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Meet Startup Ladies Board Member Clinical Associate Prof. of Marketing, Kelley School

Kim Saxton

1. You’re a marketing guru, what is the #1 piece of advice you can offer to a startup taking a new product/service to market?

Try to enter a known product or service category (e.g. gym or training services) and provide new benefits that the market has been missing. Fulfilling an unmet market need is the #1 predictor of success.

2. How does a startup determine how much they should spend on their marketing budget?

This a a very complex question. Most spend what they can afford, which isn’t much. At a minimum, they could find a % of sales that is typical in their product/service category – like beers is 28%, while retail is 3%-4% ( . Or, they could build up a cost forecast based on what they need to do. But, they should realize that it takes $50,000 to $150,000 to really get started with good marketing programs – develop branding ($15,000 – $20,000), do customer needs market research ($20,000 – $60,000), build and host a website (~$50,000), get a CRM ($20,000), get an email provider (free to $20,000). Don’t forget that most social media efforts are inexpensive and you can do them yourself. They just take time and effort.

3. When a startup is ready to hire their first marketing staff member, what are the skill sets and experiences they should look for in a new hire?

Another very complex question. It probably makes the most sense to use agencies in the early stages. You pay more per service you buy, but you don’t have the overhead. When it’s time to hire, you need to find someone who has experience – it’s worth it to pay more for someone who knows what needs to be done. Their skill set should include both creating brand awareness (think traditional outbound advertising) and demand generation (think inbound marketing).

4. How do you determine which social media platforms startups should invest their advertising budget in?

Start by getting on all social media platforms, which is free. Then, your ad $ depends on who your target is. If you are selling to consumers, you need to buy Facebook ads. Facebook’s algorithm de-prioritizes brands in people’s feeds unless they are buying ads. If you are selling to businesses, spend ad $ on LinkedIn after you’ve done all the free stuff – page for business, discussion group, publish articles, etc.

5. What is a new trend in marketing that you’re excited about?

Focusing on improving conversion in the funnel rather than just creating awareness at the top of the funnel. This means creating promotions that offer utility to people who are receiving them. Here’s an example: A maker of board games introduced some new games at a board game convention. They created collectible lapel pins that you earned by playing one of their new games. If you collected 5 pins (by playing 5 games), you got a 50% off coupon. So, everybody wanted to collect the pins. They became advertising for the company. And, they bought a game.

5. What marketing-focused blogs and Twitter handles do you like to follow to stay in the know?

Although some people say that Twitter is for marketers to talk to each other, I do not tend to read my Twitter feed for marketing information. Instead, I tend to read marketing news in my Facebook feed or through email sign ups. The places I get my information:, Seth Godin’s blog, Pew Research Center, MIT, Harvard Business Review,, Unbounce

6. You invest in startups too. When startups pitch to you, what do you want to know about the marketing strategy?

#1 Are they offering something different and better that is protectable?

#2 Do they know what it takes to attract and close customers?

#3 Are they only doing legitimate marketing activities (e.g. Not buying social media likes – you cannot have 50,000+ Facebook fans 1 week after you start your business)?

#4 Do they have partner relationships to help make sales scalable – they do not just need to sell every single customer one at a time?

7. What made you decide to join the Startup Ladies Board?

I’ve been active in the Indy startup community for about 10 years. I go to other groups’ meetings, and I am one of the only women. My own academic research shows that the network a founder has is even more important than the funding they get. So, I want to help women build those networks. The Startup Ladies is the only group with that as a mission. If we attract more women to found ventures, teach them how to succeed and provide them the networks they need, we’ll have more successful women-led ventures.

8. How have The Startup Ladies impacted you?

First, it’s reinvigorated my enthusiasm for helping other women. Second, it gives me a sense of pride in the Indy community. Third, I come from every meeting with some interesting new ideas. Finally, I’ve met a number of women who I am now proud to call friends. As a professional woman and mother, it’s sometimes hard to take time to build friendships. So, I especially appreciate The Startup Ladies for helping me meet so many amazing women in Indy.

9. Which women entrepreneurs do you look up to?

This is hard for me. I tend to admire scientists first. But as I think about some women who have accomplished amazing goals with their businesses, I appreciate Arianna Huffington for reimagining what media looks like, plus Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and Patricia R. Miller for bringing beauty to everyday women’s products via Vera Bradley.

Connect with Kim

Twitter: @profksaxton

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