Marketing a Sleeping Bear


You create something you think will make life easier for everyone. You've tested it in a beta market with success. You make your tweaks to the system and keep growing. You've garnered local press and people see your vision. They agree; you've created something special.

Now what?

This is the problem many startups face...

How do I get my platform out to the masses?

Being the eternal optimist is not enough. "If you build it, they will come" is the stuff of movies. You look for professional help and sit in an endless number of meetings with "marketing specialists" who have a clear idea of the successful road map. "If you spend 5x or 10x the message will be heard." You come out of the meeting thinking, "I could've told us that." Then you sit in an investor meeting and you hear, "Yeah, there is no way in hell we're gonna do the shotgun method, you guys gotta come up with a better way."

While not terminology you will learn at Wharton, here are the concepts we have heard:

  1. The steamroller - spend as much money as possible to get the word out and keep at it until you get market penetration.

  • The Laser - target only those you know are your target audience and hit them with laser focus.
  • Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon - do those things that others aren't willing to do to create awareness; think guerilla tactics.
  • The rolling snowball - start small and build gradually in each marketplace and it will grow like a snowball rolling down a hill.
  • The flash in the pan - create a massive splash at a noteworthy event (Super Bowl) and wait. e.g. Go Daddy.
  • Herein lies the Shakespearean rub: investors want to spend as little money as humanly possible for the biggest payoff. They're smart, very smart. They risk a ton of money and hit on one of maybe seventeen investments. That hit better be huge. Marketers, for their part, want you to spend as much money as humanely possible to ensure the campaign is a success. After infinite meetings with these types, I am more convinced than ever it is because they truly do not know what makes the fickle public spark to one thing over the other. They pull out statistics, oh, how they have statistics: demographic, Scarborough, Nielsen, Jumanji, you name it; they pretend to know precisely who you need to market to, where they are, what TV shows they watch, what radio programs they listen to, and how they can be reached on their handheld devices. "It's a precise science."

    Bull donkey.

    Why does a Clydesdales horse commercial during the Super Bowl help sell more beer? Why does a kid in a Darth Vader costume sell more Volkswagens?

    I simply do not know. No one knows.

    In my limited life experience what I believe works starts with what you are trying to sell or get people to use. Obviously, that is the seminal question. After that it is your target audience. Who are they and what are their habits? After that is your team. You need people who are thinking about this all day every day; not people who are collecting a check. Once you have these forward thinkers, I believe it simply comes down to breadth. There is no silver bullet for success; it requires trying all forms of media and seeing where you get the best traction. Vital toward these ends is metrics. You MUST obtain accurate metrics of what is working and what is not over a period of time. I can't tell you how many times I have heard we need a three - six month period to get accurate data.


    You should be able to see something in a month's time. And you know what? Sometimes you will fail and spend a ton of money on something that didn't work. It happens, it happens all the time, across all industries. Do not be deterred, have resiliency and the fortitude to keep at it because you will learn far more from your failures than you ever will from your successes.

    The Golden List as I see it:

    1. Audience
    2. Team
    3. Breadth
    4. Metrics
    5. Failure
    6. Resiliency

    Now go poke the bear.

    This post originally appeared on The Whole Magilla and was written by Chris Meyer, co-founder of

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