By Ryan Stoner, a serial entrepreneur and brand strategy and marketing leader. He is currently Principal & Head of Strategy at Dendro.

As a founder of a burgeoning startup, it’s hard to know what to do next because there are so many things to do. After achieving product-market fit and getting your first round of funding, the onslaught of tasks can be overwhelming. One of those tasks is dealing with the harsh reality that customers won’t naturally flock to the product or service that you’ve worked so hard to develop.

I’ve seen one scenario play out time and time again. A founder realizes that they need someone in charge of marketing their product/service. Marketing can be a complex and ever-evolving process that many founders do not have the skills or time to do—they are focused on fundraising, product roadmaps, sales, hiring and a gauntlet of other tasks. This is a crossroads that can determine the future of your brand. That’s right, I said brand. Because no matter what you do, eventually, you’ll need a strong brand to grow and be successful.

In this less successful scenario, you hire a mid-level marketing person to be in charge of marketing. Why mid-level? Because that’s probably the only type of marketer willing to take a chance on a startup, and it’s what you can afford. The mid-level marketer does what mid-level marketers do best: sets up a demand-generation funnel that helps fuel sales and get the product in front of prospective customers. This leads to some short-term success—until the market gets crowded with new entrants, making your product one of many.

An abundance of opportunity means an abundance of competition. And in a crowded marketplace, focusing only on customer acquisition cost, or CAC, won’t help retain customers and set your company apart for long-term success.

Going back to the crossroads, there is another choice. Instead of reacting only to the short-term pressures of marketing the new product, you could make a decision to better ensure success—both short- and long-term.

Hire a strategy-first brand consulting firm before hiring (or while hiring) their marketing person. Let me clarify what I mean by a brand strategy firm. This is not a design shop or a website firm that also does brand strategy. I mean a firm that focuses on creating your brand purpose, positioning and unique narrative—a compelling story for investors and customers that can guide everything you do. A brand strategy firm should:

• Be able to outline your best potential audiences and create a messaging strategy that will resonate with them and earn their hard-to-get attention and dollars.

• Be able to make you a category of one, and keep you that way as new entrants try to get in on your success.

• Create a strategic brand playbook or road map for growth that starts by developing a brand instead of hocking a product or service. This is essential for long-term success. The result is an increase in lifetime value, or LTV, while decreasing how much you are spending to acquire a customer.

While an important part of marketing is telling a story about your startup, the act of building a brand playbook empowers a founder with the tools to guide all company actions beyond verbal and visual communication.

As with many early-stage companies, you may find yourself with a litany of growth opportunities, future decisions and channel opportunities that should be guided by a well-defined, strategic brand foundation.

With definition and focus on the brand strategy and growth plans, anyone you hire to execute marketing will have the strategic prioritization of goals, opportunities, partnerships and marketing channels available to them. They should also have the tools to provide future direction for experience design and development as updates to the product and website are made.

With this brand playbook, a mid-level marketing hire can create enduring success. Agencies that are hired should help provide good direction. And you can have a better story to tell to investors and potential partners. Win, win, win.



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