Digital Marketer Whitney Meers gives her advice for young entrepreneurs and the future of marketing
Can one product please everyone? How do I sell my product to others? Who do I market to? These are just a handful questions which all companies would have asked at some point of their journey but with the marketing industry shifting and jumping around, where will the future of this industry lead to?
Technology has significantly influenced the process of marketing. In today's society, you would rarely see people going from door to door, city by city, to sell their product or service. Strategies to market such as the use of social media would have been non-existent if you turn back time. So what is the future of marketing and how does this affect startups and entrepreneurs?
We welcome Whitney Meers to CoverShr. A Digital Marketer and Project Manager, Whitney has years of experience within the marketing industry, using new technologies and tools to allow companies to understand digital marketing strategies. Whitney also has great experience within writing and producing works for companies such as Comedy Central and Samsung.
1 | Describe what you do on a daily basis as a digital marketer.
The digital marketer’s role is always in flux, especially as new tools and products emerge on a frequent basis. A given day may include strategizing around a new digital marketing campaign, weighing in on brand voice, managing my company’s AdWords account, reviewing analytics for the website, blog, email, and social channels, doing keyword research for blog or white paper content, discussing new concepts with sponsors and partners, and meeting with stakeholders to discuss any insights we’ve gained. At my last job, I was also fully responsible for content execution as well, so I would often spend my time in between developing the creative and content for the company’s website, blog, email, and social channels. Larger companies typically have dedicated teams to manage these aspects, but at a startup or small company you sometimes have no choice but to do it all yourself!
2 | You write a lot of stories about entrepreneurship and start-ups. What made you interested in the idea of entrepreneurship and how did this lead you to where you are now?
I’ve worked for four software development agencies. I’d sometimes find myself in meetings with fresh-faced, inexperienced entrepreneurs who would come to us asking us to build the next Facebook, or Uber for pets, or Eventbrite competitor, and so on. I’d see right away that there was no clear business model, and that these founders were in severe danger of losing all their cash because they didn’t have a lot of insight into their market, their competition, and so on. Many would be building startups based solely on the fact that a few of their friends told them their ideas were good one. News flash: Your friends are not a good barometer of your startup’s actual potential! Run your ideas by people who can be fully objective, and who have significant business expertise.
The last company I worked for built its entire brand on helping founders build their startups. Before I went to work with them, I’d already had some product experience and a lot of marketing experience. I took the job so I could learn the fundamentals of growing a business. The biggest thing I took away from that job is that it all comes down to sales… if you have that, then you’re on a good path. And that’s what inspired me to build my own business, which I’m hoping to launch in the coming months.
3 | Your passion to make people laugh through your humour and comedy is a great asset to possess. What influenced you to combine your comedy into your writing?
I’ve always loved making people laugh. But as for combining my interest in tech with my comedy background, that’s a relatively recent endeavor. A few months ago I got an email from a list serve. Someone was reaching out to developers and asking them to work on his startup idea for equity, which basically means for free. If startup fail rate data is accurate, it means there’s a 90% chance that equity will be worth zero. Nothing irks me like a successful person asking strangers for free work! It’s not enough to be an idea person and ask a stranger to do all the work without giving them any money for their efforts.
So, I wrote a satire piece about it. And people agreed with me! And so I wrote more pieces about things that irritated me. And people seem to like those, too!
For me, comedy, and satire specifically, is a great way to say “Look at how messed up this is!” without actually calling anyone out or seeming like too much of a jerk. Although, this piece definitely calls out a specific company.
4 | What do you think, in your opinion, defines a successful start-up? Is there a one-size-fits-all definition?
This is a really hard one because so many startups that have appeared successful on the outside are really dysfunctional on the inside. Uber, Theranos, Juicero, and companies like Groupon and Living Social in their glory days… the list goes on and on. There are probably plenty of others that will be making headlines in the coming months.
But, if you ask any investor what makes a fundable startup, they will absolutely tell you that it’s the founders. Is the CEO someone who can inspire team members on the company’s worst day? Is that person willing to work 80+ hours a week when sales are tanking and the company is desperate for revenue? Is the leader someone who absolutely refuses to take no for an answer? Elon Musk seems to be a prime example of this.
I would say that a startup has achieved true success when it’s sustainable. This might mean different things for different companies… are you fine having a profitable 70-person business, or is your vision to become the next Google?
People love to celebrate funding rounds, but funding rounds aren’t milestones. You got $40 million? Good for you… now show me what you can do with it. Cash injections can help startups grow more rapidly, but that growth has to be sustainable, too.
I suppose that once a startup is a truly sustainable, it’s no longer technically a startup anymore!
5 | There seems to be a growing technology boom at the moment, with a variety of new technology companies starting up. Do you think this is bad and how does one distinguish their start-up from others?
I certainly believe competition breeds innovation. But founders and investors need to be smart about their approaches. Investors bet on dozens, if not hundreds, of companies with the hope that one of them takes off and offsets the investments in all the others.
As a startup founder, it should never feel easy to get money. Otherwise, you can deduce that these investors are investing in a ton of needless ideas, and there’s a good chance yours is one of them. I often think about the human toll of this…. Startup founders who work crazy hours and ultimately deal with the harrowing pain and defeat of failure when the truth is that they never really had a chance in the first place.
I don’t think I’m biased in saying that startups can differentiate themselves from the competition by thinking about brand and marketing from the very inception. Everyone loves Casper, but quite frankly, Casper is just another mattress company that has branded and packaged itself in a really compelling way. (That’s not a knock against Casper… I have a Casper mattress and I love it.)
This is what moves me to want to launch my own business. Startups, small businesses, and even massive corporations can tell much better stories than they currently do. The reason I’ve chosen to focus on the “creative” content aspect is to try to say it’s not just about running pretty display ads or writing as many blog posts as you can. It’s about, for example, KFC commissioning a painting for the person who figured out its Twitter account only follows 11 Herbs and spices. It’s about being really clever in how you’re reaching people and selling to them. And of course, humor is an excellent way to do this. As a startup, you’re in a prime position to take creative risks with your marketing.
6 | What is some advice you would give for students wishing to go into business strategy and marketing?
If you think you will someday want to build your own a business, study sales and marketing. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you should get a business degree, but try to intern and shadow people who know their craft inside and out. Ask all kinds of questions. Try to take some calls and meetings on your own. Be persistent.
Digital marketing, especially when working with startups, can be a rocky road. Small companies don’t always have huge budgets, or you can find yourself dealing with founders who don’t understand why they have to put money into marketing in order to get customers’ attention. That’s not to say there aren’t a million wonderful grassroots strategies, too, but they’ll often take more time to pull off, so there’s has to be a balance.
Some general life advice that’s really helped me is to follow your own dream and don’t let anything — or anyone —hold you back. If you want to build the biggest business in the world, you have to believe you can do it. You will hear a million reasons why you can’t. You might even be telling yourself some of them right now… “I’m too young. I’m too old. I’m not as smart as everyone else. I don’t have any money.” Learn to become resourceful and you can absolutely build a pathway to achieving your dreams. You’re going to fail a bunch in life no matter what… so why not make sure you’re failing on your own terms?
One more thing: Don’t try to take shortcuts. That’s the easiest way to get roped into shady black hat tactics that may even work for a while, until someone catches you and you’re screwed. You know that old adage that it takes ten years to become an overnight success? That’s true in marketing and business as well.
7 | Where do you see the future of marketing in ten years time, with new social medias on the rise and advances in technology?
There’s a lot of excitement in the uncertainty of it all, but certain things make me anxious as well. With the development of newer technologies like AR and VR and advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, there will be ways to reach people that we can’t even dream of right now. I’m excited to witness the innovation and creativity that leads to compelling and thought-provoking content across all types of channels.
But there are dangers, too. Imagine a world where predictive analytics can tell companies when you’re in a state where you’re most likely to buy things you don’t need or can’t afford… maybe you’re depressed, bored, or intoxicated. Their scientists have done the research and can deploy an AI-powered bot at a specific time that can talk you into buying things you don’t even want. Maybe the company even used data to create the environment that made you bored or depressed in the first place (we already know Facebook can do this).
You have zero idea you were fully manipulated into this purchase… and that’s horrible. If we don’t have guardrails in place, you’re going to see some marketers and researchers who will capitalize on approaches like this for personal gain.
So, I guess one last thing to add is that I would encourage marketers and startup entrepreneurs to use their superpowers for good. It’s rarely one person that changes the world… it’s the individual, everyday contributions of many. If we all work together, we can create fun, compelling marketing strategies and businesses that delight people instead of manipulating them.
Connect with Whitney Meers | Whitney Meers Website
Articles on Medium by Whitney Meers | Medium Whitney Meers