We don’t typically hear about content marketing for startups since startups need to stay “lean” and content is considered a luxury to some. Do you think it’s harder to make the case for content in the startup world?

joe-chernov-1The people who are known to be innovators in content marketing are consultants, agencies, big B2B companies, or consumer brands. You don’t see a lot on the startup side.

Most brands think you have to get the marketing basics in place, then build some content marketing program that sits adjacent to it. So startups think that content is too expensive or that it’s what you do after you’ve built your marketing engine.

Content marketing is crucial for a startup, it just can’t afford to have content sitting vertically within marketing. Content needs to cut horizontally, at the very least across the marketing function and ideally across the organization.

You work as VP of marketing at a startup called Kinvey, which calls itself a “Backend-as-a-Service” provider. What exactly does that mean and how do you create content marketing around it?

We started as a company that provided back-end service for individual developers. If you were looking to build a mobile app but you just didn’t have the bandwidth to build all that boiler plate functionality that every app needs, we pre-built it and it sits in the cloud.

We now offer that core platform with some heavy duty enterprise-grade functionality and we sell that cloud service to enterprise developers.

I create content by trying to zero in on what our audience is struggling with. I’ll talk to our sales team and ask what questions we get asked that we should have a good answer to but we don’t. So we’ll create content around that.

For example, one of the most common questions we were asked was how long it actually takes to build a mobile app on your own. It seemed like such an obvious question that no one had really thought to answer it and frankly that answer didn’t exist on the web.

I commissioned some first-person research and came up with an answer and we turned that answer into an infographic, which all the tech trades picked up.


We are starting to hear the term “growth hacking” a lot these days in the startup world. Do you think it differs much from regular old marketing?

I think in some ways growth hacking is the term used when an engineer works in a marketing department. Maybe engineers don’t want to say they work in marketing so they came up with a more engineering-friendly term!

But there is a movement towards left-brain marketing, or data-based marketing, and that is much more consistent with the inherent skill set of engineers.

Everybody is crazy about data these days. At the International Startup Festival you said that “science is beating the art side of marketing.” What did you mean by that?

When you’re talking about the art of marketing, it’s people’s opinion. Somebody likes one logo better than another, somebody likes this page design better than another. It’s very hard to solve politically because you’re talking about personalities and not data points.

In one way the science of marketing is refreshing because it validates the art. There is a better colour. Google has arrived at the perfect blue through tireless testing.

But in some ways the art is lost. When the only organ marketers value is their brain, we have entirely devalued an equally important organ which is the gut.

I still think that there is room in marketing for people to trust their instinct. Just because I have no data to support it makes it no less true.

In a spontaneous collaboration, Chernov and design firm ripetungi created this infographic, which went viral and gave them positive press.

Chernov collaborated with Robin Richards, head of design at ripetungi, to create this infographic, which is based on a Huffington Post article.

What lessons do you think marketers at bigger brands can learn from marketers at startups?

A huge CRM once asked me to create a piece of content in advance of their huge conference. We would create an infographic that was all about the different points of disruption in the technologies that surround sales and marketing professionals.

This company gave me a wink and said, “Make sure that some of the companies that we own are reflected in this graphic.” So there was this big line of bullshit running through the graphic because it was a little bit coerced.

We get to the end of it, they’re happy with it and their logos are all over it. We’re good to go, or so it seems.

It gets routed to legal and legal rejects it on the grounds that we don’t have the right to use their own logos and marks in that context. Big companies are constantly in their own way. When you operate like that nothing gets done.