The New Year is upon us. And there is so much work to do.

At One More Cloud we’ve spent the last four years focusing on our engineering, operations and customer support. We’ve built a stable and scalable service to support a wide range of customers. All the way from efficient entry-level pricing for small-scale startups, to the at-scale demands of Pinterest during a year of 100x growth.

Along the way, word of mouth, our reputation among customers, and the Heroku addons marketplace have been reasonable channels for growth in our customer base. But now we find ourselves with more time and capacity on our hands.

In short, in 2014 it’s time for us to focus on growth.

To kick that off, I have been learning as much as I can about marketing. There’s a fair amount that one absorbs over the years as a founder. I hope to apply, refine and extend a lot of that with hands-on experience in the near future. And it’s my intent to do a lot of my learning in public.

So let me start now by recapping my understanding of the role of marketing in a business.

The Lean Startup methodology breaks down the following aspects of business: Market, Brand, Marketing, Aesthetic, and Product. In that order.

First, you need to start with a market of people who are willing to pay for your product. They have a need, and are experiencing pain. Your job as an entrepreneur is to understand them, and to deliver a product which alleviates their pain and helps them accomplish something.

Somewhere along the way, out in the real world of everyday life, something happens. A spark fires, a project is assigned, and your customer begins the process of a switch. They start researching their options, and along the way, they bump into your brand. This is their first experience of you: your reputation within your market, your association with other familiar brands, the recommendation of a peer.

And then here they are, looking at your home page, reading your copy, skimming your carefully crafted pitch. Are you accurately representing to this fresh prospect that you understand them? That you know what their needs and pains are, and are able to solve them? That you are the best company in the world to solve their pain and help them deliver greatness to their own customers? That you understand their costs, tradeoffs and lingering reservations?

This is the beginning of marketing, and all else equal, a competitor that expresses those ideas better will win. Why should a prospective customer try your service when someone else more clearly communicates that they can do what the customer needs? They don’t have all day, and that may mean you’re not going to get a fair shake. Too bad.

Better if you’re already firing on all cylinders here. You want a prospect to come away from their first skim of your site with a good connection, a quick bit of rapport. They get it: you have a great personality. Perhaps you can get some work done together.

Now, how are you dressed? Because let’s face it, appearances do matter. In the tech industry, we’re lucky that the utility of your product can eclipse your aesthetics, and so this wasn’t higher on the list. But considering two equally positioned companies, with equally effective copy and all the same promises, the one with the better aesthetics and user experience will probably win.

Quality aesthetics are a function of an organized and considerate design. Ultimately, aesthetics are a form of non-verbal communication with your customer. Your product is presenting an image one way or another. So what image are you choosing to present?

Finally, we reach the product itself. A timer starts ticking. Your prospect has converted, and starts clicking around. How long does it take to experience a return on the time and effort that they have invested into you so far? How quickly and how often can you deliver on the promises of your marketing messages?

And thus, business is done. Your prospective market has a goal, a hope, a job to get done. You make a promise: to turn them into a better and more capable version of themselves, to empower them to achieve. And then you deliver on that promise, again and again.

There’s a lot to unpack in all of this. As an engineer, I used to view marketing (and sales) as some mystical and manipulative voodoo. A slick tactic to make a fool of me, and part me with my cash.

And yet, so much of good marketing is rooted in a deep understanding and empathy for your customer, for their aspirations, coupled with a deep expertise in the domain in which they are operating. It’s a manifestation of the very human activities of meeting new people, establishing rapport, and helping them out.