Marketing lessons for the big boys from startups

Friday, June 6, 2014, Vol. 38, No. 23

Having spent the lion’s share of my career marketing national corporations, I would certainly say there is a science to marketing at that level, with the better brands marketing like well-oiled machines.

Opening my own business eight years ago, however, and partnering with countless startups through those years, I’ve also learned there’s a thing or two startups can teach the big boys about marketing.

Reward failure. A company that never experiences failure no doubt lacks innovation.

Perhaps the greatest travesty in business is leading a team that’s so fearful of failure it’s hesitant to try unconventional strategies. Some of the world’s greatest inventions were the result of countless prior failures, and so goes marketing.

Empower your team to take marketing risks, but just encourage them to fail quickly and move on.

When trying new marketing strategies, be sure to test them before getting too far along. The goal is to get a quick reaction from the market before too much of your time, energy and budget has been expended.

Test with a small budget, and then, if they’re performing well, put the pedal to the metal. Once you find a marketing strategy works, scale it quickly, before your competition has a chance to catch up.

Continuing with the innovation theme, just because you have a marketing strategy that delivers, don’t stop looking for ways to continuously improve it.

There is likely a way to make it more scalable or further reduce your cost of customer acquisition by testing slight variations.

Teach your team to prioritize new tactics ahead of the tried and true that you know will deliver.

It’s very easy to back-burner new ideas, as they can take significant mind share to deploy, but it’s these ideas that have the potential to reshape your business.

If you want to lead a culture of innovation, new ideas must reside on the front burner.

While innovation is key to any marketing plan, it’s equally important that you do a few things exceptionally well versus executing numerous half-baked strategies.

Let’s take social media, for example. Pick a couple of channels (versus six) where your target is spending time – ideally channels where your competition isn’t dominant – and execute in those two channels better than any of your competitors.

You are much more likely to generate a return with a rifle versus shotgun approach.

Whether you’re a small business or an established firm, maintain a startup mindset when it comes to marketing – innovate, take risks, fail quickly, test and adapt. The rewards will follow.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and managing partner of RedRover Sales & Marketing,, with offices in Memphis and Nashville. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (