entrepreneurial marketing

Entrepreneurial Marketing: A Complete Guide on How to Grow a Startup Business

Traditional marketing concepts (e.g., the 4 Ps of the marketing mix) are of limited value to smaller businesses and early-stage startups. That’s because traditional marketing theory was developed in a corporate context, and SMBs operate under unique conditions. The strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing these companies are usually very different from those of a large enterprise. That’s why smaller firms benefit from an entrepreneurial marketing approach that capitalizes on the benefits of being a small firm (e.g., agility) to develop a sustainable competitive advantage.

The Parallels Between Marketing and Entrepreneurship

Marketing and entrepreneurship share many similarities. Entrepreneurs look for new opportunities to create value and risk their resources to exploit those opportunities for a potential profit. To do this, they must identify an opportunity, assess their ability to take advantage of it, and evaluate whether the potential profit is worth the investment.1Mishra, Chandra S. and Zachary, Ramona K. “The Theory of Entrepreneurship ” Entrepreneurship Research Journal, vol. 5, no. 4, 2015, pp. 251-268. https://doi.org/10.1515/erj-2015-0042

This process always involves a degree of uncertainty, and there’s a correlation between that level of uncertainty and the level of innovation involved in the entrepreneur’s product or service. The entrepreneur may find that people don’t ultimately value their offering, and they must pivot or begin a new venture. Or it may be that they value it, but not as much as the entrepreneur anticipated, and, again, the entrepreneur must pivot or take a loss.

Value creation is central to many of the latest approaches to marketing, like inbound marketing, content marketing, and engineering as marketing.

Marketers also create value by:

  • Soliciting and evaluating customer feedback to identify new offerings and changes to existing offerings that will better meet customer needs
  • Determining what information customers need about the offering and its use
  • Developing effective ways to deliver that information
  • Encouraging or participatingin the development of brand communities where customers can assist each other and satisfy psychological needs

What is Entrepreneurial Marketing?

Marketing refers to the activities a company uses to persuade customers to make a purchase, and entrepreneurial marketing is defined by its entrepreneurial approach to those activities. In contrast to traditional marketing, which relies on the standard execution of common tactics, an entrepreneurial approach to marketing identifies new tactics or executes existing tactics in new ways.2Kraus, S., Harms, R., & Fink, M. (2010). Entrepreneurial marketing: moving beyond marketing in new ventures. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, 11(1), 19-34. 10.1504/IJEIM.2010.029766

TROPIC: The 6 Pillars of Entrepreneurial Marketing

There are many different definitions of entrepreneurial marketing. I believe that the fundamental features that separate this entrepreneurial approach from conventional marketing are best captured by what I call the TROPIC framework:

  1. Tolerant of Risk. Entrepreneurial marketing must be risk tolerant because validating innovative opportunities requires experimentation that will sometimes fail to generate a return on investment.3Kraus 2010
  2. Resourceful. It is resourceful because it uses all resources at its disposal to acquire and retain customers. This includes internal resources, resources shared with partners, and resources under external control. 4Ray Chaudhury, S., A. Albinsson, P., David Shows, G. and Moench, V. (2014), “The winemaker as entrepreneurial marketer: an exploratory study”, International Journal of Wine Business Research, Vol. 26 No. 4, pp. 259-278. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJWBR-06-2013-0023
  3. Opportunistic. It’s opportunistic because it exploits existing circumstances to create value.5Michael H. Morris, Minet Schindehutte & Raymond W. LaForge (2002) Entrepreneurial Marketing: A Construct for Integrating Emerging Entrepreneurship and Marketing Perspectives, Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 10:4, 1-19, 10.1080/10696679.2002.1150192210.1080/10696679.2002.11501922
  4. Proactive. It’s proactive because it doesn’t assume existing circumstances are static, instead, it actively seeks out opportunities to disrupt the status quo.6Kraus 2010
  5. Innovative. It’s innovative because it “create[s], communicate[s] and deliver value[s]” in new ways.7Kraus 2010
  6. Customer-centric. Finally, it is customer-centric because it depends on high levels of customer engagement to get feedback on new and existing products and to raise brand awareness through word of mouth.8Morris 2002

Entrepreneurial vs. Conventional Marketing

In the real world, there are few companies that are wholly entrepreneurial in their approach. The traditional and entrepreneurial approaches to marketing exist at opposite ends of a spectrum. Most real-world marketing strategies fall somewhere in between the two.9Morris 2002

What is entrepreneurial marketing?
Source: Entrepreneurial Marketing: A Construct for Integrating Emerging Entrepreneurship and Marketing Perspectives10Morris 2002

The three primary differences between the two approaches are:

  • Objective: The traditional marketer makes plans to influence revenue based on the current situation and predicted changes, while the entrepreneurial marketer works to influence the situation to develop a competitive advantage.
  • Strategy: The traditional marketer develops and executes conventional strategies that leverage existing resources, while the entrepreneurial marketer experiments to identify new strategies that exploit resources not under company control.
  • Value Creation: The traditional marketer supports the products developed by R&D and other technical departments. These products are marketed and sold to customers who have limited communication with people in the company outside of sales. The entrepreneurial marketer establishes a two-way line of communication between each customer and the company to increase engagement and inform the development of new products.11Morris 2002

Conventional marketing is built on fundamentals like the 5 Ps of marketing (or four if you prefer). It aims to develop a sustained competitive advantage through conventional tactics like low prices, better products, superior operations, and product leadership.12Schindehutte, M., & Morris, M. (2010). Entrepreneurial marketing strategy: lessons from the Red Queen. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, 11(1), 75-94. 10.1504/IJEIM.2010.029769.

The marketing mix and other basic principles of marketing strategy can be useful to smaller firms, but the emphasis should be on areas in which these firms can outperform their larger competitors. For example, instead of relying on traditional market research, entrepreneurial marketers work closely with customers to determine the right product, price, place, and promotion as part of an iterative process.13Read S., Dew N., Sarasvathy S.D., Song M, Wiltbank R. Marketing under Uncertainty: The Logic of an Effectual Approach. Journal of Marketing. 2009;73(3):1-18. 10.1509/jmkg.73.3.001

The Benefits of an Entrepreneurial Approach

Research over the last ten years shows that:

  • Entrepreneurial marketing is highly effective in competitive markets.14Amjad, T., Abdul Rani, S., Sa’atar, S., & , (2020). Entrepreneurial Marketing Theory. SEISENSE Journal of Management, (3)1, 27-46. DOI: 10.33215/sjom.v3i1.274
  • It leads to improved outcomes for companies of all sizes.15Morris 2002
  • It offers useful lessons for marketers operating under uncertain conditions.16Read 2009

An entrepreneurial approach leads to better use of resources and new marketing insights that benefit the companies

Developing an Entrepreneurial Marketing Strategy

Not all situations require an entrepreneurial marketing approach. It is particularly effective for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and early-stage startups. These types of companies are operating under different circumstances than the corporations around which traditional marketing theory was developed.17Martin, D.M. (2009), “The entrepreneurial marketing mix”, Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 391-403. https://doi.org/10.1108/13522750910993310 Entrepreneurial marketing is based on the experiences of entrepreneurs and marketers at SMEs and startups, so it’s more relevant to their circumstances.

Entrepreneurial marketing strategies are also well suited to conditions of uncertainty. For example, when:

  • Traditional market research isn’t possible
  • You haven’t achieved product-market fit
  • You’re creating a new category

The 6 Principles of Entrepreneurial Marketing

Here are six principles to guide your efforts.

  1. Use unconventional tactics. Don’t attack competitors head-on. Forge strategic alliances and attack where competitors’ are weak.
  2. Respond to changes quickly.
  3. Improvise.
  4. Make strategic alliances.
  5. Grow demand.
  6. Break boundaries. 18Schindehutte 2010
principles of entrepreneurial marketing
Source: Entrepreneurial marketing strategy: lessons from the Red Queen.19Schindehutte 2010

A Framework

We’ll get into specifics below, but here is a broad framework to guide your entrepreneurial marketing efforts.

  • Create Opportunities. Identify an existing problem (whether people are aware of it or not) and developing a credible solution that delivers measurable results.
  • Scale. Work with as many experts and insiders as you can to increase efficiency, credibility, and product efficacy. In other words, hire the right people and make the right connections.
  • Accelerate the Process. Get your product or service in the hands of the people who will benefit most from it so you can get valuable feedback and generate WOM.20“Entrepreneurial Marketing: A Framework for Creating Opportunity with Competitive Angles”, Journal of Applied Business and Economics, Edition 1, Volume 13, Pages 47-52, North American Business Press, West Palm Beach, Florida, 2012

Examples

An entrepreneurial approach should make efficient use of resources to “do[] more with less.”21Morris 2002 That means:

  • Stretching resources further
  • Using resources that others can’t or in ways that others can’t
  • Using external resources
  • Combining resources in ways that lead to a whole greater than the sum of the parts
  • Using existing resources to get other resources22Morris 2002

Five entrepreneurial marketing strategies include:

  • Expeditionary marketing: Identify new markets through the process of “successive approximation,” quickly developing and launching products to accumulate knowledge and feedback that result in a competitive advantage.23Gould, B. (1998), “Marketing as experimental innovation: succeeding via planned failure”, The Antidote, Vol. 3 No. 5, pp. 35-35. https://doi.org/10.1108/EUM0000000006574
  • Guerrilla marketing: Generate free publicity and word of mouth through unconventional marketing campaigns that leverage external resources and take people by surprise.24Wikipedia contributors. (2021, July 15). Guerrilla marketing. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:20, October 6, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Guerrilla_marketing&oldid=1033649678
  • Viral marketing: Generate electronic word of mouth (eWOM) by targeting existing social networks with digital and physical content that members of that network will share and reshare.25Fox, G.L., Lind, S.J. A framework for viral marketing replication and mutation. AMS Rev 10, 206–222 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13162-019-00152-w
  • Buzz marketing. Generate enthusiasm and word of mouth (WOM) through events or publicity stunts that people will talk about.26Kraus 2010
  • Radical marketing. Work to build a community of loyal customers by taking a customer-centric approach and increasing customer engagement.27Morris 2002
  • Growth hacking. Use technology, analytics, and testing to identify cost-efficient tactics to achieve growth. This approach is primarily applied to SaaS marketing.28Conway, T. and Hemphill, T. (2019), “Growth hacking as an approach to producing growth amongst UK technology start-ups: an evaluation”, Journal of Research in Marketing and Entrepreneurship, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 163-179. https://doi.org/10.1108/JRME-12-2018-0065
  • Agile marketing. Streamline marketing operations to enable the rapid development and execution of successive marketing activities that build on the knowledge gained from the activities that came before.29Kalaignanam K, Tuli KR, Kushwaha T, Lee L, Gal D. Marketing Agility: The Concept, Antecedents, and a Research Agenda. Journal of Marketing. 2021;85(1):35-58. 10.1177/0022242920952760

Some of these strategies are similar. Buzz marketing and viral marketing, for example, are each designed to generate WOM, but viral marketing focuses on eWOM. And agile marketing and expeditionary marketing both rely on quick, iterative tests that reduce uncertainty.

One reason for that is that marketers marketing themselves are always developing “new” concepts to create a category for themselves. The terms “guerilla marketing” and “radical marketing” were both coined in books written or co-written by marketers to build markets for themselves. But the names of these entrepreneurial marketing strategies and the intentions behind their creation aren’t important.

They are illustrative, and they can inform your approach to customer acquisition, customer engagement, and customer retention. Each approach highlights a different way to develop innovative marketing campaigns, but don’t get tunnel vision. Following any strategy too closely risks missing truly new opportunities that may arise. There’s nothing entrepreneurial about that.

Related Marketing Strategies

There are other marketing concepts that either facilitate the success of entrepreneurial marketing strategies or offer insight into one of the six pillars. Customer engagement and relationship marketing, which emphasize the importance of developing lasting connections with customers are the most useful.

It costs less to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one. And, when it comes to customer retention, small businesses and early-stage startups have a unique advantage over larger competitors. A smaller customer base is usually easier to please. That’s especially true for companies that focus on a niche inside a larger customer segment.

These companies can offer unique solutions that satisfy the requirements of a niche in a way that companies that focus on a broader segment of the market cannot.

The Process

While the strategies covered above can all be considered entrepreneurial marketing strategies, none of them encapsulates the approach entirely. In fact, despite how they are addressed in the academic literature, the methods covered so far are tactics, not strategies.

Entrepreneurial marketing itself is really not a strategy either. But we don’t need to get bogged down in the strategy-tactics distinction any more than we already have.

Whatever you call it, the process of entrepreneurial marketing is the continuous, iterative pursuit of competitive advantage.

  1. An opportunity for innovation is recognized or created.
  2. The opportunity is assessed in terms of the competitive advantage it will potentially establish for the company.
  3. Worthwhile opportunities will be pursued in the hope of realizing a competitive advantage.
  4. When the opportunity fails to establish a competitive advantage, it is abandoned.
  5. An opportunity that does establish a competitive advantage will ultimately be exploited by other companies as well. This reduces its impact and necessitates the continuous pursuit of new opportunities to get an edge over the competition.30Miles, M. P., & Darroch, J. (2006). Large firms, entrepreneurial marketing processes, and the cycle of competitive advantage. European Journal of Marketing, 40(5/6), 485–501. doi:10.1108/03090560610657804

Any questions?

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn: Roy Harmon.

References

  • 1
    Mishra, Chandra S. and Zachary, Ramona K. “The Theory of Entrepreneurship ” Entrepreneurship Research Journal, vol. 5, no. 4, 2015, pp. 251-268. https://doi.org/10.1515/erj-2015-0042
  • 2
    Kraus, S., Harms, R., & Fink, M. (2010). Entrepreneurial marketing: moving beyond marketing in new ventures. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, 11(1), 19-34. 10.1504/IJEIM.2010.029766
  • 3
    Kraus 2010
  • 4
    Ray Chaudhury, S., A. Albinsson, P., David Shows, G. and Moench, V. (2014), “The winemaker as entrepreneurial marketer: an exploratory study”, International Journal of Wine Business Research, Vol. 26 No. 4, pp. 259-278. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJWBR-06-2013-0023
  • 5
    Michael H. Morris, Minet Schindehutte & Raymond W. LaForge (2002) Entrepreneurial Marketing: A Construct for Integrating Emerging Entrepreneurship and Marketing Perspectives, Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 10:4, 1-19, 10.1080/10696679.2002.1150192210.1080/10696679.2002.11501922
  • 6
    Kraus 2010
  • 7
    Kraus 2010
  • 8
    Morris 2002
  • 9
    Morris 2002
  • 10
    Morris 2002
  • 11
    Morris 2002
  • 12
    Schindehutte, M., & Morris, M. (2010). Entrepreneurial marketing strategy: lessons from the Red Queen. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, 11(1), 75-94. 10.1504/IJEIM.2010.029769.
  • 13
    Read S., Dew N., Sarasvathy S.D., Song M, Wiltbank R. Marketing under Uncertainty: The Logic of an Effectual Approach. Journal of Marketing. 2009;73(3):1-18. 10.1509/jmkg.73.3.001
  • 14
    Amjad, T., Abdul Rani, S., Sa’atar, S., & , (2020). Entrepreneurial Marketing Theory. SEISENSE Journal of Management, (3)1, 27-46. DOI: 10.33215/sjom.v3i1.274
  • 15
    Morris 2002
  • 16
    Read 2009
  • 17
    Martin, D.M. (2009), “The entrepreneurial marketing mix”, Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 391-403. https://doi.org/10.1108/13522750910993310
  • 18
    Schindehutte 2010
  • 19
    Schindehutte 2010
  • 20
    “Entrepreneurial Marketing: A Framework for Creating Opportunity with Competitive Angles”, Journal of Applied Business and Economics, Edition 1, Volume 13, Pages 47-52, North American Business Press, West Palm Beach, Florida, 2012
  • 21
    Morris 2002
  • 22
    Morris 2002
  • 23
    Gould, B. (1998), “Marketing as experimental innovation: succeeding via planned failure”, The Antidote, Vol. 3 No. 5, pp. 35-35. https://doi.org/10.1108/EUM0000000006574
  • 24
    Wikipedia contributors. (2021, July 15). Guerrilla marketing. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:20, October 6, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Guerrilla_marketing&oldid=1033649678
  • 25
    Fox, G.L., Lind, S.J. A framework for viral marketing replication and mutation. AMS Rev 10, 206–222 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13162-019-00152-w
  • 26
    Kraus 2010
  • 27
    Morris 2002
  • 28
    Conway, T. and Hemphill, T. (2019), “Growth hacking as an approach to producing growth amongst UK technology start-ups: an evaluation”, Journal of Research in Marketing and Entrepreneurship, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 163-179. https://doi.org/10.1108/JRME-12-2018-0065
  • 29
    Kalaignanam K, Tuli KR, Kushwaha T, Lee L, Gal D. Marketing Agility: The Concept, Antecedents, and a Research Agenda. Journal of Marketing. 2021;85(1):35-58. 10.1177/0022242920952760
  • 30
    Miles, M. P., & Darroch, J. (2006). Large firms, entrepreneurial marketing processes, and the cycle of competitive advantage. European Journal of Marketing, 40(5/6), 485–501. doi:10.1108/03090560610657804

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