It’s planning season, whether your year-end is based on the calendar or offset for a Feb 1 start like many startups. Budget-wise, we’re seeing some caution or minor trimming, but general confidence about 2023. The difference is mainly predicated on the need to raise funds in H1, in which case budgets are under more scrutiny. The others are counting on next year to ramp to a strong round in H2 or early 2024. Given the sky isn’t falling, bets need to be placed on the marketing programs that are going to deliver. Here’s what we’re seeing:
Let’s start with an easy one, few startups are getting spun up about the metaverse or generative AI technologies having a major impact on their business, their GTM, or marketing programs. Mild interest at best. Are they overlooking something? Given we were doing metaverse marketing in 2006 in Second Life, it’s unlikely to disrupt plans next year. And AI copywriters might provide a path to economies in content creation at the lowest level, but not much higher. Strategically at present, it’s a non-factor.
ABM for startups
Once the preserve of enterprises, Account Based Marketing practices, technologies, and ad networks are now becoming more viable for startups. Traditionally ABM tech providers were focused on large and mid-market targets, but as that becomes more competitive, we’re seeing them package products for startups. At the same time, startups are getting their data and sales processes ready to adopt ABM earlier, so we’re seeing B-round and even A-round companies move in this direction.
Related, on the paid media front, assuming Twitter 2.0 continues its noisy decline, startups will look for an alternative network for that ad spend. Google and LinkedIn still rank first and second. Reddit has joined the ranks this year as it builds out its self-serve capabilities. We expect ABM providers to provide an on-ramp to their intent-based ad networks. It’s an opportunity for smaller paid media programs to direct some spend to test the ABM waters.
Just on Twitter, we aren’t seeing a wholesale abandonment, but it’s not viewed as an essential network in B2B, so if the conversion numbers decline as legitimate buyers depart, we expect budgets to be reallocated.
Content, more content
Companies are going to want more content. Not an earth-shattering prediction but a reality. Almost every startup struggles to meet demand from corporate marketing, demand gen, product marketing, and sales. As we often say, ‘everyone can write, but only a few people can write.’ Those with in-house content teams are swamped, and the freelancer who understands your business is at capacity. Buy-cycles are going to take longer due to the economic conditions; you’ll need more touch points, to address more objections to sale, and to reach more personas. It all adds up to more content. The bots won’t fill that gap.
Of course, content isn’t just copy – but it’s the engine room. Expect more AV content too – that podcast you always meant to do but paused since it’s more work than you’d think is going to come back again. You’ll need more explainer videos. To revamp the sales deck. To add new solutions and vertical sectors to the website. You get the picture – plan for it, budget for it, and find someone before your competitor nabs them.
Additionally, content created for SEO purposes remains critically important to maintain and improve your organic search presence. Google rolled out 8 major algorithm updates in 2022 and countless small updates. While crafting content with the goal of ranking for relevant keywords, the content must still be written in a way that is useful to people first, meaning don’t over optimize for search crawlers. The most recent core update that Google rolled out in September and the spam update on October 2022 have made it abundantly clear that content written for people by people will be given ranking priority over AI-generated text and outdated tactics like keyword stuffing or attaining backlinks from domains that are not relevant to your web content.
Attribution – what’s working?
When budgets tighten, attribution becomes more important. Knowing what works and what doesn’t – tracking actions all the way through the purchasing process. In most companies, this is complex and imperfect. If you are pushing the limits of your marketing CRM, get that project wrapped quickly because you’ll be looking at months of unknowns at a critical time. If you can keep what you have and make it work, it’s probably best to focus efforts on demand gen programs than overhauling marketing ops if you can. Get the systems dialed in during Q1 – then, if things ease, you’re well-placed to funnel the budget in the right direction.
Revamp the messaging
As market conditions change, buyer behavior changes to become more short-term. You need to be a top-three priority rather than a top-five. This means a refresh of the messaging or at least a pressure test. One way is to use paid media to float new messaging to each persona. Got a new strapline? Put it into your Search and Display ads for quick and cost-effective market research. Trying to reach a new audience? Upload your lists to Google and LinkedIn and try to reach them to see how they respond. You’ll learn a lot from these tests, and they can make all the difference. Then tell your SDRs to use the winning copy in their outreach.
Time spent on getting the messaging right can be frustrating in action-oriented startups. Ready, Fire, Aim! But it only takes a few weeks to test and revamp the messaging. It won’t be a wholesale repositioning, but the time spent in reconnaissance is unlikely to be wasted.
Safe bets for 2023
To sum up, we’re placing our bets that startups are going to focus more heavily on demand generation given the harder economic climate. Even if they don’t feel the headwinds themselves, fundraising is going to be tougher, so they’ll want to be driving revenue hard. That means having battle-tested messaging, ensuring attribution is accurate and aligning marketing as closely as possible with sales with an ABM motion. This will be fueled by compelling content in various forms, but it’s unlikely to be created by a bot. Buyers will see straight through that. Startups are unlikely to be distracted by peripheral emerging technologies and have few qualms about moving ad spend to new networks if they get the ROI/ROAS.
You might say that’s pretty obvious, so not much of a prediction. Well, if you’re placing bets with high stakes, go with the odds! Good luck out there – it’s going to be an exciting year!
Morgan McLintic is the founder of Firebrand. With over 25 years’ experience in the tech sector, he advises clients about their marketing and PR strategy. Prior to Firebrand, he was the founder of digital communications agency, LEWIS in the US, growing it to 250 staff and $35m revenue.