Marketing is Dead, Long Live Marketing!

by Imran Johri,
Head of Marketing and PR

DATE: 2019-06-24

Startup marketing for entrepreneurs – tested, obliterated, then resurrected, for optimum performance.


One of the most jarring comments I’ve received since joining Reapra has been, “Yeah, we don’t need your kind of marketing.”

Let’s get this straight, to a marketer, this is the quintessential dragon-punch to the nether regions. Where, in one fell swoop, the startup entrepreneur in question disregards two decades of prolific multi-disciplinary creative experience with a callous backhand dismissal. It hurt, in all the right places.

The comment however, was not in any way malicious or unsurprising. Coming from eight years of corporate marketing for MNCs, where marketing could make or break the success of a product or service, my brand of marketing in essence, was the all-in, go-big-or-go-home approach. This was my modus operandi for any brand in a multinational, especially given the short timeframe, the big budget approach with definitive ROI and the milestone tracking. It is operationally efficient, brutally tactical and had to be managed with a seek-and-destroy attitude.

So on the offset, in my mind, it made perfect sense to apply the same principles to startups. Big, small — it didn’t matter, it was time to be on the offensive against the market. How wrong I was.


Take Your Marketing & Shove It Somewhere Else

It’s not that I’m supremely confident that my marketing approach is a magic pill to solve all business woes (hubris alert!), but the brand of marketing I advocated for, had been honed to a point where the methodology had effectively delivered regional brand and market penetration in over nine countries. To which it was then adapted for a wider, global execution.

But all that, meant Jack, to the startup entrepreneur.

Arguably, it made sense though. Why would a business owner, at the very start of a commercial endeavour, start looking at a deep marketing investment when product development, sales platforms, ops bandwidth and slew of other nuances have yet to be established. Marketing is usually the last of items in a list that’s geared to deliver cashflow positivity as soon as possible.

So yeah — I’ll talk to you later marketing team.


Ignore The Spectrum At Your Own Peril

At first, despite suffering a crushed marketing ego, the functional dismissal was taken in stride. After all, Reapra was a venture capital group, with multiple portfolio companies that required different levels of marketing support — for vastly different subsidiaries and brands with diverse product and service offerings.

So from the get go it seemed, the marketing support team was dead in the water — until we were activated that is. And it was usually when the business really needed some dire packaging. By this, I mean some shockingly bad aesthetics and copywriting, for brands that want to reach out to a demographic that required an undeniable level of branding sophistication. Zero packaging, with nary a conceptual narrative in sight.

So clearly, something was missing here. It cannot be that a functional support unit is parachuted in only at the last minute. It had to be preemptive, not reactive. Unlike the sloth-like movement of an oversized behemoth the likes of multi-nationals, these are brands that are just starting out — EVERYTHING can and must be preemptive, because clearly, agility is still a luxury that could be afforded.

Hence a marketing spectrum for critical support must exist, one that ranges between simple copy editing and logo conceptualisation; and extends all the way to nailing mission, vision and creating a purpose built-business with the right tone of voice.

And Reapra marketing was at the cusp of finding and defining that spectrum — for operational application.


Test, Obliterate, Resurrect — REPEAT

Research and practice, that by definition, is what Reapra is all about. I hadn’t joined a venture capital group. It was a venture builder, and my role within the marketing support space was not only unprecedented, but uncharted within the startup paradigm.

Hence my assumptions, with regards to marketing application based on my collective experience, weren’t completely wrong. They just had to be adapted. (read more about the Reapra way — here)

So from an operational perspective, the marketing team had to first test our assumptions. When the next brand came forward for support, we dismantled all the various components of the marketing approach, and tested to see which showed the best results. From digital penetration tactics to target positioning, nothing was a sacred cow that could not be slaughtered for the greater marketing good.

Whichever marketing or branding application that failed to deliver was immediately obliterated to make space for different or alternative experiments. To which benchmarking became an important component of the support work.

And lo and behold — a spectrum for delivery became clear (for now at least, so it seems), and marketing was alive again.

Can I speak to you now, marketing team?


The Rise of the Production Cycle

One of the key elements in the effective execution of this marketing support model, is the production cycle. It is also the key difference between an operational marketing team, and a bunch of mindless marketing administrators.

Our current Reapra delivery model requires all marketing team members to be able to execute one or a combination of the following components of marketing: Commercial writing, conceptual design and systemic distribution. If a so-called marketing team did not have the bandwidth or necessary skillsets to actually execute any of these elements themselves -without engaging a vendor — STOP calling yourself marketers.


Question Your Marketing Purpose

As far as the marketing team is concerned — marketing in itself must evolve to suit its intended purpose. There are no off-the-shelf solutions per se. Every business is different and every marketer needs to find the right set of tactics, guided by an overarching strategy, to execute for operation and business effectiveness. This can be ascertained by pinpointing where on the support spectrum the business lies.

Just as a recycling business would be sending a confusing message by handing out thousands of physical flyers advertising its service; a well-integrated digital ecosystem for customer engagement on social platforms, would do absolute wonders for a service offering with an existing database. That’s contextual marketing done right.

So if you’re a marketer, ask yourself what’s your value proposition — and exactly where are you, on that support spectrum, that makes you an effective marketing person.



The Author
Imran has spent the last 20 years honing his skill sets across multiple industries; including TV production, publishing, recruitment and digital marketing. He has helmed numerous international publications as the editor of The Peak and Men’s Health, and also cut his teeth as a scriptwriter and producer for prime time television. For the past eight years, his focus has been on marketing and branding. To which he has been awarded accolades in the recruitment and talent acquisition landscape for his work on Spring Professional, the fastest growing recruitment brand in Asia, spearheading aggressive expansion in 16 countries in 3 years.