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How to hire a marketer for your tech startup

In the early days of a startup, marketing is rarely top of mind. Instead, the focus often lies in building and engineering your product, fixing bugs, speaking to customers, and, potentially, securing startup funding from investors. If you’re a product-driven team, whose expertise lies in the technical, building out a marketing function can be daunting.

But eventually, as you find your product footing and move from incubation to acceleration, it becomes time to hire a marketer. Making your first marketing hire at a startup can be the initial step to building awareness about your product, expanding your customer base, and zeroing in on your go-to-market strategy. In a tech landscape that’s crowded with thousands of apps and the latest tech solutions, the concept of “build it and they will come” is a fallacy. In reality, marketing is the differentiator that will make your product stand out.

Knowing who to hire begins with the complex question of what to hire for. From brand marketing to performance, marketing is a broad field with a multitude of sub-fields. Fortunately, by cultivating an understanding of the broader marketing function, and determining the best strategy for your company, you can expand your team with a marketing expert that puts your product on the map.

Understand why marketing is important for your tech startup

Before hiring your first marketer, it’s worth considering what introducing the marketing function can do for your business. Aside from freeing up your own time to focus on your area of expertise, hiring a marketer can mean scaling a successful marketing strategy or building one from scratch.

  • Position your products and services. Marketing often involves testing and iteration. This can yield valuable insights that help position and price your products, determine your target customer, and make better informed product decisions.
  • Attract new customers and drive sales revenue. Marketing builds awareness of your products and services that eventually drives sales and lands paying customers.
  • Build brand affinity and customer loyalty. Whether you’re sending out a marketing email, posting on LinkedIn, or engaging with customers in your community, marketing builds relationships with customers one touch-point at a time.

Identify the traits of an early startup marketing hire

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Marketing as a function exists across a wide breadth of companies and across a variety of stages—from a CMO commanding a multi-million dollar budget at a Fortune 500 to a Junior Copywriter crafting marketing brochures for a local lawn care business.

But the skills to succeed as a startup marketer are often quite specific, including a range of “soft skills” that are required in a dynamic, fast-moving environment.

  • Resourceful. As a startup, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a sizable marketing budget. Look for a marketing expert with experience working with a shoestring budget and making the most out of limited resources.
  • Innovative. You likely have various competitors within your niche; marketing is a way to stand out from the pack. Your first marketing hire should possess the ability to ideate and execute on unique concepts that live outside the box.
  • Curious. As a startup operating within a specific niche—whether that’s fintech, developer tools, or workplace apps—a marketing pro that understands your niche is vital. Whether you’re hiring a marketer who has experience in your area, or someone new to the space, hone in on a hire with a growth mindset that is willing to understand the ins and outs of your business and the customers you’re targeting.
  • Adaptable. While you should have a specific type of marketer in mind, it’s common for early marketing hires to work across functions—writing web copy one day and strategizing a demand generation funnel the next. Look for a T-shaped marketer with a core competency you need in one area, but a wide breadth of marketing skills.
  • Experimental. Often the first marketer at a startup is tasked with learning what marketing strategies work and will scale. Seek out a marketing expert willing to try new things and is comfortable with experimentation.

Understand the type of marketer you need

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When different types of marketing professionals do vastly different work, it’s not enough to simply say that you want to hire a marketer. There’s a difference between a marketer who sets up programmatic ad campaigns on Facebook and the one throwing in-person events for members of your community. Depending on your type of business and the stage of your company, a specific kind of marketer might be more suitable than another. Understand the different marketing functions and what might be the best for your business.

Growth marketer

Growth marketing (also, sometimes referred to as “growth hacking”) is the discipline of using data and experimentation—from A/B testing to personalization—to drive customer acquisition and revenue growth. Growth marketers are comfortable working with data sets, building and testing hypotheses, and monitoring key metrics.

Common titles for this role include Growth Marketing Manager, Growth Strategist, Growth Lead, Head of Growth, and Director of Growth.

Here are common roles and responsibilities of a growth marketer:

  • Set up digital marketing campaigns and develop assets to grow sign-ups
  • Conduct experiments on the website to drive increased traffic, sign-ups, and engagement
  • Partner cross-functionally with team members in engineering, data, and content to develop new growth experiments to increase conversion rate optimization
  • Measure and monitor growth performance tests and find opportunities for channel optimization
  • Search for and unlock new customer acquisition channels (e.g. partnerships, webinars, email) to drive business growth
  • Iterate on marketing and positioning to define and acquire our ideal customer

Product marketer

Product marketing involves bringing new products and features to market, conducting research through customer interviews and market analysis to ensure a product is well-received and properly positioned. Product marketers are savvy researchers and strategists, finding product answers through market research and customer conversation, gathering insights to develop successful release strategies.

Common titles for this role include Product Marketing Manager, Product Marketing Strategist, Product Marketing Lead, Head of Product Marketing, and Director of Product Marketing.

Here are common roles and responsibilities of a product marketer:

  • Develop a keen understanding of our customers and target audience through market research and customer interviews
  • Oversee the go-to-market strategy for existing and emerging product lines to drive awareness, adoption, and customer retention
  • Work closely with sales to develop sales enablement materials (one-pagers, slide decks, battle cards, white papers) to support customer education and acquisition
  • Collaborate cross-functionally with product, content marketing, and social media marketing to plan innovative product launches
  • Define product positioning, customer personas, and jobs to be done for product releases
  • Track, measure, and optimize product metrics including adoption, retention, and referrals
  • Support the creation of product-focused content including release notes, help center content, and blog posts

Content marketer

Content marketing is the development and dissemination of relevant written, audio, and video content to drive demand in your products or services from a defined audience. Content marketers are skilled writers, editors, and content strategists with a knack for storytelling and a knowledge of SEO best practices.

Common titles for this role include Content Marketing Manager, Content Strategist, Content Lead, Head of Content, and Director of Content and Communication.

Here are common roles and responsibilities of a content marketer:

  • Write and edit blog posts, thought leadership articles, long-form assets, marketing emails, website copy, and other marketing assets
  • Conduct keyword research using tools like Ahrefs, Google Keyword Planner, and SEMReush to develop an SEOstrategy for content properties
  • Collaborate across the company with sales, product, and engineering to produce product-related content including sales enablement materials
  • Create and manage an editorial and content calendar using project management software
  • Track, measure, and report on content marketing and related email marketing results on a regular basis using Google Analytics
  • Develop and maintain voice and tone guidelines for consistency and quality across all customer-facing content

Performance marketer

Performance marketing is focused on developing paid marketing campaigns—through social ads and search ads—to drive product awareness and customer acquisition while optimizing for return on investment (ROI). Performance marketers are advertising experts with a deep understanding of digital advertising, setting up social and search campaigns that optimize for metrics like cost per thousand impressions (CPM) and cost per click (CPC), and customer acquisition cost (CAC).

Common titles for this role include Performance Marketing Manager, Digital Marketer, Digital Strategist, Head of Performance Marketing, and Director of Performance Marketing.

Here are common roles and responsibilities of a performance marketer:

  • Define and execute a paid media strategy across Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, and LinkedIn Advertising that drives leads, trials, and sign-ups
  • Ideate and launch new performance marketing campaigns across a variety of paid channels
  • Optimize our paid spend across campaigns to increase ROI and drive down CAC
  • Seek out and experiment unexplored and emerging paid search opportunities (e.g. TikTok, Reddit)
  • Report on paid marketing campaign results and make recommendations across the marketing funnel
  • Collaborate closely with designers for the development of paid marketing assets including banner ads, social ads, and landing pages

Social media marketer

Social media marketing uses social media platforms—like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram—to market products and services to existing and prospective customers. Social media marketers are internet savvy creatives with their finger on the pulse of key trends, skilled across crafting short-form copy, developing visual assets, and engaging with followers.

Common titles for this role include Social Media Marketing Manager, Social Media Strategist, Social Media Lead, Head of Social, and Director of Social and Community.

Here are common roles and responsibilities of a social media marketer:

  • Define our content strategy across all existing and future social media platforms including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, and more
  • Grow company social media following and online presence across platforms by developing and managing a social media calendar that includes includes key product content
  • Source and partner with relevant influencers to develop campaigns around our products to drive engagement and sales
  • Develop organic and paid social media campaigns to drive awareness and engagement
  • Create social media graphics and assets using design platforms like Canva and Figma
  • Engage directly with social media following to build community, answer questions, and escalate issues to customer support

Community marketer

Community marketing aims to build a relationship between a brand and its audience and customers by cultivating connections through social media, online spaces, in-person events, and more. Community marketers are masters in the art of gathering, facilitating conversations and connection between community members, with the goal of fostering brand loyalty, creating product evangelists, and driving product adoption.

Common titles for this role include Community Manager, Community Marketing Lead, Head of Community, and Director of Community.

Here are common roles and responsibilities of a community manager:

  • Develop a steady stream of engaging content for community members including blog posts, social media posts, community posts, and other multi-media assets
  • Educate community members on key company developments and new product releases
  • Monitor and moderate community marketing channels to maintain a positive online atmosphere
  • Plan and promote online and offline events for community members including Q&A sessions, online office hours, and IRL meetups
  • Set and track community marketing metrics including membership, demographics, engagement, event attendance, NPS, and more
  • Advocate internally for our customers based on feedback from community members

Brand marketer

Brand marketing serves to elevate and boost a brand’s visibility and reputation by building campaigns that emphasize a company’s overarching story. Brand marketers focus on big-picture storytelling, developing brand messaging and multimedia—commercials, billboards, social media ads, branded magazines—to bring awareness to a company’s products or services.

Common titles for this role include Brand Marketing Manager, Brand Strategist, Brand Lead, Head of Brand, and Director of Brand and Creative.

Here are common roles and responsibilities of a brand marketer:

  • Ideate and execute creative brand campaigns across social media and other channels that tell the company’s story
  • Develop and maintain brand strategy, brand positioning, and brand identity guidelines across all marketing assets and customer-facing communication
  • Collaborate closely with brand designers to build a cohesive visual brand
  • Develop and manage a brand ambassador program to increase word-of-mouth marketing by cultivating and rewarding company evangelists
  • Partner with other companies and influencers for co-branding campaigns
  • Monitor and report on the performance of brand marketing campaigns and brand sentiment across social media and relevant press

Determine the right marketing talent for your startup

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With a variety of valuable functions to choose from, it’s difficult to determine which type of marketing pro you’ll need and what kind of marketing plan will move the needle for your business. To narrow down your options, and choose the right person, assess the stage of your business, your budget, and your marketing aims.

Assess the stage of your company

Different forms of marketing can be more effective than others at certain stages of your company. If you’re an early stage company still struggling to find product-market fit, hiring a brand marketer to run costly campaigns is generally not a winning strategy for your marketing efforts. Similarly, throwing money at paid advertising through performance marketing is ineffective if you’ve yet to hone in on your target market.

On the other hand, if you’re slowly but surely forming a customer base of excited users, it can be helpful to intentionally build a community to increase enthusiasm about the product and drive adoption through word-of-mouth. Similarly, content marketing efforts, like SEO and building an email marketing strategy, are often best to start early-on.

Set your marketing budget

All marketing has its costs, but some forms of marketing can be more costly than others. Performance marketing requires an upfront budget to bid on ads and it can take time and iteration to generate a positive ROI. While brand marketers can get creative with low-cost viral campaigns, it often takes some spending to develop compelling branded media and bring a campaign to a large audience.

On the other hand, getting setup for organic social media is free and cost of creating assets can be minimized with low-cost design platforms. Community marketing might take time and effort to grow, but can pay dividends despite the low cost (or $0 price tag) of community platforms like Facebook Groups, Slack, or Discord.

Decide on how much you’re willing to invest in your marketing efforts, including whether it’s best to opt for a full-time hire on a salary or a freelancer charging hourly rates on a project basis.

Understand your marketing aims

Ultimately, your digital marketing plans need to be aligned with your company goals and product intentions. If you want to develop a better understanding of your target market and plan on shipping quickly, bringing in a product marketer will help solidify your positioning and enhance your go-to-market strategy. If you’ve yet to land on exactly what works, a growth marketer who can experiment your way to success is a good bet.

Go beyond the vague goal of “growth” and get specific with what you accomplish with your first marketing hire.

Write a clear marketing job description

By taking the time to understand the type of digital marketing expert your team needs, creating a job description should be relatively simple. Provide as much information as possible about your company, the product, and the role so that candidates can make informed decisions about applying.

Here are a few items to include in your job description:

  • About your company and industry. Share what your company does and the industry you’re embedded in, whether that’s SaaS workplace tools or a gaming app. Provide context about your founding story, why your company exists today, and what the future holds.
  • Previous experience. Carefully outline what previous experience would be helpful for candidates to have. Be clear about whether requirements are nice-to-have or non-negotiables and which areas need extensive experience versus familiarity.
  • Role and responsibilities. Based on the type of marketer you’ll be hiring, list out their overarching responsibilities, areas of ownership, and what some of their day-to-day tasks towards your marketing efforts will look like.
  • Salary and benefits. Set expectations and allow candidates to self-select by providing a salary or salary range for the role. Revealing salaries publicly saves time for everyone involved in the hiring process by eliminating surprises.

Source marketing candidates

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Hiring a marketer, especially your first marketing hire, will set the tone for the function at your company. Rather than indiscriminately posting job postings across the web, take time to be selective in your sourcing approach to find the ideal candidate.

Seek out employee referrals

Chat with existing members on your team to see if they have any hiring recommendations—from previous colleagues to talented members of their professional networks.

Joining a startup is making a big bet—often forgoing higher compensation today for the promise of a meaningful exit tomorrow. Employee referrals are especially helpful in this case—employees can serve as an early advocate for the company. Consider incentivizing employee referrals with an employee bonus referral program to find your first marketer.

Tap your wider network

If you’re a founder or early employee at a startup, look to your wider network to source your first marketing hire. That includes checking-in with previous colleagues that stand out, asking members of any professional communities you belong to, and tapping your investors to assist in the search.

Use your customer communication channels

If you’ve done any early marketing efforts yourself, or have communication channels where you speak directly to customers, use them for light recruitment. For example, if you send customers a monthly product newsletter, add a “P.S.” at the bottom to mention that you’re hiring. If you have social media marketing channels, post about the role. Your early adopters and online following will often be the subset of people most excited about joining your team.

Use advanced search on LinkedIn

LinkedIn can be a powerful recruitment tool, allowing you to narrow in on potential candidates with laser-like precision. Do you want to poach a candidate from a competitor? You can filter for that. Find someone with an unusual combination of skills? That query exists. Discover candidates with a specific marketing background or certificate? It can be done. Consider signing up for a LinkedIn Recruiter account to expedite your search.

Go where the marketers are

There are an endless number of online communities for marketers of every discipline, filled with both junior and senior marketers. Often, they’re also a place for hiring managers to post and share relevant job listings to find full-time hires and freelancers. Seek those communities out and promote your posting.

Here are a few online communities for marketers:

Screen and interview marketing candidates

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The best way to determine if a marketer is right for your team is taking the time to get to know them, their previous experience, and future aspirations through the hiring process. Take time to dig into a candidate’s background and to ask questions to assess if their marketing skill set and experience are a match.

Understand their background

Dig into a candidate’s career journey and track record—from the companies they’ve worked at previously to the specific roles and responsibilities they’ve held. Consider whether their background makes them a strong fit or an unlikely match, but be open-minded and weigh interviews and experience above resumes and education.

Ask the right questions

Aim to understand through the interview process both whether a candidate is skilled in their function and whether they possess the traits of an early startup marketing hire. Ask technical questions about their field, whether that’s content marketing or brand marketing, digging into the past results they’ve achieved at other companies and any startup marketing tools they’ve used.

Also take time to ask generalized startup interview questions that gauge skills like adaptability, agility, and curiosity.

Set expectations

Interviews are an opportunity to put your best foot forward as a company, but also to be realistic and truthful about expectations of potential hires. Be forthcoming with any marketing challenges you’re currently having and what it’s like to work at the company. Leave room throughout the process for candidates to ask questions. Answer honestly.

Consider a test project

It’s helpful to gauge what a candidate is capable of by putting their knowledge and expertise to the test. Take-home assignments and test projects are a common part of hiring processes that give you a greater sense of how a candidate approaches marketing challenges.

Keep test projects time-bound, limiting them to under three hours of work and pay candidates for their time whenever possible. Keep test projects relevant, but not so specific that work can be used late; this can be reputationally damaging for your company.

Extend an offer and onboard

Once you’ve decided on the right candidate, extend an offer and onboard them onto your team. Work with them in the early days to create a 30-60-90 day plan to kick off their role. Work collaboratively to set appropriate marketing metrics that they’ll own. Then, step back and allow them to do their marketing magic.

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