Startup Marketing, Where to Start? — An Interview with Kate Bradley Chernis

Jill Soley
May 1 · 9 min read

Where do you start when it comes to marketing your startup? Co-founder and CEO of Lately, ex-radio-host, and phenomenal marketer Kate Bradley Chernis, shared some of her pitching and marketing tips in her interview for Beyond Product (NOW AVAILABLE in paperback at Amazon, Barnes&Noble and your favorite book retailers). Highlights from the interview are below:

Ten years ago, I was managing a multi-million dollar Walmart campaign — it was Walmart collaborating with United Way Worldwide and the National Disability Institute and tens of thousands of non-profits and small businesses; two radically different groups of marketers, as you might imagine. So, for my own sanity, I started organizing everything coming across my desk into one heck of a spreadsheet — ’cause, I mean wow, holy overwhelming! And my spreadsheet organizational system ended up getting us 130% ROI year over year, for the three years. Not too shabby!

What was interesting was that as I built my spreadsheet organizational system, I decided to do an individual marketing audit for each company involved. As I did this, I saw a series of patterns emerge, where everybody, big or small, was trying to do the same things. So I organized my spreadsheet system by these patterns or “buckets,” essentially creating a map of “how-to” for marketing that campaign. My audit also shone a big ole bright spotlight on a huge number of redundancies and widespread marketing 101 no-no’s — like bad writing and inconsistent messaging; for example, Walmart getting the tagline wrong again and again. Shocking!

What’s more was that I started to use this same spreadsheet organizational system for all my other clients too who saw a similar ROI — because had they same problems. Fast forward to 2014 when my friend, serial entrepreneur, angel investor and now cofounder Steve, suggested we automate my spreadsheet organizational system with software and BOOM… Lately was born.

To start, marketers waste $83 billion dollars each year specifically due to disorganization, which is the number one cause for confused messaging, which is and the number one cause for confused customers, lack of trust and loss of sales. Compounding the problem is the common perception that marketing is black box of mystery that no one quite understands.

In fact, 89% of all professional marketers — people with marketing in their title, across every size company — actually have terrible technical skills! They can’t even use basic tools like HubSpot, let alone Hootsuite or Google Docs. That’s a pretty huge number! Plus, 56% of all professional marketers — again at every size company — actually are bad at marketing! They’re only novice level or beginner level marketers… they don’t know what they’re doing.

This was my experience as an agency owner and consultant, too. It didn’t matter what company, how big or how small, the majority of marketers are just plain bad at their jobs; smaller companies, not surprisingly, perhaps, but it turns out that companies that are bigger just throw more money and more people at the problem rather than try and solve it.

Lately combines artificial intelligence with automation and organization to solve the two underlying marketing problems pervasive across all companies: bad writing and disorganization. After all, that there’s only three things that make for great marketing — a super simple recipe which hasn’t changed since the dawn of time: really good writing, streamlined organization and chutzpah. I can’t do much about the chutzpah, that’s in your court, but I can organize the bejeezus out of your marketing and make you a better writer.

No startup really has the capability or the people power to do marketing how it should be done because we don’t have the ability to do anything how it should be done. Everybody is flying by the seat of their pants.

Until recently we (Lately) weren’t even able to really afford to do much around marketing. All I could manage was the bare minimum: establishing a voice, basic social and occasional newsletters. Even I was pretty overwhelmed by marketing! Of course, I have that other job… CEO :-).

But obviously I know the value of getting started, of laying down the foundation, which takes time. Because there’s nothing worse than needing an audience or fan base that you don’t have… you want that ready when the time comes.

I also know the value of consistency of messaging, especially for a startup, being a small fish in a big giant sea. The key to building that base is in the consistency — and therein lies the rub, as most startups are changing their messaging often and still figuring it out. But marketing is more than outward facing messaging. As a startup, there are a couple ways we can stand out. First, by building an outstanding product and second by connection emotionally with customers — which is actually more important than building an outstanding product, because people buy based on emotion first.

At Lately, we’ve been able to focus on our persona as the consistent thread between outward facing messaging and product, using our persona to project emotion and connect with customers.

Simply put, in the context of writing, at least, my goal is to try to create messaging you want to read. To convey a human behind the messaging. A human that you want to know. For Lately’s persona, that means being a little edgy, being casual, warts-and all… Very human, very authentic. So that we stand out from the rest of the crowd, not only in what we’re building but also in our voice.

Early on, my team started calling me “Kately,” which conveys the sense of humor that we want to project in our persona — just a touch of corny! And so my cofounder and product designer, Jason, created a character, a.k.a. “Kately” that we use in our marketing. She always wears cowboy boots… I always wear cowboy boots — except when I’m at home in my pajamas! So the image of the blonde wearing cowboy boots banging her head against a desk and holding up a white flag… That’s me, overwhelmed by marketing. Because we’ve learned that that is a universal feeling and it’s a great way for us to emotionally connect with customers.

The real me, is all totally part of that — inspiration, if you will. I’m a little rough around the edges, goofy, and I make mistakes all the time — I’m human. I just am who I am — warts and all. In fact, in another life, I was a rock ’n’ roll DJ, broadcasting to 20 million listeners a day at XM Satellite Radio. And one of the things I used to do was make mistakes on purpose. Because everything was recorded and I had to figure out a way to make it feel live… to infuse that emotional connection, that energy between me and the audience. I’d also take long pauses because I learned that when there’s silence, the first thing listeners do is turn up the volume. These are the things I think about with Lately’s marketing all the time; how can I take what I learned from radio and infuse it here. Because that’s what makes companies and marketing, accessible — to pull back the black curtain and reveal the mystery. So it’s essential that Lately’s persona capitalizes on that and is accessible in a way where it doesn’t feel like we’re the smartest marketers in the room or we’re too cool, or we’re snobby, or full of jargon. We are humans, just like you. We are marketers, after all, with the same problems you have.

Gosh, thanks! I definitely think of pitching as a form of marketing. Naturally, there’s even different messaging because it’s a different audience, investors versus customers. One of the key things, though again, is to put that human touch, that accessibility, front and center. Naturally, I fall back to radio for lessons learned… For example, the weather comes over the wire and it’s all scientific, talking about cumulus clouds and a 37.4% chance of rain — you would never read that. The human way is: “Grab an umbrella on your way out the door just in case, there’s a small chance of rain.” By the way, this is a trick I’ve also taught my sales team, how important is to mold their scripts to their own voices, to their own vernacular. Which is exactly how I write my pitches — including all of my slang words, speaking the way I normally speak. And then I learn it… I don’t memorize it. I put 20 pennies in a jar and have another, empty jar next to me and I do the pitch 20 times a day, moving the pennies from one jar to another, so that before the actual pitch, I’ve literally done it a couple of hundred times. I make sure to power through through all the mistakes so I also learn how to get out of each one of them. This way, it all becomes instinctive.

The other thing that works for me, because of radio, is that I learn aurally — meaning that I hear the frequency and the cadence of the words, like a song. So when I practice, I say the same phrases the same way, with the same rhythm, in the same tone, in the same pitch, each time. Because when I write, I’m always hearing the writing in my mind. Sound and writing go hand-in-hand to me. And I think that’s essential to communicating, naturally, to zero in on that human element.

I also choreograph the pitch, slightly, so that I always stand on the same side of the screen — even if that means not using the lectern provided. That also means extending my hand out in certain places or pointing at certain components of the slides the same way, every time.

Consistency comes into play as well. Because by the time I’m done with a series of pitch events, my entire team pretty much knows the pitch by heart as well. As a company, we can be one voice.

Of course, I get scared like anyone else. So one of the most important things I do for that is to always arrive super early and do my pitch out loud, in the room, even if there are other people milling about. I don’t care if they are setting up chairs and looking at me funny. I just get on stage and get rolling. This helps me to feel out the room, to understand how far away people will be, where I need to be looking and how loud I need to be. That’s one of the best tricks someone ever taught me… to talk loudly even if you have a mic. Be the loudest person in the room. After all, it’s a competition between you and the other entrepreneurs. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. My goal is to own the room. That’s the sticky note I put on my laptop when I’m pitching. Smile and own the room. Because you have to stand out. And as a female founder, you’ve got to be twice as good as the guys. Be so loud that you make folks jump a little bit and put down their phones :-).

One of the most important things you can do as a startup is to just do something as opposed to nothing, when it comes to marketing. Even if you’re saying, “Okay, we’re gonna do one Twitter post a day ’cause that’s all we can do.” Fine, just get some baseline so that when you do have the money or the people power to put more in to it, you have something to work with. That’s so helpful as opposed to starting with that blank slate. Remember, building an audience takes time. A lot of time. There’s nothing worse than needing an audience urgently — to tell about your sale or feature update or whatever — and having nothing. Don’t get overwhelmed with all the channels. Just do one thing. Try to be as good as you can with that one thing. Do your best at that. Focus on that. Then worry about the other stuff later.


Listen to the full interview with Kate here:

You can find Kate Bradley Chernis on Twitter. You can also see how Lately uses artificial intelligence to help startups automatically turn blogs, newsletters, videos and podcasts into amazing social posts in seconds, here.

For more from Kate and the other 50 startup leaders interviewed for Beyond Product, get your copy at Amazon.com, B&N, or one of your other favorite retailers.

Jill Soley

Written by

Author of Beyond Product, VP Product @Cloverpop, Mom (most important role). jillsoley.com