As far as lean marketing strategy goes, you can probably not get farther away from the whole concept than Super Bowl commercials. They are the very antithesis of everything about lean.

Super Bowl commercials vs lean marketing strategy

Why am I bringing this up? Well, the dust has just about settled on this year’s NFL extravaganza which took place earlier this month. And the figure of $5 million for 30 seconds of air time kind of blew me away.

Yes, it’s the Super Bowl I know. And, it’s safe to say that it’s the arena of the elite brands only. Not a tech startup in sight, understandably. But it made me think about marketing strategy, and more specifically, what are the “Super Bowl commercials” of the marketing strategy for startups? And are they worth it?

Web Summit, Startup Grind Global Conference, 4 Years From Now and Slush are but a few of them. Yes, you guessed it, the never-ending array of cool, edgy startup conference events. These are the Super Bowl commercials of the startup world, no doubt.

But, are they worth the often exorbitant ticket prices just for the chance to “be seen”? In most cases the answer is a no-brainer. No, but let’s have a close look.

What is a lean marketing strategy

First let’s put down here what we mean by lean marketing strategy. Basically it’s a combination of hybrid marketing and growth hacking. It means that you base your marketing strategy on specific priorities, objectives and data which has come out of a lean canvas exercise and supports your proven business model. And of course through iterations and testing along the way.

The above does not offer the kind of giant-sized Super Bowl commercials type exposure. But then again the above is not what the Super Bowl is – a one shot deal.

Several studies show that Super Bowl commercials are not (surprise, surprise) worth the “investment”. And that’s despite of all the re-watching and sharing on social media. It’s still a one-off occasion for blue chip brands to basically pat themselves on the back. What a waste of money. Or to put it another way, the reverse of capital efficiency.

For Super Bowl commercials, read “flashy startup conferences”

And here’s where the analogy of Super Bowl commercials and startup conferences starts to make sense. Tech startups, and non-tech startups for that matter, are encouraged to sign up and attend conferences and summits all over the world. The promise of “meeting investors, mentors and key industry stakeholders” is the carrot. But in this case it’s more of a golden goose.

I know from personal experience that startups spend disproportionate amounts of money on tickets and other expenses, as well as valuable time to participate in such events. The aim. Just to be there among other startups and investors without having any particular and tangible metrics.

It sounds crazy but it is true. And it’s happening more and more. This type of “advertisement”, if you can call it that, is usually totally inconsistent with their stage of growth. Typically, many of them do not even have their business model refined. But who cares, we have the perfect product! Wrong. They are forgetting the golden rule. Your product is NOT “the product”, your “business model” is the product!

Not only that, but most startups who spend so much money on these kinds of events have not yet even incorporated intelligence and automation into the demand generation functions of their business model. Which is why this kind of exposure, or marketing actions, are simply wasted resources in terms of money, time and opportunity. These resources could (and should) be invested in other more essential actions which are tied to the lean marketing strategy of actually eliminating waste.

Lean mentality in marketing campaigns

So you know what to do. Forget the Super Bowl. Well, what I mean is forget Web Summit. You can always go to Lisbon where it is held for a vacation at any other time anyway. It’s a beautiful city by the way.

No, in the early stages of startup’s life you need to focus on being lean. On being efficient. On product development efficiency. And that’s after “releasing” your marketing campaigns. Evaluating results and feedback, and taking fast, meaningful actions. These campaigns, which are basically based on short-term planning and capitalizing on existing budget, are the key. This is where it all starts as effectiveness is an ongoing procedure that gets better over time.


If we want to use a metaphor to illustrate it, we could say that lean marketing strategy campaigns are more like having a dialogue with your customers. A dialogue during which you need to listen very carefully and react, giving short answers that satisfy your audience.

You are not trying to impress your potential, or even existing, customers with a unforgettable commercial. Of course I’m not saying that commercials and visuals are worthless. The big brands, as well as other businesses, have their reasons and goals for using them. Generally, marketing is based on years of research which take psychology into full account. But here, the fact is that you do want to impress them but in a different way. Think of it this way: is image more powerful than experience?

And by experience I mean listening and responding to their needs, offering the “right” answer, in the right place, at the right moment. This will lead to the right action, in the right place, at the right time too. Your main goal is (or should be) to have a deep understanding of your customers’ needs and use this as a guide for your product first, but also for your marketing strategy, content, and finally your success.

The value of metrics

Metrics and KPI’s. We live and breathe by them as startups. Every click depicts your potential customers’ intention. We can measure every sequence of actions they carry out and evaluate them to give us precious learnings. You are not just “broadcasting” with the aim of “seducing” your audience. You are adapting to your audience’s needs. You’re explaining, training and finally engaging your audience to your product.

What I describe above happens on short, repetitive cycles of experiments. Like A/B testing where you’re offering two different versions of your content in order to find out what’s more efficient. This “interacting” is a powerful part of lean marketing strategy.

You may say that metrics are simply a method of evaluation. But that’s only half the picture. Think of it in another way. Metrics and the results in general offer a way of “organizing” information in order to understand and communicate something. In this context, marketing metrics help you understand what’s happening with your customers, existing or potential ones. With this comes the knowledge of what exactly you should offer them in terms of features, products in general, content or anything.

With clicks, comments, conversions, and registrations – or any type of user action that we get – we are able to do some beautifully simple actions. We are able to leverage feedback and make progress. Even inactivity, when you’re measuring unpleasant things like bouncing. So valuable! It’s not just giving you insights, it tells you the whole truth. That something is definitely wrong and that means that there’s a long way to go. And, of course these results are easy to get. The whole procedure can and should be automated. Always.

Marketing then, is a process…

In the end, marketing is not a project, but a process. A process which starts the moment a company can measure specific metrics in a regular fashion. And then start making informed decisions from regularly reviewing those metrics. Pretty much the same type of approach of Lean Startups’ ‘build-measure-learn’ but in the realm of marketing.

If you want our advice then, save your money for those “Super Bowl” summit and conferences until you’re at a later stage of development. And by then you will probably be too much into lean marketing strategy that you will not even want to go. Then, you will have truly scored the greatest touchdown as a startup.

P.S. Despite their cheesy Hollywood glitz, Super Bowl commercials are a marketing event in their own right. Quite a feat really when you think about it. Especially for a global consumer audience who often consider themselves “above” advertising. For the record, this year Stellar Artois arguably stole the show for bringing back Jeff Bridge’s beloved character “The Dude” from the legendary film, The Big Lebowski. Along with Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City. “The Dude abides.” Indeed.


Graham Wood Graham Wood

The Starttech Ventures Storyteller. Studied Journalism with Business at the University of Central Lancashire. Has worked in various product marketing management positions for the likes of Nokia, Samsung and Vodafone, as well as in several journalism and media roles since 2000.