The One Question To Ask Your First Marketing Hire

If you’re a startup founder who’s looking for someone to build your team, what do you look for in your first marketing hire? It’s a tough question.

Before you start holding interviews for your first marketing hire, ask yourself this: what is the purpose marketing in the first place?

There are two traps you can fall into if you don’t know the answer. One is that you have a limited view of marketing, and you hire someone who can deliver on a few tactics but fails to drive real impact.

The other trap is expecting too much: thinking a world-class marketing hire will be a panacea for all your growth challenges.

First, Recognize These 8 Misconceptions About Marketing

How do you avoid those pitfalls? Instead of defining marketing head on (which I’ll do at the end of this post), it’s more helpful to start by identifying the most common misconceptions about startup marketing. Below are the eight that I’ve heard most often:

Misconception #1: Marketing Is Growth Hacking

Andrew Chen of Uber once claimed that “growth hacker is the new VP Marketing.” Can you argue with him? Uber hasn’t exactly grown slowly. But Uber is a great example of how marketing failed to add value to other areas of the company. Uber could have avoided much of its bad PR had it done a better job of building a values-based brand and reinforcing that internally.

Misconception #2: Marketers Can Split Test Their Way To Success

We have myriad tools to test and measure campaigns, so marketing should be a lot easier, right? Not really. Split testing is great for helping you improve a message you crafted after having real conversations with the people you’re trying to serve. But unless you have an infinite amount of time, no amount of split testing will help you understand your audience.

Misconception #3: Advertising Is Marketing’s Main Purpose

Advertising is like a turbocharger, but too often people mistake it for the car itself. That’s why relying solely on advertising to generate sales is a tough path. Furthermore, a belief that marketing is all about advertising is often coupled with the next misconception.

Misconception #4: Success Is Guaranteed With A Big Enough Ad Budget

Adding more money won’t drive sales if an ad campaign isn’t positioned the right way, or is delivered to the wrong people. Marketers are most successful when they use feedback from customers to build a clear message that resonates with them. That takes thought. Yet often, money is seen as a substitute for thoughtfulness, and campaigns fail.

Misconception #5: Marketing Is Only Good For Making Pretty Logos

A good visual identity is important, but sales don’t come directly from having a nice logo. Instead, sales teams are more successful when they a clear idea of whom they should sell to and a clear message about what their company can deliver. Good marketers deliver that. Bad ones spend time only on “arts and crafts” and keep this misconception alive.

Misconception #6: Marketing Should Deliver Leads — And That’s It

Leads, sales, bookings — marketing should help increase whatever KPI drives revenue for your company, no question. But lead generation is just one slice of the customer journey. Leaving the rest up to chance is a recipe for an inconsistent buying experience and a drop in customer satisfaction.

Misconception #7: Marketing Is Only Needed After Product Development Is Complete

What’s more important: being great at promoting something, or being great at knowing what people need? Understanding what problems your audience faces is the best thing you can do to ensure a product’s success. Finding out how they describe those problems is just as valuable. Good marketers know that the sooner you can learn from customers to inform product development and positioning, the better.

Misconception #8: Only Marketers Should Market

Just because “marketing” isn’t in your title doesn’t mean you can’t act like a marketer. Anyone can be one. All you need to do is talk to people, listen to problems they’re facing and communicate the solutions you develop in a way that resonates with them. While marketers might make this the focus of their jobs, everyone can benefit by thinking that way.

So What Is Marketing, Anyway?

Now that you know how a few things that aren’t true about marketing, where do you go from there? The simplest definition I can give you has five components. Marketing involves:

  1. Building a strong foundation for your brand, including its market position, its messaging and its visual identity.
  2. Creating relationships with potential customers, influencers, and partners so that your brand is talked about.
  3. Identifying and implementing the right growth tactics.
  4. Continually talking to customers, communicating that feedback to your team, and incorporating what you learn in your messaging.
  5. Influencing your team internally to make sure that your company’s actions are consistent with its brand.

The One Question To Ask Every Marketing Hire

When you’re interviewing that first potential marketing hire, ask him or her the same question I asked you at the beginning of this post: “What do you think the purpose of marketing is?

If you get an answer that sounds like one of the misconceptions above, that’s probably a sign that the person you’re interviewing won’t be a great marketing lead. He or she might be great for a specific aspect of marketing, but don’t expect them to develop your strategy or lead your team.

However, if you get an answer that’s at all similar to the four points above, you’re on the right track.

What other questions have you found helpful to ask when making your first marketing hire? Let me know in the comments.

This post was originally published in Forbes.

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