When it comes to marketing your startup, (h)act sooner rather than later.

David vs Goliath

The problem faced by startups in any industry is how to compete with established firms in the same market, or how to take a significant proportion of a new market against a competing firm that is better equipped in terms of all manner of resources. With 90% of startups failing and (Patel, 2015), and a lack of cash flow being one of the main reasons for failure (Quora, 2015), most startups desperately need to create awareness of their product or service through marketing campaign that leads to rapid growth, but without the price tag usually associated with such a strategy.

The solution to this problem is to, where possible, employ tools that allow you to punch above your weight. In areas such as marketing, a startup can take advantage of the fact the modern day consumer has grown jaded of traditional marketing methods and is ready to be surprised and taken on a journey by a firm.

Doing what always has been done Vs what can be done.

The modern consumer has advantages that his or her ancestors could never dream of; variety of choice, relative cheapness due to mass production of most goods, and almost unlimited research capability of a product or service due to the internet. With this in mind, the consumer is no longer in a position to be told what to like or buy based simply on what is nearby or available, as was the case for nearly everyone but the upper class for the rest of human history.

Marketing represents a vital part of any business’ strategy, but if executed in an ineffective or poor manner it can be, at the very least, a costly error. In a worst case scenario, it can be a choice that has long term negative repercussions on the business (Sacristan, 2013). According to the U.S Marketing Spending Survey executed by Gartner in 2013, the average company spends 10% of their revenue on marketing (Gartner, 2013), which leads to large global firms being able to spend millions of dollars to release a package to the consumer that is perfect in the mind of the focus group.

Reaching the consumer is no longer limited to a few television channels, two or three newspaper options, a handful of radio stations and the opinion of people is the relatively small local community, the modern consumer is now exposed to hundreds of thousands of different sources of information and is, at any given time, only seconds away from the opinion of anyone in the world with an internet connection (Strickland, 2015).

So how can a small startup compete against such heavyweights and turn the overly-connected consumer into an advantage?

Hacking into the issue

Correct positioning of the product or service is an important step in business, but the savvy startup now knows that reaching the target market in the right way can prove to be the most cost effective strategy for a firm to generate revenue. If a firm can successfully utilize growth hacks (viral marketing campaigns where the target market spreads awareness of a product for the firm not only free of charge, but also happily and rapidly), they can generate awareness to a degree that traditional marketing is unable to.

Guiding stars

The following examples show how a successful growth hack can take almost any form, and that at first glance there are no common elements from hack to hack:

Spotify understood that listening to music was, for the modern consumer, more than simple aural pleasure and as such integrated their app with Facebook. As this was not a feature available to the biggest player in the music industry, iTunes, or other traditional music stream, the relatively small startup was able to let everyone on Facebook tell all of their friends what they were listening to. From 1 million users in 2008 (Music Industry Blog, 2012) growth has been rapid as people began to use the service and today Spotify has 60 million users globally, 15 million of which are paying subscribers (Spotify, 2015) and is worth US$8.4 billion (Kaye, 2015), which is more than double its nearest competitor (Kaye, 2015).

In the domestic market, Uber has seen great success with viral marketing in Sydney. Cross promotion with the ice cream company Messina for free ice cream delivery for new users who used the service exploded in an afternoon as social media came alive with people uploading photos of their ice cream whilst people frantically tried to take advantage of the event. The company has run similarly campaigns and even repeated this campaign the year after (Bindi, 2014), building a reputation as a fun, hip new alternative to taxi’s, which has added immeasurable value to what was traditionally not an overly “sexy” industry.

Why now?

The challenge with implementing a successful growth hack is understanding the core elements that made other hacks successful. A successful hack cannot simply be retrofitted to your company, and given the viral nature of a campaign, they often rely on first mover advantage. It is difficult (arguably impossible) for the strategy of a successful hack to be repeated or imitated without coming across as derivative or behind the times. This presents a strong advantage to the firm that comes up with the hack but is a significant challenge to anyone tasked with finding growth hacks that had been successful and trying to see whether these tactics could be slightly tailored for the success of a client or firm.

In my professional experience, after conducting research into successful marketing hacks, including some of the hacks mentioned by the client, it quickly became obvious that success was linked to understanding the deeper truth of successful hacks, which involves understanding their target market and product implicitly they were able to have the campaign drive itself through social media. In the case of Spotify, the company knew of the social currency attached to listening to music and built a hack that took advantage of this, in a way that had never been done before.

The issue for most firms now is how to create your own “Spotify’ moment and I believe there is a strong case for acting soon before the strong, simple ideas are taken.


Bindi, T. (2014, July 17). Unfazed by scrutiny, UBER relaunches marketing campaign with Gelato Messina. Retrieved from Startup Daily: http://www.startupdaily.net/2014/07/unfazed-scrutiny-uber-relaunches-marketing-campaign-gelato-messina/

Gartner. (2013, March 6). Key Findings From U.S. Digital Marketing Spending Survey, 2013. Retrieved from Gartner: http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/digital-marketing/digital-marketing-spend-report.jsp

Kaye, B. (2015, April 22). Spotify is now worth more than the entire US music industry? Retrieved from Consequence of Sound: http://consequenceofsound.net/2015/04/spotify-is-now-worth-more-than-the-entire-music-industry/

Music Industry Blog. (2012, May 15). Spotify Hits 20 Million Monthly Users and Could be on Track for 8 Million Paid Users 1 Year From Now. Retrieved from Music Industry Blog: https://musicindustryblog.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/spotify-hits-20-million-monthly-users-and-could-be-on-track-for-8-million-paid-users-1-year-from-now/

Patel, N. (2015, January 16). 90% Of Startups Fail: Here’s What You Need To Know About The 10%. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/neilpatel/2015/01/16/90-of-startups-will-fail-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-10/

Quora. (2015, March 6). The Top 5 Reasons Start Ups Fail. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2015/03/06/the-top-5-reasons-startups-fail/

Sacristan, G. (2013, August 14). What are the consequences of bad marketing? Retrieved from Target Marketing: http://www.targetmarketingmag.com/article/what-are-consequences-bad-marketing/all/

Spotify. (2015, May 2). Information. Retrieved from Spotify: https://press.spotify.com/au/information/

Strickland, M. (2015, April 15). Top Trends Driving The Future Of Marketing. Retrieved from Social Media Monitors: http://www.socialmediamonitors.com.au/top-trends-driving-the-future-of-marketing/