Fred Wilson, a well known VC, caused quite a stir with a recent post that started with:
"I believe that marketing is what you do when your product or service sucks ..."
After panning marketing a bit more and explaining why startups shouldn't market, he provides his advice on how startups should market. This very confusing message led to a lot of feedback. It's worth looking at the comments in addition to the post.
I think Wilson's core message - that startups should focus on low cost or free customer acquisition - is correct. I also like his 8 points on how to do this.
But I'm fascinated he thinks his points aren't marketing, and that successful early stage companies don't market. He uses Zynga - one of his most successful portfolio companies - as an example of a company that didn't market early on.
I think just the opposite. I think Zynga's early success was entirely due to innovative marketing. They used Facebook for distribution (that's marketing) instead of setting up their own casual game site. This distribution choice, coupled with some very effective viral marketing, is what made Zynga successful.
Zynga clearly marketed, but they didn't use traditional "push" marketing methods like advertising. Or at least they didn't in the beginning. They do now.
Seth Godin's response was that Wilson conflated marketing and advertising. I would state it more broadly. I think Wilson doesn't think startups should use traditional "push" marketing methods. But based on his suggestions, he seems to be encouraging the use of "pull" and social marketing methods.
He just doesn't realize this is also marketing.