When you are the founder of a young startup, it is always very difficult to assess the right amount of effort to put into marketing. Slap it up and you might not look professional. Hire a traditional agency and you could waste time and money.
Australian growth marketing agency Ammo, on the other hand, wants to make sure its clients don’t over-invest or under-invest. Aimed at tech startups, it boasts of having “spurred the growth of more than 200 innovative companies”, from fintech and SaaS to hardware.
Ammo is based in Perth and is an active member of the Western Australian startup community, where he is “highly regarded,” in the words of the survey respondent who recommended him to TechCrunch. But if this person decided to work with Ammo, she said it was because “their results spoke”. (If you have any growth marketing agencies or freelancers to recommend, please complete our survey!)
After reading this, we reached out to Ammo Director Cam Sinclair for information on early stage brand development, marketing readiness and more. Discover our interview below:
Editor’s Note: The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you give us an overview of Ammo?
Cam Sinclair: Ammo is a growth marketing team based in Perth, Western Australia. We work with startups and innovative companies to help them define and achieve their growth goals.
We’ve been in this community for seven years now, and we have a small, light team from a variety of backgrounds, none of which is traditional marketing.
As a nerdy kid, I loved technology and was fascinated by how business worked. I always knew I wanted to find a way to help founders and innovators take their big ideas to the world. After working in political campaigns, I realized that a lot of skills overlapped with what startups needed: going fast, being lean, communicating well, being adaptable, and staying flexible.
It inspired me to develop an “anti-agency” where startup founders could really feel that they had someone on their team who understood their challenges and the risks they were taking.
How do you collaborate with startups?
Our services respond to each step of the founder’s journey. When you get started, you will need a brand, a marketing strategy and infrastructure to reach the first customers. As you grow you will need ongoing marketing campaigns and automation that strengthens your funnel. As you mature, you’ll need the broader reach that ongoing public relations and strategic advice provide.
We like to keep engagements as flexible as possible as startups always discover new marketing opportunities or customer needs. Some relationships are ongoing, others are quick projects completed within a week. Our long-term relationships begin with a growth strategy workshop, where we identify a north star metric so that everyone pulls in the same direction from day one.
Our workshops help startup teams design a customer journey using the Pirate Metrics Framework and transform it into a clear, step-by-step action plan that they can implement or outsource.
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There is a survey on your site that encourages businesses to check to see if they are “growth marketing ready.” What are the high level points that prepare a company?
It’s really about having a small number of fanatic early clients – evangelists. A lot of people call it product-market fit, but it really is customer fit.
There is no point in lighting a rocket under a startup to grow and reach a large audience without a clear and confident direction. Sure, you could get somewhere quickly, but where are you going?
We made the mistake of hiring clients who were too early to grow, so we know how important it is to say ‘no’ when it doesn’t fit. We can drive all the traffic in the world to your website, but without a customer fit, you’ll be fighting for every sale.
Startups need a few things to prepare for growth. Not all startups will be ready for what we can do for them. We also focus on fitting our own client.
For one-on-one work, who are your typical clients?
Our most successful relationships are with startups that have already established a customer fit and are looking to grow quickly. We work with B2B and B2C SaaS companies, as well as more traditional companies looking to disrupt the way things are done in their industry.
We’ve developed startups in Australia and overseas, including Berkeley, California-based neuroscience startup Humm. We worked with them to identify early customers and pre-order channels as they put together the initial investments, build a learning / experimentation system within the team as they grew and, more recently, providing advice at a strategic level.
What branding mistakes do you help startups avoid?
After working with over 230 startups, we know what works and what doesn’t. Our clients work with us because they know we can help them avoid the traps inexperienced founders routinely fall into and make the most of the tight budgets startups operate with.
Marketing agencies take money that startups don’t need to build brand identities that startups don’t need. We would much prefer that these resources be invested in the creation of their product and in the dialogue with their customers.
That said, it’s important that a landing page or slideshow is believable to customers, investors, and partners – and when startups under-invest in their branding, people are less likely to pass on their attention, their email address and their money.
For example, some clients often don’t even have proper logo files or a wide enough color palette to create websites that effectively convert people into clients. If someone can’t clearly see your “Subscribe” button when they land on your website because everything on your website is blue, no matter how good your product or service is.
Can you explain why you advise startups to create a “minimum viable brand”?
The temptation in the startup world is to hire a freelance writer through an online marketplace (or worse – let an overly enthusiastic employee create a logo in PowerPoint). But that usually results in a surface-level logo design without any consideration for how it might develop over time or fit into a larger brand identity.
Other startups can work with an agency to create a brand identity, which can lead to overbranding – stationery kits, photography, lofty mission statements, and endless meetings. None that pre-seed startups need yet. This process wastes time and money better spent elsewhere and traps pivotal startups with an expensive brand that cannot scale the way they do.
We take the branding processes used by world-class agencies and distill them down to the brand essentials you need right now. This leads to a minimal viable brand identity that is designed to grow and created with the hope that it will change as your startup does. It is inspired by the Lean methodology and the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – it is designed to challenge assumptions and grab the attention of clients without over-investing.
What is the process you follow to help startups develop their minimum viable brand?
Initially, we help them find a name.
Naming is important, so we usually invest time in this part to avoid changing it in the future if possible. We want to make sure that it meets the basic principles of distinction, conciseness, relevance, easy spelling and pronunciation, sympathy, extensibility and protection (based on Marty Neumeier’s book Zag on the corporate branding).
From there, we design a logo. A good logo (the “icon” part of the logo) is usually figurative and not literal. It should be scalable, simple, and work in multiple environments, including monochrome black or white. The logo is then complemented with branded color selections, fonts, and simple imagery direction to create a basic yet useful branding guide.
Most importantly, we believe that your startup’s branding guidelines should be publicly available online, rather than in a PDF hidden in a folder in your Dropbox. A place you can direct your team members and partners to to make sure everyone can maintain brand consistency.
How does Ammo compare to an internal CMO?
Like a CMO, we are strategic. But unlike a CMO, we have experience with hundreds of startups in dozens of industries – we can learn ideas and lessons from unexpected places when working with clients.
While we align closely with business goals as an internal CMO, we also know the importance for startups to scale quickly. That’s why everyone at Ammo rolls up their sleeves and gets things done for our customers.
We don’t have the mindset of taking months to develop an annual marketing strategy, we want to help our clients get in touch with clients quickly, collect valuable data along the way, and remain nimble to adapt when they need it.
How do you and your customers measure your impact?
At Ammo, we don’t measure time, we measure results. At the start of each project, we define what success looks like with the client. Every customer is different and we answer them. We check in with current clients in monthly meetings to see how we are tracking the measure of success we have agreed upon, adjusting as necessary.
All of this is measured by quantitative analytics, qualitative customer feedback and instinct.
In the past, we’ve described our role as making us obsolete – that our clients grow enough to be able to hire their own internal marketing team. Today, we still maintain many of these client relationships in different ways, providing more strategic advice. These long-term relationships are for us the best indication that we have had a valuable impact.