This write-up was adapted from my conversation with David Hensley, Executive Director of John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at The University of Iowa.
Marketers in entrepreneurial companies have exciting opportunities to tell diverse persuasive stories to diverse audiences in diverse ways—and to be involved in more than a marketer in an established company might.
A growing number of people are interested in starting their own company. They want to be in charge. David Hensley, executive director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center sees students from all over the University of Iowa coming to the center with the same goal—take control and make something great. The opportunities for those students are increasing as well. Successful ventures lead to more money, which leads to more ventures and opportunities. While Iowa is not currently recognized as an entrepreneurial hotspot (e.g. silicon valley), it is attracting more dollars to enable determined people with a plan—a plan that includes a unique idea, a sizeable market and a sustainable competitive advantage.
How is this relevant to marketing?
Marketing is about finding your customers and articulating your value proposition. In entrepreneurial settings, this takes a variety of forms. All entrepreneurial companies looking to obtain funding have an audience (investors, banks, etc.), and they need to clearly and persuasively articulate their value proposition to those investors. In this case, however, you are not selling a product, you’re selling a financial return. How do you telling a compelling story to make that happen?
When funding is secured, entrepreneurs can turn to another audience: their customers. Just like regular marketers, entrepreneurial marketers must be able to articulate how their business meets a need or solves a problem persuasively; the trick is that they must do it with typically tiny budgets and in sometimes completely innovative ways.
With miniscule budgets and notable pressure to succeed, entrepreneurs have little room for poor decisions on where and how to market their company. If an advertisement is ineffective, it’s much harder to swallow because the relative size of the loss is much larger. This is one pertinent example of why it’s important for entrepreneurial marketers to be able to do more than marketing. Understanding finances and being able to budget, in particular, is a critical skill.
Many entrepreneurial companies are trying to get an idea off the ground that hasn’t been done before. Considering this, marketers have a unique challenge to market in ways that haven’t been done before. The classic example of the iPod fits this point: nobody had ever seen an iPod before, so Apple had to find a way to market the product as effectively as possible. Marketers couldn’t rely on precedent for similar products because their product was not like other products. Entrepreneurial companies are usually not like established companies. For this reason, entrepreneurial marketers must get creative.
Entrepreneurial marketers must be able to adapt to their unique audiences with unique stories in unique situations. This can be an exciting opportunity, but it is complicated by the fact that most entrepreneurial marketers are pressed to simply drive more sales. Balancing that pressure and looking at marketing strategically—combining theory and practice—is what, according to Hensley, constitutes a marketing genius.