital marketing outside of notifications. Not investing little bit of time it takes to make your newsletter amazing is just stupid.
I like to work in the lean method - which is a high level strategy that is mapped out in advance with a single goal and then in 2 week (or weekly, depending on the habits of the client) sprints of work. We then check the results, see if we're getting what we want and adjust accordingly. In the software world it's known as scrum.
Working with already existing, small enterprises is different. Their product is usuallyfleshed out and what we're doing is optimizing. Plus, they are aware of the importance of building their brand and have a larger budget to handle multiple priorities at once. In short, working with them is easier. I can tell them something should be getting done and usually if it's not in our contract they can find someone in-house to do it, or we can pull in a partner agency.