Growth marketing and creating awareness on a shoestring - with Daniel Shaw-Dennis

Daniel Shaw-Dennis, Senior Vice President of Global Strategy, Growth & Alliances at Yellowfin and Director at Slingshot Advisory, shares his inside advice for increasing leads and raising awareness with limited resources.
July 20, 2023
Katarina Throssell

A mark of a great startup founder is the ability to do a lot, with a little. We all know that this is a skill born of necessity, particularly in marketing, where your budget line will likely be far slimmer than you’d like. So what’s an early-stage founder to do? 

Giant Leap’s portfolio companies recently had the pleasure of hearing from Daniel Shaw-Dennis on how to supercharge a startup’s growth marketing on a shoestring budget. 

Daniel is a distinguished figure in the startup community with over a decade of experience at Yellowfin, a once-bootstrapped software company that achieved global success and subsequent acquisition. He’s also the Director of Slingshot Advisory, a Melbourne-based growth advisory firm helping early stage startups realise accelerated growth. Daniel has experience in all stages of the growth journey – from customer acquisition and marketing to scaling, international expansion, and optimising B2B sales.

Daniel shared a key tip, a hack, and a piece of helpful hiring advice for each stage of a company’s marketing journey with us – check them out below. 

Early stage: making impact with a minimal marketing spend 

Tip: Build thought leadership and topical content within your market 

Daniel recommends building your profile in the market through publishing insightful thought leadership and relevant, topical content. How should you do this in a small team? Get your experienced leaders to sit down and give a thorough brain dump of what they’ve been working on to the marketing team on a regular basis, for marketing to then run with. This helps create a regular cadence of content to push out. 

You can create efficiencies by slicing up this core content for various social media platforms with the helping hand of generative AI. The same content can go further in different formats – for example, a longer thought piece can be repurposed into a short explainer article, with these often doing very well from a search engine optimisation (SEO) perspective. 

Another of Daniel’s key tips here is to press release everything! If it’s even slightly newsworthy, put it out there, as smaller releases build up over time to create greater market awareness. You can push out press releases via 3rd party platforms for additional reach. 

Hack: Share your expertise via a technical forum on your website 

Building a repository of knowledge within your domain provides very effective SEO juice and can be linked to a support team resource for customer integration. 

Daniel told us that the team at Yellowfin tried this early on and found that it yielded great results – customers engaged with the website because they found a solution to a problem posted on the technical forum, and then stayed for broader content and services. 

Hire: Don’t underestimate hiring straight out of university 

Hiring fresh grads straight out of university has a host of benefits, including fostering a young and dynamic company culture with energised employees who are hungry to grow. Back them and invest in their growth journey, as this will work hand in hand with the company’s growth.

Daniel has also found that as those junior employees later move on into other corporate spaces, they can become positive advocates for your company and generate future customer leads. 

Growth stage: when you finally have a little bit of cash to spend 

Tip: Focus on getting your name in third party content 

It’s no secret that positive brand exposure in third party content is more powerful than the positive words you write about yourself. So how to get other people talking about you? 

Daniel recommends working with other independent, well-respected players in your industry who are aligned with your value proposition. Work with those who are already on-side with your product or cause, including journalists, industry bodies, medical authorities, and potential buyers. Draw them in by offering an element of exclusivity - such as an embargoed early preview of a new product ahead of a release, or insights into customer stories that aren’t public facing. 

Hack: Expanding to the US? Change your spelling! 

A key element of tailoring your content to your target market is also updating your keyboard language – if you’re targeting the US, change your spelling! This will give the positive impression of a larger US presence and better market alignment. 

Commit to consistency across all of your content, and ensure alignment with your key markets. It goes without saying that if your key markets are Australia and NZ, stick to the Aussie spelling.

Hire: Do-ers, not delegators

Now that you have a little more money to spend on marketing, you may be considering making your first senior marketing hire. Daniel’s key point here is not to be swayed by fancy titles – make sure you’re hiring a do-er, rather than a delegator. If you’re still in early growth stages, you want a team member who is still willing to muck in, will call up a customer themselves to find out what’s wrong, and who will set a strong, proactive example for the rest of the team. 

How do you spot a do-er in an interview situation? When asking about past experiences, dive deeper in second-order questions about the work they physically did on recent projects to determine whether the candidate was really across the detail themselves, or if they left this to others. 

Scaling: what to do now that you have an actual marketing budget 

Tip: Host and attend events, and take a multi-channel approach 

Now that you have a real budget, Daniel recommends maximising any engagement in industry events, whether you’re sponsoring or attending.

When sponsoring events, who should you invite? Start with any potential customers already in your buying cycle, invite them to the event for another re-enforcement on who you are, to help fast track the deal. Make sure any potential partners, i.e. organisations that could sell your product or provide services to your start-up, are also on the list. 

After this, broaden your view to any potential alliances, being organisations that complement your value proposition or that could collaborate on your go to market strategy. Also consider  using events as an opportunity to further understand your competitors. 

When attending large events such as conferences, go with a clear strategy in hand. Make a target list of other attendees that could be potential sales leads or partners, reach out to them ahead of time, and suggest meeting in person at the event. This way, you’re going in with a full and productive schedule. 

Hack: Put a draft clause for case studies in your sales contracts 

When securing early sales, it’s common to offer first customers a discount to get them over the line. Daniel reminded us that there should always be a ‘give/get’ in offering a discount, and suggests asking for the customer to agree to being a case study in return for the sweeter deal. 

To take this a step further, Daniel recommended making an agreement to a case study a standard clause in all sales contracts.. This is a powerful sales tool and presents an easy way to secure strong examples you can share with the market. 

Hire: Dedicated enablement 

Daniel also emphasised ensuring that you have someone in your team dedicated to enabling optimal marketing and sales performance both for your internal team, and for any external partners. You should think about extending the technical training you give to your employees to all the people in the ecosystem who are selling your products, to ensure everything is running smoothly. 

Final takeaways for any stage of the growth game

If that wasn’t enough to get you well on your way to marketing success, then here’s another three key takeaways the Giant Leap team took from Daniel’s insightful presentation: 

  1. Data over ego! Let go of your emotional attachment to your favourite campaign - do what gets results, and do it objectively. 
  1. Focus on backing hungry team members, regardless of the stage of their career that they’re at, and welcome them into a high-performing team culture. 
  1. Try to turn any challenge into an opportunity and focus on strategy - whether that’s with events, creating strategic scarcity when pitching to journalists, or getting value for yourself when offering discounts to customers. There’s always an upside and it should never just be a race to the bottom. 

Daniel Shaw-Dennis is Senior Vice President of Global Strategy, Growth & Alliances at Yellowfin and Director at Slingshot Advisory. Daniel has over 20 years’ experience in technology transformation and accelerating growth in new territories, combined with a deep background in leveraging data for competitive advantage and x1 successful exit. If you’re interested in exploring growth with Dan, feel free to reach out via email or LinkedIn

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