The role and function of marketing communications in product development teams

The ideal dotcom startup team seems to be CEO, CTO and COO or CFO. Now it’s all well and good to be product and business focused, but who’s looking out for the people who can make or break a business — the users and the public stakeholders? A CEO’s function is to provide strategic vision, a CTO’s to manage the development of the product and internal technologies, a COO or CFO is to look after revenue and expenditures. All these are full-time jobs with weighty responsibilities. Just as weighty as it is the CCO’s (Chief Communications Officer) job which is to manage the outgoing as well as incoming communications of the company as well as looking after its brands. Yet most dotcom startups completely sideline this essential function.

I had drinks with the joint CEOs of last night. Both very bright and clued-in guys who have great ideas for web services and products. They both have great vision and are very experienced at producing winning products and partnerships. And while they do know what their consumers want and how to deliver the goods, neither of them has marketing communications expertise and neither does anyone on their development team. Even while their products are in development, buzz still needs to be managed as first time users try out their beta products and talk about them. And someone needs to create marketing communications plans and execute them. Currently, they’re both handling these functions themselves but chinks are starting to appear. There’s not one but two faux Wikipedia pages to promote their products; glaring spelling errors in their marketing materials; use of a free blog host (Blogspot) for their company blog; and at least one instance of evoking the cliched Google’s Law. None of which set very good impressions on the techie crowd — the quintessential first-adopters. I’m not trying to be picky, but a startup that wants to engage the larger community has to first be inscrutably “Slashdot-ready” (and those guys do way a lot more researching).

What does a marketing communications expert for a dotcom startup do?

That’s just some of the things that a marketing communications expert will look out for. He or she will study the consumers, segment them and send them customised communications; study the brand and how it is perceived in the mind of the various consumer segments; find out who the competitors are in the consumers’ consideration-set, for both online and offline competitors; figure out how the consumers select the consideration set and the ways they compare things; understand how the consumers perceive the brand in relation to the competition. Above all, for a dotcom startup, a marketing communications expert has to understand and love the technology as much as its developers and its target consumers or else he or she will simply lose credibility and the communications will lack the crucial element of relevancy.

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