This is the 2nd in a five-part series of articles about Startup Marketing. Reposted on LinkedIn here.

What’s the big deal about Marketing at a startup? Is it really that different than the Marketing function within an established company? The following article takes a look at 5 challenges and 5 advantages to startup Marketing.

The Challenges

Whether yours is a bootstrapped side project or well-funded and venture-backed, you face several challenges when going to market. Each is relative and unique, but overcoming these challenges is unavoidable.

1. No one knows who you are – Obvious, but important. You have no reputation, no track record. Not only will prospects be more guarded and reluctant to buy from you, they may never consider you in a purchase decision to begin with.

2. You don’t know what your target market wants – Many (if not most) startups begin by trying to solve a problem that exists for a defined market segment. But even with a perfect solution to a nagging problem, it takes time, iteration, and numerous sales cycles to come to the right mix of product, price, sales process, and delivery model. The world is littered with companies that had great products that never made it for this reason.

3. Time is the enemy – There simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. If the following list is a good sample of Marketing tactics startups should consider, how will you do all of them in a given day, week, month, or quarter? You can’t without sacrificing quality.

4. You likely have a small budget – You can’t outspend your competition, so spending to do more isn’t an option. While a massive awareness and PR campaign could be a shortcut to letting prospects know you exist, the expense alone is probably prohibitive (and not a great long term strategy).

5. No one wants to be first – “This sounds interesting. Send me at least two case studies from customers in my industry with a similar employee count and switching from the product I’m currently using.” Sound familiar? Trying something new is risky.

The Advantages

Though the challenges above are real, don’t feel defeated! In fact, the optimists among us read each of the above while seeing how each could be seen as a competitive strength and opportunities to beat the competition.

1. No one knows who you are – No baggage! When no one knows who you are, you can create your personality. You can assume a voice and tone without the weight of existing perception. You don’t have to play it safe, and that alone can make you stand out in the market.

2. Your target market doesn’t know what they want – Though they know the problem, your target market may not know exactly how they want it solved. This is a beautiful thing, letting you experiment with different solutions including delivery models, trials, ROI calculators…the list goes on.

3. Time is on your side – In a startup, you can have an idea for a campaign in the morning, content written by noon, and emails, landing pages, ads, and social all up and running before 2. The ability to move quickly cannot be underestimated.

4. Constraints equal creativity – Not enough time, budget, or resources require creativity. Some of the best Marketing campaigns are created because of constraints.

5. Everyone roots for the underdog – One of my favorite campaigns right now is from Act-On Software, a Marketing Automation company that competes with Marketo and HubSpot. Their tagline: Marketing Automation for the Fortune 5,000,000. People root for the underdog, and that’s especially true when it comes to startups facing established incumbents.

Startup Marketing is different. It’s difficult. It’s the art of creating something out of nothing, convincing the world that a product will solve a problem, and making the customer feel that they’ve made the right decision. And if you’re a marketer, it is simultaneously the biggest challenge and most fun you’ll ever have.


Startup Marketing Toolkit 2014

by Nathan W. Burke on September 3, 2014

Startup Marketing Toolkit

Tech startups exist because they have the audacity to believe they can use technology to do something better than larger companies with more resources and bigger budgets. The only way they can compete is to create more efficiency, speed, and innovation.

As a Marketing guy at a startup, I often have conversations with other marketers about what tools we use. The following is a good starter list of Marketing tools for startups:



  1. Google AdWords – I have a love/hate relationship with AdWords. 90% of incoming leads converting from AdWords campaigns are total garbage. Sales people tell me constantly that people signing up for a B2B product have no memory of submitting a landing page form from an AdWords campaign, and there are widespread accounts of click fraud from AdWords. However, no ad platform will give you better insight into the types of content people are searching for, the difficulty of ranking, and how popular a term is than AdWords. I’m also a fan of rapid iteration, and AdWords lets you see how a campaign is faring in nearly real-time, allowing you to adjust.
  2. Bizo – They were just acquired by LinkedIn, so I’m not sure how they’ll continue to operate, but Bizo is an ad platform that puts your display ads in front of a previously identified audience. Think of retargeting without someone ever visiting your site to get a cookie.
  3. LinkedIn – LinkedIn ads have been a total dud for me. They take forever to get any impressions, clicks are expensive, and conversion is zero. However, the targeting and eyes are there. I’ll add this to the “there’s an opportunity, needs more research” category.


  1. Google Analytics – Free, dependable, and gives you 95% of what you need to report on aggregate site stats.
  2. KissMetrics – Google Analytics tells you what’s happening. KISSmetrics helps you optimize it.

Anonymous Account Identification

  1. LeadLander – Lets you see which companies have visited your site even if they haven’t converted.
  2. Visistat – Apparently they give you contact information on anonymous visitors to your site. Haven’t tried them yet.


  1. – SaaS pioneers and CRM leader, is the de-facto CRM for startups. It connects to many of these other tools and systems, and is where sales should live.
  2. – New guys on the block competing with by including click-to-call, automatic email tracking, making salespeople spend less time entering data. I’d try them if I were just starting out, but they lack integration with Marketing Automation providers at the moment.


  1. Olark – Adds the “Questions?” chat box to your website whenever a designated operator is signed in. Allows you to chat with your site visitors and see which pages they’ve visited.

Design/Development Work

  1. oDesk – A huge directory of freelancers from designers to developers. I’ve used them several times in the past for short development projects.


  1. Litmus – Lets you see how your email will look in any email client and browser, checks for spam words, gives optimization tips.
  2. Yesware – Email for salespeople. Track opens and clicks, get alerts when things happen.


  1. – Use meetup to create a local group interesting to your target market. Just don’t be too salesy.

Landing Pages

  • Unbounce – Dead-simple, great looking landing pages that are focused on conversion. Unbounce connects to many of your other systems (like, letting you push unbounce conversions to your CRM.
  • Optimizely – Automatic A/B testing for landing pages.

Marketing Automation

  1. Marketo – I’ve used Marketo for years, and it’s my favorite software of all time. It works flawlessly to capture leads via forms, score them through behaviors, and send segmented emails. It’s part lead capture, part lead nurturing, part email automation, lead prioritization and scoring, and analytics. I can’t recommend Marketo enough.
  2. Act-On – When I first joined MineralTree, we needed to update our website quickly and had no lead capture forms in place. I knew I couldn’t get Marketo up and running in less than a week and found Act-On. A lighter version of what’s available in Marketo, Act-on had 80% of the features at a much lower cost. I could argue both sides, but at an early stage startup with few inbound leads and a small database, I would start with Act-On.
  3. HubSpot – I can’t leave HubSpot off any list about Marketing Automation. The only problem is that I haven’t used the product in years, and am not qualified to compare them to the others. However, I’d strongly recommend adding them to your list of vendors to evaluate if you’re looking for a Marketing Automation product.

Planning/Time Management

  1. Mingle – Thinking of making the switch to Agile Marketing? Mingle will let you prioritize your backlog and select which items you’ll complete in your next sprint. Free for teams under 5.
  2. Asana – Great tool to manage tasks.


  1. ZoomInfo – Find contacts at your target accounts. Integrates with
  2. NetProspex – Find contacts using the technology you support.


  1. ZipRecruiter – Add your job post once, ziprecruiter distributes it.


  1. Moz – Check keyword difficulty, ranking, and compare your target keywords to competitors’ rankings.


  1. HootSuite – Manage all social profiles from one interface.

Stock Images

  1. Shutterstock – Huge database of images for your website and blog posts.

Web Hosting

  1. ASmallOrange – My favorite web host. Reliable, affordable, and responsive when you need them.

Video Hosting

  1. Wistia – Video hosting that gives you the most control.


  1. GoToWebinar – Easy to use webinar host with and Marketo integration.


Feel free to suggest your own. I’ll add to the list.



I’ve just posted two new Marketing positions on LinkedIn, and wanted to describe them here.

Marketing Operations Manager

At MineralTree, we’re a lean Marketing and Sales team, and that means we rely on technology to punch above our weight. We’re looking for the right person to help us keep our data clean, improve workflows and processes, and help us move prospects through the funnel.

widget_apply_btnAbout You
Duplicate data bothers you. Smooth workflows and creative automated campaigns make you tick. You’re able to create repeatable processes to update records from other systems either via CSV uploads or via APIs. While that’s going on, you’re simultaneously backing up our WordPress sites, updating plugins, and making sure our email deliverability rate is as high as possible.


Content Marketing Manager

Blog Posts. Social. Buyer’s Guides. Webinars. Whitepapers. Website Pages. You see these simply as types of content to produce in order to reach our ultimate goal: educating people about the benefits of ditching paper checks and making better business payments. You may not be an Accounts Payable expert (I’m not), but you’re resourceful enough to ask the right questions, do the research, and can translate what you learn into compelling benefits, concise copy, and compelling offers. You have a strong belief in repurposing content, and you tie everything you write into our aggressive Sales and Marketing goals.

widget_apply_btnAbout You
Distilling complex ideas into clear, concise content is your specialty. You’re technical enough to understand how a product feature works, and you can understand why someone could benefit. You use that understanding to translate product-speak into simple, bold, and compelling content. You take ownership of your responsibilities and need little hands-on supervision, yet are never afraid to ask questions. You’re not shy. You’re constantly testing new ideas and aren’t afraid to fail. Water off a duck’s back.

More About MineralTree


Morning Startup Marketing Reads – 6/12/14

by Nathan W. Burke on June 12, 2014


Startup Funding

Marketing Data Startup Zaius Raises $6.3M From Matrix Partners  – Zaius wants to grab data from disparate sources to provide a better understanding of customers. (via BostInno)

Startup Culture

Startups Have Office Politics, Too – Think you’ll escape office politics by joining a startup? Think again. (via HBR)

Startup Branding

If Your Brand Promises Authenticity, You Better Deliver – What’s worse than being inauthentic? Promising authenticity without delivering. (via HBR)

Startup Ideas

Customer Complaints are a Lousy Source of Startup Ideas – Just because customers complain about something doesn’t make it a viable startup. (via HBR)

Content Marketing

The 3 Step Journey to a Remarkable Piece of Content – Go read this. (Via Copyblogger)


Startup Marketing Reads: 4/3/2014

by Nathan W. Burke on April 3, 2014



Clari, A Mobile-First Predictive Sales Tool, Comes Out Of Stealth With $6M From Sequoia – (via TechCrunch)

Lead Generation

The New Rules of Lead Generation Resemble the Old Rules, Somewhat – (via Entrepreneur)


4 Tips for Crafting the Perfect Elevator Pitch (via Entrepreneur)

3 Marketing Truths– Learned the Hard Way (via Inc)

Your Audience Doesn’t Know What it Wants (via CopyBlogger)

How to Turn Bland Text into Sparkling Online Content (via CopyBlogger)


Here’s Exactly How To Form A Habit That Sticks (via Business Insider)

The Secrets Of Achieving Breakout Growth – (via Forbes)

Corporate Development 101: What Every Startup Should Know (via OnStartups)


How You Can Sell Like a Pro and Close More Deals (via Entrepreneur)


Daily Startup Marketing Reads: 4/1/2014

by Nathan W. Burke on April 1, 2014

I had to get my car inspected this afternoon, so I finally had time to fire up my RSS reader to read through today’s news stories. Though it may be April Fool’s, the articles I found were no joke.

Engagement and Conversion

WalkMe raises $11 Million to let you “walk” prospects through your website. Founded in Tel Aviv and based in San Francisco, the company offers “engagement optimization, contextual promotions, advanced cross-selling capabilities, and advanced analytics.” (via VentureBeat)

Boston’s Alignable Raises $4 Million to let Small Businesses Partner and Bundle – The online platform enables small businesses to partner up and market to each other’s customer bases through their email lists and social followings. (Via VentureBeat)

 Completely Preventable Ways You’re Sabotaging Landing Page Conversions – Conversion is hard enough. Don’t make it even more difficult. (via Hubspot)

3 Cutting-Edge Examples of Website Personalization Persona and interest-based personalization is the next big thing. And some people are doing it now. (via Hubspot)

Venture Capital

How You Know You’ve Got the Right Startup Model? (via Both Sides of the Table)


Startup Marketing and Branding

What Startups Need To Know About Branding – Mike always puts the importance of the brand in perspective. From the article:

“your brand is the world’s collective emotional response. It’s the envelope for your product’s rational benefits, the emotional value proposition that guides people toward or away from whatever it is you’re selling. And if you think it doesn’t matter, you don’t understand how people make decisions.”
(via Mike Troiano on VentureFizz)



Big Skinny Wallet: Marketing a Wallet Like Software

by Nathan W. Burke on March 8, 2014

The fact that I like orange isn’t a surprise. Anything in orange is better than anything in a different color.

So when I was in Staples today and saw a display of wallets, it caught my attention when I saw the orange one. But it was on the other side that made me write a blog post.

When we work on messaging in tech, we always want to position our products in a way that solves problems while differentiating from what’s already out there. And when I saw the back of the packaging for the Big Skinny Wallet, it really resonated.

The messaging points out the problems it solves, and made me believe in its promise. And the fact that it is made in Cambridge, Massachusetts sealed the deal.

Love it.


Interest Attrition

by Nathan W. Burke on November 22, 2013

Once in a while, a term will catch my eye that resonates. Something that so clearly describes that which has been so far indescribable. This week, on an otherwise standard slide, two words popped up that spoke to me:

Interest Attrition

As a Marketer, you work to drive interest in whatever it is that you offer the market. In the digital realm, you do this through demand generation campaigns that hopefully result in capturing interest. Nothing new there.

However, once someone has raised their digital hand to indicate interest, what do you do next? How long do you wait before responding to a lead?

Every moment you wait before following up with a lead can result in, you guessed it…..interest attrition. has great metrics on lead attrition here, but can be summed up in two images:


Solving for Interest Attrition

If you already have a shipping product that can be easily handed to interested leads (even with some degree of qualification), solving for interest attrition largely becomes a matter of fulfillment. What becomes interesting, however, is the case of a company that tries to generate demand prior to having a shipping product.

My favorite recent example is a company called Simple. Simple wants people to ditch their bank accounts in favor of a mobile-first non-bank that centers its offering around goal-setting. They give you a debit card, but there are no physical bank locations, and much of the interaction between the consumer and the bank happen through a mobile app.

Here’s how the interest flow works:

1. Ask for an invitation:

Simple is currently offered on an invitation-only basis. If you’re interested, you can sign up to get an invite whenever simple is ready for you. In invitation-based companies, this is the beginning of the interest attrition clock. You’re interested in their product/service, but you can’t have it yet. Every day that goes by without a response increases the probability that you’ve either forgotten who they are or you have solved the problem you were seeking a solution to.

2. Response for reminder and expectation setting:

In this step, simple sets my expectation of what’s next while reminding me why I signed up. I’ll hear back in a couple of weeks, but in the interim I should learn more about the product and follow them on their social accounts. And rather than sending this from a cold, sterile system account, the email comes from a person. Nice touch.

3. The invitation

It’s now time. I have an invite, and it has only been 4 days since I signed up. This email reframes why I signed up, the benefits I’ll get, and tells me why I should take action.

4. The no action follow-up

Although I received the invitation, I didn’t finish the application. Two days later, I received a reminder to let me know that it will only take a few minutes to finish what I’ve started. Clear and concise messaging.

5. Seriously, finish this

7 days after my last reminder, Simple sends me a message from their CEO and Co-founder, restating the company’s origin story, what it stands for, and what I’ll get if I finish my application.


Interest attrition happens any time a lead expresses interest without instant gratification. What is important is how you stay top-of-mind. I’ll be exploring this topic more in 2014, as some of what I’m doing now will serve as a good case study.


Great Marketing Interview Question

by Nathan W. Burke on October 15, 2013

We’ve been interviewing Marketing Manager candidates at MineralTree, and one of my colleagues came up with a great question. I’m not saying that he invented it, but using this question to interview someone that is looking for a startup marketing position is particularly insightful:

As a Marketer, what one word would you use to describe yourself to your audience?

Let that sink in for a second. Here’s why I like it so much:

  1. It is jarring – While any decent candidate has anticipated the most common interview questions, this one is different. Close to the standard “give me one word to describe yourself”, it is just different enough to make you think.
  2. It requires empathy – It makes the candidate put themselves in the shoes of their intended audience, and critiques their own projection.
  3. It is a test for concision – You have one word to describe the totality of your value to a faceless, unknown mass. Go.

The third item is what made me write this post. As one of the most difficult things in marketing is compressing complex ideas into dense, meaningful words, the person that is able to think quickly on their feet and deliver a good answer to a question like this truly stands out.

Had to share.


Product Review: SNUGG iPad Case

by Nathan W. Burke on October 2, 2013

A week ago or so I received an email from SNUGG, asking if I would review their iPad case on the blog. And while iPad cases don’t have an exact connection to startup marketing, I decided to give it a shot. I haven’t written anything lately and have been meaning to, so this was exactly the push I needed to start writing.

A few years ago when it was new, my wife bought me the iPad 2 for my birthday. I didn’t really know why I wanted it or what I would use it for, I just knew that I had to have it. At first I tried to use it as a device to create content and do work (blog post, emails, etc.), I soon realized that this was a device for consuming content rather than creating it.

But I’ve certainly found it useful and I love it. I download books, jot quick notes, and use it a lot for reading sites like reddit or techmeme.

One thing I don’t like is the cover. I opted to get the creamsicle orange cover (as anyone who knows me realizes I love the color orange), but there’s one problem: it gets really dirty looking:

I usually put the iPad into a bag that is filled with pens, so ink stains are common and look awful.

Two days ago, my new Snugg iPad 2 Case Cover and Flip Stand in Orange Leather arrived.  Out of the box:

It’s very orange. I like the color a lot:

The Pros

Compared to the standard Apple folding cover, this is much more heavy duty, and it doesn’t fall off. I love the color, and it just feels more protective and could withstand a drop or two (I’m not testing that).

The Cons

Due to the added security and material, it makes the iPad a little bulky, but it still fits in my laptop bag.

Overall, I really like this case. Great color, a little added security, and it just feels much nicer than the Apple folding iPad color.