The 16 Types of Startup Marketers
Whenever a startup says they’re looking to hire a marketing leader, it’s usually challenging to figure out what kind of marketer they need.
The problem for the hiring managers and potential candidates is that there are so many kinds of marketers. While candidates could be clearer about what they can and can’t do, hiring managers (often the CEO or COO) frequently don’t know what they want.
To remedy this, we need a shared lexicon. We need marketers to be able to say, “This is who I am,” and hiring managers to say, “This is who I’m looking for.” Then we can have a productive conversation. That shared lexicon is below, informed by discussions I’ve had with hundreds of marketers and scores of hiring managers. Each marketer’s profile here includes their strengths and weaknesses — oversimplified, but described in a way that allows us to better understand each other. This is followed by recommendations on how to get the most out of such a hire.
Meet the 16 types of startup marketers:
1) The Growth Hacker
Strengths: You want demand? They will generate it and then generate some more. They acquire customers as efficiently as possible, and they have the data to back up every decision. They will test and learn until they can’t possibly learn anything else. If you want someone to optimize around CAC, CPC, CPA, LTV, MAU, or NPS, they will do it ASAP.
Weaknesses: They tend to have blind spots as to the role of building brands in generating demand. They are prone to underinvesting resources in areas that can increase brand preference to shorten sales cycles.
Recommendations: When paired with counterparts such as a Communicator, Creative, or Strategist (see below), the Growth Hacker can better quantify the others’ work. If you have room to hire a Growth Hacker and someone else, that’s great, but you need to choose who will lead the team.
2) The Manager
Strengths: They have management experience and relish it. How big a team do you need them to run? It doesn’t matter; they’ve led teams the size of small countries. The best kind of Manager is focused on the growth trajectory of their reports’ careers, not their own.
Weaknesses: By being so focused on headcount, you might wind up with someone who’s purely a political maneuverer trying to gain power by amassing the largest team. Additionally, if they express their management skills by trying to rack up the largest number of meetings, this hire has little time to handle strategy, execution, and the rest of the job.
Recommendations: Your emphasis for hiring should be on their leadership qualities, not the quantity of their past direct reports.
3) The Communicator
Strengths: If Abraham Lincoln and Toni Morrison had a baby, it would be this hire. This one is the speechwriter and the ghostwriter — a Communicator par excellence whether for internal or external needs. In a junior role, this person could support the Evangelist. In an outward-facing leadership role, they probably include the Evangelist’s responsibilities too.
Weaknesses: The biggest red flag is how a Communicator’s role is structured. Some teams see communications as separate from marketing, which is one of many odd silo effects that occur, often without any rational reason. The Communicator also can’t do their job well if they’re marginalized.
Recommendations: Beyond giving the Communicator access to key processes and personnel, they should be part of decision-making processes, so they can shape how actions are communicated — and perhaps inform such actions themselves.
4) The Evangelist
Strengths: Do you need a face and voice for your company? When you’re too busy fundraising, selling, hiring, or building a product to get out there, the Evangelist will step in and be the face you need. Whether it’s the byline they can blast to their Twitter followers or the keynote talk to dazzle prospects and the press, they get that all business is show business.
Weaknesses: If the Evangelist has no internal responsibilities and lacks any face-time with clients, then there will be little of substance for this mouthpiece to mouth off on. They, in turn, run the risk of not mustering respect from internal colleagues.
Recommendations: Find substantive ways to make use of their talents, such as incorporating them as an executive sponsor on key accounts or contributing in other measurable ways where they can document their success.
5) The Creative
Strengths: A refugee from an agency, their own practice, or some passion project, this creative chief wants to either focus on one product or try their hand at a new adventure. You will have the best-looking website and one-sheets out there, and when you finally muster the budget to get to the Cannes Lions, you may be in the running for several awards.
Weaknesses: Plenty of creative leads are skilled at math, but days where they spend too long in Excel will make them question this career move. There could also be turf wars if the Creative wants to influence product design and can’t.
Recommendations: Instead of hiring the Creative, one remedy is allocating time from the product design team to contribute to the marketing department’s creative needs, and that way the product and marketing design stay consistent.
6) The Strategist
Strengths: You want an idea? A direction? A plan? This is the cartographer who will get you there. They will provide the insights that lead to the big idea, the small idea, and every idea in between. On the corporate marketing side with a smaller team, they can fill in as the erstwhile Creative (just as the Creative may have the chops to be the Strategist). They will also put your customers or clients at ease, as they’re used to presenting to the C-suite.
Weaknesses: Ideas and plans alone don’t grow a business.
Recommendations: Find out how much more they can do themselves; otherwise, this becomes a luxury hire that needs to be supported by a much bigger team.
7) The Generalist
Strengths: They know at least a little about a lot of everything. This Jack or Jill of all trades can surprise their colleagues with how much they’ve experienced and how quickly they’re willing to learn. While they can’t handle everything through to completion themselves, they can get enough of it started and muster the right resources to finish the job. They are a kindred spirit of the Connector.
Weaknesses: They can wind up being a master of none.
Recommendations: You need to know where they truly excel, what they can oversee competently, and what areas will be totally new for them.
8) The Soldier
Strengths: Do you want someone to follow orders? This is the hire. You might say you need 10 or 20 years of experience, but you want someone who’s earned that experience by towing the line and carrying out the vision and plan set by others.
Weaknesses: When you need them to take ownership, they’re usually ill-prepared to do so. Even if they have it in them, they’re wary of ruffling feathers and will likely stick to saying what they think their superiors want to hear.
Recommendations: Decide on if you want to groom the Soldier to lead. If so, deliberately start pushing them out of their comfort zone. If not, and you value them in their current role, find ways for them to advance internally without taking on leadership responsibilities. Many Soldiers prefer to be Soldiers, but some will look elsewhere for advancement opportunities.
9) The Connector
Strengths: You have someone on your team who’s never more than two degrees from Oprah, LeBron, Donald, or Michael (Kassan, of course). You need an analytics maven? A print designer? A plumber? You will get some good options quickly, and they’ll offer a ‘friends & family’ discount.
Weaknesses: Just because they can connect you, can they tee you up in the right way so you can close a deal?
Recommendations: You need to pair the right Connector with the right Closer, or at least some strong counterparts from the sales organization.
10) The Product Marketer
Strengths: Often, the best marketing comes from the product itself. If there’s a way to build in feedback loops that keep existing customers hooked while motivating them to rope in new customers, then a gifted Product Marketer may be the only senior marketing hire needed for some time.
Weaknesses: Few products work as magically as Hotmail, Facebook, or Airbnb, so the Product Marketer can often only do so much.
Recommendations: Either work with the Product Marketer to give them the requisite resources to run marketing or show them how you will otherwise bolster their efforts. Great Product Marketers crave any way that you will get more people to try and buy their products.
11) The Ladder Climber
Strengths: This early hire rose through the ranks and keeps getting promoted. They might have been on the sales, account management, or product teams, and at some point, they took on marketing responsibilities. Suddenly, they’re running the entire marketing team, and in the best-case scenario, this Ladder Climber finds their true calling. Adaptable and loyal, this person’s biggest asset is their institutional knowledge.
Weaknesses: While this person may know as much about the company as the founders (perhaps even more), they are often too green when it comes to marketing and wind up being in over their heads. Their presence can, in turn, hinder the company from bringing in the best subject matter experts. The CEO or COO often wants to hire a senior marketing leader but can’t because this person is doing that job.
Recommendations: It’s hard to get rid of a Ladder Climber, and such an internal veteran can be the most useful second-in-command for an incoming head of marketing. When hiring a ‘rung’ over the Ladder Climber, communicate with your existing hire on how this will expand opportunities for them. If that doesn’t work, there may be other ways to use the Ladder Climber in different roles.
12) The Globalist
Strengths: Your ads targeting the coveted Mauritius audience will never accidentally run in Mauritania. This marketer has run so many campaigns around the world that the Globalist can target consumers faster than you can say “Carmen Sandiego.”
Weaknesses: If you only need to focus on a couple of key markets, much of their experience will be overkill. Also, there’s only so many times you can hear about where to go for “THE BEST” Ethiopian food ever.
Recommendations: Set realistic expectations. Most of the companies that say they are building global businesses and brands rarely expand much beyond their home market.
13) The Closer
Strengths: There are certain salespeople who keep winding up in marketing roles, and there are certain companies that like to architect sales jobs as marketing jobs. The Closer is the perfect hire when you need a seller to wear a chief marketing officer’s suit.
Weaknesses: Sales is not marketing. You still need someone who can do the latter properly.
Recommendations: Even when the CMO manages sales and marketing together (just like the chief revenue officer may), that leader’s most senior direct report should complement the leader’s strengths.
14) The Spendthrift
Strengths: Often, the most glaring attribute of a marketer is how free or frugal they are with the budget. The Spendthrift is convinced that it takes money to make money, and making money is their endgame. The Spendthrift often uses that budgetary discretion to cement alliances, such as by ensuring the sales team is properly entertaining clients, or that the product team’s latest release gets as much publicity as possible.
Weaknesses: There’s that little issue of the burn rate. If the Spendthrift even bothers to pay attention to customer acquisition costs (CAC), they’ll usually pad the metric by inflating the potential customer lifetime value.
Recommendations: Companies with a frugal CEO or COO will clash with a Spendthrift and should instead look for Spendthrift’s opposite, the Miser. If the Spendthrift is the better hire than a comparable Miser in contention, be clear that you won’t be able to grow the budget until you’re convinced their efforts are paying off.
15) The Miser
Strengths: Always protective of the burn rate, the Miser is the marketer who will minimize your monetary misgivings. The Miser will propose a modest marketing budget and then not even use their monthly allocation.
Weaknesses: Expect less experimentation to accompany the caution. It’s often impossible to test and learn anything without a budget for testing. Additionally, when trying to project an image as a leader in your space, investing in some degree of quality is critical. They also might be too reticent to use outside resources, let alone making a new hire, even when there are critical needs.
Recommendations: Just as Spendthrifts should always consider what they’d do with a smaller budget, Misers should be encouraged to think bigger. If money was no object, what would they do? Also, if a Miser is on board, be sure to regularly check in with other team leads, such as in Sales and Product, to make sure they are getting they are getting enough marketing support.
16) The CEO
Strengths: Often, the CEO or another senior team member (typically one of the founders) winds up serving as the default CMO and keeps that up as long as possible. The CEO knows the company better than anyone and often is a talented marketer; that’s how the company got its first customers and investors.
Weaknesses: The biggest weakness is time. Yes, the CEO can be the CMO, and the CRO, and perhaps the CTO, and the Chief Everything Officer. That doesn’t scale. In some cases, the CEO really should be the CMO, but in most, it’s a similar drawback of the Ladder Climber where you don’t have the right person in the job. And what’s worse is that the CEO will almost never be able to devote most of their time to any such additional job, whether it’s running marketing or any other department.
Recommendations: One of the CEO’s biggest challenges at any company is knowing when to let go. Realize when it’s time to say “no” to some of the responsibilities you’ve given yourself so the right hire can take over. Once you’ve taken that step, you can start figuring out which kind of marketer you need.
So, what do you need?
Realistically, you’ll get a mix from most marketing hires, but understanding the differences among them will help you clarify who you’re looking for. You can craft your job description to orient around the kind of marketing leader you’re trying to attract. It should also be easier to quickly weed out those who won’t be a good fit, and then ensure the most relevant candidates get through to later rounds.