As I have found out and written last week, WhatsApp, a company worth $16 billion, has not spend a single cent on marketing. I’m sure, from now on, many people will think of WhatsApp when deciding if they need marketing. So should you do marketing for your startup?

TD;LR: Yes

If you are interested to read on, let me examine the issue for you.

Startup Marketing

Every startup should have some forms of marketing and here’s why:

(Startup) Marketing ≠ Marketing Campaigns

I think the term “Marketing” is often misunderstood as simply marketing campaigns like having advertisements, managing social media accounts, sending promotional emails or giving out flyers. However, it is not! April Dunford of Rocket Watcher Startup Marketing gave a very comprehensive list of things that make up startup marketing. Read the list here. The list is quite applicable to marketing in general too, not just for startups.

There are many aspects of marketing that are overlooked by people or people do them without thinking that those are part of marketing. The most basic one is creating the foundations of a brand, which includes having a name, a logo and maybe a tagline. This is part of marketing too because without them, people will not know who you are and what you do.

Although WhatsApp did not spend any money on marketing, buying advertisements or sending promotional emails, they still have some forms of marketing. They have a blog which they post rather regularly (content marketing). They have a Twitter Account, @WhatsApp, for real time engagement with their users (social media). And most basic of all, they have a brand that we all know – an app that allows us to send messages, photos and videos through data for free, hence making SMS obsolete and that green speech bubble logo.

WhatsAppLogo

So before you say “WhatsApp did not do any marketing and they were acquired for $16 billion. Marketing is over-rated. We don’t need marketing”, think again! No marketing spending ≠ no marketing at all. In fact, I found out that apparently WhatsApp hired a marketing firm, CoveredCo.

The scope for startup marketing is very broad and consists of many aspects. Even if you decided that buying advertisements or sending promotional emails is not what you want your company to do, there are other aspects of marketing which you cannot ignore.

Without marketing, very little people will hear about your product

… unless virality is in-built in your product. Websites like Upworthy is built upon viral content which people share on Facebook and Twitter. I’m pretty sure you have seen Upworthy articles or videos on your Facebook timeline. If you are my friend on Facebook, you may have seen the one I shared yesterday – How A Small Change Dropped A Bridge’s Suicide Rate By 77%.

UpworthyVideo

And if you have clicked on the link, you have been introduced to Upworthy. With in-built virality, it is easier for them to spread their name. Just like Facebook, WhatsApp’s network effect contributes to its virality. As it doesn’t make sense to use Facebook or WhatsApp alone, you will “promote” it to your friends, hence helping them with viral marketing. Remember how you persuaded your friend to use Facebook a few years ago?

However, not every product has such characteristics. Even if they do, they might not be so strong. Hence, without marketing, the awareness of your product will be very low. If few people know about your product, how do you expect to have more customers? Marketing can help to resolve this. Through marketing, you can spread the awareness of your product. And assuming that you have a good conversion rate, high awareness of your product will translate to high sales.

Probably the only counter argument I can accept is that your product is sooooooo good that without marketing, word of mouth promotion is sufficient to spread the awareness of your brand.

However

I advise against spending too much time on marketing before your product is ready or before you validate your product/market. This is because the conversion rate will be too low to make the marketing efforts worthwhile. In other words, although people know about your product, they will not buy or use it. So save the effort, work on and validate your product.

In conclusion

Every startup should have some forms of marketing because

  • While advertisements and promotional messages are not a must (case in point: WhatsApp), there are other aspects of marketing which are necessary (eg. branding).
  • Without marketing, very little people will hear about your product and this will affect your sales even if you have very good conversion rates.

What do you think?