Four tips for aspiring startup marketers

April 11, 2022
Bardee's superflies. Hannah is positioned in the middle of the top row.

Many amazing founder stories have been told, and we love them all. But what about startup marketer stories?

As a recent marketing graduate, I have a lot of questions. Where do I start? What is it like to do marketing at a startup?

To find answers to these questions, I spoke with Hannah Johnston, Head of Marketing at Bardee, who joined the team of ‘superflies’ as their first marketing hire.

In this interview, Hannah reveals some fresh insights into landing your first startup marketing job, along with valuable tips from her 15 years' experience in the industry.

Start with personal values

In our fast-paced society, it’s easy to get carried away by new ideas. This is why Hannah thinks we first have to find the missions we believe in as the guide for our development.

“I don’t believe in doing something just because it’s a good idea,” Hannah shared when we were talking about how she came to work at Bardee.

“I’ve definitely been recycling for a long time, but I’m not by any stretch a climate warrior, and I’d not really worked in sustainability or climate-related industries before. But I obviously want the world to be good.”

Hannah has always been excited about building the future, no matter what that may look like, whether it’s electric cars or augmented reality.

And so, when she heard Founder Phoebe Gardner talking about Bardee’s mission to scale new systems of sustainable food production to meet the global future demand, it was not just a good idea. It made her excited, because there was a clear growth plan, scientific evidence to support the plan, and values in line with her own.

There is no wrong turn

Hannah believes there is no linear path when it comes to a career in marketing, and that we may never find our passions until we start working on them. 

For aspiring marketers, it may sound scary having to find missions to believe in, especially when no clear standard or border is separating the good and bad ones. Hannah’s advice here is “follow your curiosity!”

She advised that at the start of your career, it’s better to choose roles that let you explore different perspectives and learn what your superpowers are.

Interestingly, my Student Fellowship Coach Bronte McHenry told me the same thing not long ago. For Bronte, it’s best to get started at the company you like rather than in the position that you want. In that way, you’ll have the motivation to explore, work your way to the position you want, or even create a role for yourself!

With that being said, this is not an overnight process. And even if you change your mind again and again, all you’re doing is building up a portfolio of experience, and you can take everything with you to the next step.

I remember saying to Hannah: “Yeah, even if you made a wrong turn, you always have the option to go back.”

To this Hannah said: “I don’t believe in wrong turns. Whatever turn you made, there’s a lesson or a reason. There’s no wrong turn, no wrong decisions!”

Build your empathy muscle

Throughout our conversation, Hannah stressed the importance of marketers building an empathy muscle.

“The better you can open yourself up to different perspectives, the stronger marketer you will be,” she said.

Indeed, since not everyone thinks the same way, the ability to put yourself in the mindset of the audience is the best way to understand segments, build up offerings, and communicate with customers.

“I never wanted to be part of creating a problem that needed a solution,” Hannah told me, and we agreed greenwashing has become a huge problem. For her, the awesome thing about marketing is getting to influence hearts and minds. She said we’ve got the responsibility to help customers discover better products and make better choices.

“You’re not looking for ways to trick or convince people to do something they don’t want to do. So, if you want to sell whitening toothpaste, you first have to make people feel bad about their teeth,” she told me.

“It shouldn’t be a price conversation when it comes to net positive impact. Companies can play a role in making it easier and more natural to choose better and have better options.”

Learn to prioritise

For Hannah, the hardest part about working at an early-stage startups with heaps of excitement is prioritisation and deciding which task to put her energy into.

“It’s definitely a choice on what to do, not a lack of ideas,” she told me.

In a way, this process forces her to take a little step back, viewing the situation as a whole to make decisions in a very strategic way, so everything lands in the right order. For her, “it’s both a challenge and an opportunity”.

There is always a lot of fresh thinking coming in from different departments within the company, but with limited resources, Hannah said they always ask themselves: “Should we do this? Anyone on the team is going to help? Let’s pick the one that we think will have the biggest impact and start there.”

Hannah adds that determining the “big impact vs small impact” list is always a guessing game based on experience. The differences may not be obvious, and, in that case, you'll only find out when you get started.

Hannah also suggests adopting working habits that follow the company’s working cycle. For example, Bardee works seasonally, so Hannah plans her work in-line with the existing cycle.

At the moment, Hannah’s focus is constructing marketing foundations, sharing Bardee’s story and its awesome products publicly, creating amazing customer experiences, supporting sales and attracting new superflies. 

Although the scientific side of the business does help drive the demand, Hannah said it’s also a challenge to establish positioning and differentiate the brand in a very old industry. This is why packaging is currently her biggest project. She finds it quite exciting to apply the Bardee brand and create the look and feel of an entire product range from scratch. 

Takeaway time

  1. Find the missions you believe in.
  2. Follow your curiosity.
  3. Build your empathy muscle.
  4. Take a step back to evaluate your priorities.
  5. Plan your work in-line with the company’s cycle.

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