Episode 79 – The Last Big Early-Stage Hire is the Toughest


OCTOBER 1, 2022


I want to talk about marketers, and how to find the best of the best for your fast-growing brand.


But first of all, I need to set some context. Consumer marketing is the last thing to overfund and optimize in the life cycle of an early-stage business. Time-intensive methods that cost the least, such as local field and event sampling are all about push, push, push. Optimizing them early-on is the least of your problems, since you simply need awareness and initial trial. 


As founders you will need to be the head of marketing for years before you can bring in a professional with experience. 

Of course, they will need a substantial budget from you to make use of their talent. 


It is generally late in Phase 3 or early in Phase 4 when you want to bring a VP of marketing to lead an internal team hell-bent on scaling awareness and HH penetration steadily, quarter-over-quarter. 


But, hey, you may not even need this kind of talent at all. First you have to assess the extent to which you even need a large consumer marketing budget.


If you are growing exponentially with no paid ads of any kind and little/to field marketing, as SkinnyPop did, this episode is NOT for you. 


If you are in categories not amenable to acceleration to exponential organic growth (i.e. based off of HH-level velocity expansion or HH increase), such as most condiments, baking ingredients and other slow unit consumption rate categories, you may also skip. 


But for those of you in snacks, beauty, personal and beverages, this is for you. 


An executive marketing hire is super tough in the early-stage world. This is especially true if you you want to hit real performance KPIs. Why? Because, hitting these KPIs, especially growth in households is not easy without persuasive creative that has a strong hook and high emotional impact (i.e. memorability).


Simply flashing attributes and a logo is not enough. 


Yet, so much early-stage consumer promotion I see is merely a version of the sell-sheet pitch. This is not going to achieve much other than perhaps an awareness boost. 


Highly effective, superb creative is more necessary for an early-stage brand with low awareness and low implicit trust. And this is the origin of the hiring challenge for founders. Investors may push for consumer marketing spend, but they don’t know jack (in most cases) about who has the eye and the ear for superb creative. 


99% of marketers are analytical campaign admins. Administrative discipline is their skill. Not strategy. Not vision. Not human behavior. Not what persuades another person. 


The best creative talent at select agencies has this power. 


Then, there are marketers who can recognize it. 


Imagine if you have a marketing VP who has no real clue as to what is a compelling story? But nevertheless runs highly organized, multi-channel campaigns on budget? 


This is very, very common in CPG businesses, including at public firms. 


Administrative excellence without much creative sensibility.


But there’s a much more significant problem finding the right marketing leader for a fast-growing CPG brand.


It’s a very American marketing problem. It’s the cultural desire to be the influencer, the sorcerer, the maker of meaning. My experience over 20 years of working with marketing talent is that these too many of these  folks gravitate to the field because they are intoxicated by the power of influencing consumers.


At its worst, it leads to a bias toward using influencers and celebrities to symbolically bully consumers into trial, even poorly informed trial. Beyonce said I should try watermelon water. Shawn Mendes likes Flow water. And on and on. 


American marketing has become obsessed with this kind of marketing campaign, the laziest kind of marketing thinking I have ever encountered.


“I have no persuasive argument for why you should try our thing, so I will see if you’ll try it because X or Z influencer person tells you to.”


I have nothing against meaningfully chosen brand ambassadors paid only in product because they love and use your brand for outcomes that matter to their professional existence. Experts in your brand’s key strategic outcome are the absolute best influencers you can find. So find them. 


But how did you know your brand’s strategically valuable outcome? 


You spoke with your fans. You did consumer research. Not expensive to do, but you have to ask the right questions to determine key motivating outcomes. 


Yet, almost no one does this work in early-stage businesses.


The result is that their marketing is mostly chest-beating, or attribute-waving or influencer-dependent.


This is NOT the kind of marketer you want in the building of a fast-growing CPG brand that has the cash to fund acceleration through creative storytelling. 


I’ve written elsewhere about the triple marketing burden for early-stage brands: 1) you have limited cash to spend vs. BigCo, 2) your creative has to be world-class to establish trust in a new, i.e. low trust, brand with no track record and 3) you have to execute superbly to stand-out with limited internal resources. Effective sonumer marketing is super difficult, folks because of this. 


So, guess what? You don’t need just any decent campaign administrator. You need a rockstar to lead your marketing team, and that person has to have an instinctive eye for emotionally intense, persuasive creative storytelling. Or, quite frankly, don’t even bother.


This is why, believe it or not, my current global recommendation, without even knowing your business, is that, if you are growing fast and need a rockstar marketing lead, recruit them from a highly successful, DTC  startup whose performance ties back to the creative. Why? DTC brands have no other way than PR to generate traffic. And PR stories are not ones you can control the acceleration of like killer online videos. 


That’s all this time folks. And as always,


be safe out there,



Hey, my new course – Effective Consumer Marketing for Founders is finally out. Just head to www.premiumgrowthsolutions.com/courses for more details.