March 3, 2014

Did WhatsApp Really Do No Marketing?

In the wake of WhatsApp being acquired for $19-billion by Facebook, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum has been widely quoted that the company has done “no marketing”.

To a startup marketer, it’s a dangerous comment because it could perpetuate the myth that startups don’t need to do marketing as long as they have a good product and enthusiastic users to spread the word.


In my experience, way too many startups see marketing as a luxury or necessary evil rather than an integral part of growing a business. The failure to recognize the value of marketing is one of the reasons why many startups stumble. By not spreading enough time or money on telling their story, startups don’t get enough love.

At first glance, Koum’s “no marketing” declaration is hard to believe. After taking a closer look, you see what he means. The company’s Website, for example, is no-frills. Other than a few posts recently, the blog has been collecting dust, while there is little activity on WhatsApp’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

That said, it’s not like WhatsApp has been hiding under a rock while its messaging app rumbled its way to 450 million users. Koum, for example, was a keynote speaker at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona last week – something announced last October. WhatsApp also attracted a healthy amount of media coverage.

In other words, WhatsApp did some marketing.

Even if WhatsApp did “no marketing”, it’s an anomaly. In some shape, way or form,  startups have to do some kind of marketing. It may not be a vibrant social media presence, creating lots of content or seeking media coverage, but startups need to attract the attention of target audiences.

Maybe it is speaking at conferences, commenting on blogs, replying to an email from a reporter or blogger, or creating marketing collateral such as videos or one-pagers.

Any way you want to slice it, it’s marketing.

Startups need to stop thinking about marketing after something that comes after product development and sales.

They need to stop thinking about the costs and the false belief that marketing success can’t be measured.

They need to stop forgetting that marketing is an investment that helps to support and drive their sales and product activity.

Instead, startups have to embrace marketing as a key ingredient for success. They need to overcome their fear of getting into something that isn’t within their areas of expertise or comfort zones.

The reality is startups have to do marketing as much as they need to develop products and sell. Koum’s comment may add fuel to the “no marketing” fire but startups that buy into this notion are making a mistake.

For more thoughts on WhatsApp’s “no marketing” claim, check out this blog post by Cezary Pietrzak, who looks at how marketing played a role in the company’s success.

For startups looking to jump-start their marketing, I provide strategic and tactical services – core messaging, brand positioning, marketing strategies and content creation.


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