What are startups notoriously bad at when it comes to marketing? Why do they fail? How can they get better?
I asked some of the top female startup founders to help me uncover the major problems that many early-stage companies struggle with.
Here’s the question I wanted to hear an answer to:
From your experience, what is the #1 marketing mistake startups make and why?
Of course, I got a whole range of answers, but it seems like there are 3 main themes behind them:
- Not thinking about marketing enough (or early enough).
- Putting all eggs in one basket (e.g. launch campaign).
- Measuring things that don’t matter, and not tracking the ones that do.
I couldn’t agree more!
Now… Once you’re done reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. What mistakes have the experts missed? Which ones did you make yourself and what did you learn?
Jump quickly to one of the founders (or scroll to read all the answers):
Julia Hartz, Kathryn Minshew, Amielle Lake, Kellee Khalil, Andrea Cutright, Michelle Zatlyn, Lisa Sugar, Amanda MacNaughton, Heather Anne Carson, Danae Ringelmann, Desiree Vargas Wrigley.
There’s also a Twitter list of everyone who’s ever been featured on Marketing Before Funding.
JULIA HARTZ, CO-FOUNDER OF EVENTBRITE
“Many companies try to dive into driving awareness for their product or service before they figure out who they are, what they stand for, and what they are driving for. At Eventbrite, we set out 6 years ago to democratize the ticketing industry through innovative products and top notch support. The great news is that through all the growth we’ve had – in customers and in company size – these are still our primary areas of focus.”
KATHRYN MINSHEW, FOUNDER OF THE DAILY MUSE
“The #1 marketing mistake I see startups make is relying on a silver bullet. You think: if we could just get a partnership with Forbes. If L’Oreal would just say yes. We’d be on the path to explosive growth. But there’s almost never just ONE silver bullet; rather, most companies succeed by a combination of many small efforts and unpredictable wins. I keep a lot of irons in the fire so if one partnership doesn’t go through, or one deal turns out to have much less impact than I’d hoped, I still have plenty of other things in the works!”
AMIELLE LAKE, FOUNDER OF TAGGA
“Given that funds are limited – I think most mistakes are made based on spending money in the wrong places – e.g. sponsoring and event before making sure your messaging and creative assets are solid. Specifically one classic mistake is thinking of your company launch as a single event and thus spending the bulk of your budget on exactly that. A launch is an event that marks the beginning of an opportunity to BUILD momentum. You need to make sure you have a strategy and plan that aligns with a prolonged period of time.”
KELLEE KHALIL, FOUNDER OF LOVER.LY
“Tapping “traditional” advertising sources to get the word out about your startup. Advertising, even to the most relevant of audiences, is incredibly costly, and unless you have a cushy marketing budget, you’ll find yourself burning through your funds going the traditional advertising routes. As a startup, we’ve dabbled a TINY bit in traditional online advertising routes, only to find that putting in the human effort to simply engage in our community brings us a much more valuable ROI.
New user acquisition, especially for bootstrapped startups require quite a bit more creativity to drive your user acquisition costs down. Don’t underestimate the power of becoming an active, valuable voice (and listening ear) in your niche—activate all (especially free) social channels available to you and don’t just turn them on ENGAGE on them. It’s painful at first…speaking to an audience of 0, then 10, then eventually thousands, is often a slow climb, but one that you earn, and with the right voice and engagement in your target community, one that gives back to you, tenfold. Identify the tastemakers in your industry. Get to know them. Engage. Collaborate. Share information, ideas, resources.”
ANDREA CUTRIGHT, FOUNDER OF FOODILY
“Successful start-ups build a product for a specific user that’s unlike anything else out there. Focus on what makes your company different from the beginning and make that the most visible, tangible thing customers see.”
MICHELLE ZATLYN, CO-FOUNDER OF CLOUDFLARE
“The list of mistakes can be long. It is hard to pick the ‘#1.’ Here is one that is currently top of mind:
Trying to get a ton of media coverage before the product or company is ready. Patience is important. Media coverage is easier and more effective once you have a killer product. If you’re trying to create buzz too early, you’re doing it wrong.
In terms of a great tip that companies don’t do enough:
Create content early. Build an audience by writing interesting content, even if it isn’t about your company or product. If you establish yourself as an expert on a specific industry, programming language or topic, then you’ll have an easier time hiring and building a reputation for your product once you’re ready to scale.”
LISA SUGAR, CO-FOUNDER OF POPSUGAR
“Early on companies need to concentrate on building the absolute best product. If you build it (right), they will come. Don’t spend money on marketing early on. Grow your audience organically and then know the right time to market to them to keep your audience coming back, engaged, and loyal. Marketing then becomes crucial so you can continue to learn how to grow the brand as the company plans for long-term success.”
Check out POPSUGAR.
AMANDA MACNAUGHTON, CO-FOUNDER OF PROMOJAM
“One of the biggest marketing mistakes startups make is staying in “startup stealth mode” too long. Startups are often afraid to start marketing until their product launches, but that can dramatically hurt you in the long run. Building a customer and fan base takes time, and you should start marketing your company well before your product launches. Build a website, create a Facebook and Twitter page, and start creating your brand image online at least 3-4 months before you bring your product to market. You want to build a base of fans who are excited about your new company, so that when you launch it people will pay attention and care.”
HEATHER ANNE CARSON, CO-FOUNDER OF ONBOARDLY
“I think the #1 marketing mistake startups make is relying on guesswork over fact. Making assumptions of any kind. Relying on vanity metrics (But, we have 8400 Twitter followers!) in lieu of actual performance. On day one, ensure all marketing efforts are tied to a tangible goal, whether it’s downloads or signups, account creations or subscribers. Only when you begin measuring what works versus what doesn’t can you objectively make decisions on what types of messages are most effective, the most receptive audiences for your product, and what channels to spend your marketing dollars on.”
DANAE RINGELMANN, CO-FOUNDER OF INDIEGOGO
“#1 Marketing Mistake of Tech Startups – Telling the What instead of Selling the Why.
Crowdfunding is not only a powerful alternative source of funds for a tech start-up, it’s also the beginning of a start-up’s marketing efforts. Finding funders – people who believe in your idea so much that they will vote with their wallet to help you bring your idea to life – is thus the same process as finding customers – i.e. marketing. A key mistake we see tech start-ups make in crowdfunding (and thus marketing) is telling “the what,” rather than selling “the why.” We see start-ups jump to the features and functionality before tackling an idea’s impact on the world. We see them answer the question: how it works, before answering: what problem their idea is solving. According to science and summarized by Simon Senek, people don’t buy what we do, they buy why we do it. Same holds true for crowdfunding: people don’t fund what we do, they fund why we do it. So we recommend the opposite approach from what start-ups typically do. We recommend they Sell the Why first; then Tell the What.”
DESIREE VARGAS WRIGLEY, CO-FOUNDER OF GIVEFORWARD
“I think the number one marketing mistake that startups make is spending money to advertise before they really know who their target market is. As entrepreneurs, we have huge visions and an array of personas for our ideal customers. The reality, however, is that in the early days of a start-up you only have one or two perfect customer profiles. Figure out how to get in front of those people first. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll be reaching the people who love and need you the most. They’re your superstars, your word of mouth drivers, your evangelists.”
Over to you! I’d love to hear your point of view in the comments.
And while you’re at it, I would eternally appreciate if you share this post with someone who can benefit from it. Thanks!
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