How to market a scale-up? 10 lessons in high-speed marketing

Working with Scale-ups is a milestone for many CMO:s. tick-in-the-box for a complete CMO curriculum. However rewarding it may be – it is also demanding – both from a professional and personal point of view. Below we have listed 10 short lessons from our own experience as scale-up marketers.

Rikard Hegelund Avatar

CMO & Founder


1 min read

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Here is what you will learn:

Scale up lesson 1: Forget the marketing plan Scale up lesson 2: Forget the marketing budget Scale up lesson 3: Engage the entire company Scale up lesson 4: Brainstorm a lot of ideas/Ideate often and Scale-up lesson 5: Experiment – and build on whatever works Scale-up lesson 6: DIY Scale-up lession 7: Prioritize speed before quality Scale-up lesson 8: Establish efficient collaboration forms – hire selectively Scale-up lesson 10: Don’t give up!

Many successful marketers will act as the CMO of a growth company sometime throughout their career as the phase makes the marketing function fundamental to the overall success of the venture. To market growth companies is one of the most rewarding achievements to add to your curriculum. But how do you get from point A (Start-up) to point B (Enterprise)? Below we gathered a few helpful lessons from our own and our clients’ journeys. 

Before digging into the actual lessons we will start off by concluding something less encouraging – most scale-ups fail. And that is normally not due to poor marketing performance. More often the root cause of a growth failure is related to an unsustainable offering, aggressive competition, bad management, bad timing, lack of timing, and short-term, unreasonable objectives associated with some investment companies. Something to remember throughout the everyday struggle. 

Scale up lesson 1: Forget the marketing plan 

In our profession the marketing plan has become something of a bible and one of the first things you will be requested to deliver from your CEO as your CMO-journey starts. If you are joining a growth company, long term planning that is often associated with marketing plans is of lesser relevance. You will do things that change the plan constantly and work at such a high tempo that documentation and planning will have to be down-prioritized. Work with a daily marketing stand-up and monthly goal-setting and planning instead. Change the planning horizon as the longer term becomes possible to plan. 

Scale up lesson 2: Forget the marketing budget

In a Scale-up, keeping track of how much a customer costs and generates is absolutely fundamental, as is a healthy relationship in-between these metrics. In the beginning of the growth path it is not unusual that this relationship is unsustainable since the job of marketing is to experiment between messages, target groups and channels. However – as the journey goes on and the marketing department learns how to achieve sustainable growth, the company wants to grow – hence spend more. A typical annual budget will often become more of a blocker to achieving more growth (the overall goal of the company). Make a rudimentary marketing budget for the next quarter and revise each month based on the outcome and the metrics. 

Scale up lesson 3: Engage the entire company

Someone smart once claimed that marketing is more of a process and less of a profession. This is especially true in a Scale up where you as CMO are dependent on all employees to help promote the company and its offering. Your job is to facilitate their engagement. This can be done through all employees sharing news and marketing material in social media (and through other channels). In order to achieve this the company needs a growth mindset (i.e. culture, which ultimately is the responsibility of the CEO but where you as CMO can play an important role also). 

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Scale up lesson 4: Brainstorm a lot of ideas/Ideate often and 

One person can never be responsible for crafting all the ideas and concepts that are required to market a growth company. Help is needed from your colleagues (or external parties). Ask them to think about what could constitute a good message – and for whom.It is also good to brainstorm around the actual offering, what would happen with our growth if we added X and Y etc. As you probably have figured out, the workshop is a tool of essence in order to generate ideas collectively. As the CMO it is your job to conceptualize and prioritize the gross list of what is being generated. 

Scale-up lesson 5: Experiment – and build on whatever works

Prototyping is the modus operandi of any Scale up. The prerequisite is that you don’t know what will and won’t work, which is why you are less keen to spend exhaustively on finding out. In order to determine what works you define a test budget and simplify all ideas (from lesson 4) in to its very core in terms of message, vehicle and target group. A major campaign can become a SOME-post, an off-line campaign can start as an email to potential customers. Everything that generates significant positive results is worth scaling and investing more in – the rest not so much. The size of a test budget needs to relate to the overall available funds (hence, it differs between stages and industries). By working in theis way you minimize expenses before you are more certain about the result and can build bigger concepts. 

Scale-up lesson 6: DIY

As marketers we need to be creative as well as analytical, technical as well as entrepreneurial – as well as 100% sales oriented. It is easy to understand that most people lack some of these desirable competencies – simply because it is hard to be a true jack of all trades. In order to function in a scale-up environment, however, you need to have some knowledge in a range of expert fields in order to move fast and get the job done with required pace. This includes hands-on knowledge of digital marketing strategies as well as alghoritmic knowledge of channels and platforms (and the associated prerequisites for spreading messages), basic front-end development skills as well as knowledge of data-science and statistics, conceptualisation, design thinking and hands-on sales. Mastering the environment that surrounds you will make you a better idea engineer since you have better knowledge of what will work so it is well worth investing time in. 

Scale-up lession 7: Prioritize speed before quality

Many of us are perfectionists and strive to always deliver top-notch quality in our field of work. As CMO in a scale-up this is something you will need to unlearn. You wont have neither time nor money to make things perfect anyway, which is why you (and your CEO) will have to live with glitches and hick-ups along the way. Some comfort can be found in the simple fact that what works with less time invested and lower output quality will most likely work even better when done properly in the next iteration. 

Scale-up lesson 8: Establish efficient collaboration forms – hire selectively 

A basic error that many scale-up CMO:s conduct is to build big in-house teams of what is perceived to be wanted competence early on. This is almost always based on a combination of expectations, wishful thinking and experience from the past. It almost always proves to be completely wrong. Hire as selectively as possible instead and build multiple forms of collaboration with external parties such as freelancers, agencies and services like Klingit that hosts expertise competencies that you wont need full-time for a long time. Define an inner core of competence that is strategic and needed full-time and hire only within this circle. Continuously expand the circle as well as the outer layers as the company grows. This will also help keep your metrics (lesson 2) flexible since more employees equals higher CAC. 

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Scale-up lesson 9: Measure only what is relevant

During the last couple of years there has been a lot of talk about collecting massive amounts of data. In many cases this has led to focusing resources on measuring parts of a process that turned out to be wrong – alternatively evolves quickly and makes measurement obsolete before it can be extracted. Start with asking yourself what constitutes a minimum of data that can serve as a basis for decision making and start to measure only that. Estimations and intuition is also a good friend in the beginning. Expand your data outtake and measurement ambitions as the customer stock grows and the processes become more mature.  

Scale-up lesson 10: Don’t give up! 

Initially we stated that being the CMO of a scale-up is one of the most exciting jobs to have in the industry. It is also the most challenging. During the journey you will experience a lot of set backs and days where the general feeling is that nothing works. Remember that this is something that everyone who has ever been in your position has also experienced and that the winners are often those who refuse to give up.

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