Marketing for Technologists
As I mentioned before, non-marketing people tend to view marketing as this expensive, monolithic necessary evil, dominated by wasteful "Madison Ave" style marketing, i.e., advertisements, logos and slogans.
In a nutshell, Marketing=PR=Ads=Marcom=Branding.
This is far from the truth. Understanding the basics of marketing and whom to hire for marketing help, is critical for CEOs and technologists to understand.
The key thing to understand is that the type of marketing is highly dependent on Who you are, Who your customers are, and What stage your business is in. Here's a quick and dirty primer:
PR is about managing media and analyst relations. A good PR company helps manage messaging and positioning targeted at the media. PR should generate interest from relevant trade magazines, blogs, editors, award bodies, analysts, etc. The goal is increase knowledge of your company and products among customers, industry experts, investors, etc. Specific PR campaigns should have more concrete objectives.
PR is most effective as part of a broader marketing campaign. Good PR is dependent upon many factors, not the least of which is timing. In other words, PR for PRs sake is extremely expensive with little return. The need for PR is highly dependent upon what stage your business is in and what your current corporate objectives are.
During boom times, PR companies can be very expensive, demanding a high monthly retainer and requiring careful management to ensure you're getting the attention you're paying for. In tough times, prices drop significantly and retainers can be negotiated way. Additionally, since the 2001 bust, there's been a steady increase of highly competent independent PR contractors, who work by the hour or by project. For start-ups requiring help with press releases and initial exposure to trade magazines and industry analysts, I recommend going this route.
Many of written about the misconception of the term "brand." (I recommend reading Tom Asaker.) Without getting into it too much, branding is more than a logo and a slogan. Much more. Branding is about everything your company does that is perceptible to the public, including things such things as customer support and your sales team's sales style.
Logo, web site images, color palette help create the visual aspect of your brand. Brand image is important. Bad name, ugly logo, awful colors, poor web layout, etc., all adversely affect your credibility. But again, the relative level of its importance is tied directly to where you are as a company. There's also a common misconception that you are stuck with whatever you choose now. That's simply not true.
Design firms specialize in branding work. While they also may wish to help define other aspects of marketing, such as vision, mission, messaging, etc., I don't recommend this. It's not their specialty. They need to understand these things and can perhaps help bring out your brand "personality," but don't get into actually developing messaging with a branding house. Like with PR, there are a ton of great independent contractors you can use as well.
Marcom, marketing communications, messaging, positioning
The core messages of your company and product, which describe your distinct value in the market place, your differentiators, benefits, position relative to competiton, etc. Messages must be targeted to your various audiences, but most importantly the customers in the market segment your targeting.
Who is the best to write the messages? Well, actually your customers. So you might want to look for marketing consultants who specialize in using your customers to draw out your core messages.
Lead Generation; Demand Generation
Specific marketing activities to generate customer prospects. Search engine marketing, ad words, direct mail, email campaigns, webinars are all examples. The price of these vary by activity. The effectiveness is dependent upon how tightly coupled they are to the needs and buying process of the prospective customer.
There are a ton of marketing consultant firms and independent contractors, as well as potential full time hires. My recommendation is to hire for what you need now, not what you hope you'll need when you're bigger. Do you need Madison Ave or customer development?