Set up your marketing function for success with Fuel & Engine

Today, we're throwing it back to when Emily Kramer (Cofounder MKT-1) and Ketan Pandit (Head of Marketing, Zuddl) sat down for a fireside chat to discuss the fuel and engine concept and how to pair them right to get the perfect marketing function. 

We've handpicked the highlights of their session in this article; you're welcome!

The growing complexity of marketing

Marketing, especially tech marketing, has grown complex over the years. A number of market-focused tactics have changed. Technology platforms have grown to be a great better, in that they can tell you, with a great deal of accuracy, which ad platforms work better for you. Even a number of marketing roles and titles have widened or altered beyond recognition.

And yet, lots of things about marketing have remained consistent. The foundation of marketing has not, and cannot, change. While marketing is increasingly finding a seat at the revenue table, its primary purpose and mission hasn’t changed. 

With that context, it becomes both interesting and challenging for marketers to build stronger teams that, in turn, can shape the marketing function.

Fuel and Engine in marketing

If you take away all the jargon from marketing and strip it down to its most essential form, you will find the fuel and engine concept in marketing expresses everything that marketing is and needs.

The fuel is the ‘what’ part of marketing. All the content you have developed, all the messages you have crafted, all the creatives your teams churn out… everything that goes out to your audience is the fuel.

The engine is the ‘how’ part of the marketing. All the channels that you use, all the distribution vehicles you deploy to get the message across, all the platforms you leverage, … all of these are a part of your marketing engine.

In brief, fuel is the all the assets you create while engine is your distribution arm.

The most common marketing problems to overcome

No marketing teams are perfect, no matter how large and resource-rich the organization or how experienced the team members. The three most common patterns or problems that marketing teams face are:

1. All fuel and no engine

This is where you have made a whole bunch of content, you have perfected the words after having spent a lot of time. But unfortunately, that content isn’t getting to anyone because you’re not focused on distribution.

The key problem: You have the ‘what’ but are missing on the ‘how’.

2. All engine and no fuel

The website is ready for conversion flows and everything is optimized but the messaging is almost entirely absent. No matter what stage your website visitor is at, you hit them with the same message. You ignore other things and only put the request-demo message in the loop.

The key problem: You have the ‘how’ ready but the ‘what’ isn’t in place.

3. Wrong engine, wrong fuel

You have a great engine, but unfortunately it’s meant for a different business model, not yours. The messaging is neat and all ready, you’re sending it through the wrong engine.

The key problem: There’s a clear mismatch between your fuel and your engine.

What marketing needs to focus on

Sales is focused on crushing revenue goals month after month, quarter after quarter. But what does marketing do?

Sure, marketing needs to be supporting the sales function in achieving the short-term revenue goals. But in addition to that, marketing should be able to build for long-term growth. And that’s done in a variety of ways. 

It could be through the following five actions:

  1. Building the brand: Your customers know and trust you, and recall your brand so well that they will continue buying even if you’ve dropped your paid promotion budget.
  2. Creating customer evangelist: It could be through UGC (User Generated Content) or finding and highlighting customers who are keen to share their positive experience with your brand.
  3. Going beyond numbers: Your marketing teams should have at least a few goals that are not number-based. Instead, make sure they’re building the fuel for the future.
  4. Always be experimenting: If you aren’t constantly running experiments on your homepage all the time, you’re wasting the traffic. Your marketing teams need the experiments and their learnings to keep improving their strategy. 
  5. Studying all kinds of results: Some of your experiments won’t have great results, but you can learn from them all the same. Learn even from the traffic that doesn’t convert.

The definitive solution: Building your marketing team

It is evident that what worked for some other company won’t work for yours. That’s because all organizations are different. So one thing to do is to build a framework that will work for you.

More importantly, build the right team and you can prevent or overcome all sorts of marketing challenges. So how do you build a marketing team?

The conventional approach - the T-shaped person

Traditionally, people would suggest you hire a T-shaped person.

A T-shaped person is someone who is great in one area and has general knowledge across all the rest of the areas. Startups often do this - they get someone that’s really deep in one area, but doesn’t have much breadth. 

A better approach - hire the π-shaped person 

Times are changing, and you want your hiring strategy to change accordingly. 

A π shaped person is someone who is an expert in one area, and pretty competent in another area. And he has a good general knowledge across all the rest of the areas. Think of a product marketer who also can write well. Basically, you should be looking for a person with skill overlaps.

What about hiring contractors and freelancers?

Sometimes it’s easier to hire for your own teams, and at other times it makes more sense to have a contractor or an agency.

But how do you make a choice between hiring a full-timer and hiring an agency?

Sure, you can outsource a number of people or agencies for lots of tasks. But even after you’ve signed up with the best agency, how do you make sure they deliver the right quality?

An important thing to remember is that contractors and freelancers, no matter how good, will only be as good as you can manage them and guide them. They aren’t going to be great if they’re not given guidance and context for the company. 

So this is the crux: Activities that require deep expertise are best left to contractors if you’re not going to need that on a regular basis. Contractors have been working on the same thing over and over again, for a long, long time. Also, for work that’s done in spikes, i.e. at irregular intervals should be outsourced.

And with the remote working model widely accepted, it’s easier for people to work from where they want. That brings in a lot of different kinds of people you probably wouldn’t have been able to hire earlier.

As for your own teams, be really clear on goals upfront. When you’re building a startup, you want people to know what they’re working toward. 

Psst... More of a listener than a reader? Listen to Emily and Ketan's conversation here.

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