The Full Stack Marketer’s Hierarchy of Needs

Much in the way Maslow’s famous hierarchy maps the most fundamental human needs, the Full Stack Marketer has their own set of needs to reach the ultimate end state — sustainable growth for their product and company.

Like the construction of any great pyramid, the hard work must begin at the base, for only after a foundational layer of product innovation has been carefully mastered can the upper echelons take you toward the stratospheres of hyper-growth.

Building structures, particularly companies, that stand the test of time is not for the faint of heart because there are so many things that can go wrong. Hire the wrong crew, you build the wrong things. Run out of funds, construction screeches to a halt. Build too slow, the market turns on you. Builders who skip any single step in this hierarchy will inevitably fail; their engine of growth won’t be architecturally sound enough to withstand the pressures of a fiercely competitive landscape. And if continued maintenance and care for each level of the pyramid is neglected, the entire structure can vaporize into sand faster than you can imagine.

These are the Full Stack Marketer’s Hierarchy of Needs:

1. Great Product

A great product is the foundation of all great marketing. There is no exception.

The Full Stack Marketer loves product just as much as they love marketing, for they know that until you have a product (or beta, or concept) there is zero marketing to be done.

A great product precedes great marketing in the way that the tilling of soil and planting of seeds precedes a bountiful harvest after water, sun and time have been properly applied. Just as you can’t reverse the process and begin harvesting before your crop has had a chance to develop, you can’t start marketing when you have nothing for real people to consume.

A minimum viable level of product/market fit is so incredibly difficult to pull off that it requires all hands on deck. That means the Full Stack Marketer does whatever they can to help the team get there: sketching wireframes, drawing UI in Photoshop, building functional InVision mockups, talking to prospective customers about their pain points. Even (some) coding. The Full Stack Marketer knows when it’s time to build and when it’s time to sell.

Since the ease of marketing a product is directly proportional to how great it is, incremental improvements at the outset can change the entire trajectory of your business in the long run. In a startup, the odds against you are already so high that marketing a sub-par product isn’t worth anyone’s time.

2. Early Advocates

100 die hard fans of your product is better than 10,000 fairweather fans. If your support is a mile wide and an inch deep, you will be standing in an empty stadium when the next thing inevitably comes along.

When you’ve achieved some level of product/market fit, or believe you have, there’s only one way to find out: recruit an army of face-painted, raucously passionate advocates that will go to battle with you because they love your product. These aren’t friends and family — these are real users pulling so much value from your product that if it disappeared they’d be devastated.

At this stage, go where your prospective early advocates live (online and offline) and drag them kicking and screaming into your funnel. Go on Quora and answer questions about your space. Go to meet ups with your prototype and talk to anyone who will listen. Get your product in the hands of real people as quickly as possible, by any means necessary.

In the early days, you have to manually hunt down advocates because no one gives a shit about what you’re building. Eventually, a truly great product with basic distribution will start converting users into advocates automatically. The result of a product that converts users into advocates is a word-of-mouth dividend that fuels future growth by amplifying all paid and earned marketing efforts with a k-factor that pulls in other users for free.

If you can’t recruit 100 die-hard users, you don’t have product/market fit. Go back to the foundation.

3. Portfolio of Tactics

You have to invest in a portfolio of marketing tactics knowing some will fail, some will have moderate success and a few will be your main drivers of growth.

With a base of early advocates, it’s time to find a hell of a lot more of them. To achieve this, you must develop a portfolio of different marketing tactics to find promising pockets of growth. You have to view your job as that of a VC: bet on and execute 10 tactics knowing only a handful may work and 1 or 2 will “return the fund” by disproportionately generating new customers.

These tactics might include: partnerships, paid user acquisition, app store optimization, SEO, promotions, branded content, email, PR etc. This middle stage of the hierarchy feels most like “marketing” in the traditional sense.

In time, it will become clear that certain channels work better for your product than others and you can double down on them to keep moving up-and-to-the-right. The goal is to find repeatable tactics that will generate growth for months and years to come versus lightning-in-a-bottle, one-offs that are nearly impossible to replicate.

4. Automation

With a portfolio of successful tactics in place, automate as many of them as possible and outsource the ‘manual labor’ to technology.

With a half dozen repeatable marketing tactics in your toolkit, it’s time to automate as many of them as you can to free up time for higher impact initiatives. This may involve taking emails you’ve been sending manually and building automated customer journeys. Or dynamically generating ad creative instead of designing static assets.

This frees you up to focus like a lazer on the real needle movers that can have a 10X impact on your growth curve. Like locking down a partnership with a major media company that helps you build free brand awareness. Or forging a distribution deal with a Fortune 500 company that gets you in front of an entirely new set of customers.

Building an automated marketing system is expensive, both in terms of hard costs (buying 3rd party tools) and soft costs (burning time setting them up). To get an ROI on your investment, the new initiatives you spend time on must be an order of magnitude more effective than the tactics you just automated. If not, your growth will remain linear rather than exponential, you will have saddled yourself with more costs, and you may never reach the top of the pyramid where Full Stack Marketer self-actualization awaits.

5. Scale

With all layers working together in harmony, you begin earning compounding interest on growth.

With an amazing product people love, a swarm of advocates fueling word-of-mouth, a solid portfolio of repeatable tactics and an automation machine cranking out real revenue, you are on the cusp of taking the top of the pyramid, hitting the afterburners and achieving escape-velocity growth.

At scale, the sophisticated marketing stack you’ve worked hard to build can produce the kind of economics you could only dream about in the beginning via compounding interest on growth. It looks something like this:

  • A reliable percentage of customers flowing into your funnel are converted into advocates, and those advocates pull in new customers for free.
  • Having automated your tactics into reliable channels, the marginal effort to acquire a new customer drops toward zero and your growth economics (acquisition cost and lifetime value) stabilize. These lower cost customers are also sucking new customers into your funnel for free.
  • The reliability of your stellar “ground game” (kickass product, word-of-mouth, automated funnel) allows you to confidently fund a strong “air game” of PR and brand campaigns to build massive brand awareness, which makes all marketing channels work harder, bringing in even more customers for free who are bringing in other customers for free.

You may have noticed a theme here: at this stage, your marketing layers become reliable. This means you can invest money and resources in and know what you’ll get out. To keep scaling, more human and financial capital is needed to fully leverage all layers of the marketing stack.

Ironically, when you’ve fully actualized this stage, the most important thing you can do isn’t more marketing at all. At this point, you have an entire marketing organization that is tending to your engine of growth, ensuring the machinery remains in top condition. Your biggest risk is taking your eye of the ball with respect to your product, halting innovation and arrogantly assuming you won’t be disrupted. Letting the base of your pyramid start to crack and fissure leaves you vulnerable to the elements of disruption all around you; this is why startups slay goliath companies all the time.

If you complete the top of the pyramid, congrats — you are a unicorn Full Stack Marketer and pharaoh of growth. But know this: if your stack starts crumbling because you let your product go, an insurgent Full Stack Marketer will be standing by to tear the rest of your unicorpse down into the dust.