Growth marketers are helping startups of all kinds take advantage of the market boom today, but it’s been a rough journey through the pandemic.
We chatted with Tyler Alliston, founder of growth marketing firm Right Side Up and occasional contributor to ClearTips, about his experiences and what he’s seeing now.
This is part of our new initiative to find the best growth marketers for startups based on founder recommendations. (Have a recommendation to share? Please fill out the survey here.)
Keep reading for more from Tyler about focusing on the right kind of growth and retaining the resources, even when the markets are volatile.
It’s been a long time since we last spoke to you. How have growth marketing trends changed between the start of the pandemic and now as we begin to exit lockdown?
Tyler Alliston: It’s been a rollercoaster! At the start of the pandemic, we saw a fall in the CPM and budget cuts. The rally started relatively quickly in the summer of 2020 and accelerated in the fall and now in 2021.
First, it was e-com companies, both with strong pre-COVID sales online and historically brick-and-mortar brands scrambling to shift online to find much-needed sales. Then many other businesses – both new and existing – emerged with new products, value propositions and conditions to survive or even thrive in the pandemic.
Now, we see broader consumer demand and a similar eagerness to accelerate customer acquisitions, including through paid advertising. Very active investors have been a strong tailwind with respect to the budget.
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We’ve talked about how you prefer to treat your team as a partner rather than a vendor. How have they been able to accomplish this during the pandemic?
Above all, we were able to live up to our reputation for being a good strategic partner that serves the best interests of our customers. Because they know we’ll tell them when we don’t think they should pay us for something, they also trust us when we say something like “I know it sounds crazy right now, but you have a Your budget should increase due to changes in your demand curve and channel economics.”
We were actively honest with customers about what we believe the pandemic meant for their businesses, we arrived at through the framework outlined on our blog. For some, this means supporting the immediate end of our partnership to conserve wealth. In other cases, it meant prompting them to consider leaning into their display marketing to capitalize on the changing environment and channel economics.
During the recovery, many companies have looked to external agencies and consultants to fill the temporary staffing gap in a less risky manner. Switching to external resourcing and supporting remote workers to develop company processes and culture has helped us integrate more quickly and fully with our clients’ internal teams.
In a previous conversation, you mentioned, “We regularly tell companies, ‘You don’t need any growth marketing right now. Focus on product-market fit.'” How startups can tell if it’s with you Is it the right time to work?
Growth marketing is an amplification tool. It shines a bright spotlight on a product or solution, believing that if only people knew About that, they’ll want it and love it. “want it” and “love it” represent product-market fit. To measure these, we look at customer reviews, organic growth, retention, product engagement, and ultimately referral activity leading to realized and expected lifetime value.
Seeing good conversion rates and attractive customer acquisition costs in small-scale channel testing shows that there is not only a group of people who love it, but they can be reached. In my view these are pre-requisites for sustainable development.
If an early stage company has limited resources, how should they prioritize their funds with respect to marketing?
First, invest in the product to make it great, as judged by real, paying customers. Marketing plays a part in this iterative process of traffic acquisition, funnel measurement and response collection; It’s not just “growth marketing”. This is considered “go-to-market marketing”, usually employed by a product marketer or similar staff.
Once the product is in a good place, I usually recommend at least some investment in non-paid marketing efforts and some testing of paid advertising, often Facebook and/or Google. It’s rare for a company to find a great scalable channel if none of this works. They serve as bellwethers for online marketing performance, generally speaking.
The best unpaid marketing investments are highly relevant to the company’s differentiation from the target customer and the competitive landscape.
What do startups keep doing wrong?
The biggest is to focus on development before product/market fit [thing that startups continue to get wrong]. Early stage founders are under intense pressure to grow successfully. For everyone except the lucky ones who have had incredible early customer success, product-to-market fit requires an incredible dose of patience. I think this is one reason we see a pattern of success among founders who are solving a problem they personally care about. For them, it is first and foremost to solve the problem for themselves and not for others. It’s not about money or some notion of macro success. It’s about subtle success. From there, it’s an easy leap to share this solution with the passion you desperately need.
From an advertising standpoint, many companies try to run too many channels at once and expect success very quickly, leading to false negative results. Most channels are fairly finicky at this point and require both expertise and patience for most businesses.
How do your growth marketing strategies change when working with early stage startups as opposed to mature companies?
With very early stage companies, our work is generally not development related. It is more about establishing the foundation (ex: pixel, tech stack, initial value support, initial staffing), driving traffic through new funnels to collect initial data, or setting up email campaigns. Once the product is in a good place, we often work with a founder or first marketing hire to pitch their initial paid channels and try to get them from 0 to 1. Can we spend $5,000, $10,000, $20,000/month with a good return?
On the unpaid side, this could be executing a content strategy, launching a referral program or developing partnerships. Once a company is profitably spending hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars per month, we typically seek them to improve channel performance, better measure the incremental impact of their spending, and scale to new levels. Helping to reach, or diversify channels (paid or non-paid)