Top 10 Marketing Mistakes Startups Make and How to Avoid Them

Launching a startup is hard. You have to find a co-founder, build a team, look for investors, and join an accelerator program to get the business off the ground. All of these are tough decisions that need to be made on top of building an amazing and differentiated product, for a specific audience, with clear value to help your business grow.

This is where many startups often fail whether it’s due to inexperience, an oversight, or inadvertent errors — because let’s face it, we’re only humans.

To help you avoid time and money loss caused by these mistakes, we surveyed more than 50 founders and CEOs to identify 10 of the most common marketing errors that startups tend to make during their earliest stages. Hopefully, these will help you adjust and re-assess your plans to get back on track.

1. Bad messaging on your website

Within 5-10 seconds of landing on your home page, a prospective customer should be able to identify the products or services you offer. Aside from this, customers must also be able to know what sets your products or services apart from others, and how this particular uniqueness can be beneficial to them.   

It’s important that your audiences are able to see the value of your business within a short time frame. Studies show that on average, a reader will only stay on your website for approximately 15 seconds. So, they need to find what is unique about your product/service within those few precious seconds, if not, they’ll bounce. Highlight the differentiated value of your business and make sure to articulate how it can become the solution to your target market’s problems.

2. Not setting appropriate key performance metrics for marketing

In order for your business and the people within it to move forward, you need to set goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs are essential in determining whether certain strategies and plans will work for your projects or not.

Managing the rhythm of the business via objective key results (OKRs) and KPIs ensure that you are truly focusing your efforts in the right areas while keeping an optimal burn rate.

It is imperative that your KPIs are tailor-made to your company’s needs and that they match your organization’s objectives. If you are thinking of what marketing goals to achieve, some samples are the following: 1) develop a website with a user-friendly interface and a clear message that conveys the differentiated value of your services to prospective customers, 2) utilize 2-3 channels like social media and email marketing, and 3) improve sales support to clinch meaningful deals with customers.

Sample KPIs for marketing and sales could be 1) qualified leads, 2) conversion rates, 3) sales opportunity, and 4) website traffic. These will help you recognize what must specifically be done in order to fulfill your objectives and hit your targets without wasting your resources.

3. Marketing without a plan

Just as a business plan is needed to ensure success, a marketing plan is likewise crucial during the early phases of a startup company. When you don’t have a plan, you use every marketing strategy you know and expect it to yield a positive result. Startup marketing does not work that way. You’ll only incur costs and waste time and energy for nothing. Not formulating an effective plan would result in financial losses and increased burn rate, which would in turn make it harder for you to find effective marketing channels. Also, it might be difficult to secure partnerships with experts who can help you develop and promote your products or services. All these consequences of not having a solid plan can drastically affect your overall marketing strategy.

Moreover, having a marketing plan will help you identify potential customers and competitors, give you a clear vision of the market situation, and allow you to change course when a strategy is not working.

4. Making everyone your target market aka the “Spray and Pray” approach

Another common mistake that startups make is attempting to capture every person on the market, or more commonly known as the “Spray and Pray” approach. This is marketing your business anywhere you can think of and then praying that people will notice you.

Why this kind of marketing doesn’t work is simple: sending out generic, too broad content will not have any real impact on your audience, or worse, it will get completely ignored. When you plan your marketing, every single initiative should have a purpose — to generate leads. The more targeted your marketing is, the more successful you’ll be in getting more customers and clients.

5. Not analyzing your marketing efforts

If you don’t track performance, you won’t know what works. It’s that simple. Analyzing your marketing campaign data and validating its effectiveness is crucial for startups on a tight budget. After all, you don’t want to spend on something that won’t benefit your business.

Like what we’ve mentioned in #2 about setting KPIs, it is important to make sure that they are suited to your company’s needs and goals. You can measure those KPIs via dashboards (a CRM or marketing automation tool), hold weekly meetings to track channel-level and campaign-level performances, and consult your sales team to find out which strategies and tactics they think are working or not. Through these steps, you can identify which methods to retain or improve so you can test and refine every aspect of your marketing. Then do some number crunching, too. Without analysis, you can’t make improvements and changes so that you’ll know that your marketing efforts are truly worth spending on.

6. Not surveying your target audience

It’s hard to know how to help your audience if you don’t interact with them. Going this extra mile will help you narrow down your target market and allow you to provide better services. Take advantage of email marketing and social media to find out what their pain points are, what they look for in your kind of business, where they go to learn about various products and services that would help them make an informed purchasing decision, etc. The more data you can gather about your target market, the more accurate your marketing strategies will be.

7. Using the wrong marketing channels for your business model

Today, we are fortunate to have a plethora of marketing channels that we can use to our advantage. We have social media, websites, mobile apps, influencer marketing, and many more. As a startup, you can easily become confused on what channel can be most effective for your business.

If you are a consumer company, the channels you would utilize most are paid media, in-app campaigns, in-product offers, and email. If you’re a small-medium business, you’ll benefit most from your website, email campaigns, paid media, and building partnerships. If you’re a mid-market or large enterprise, you can get the most out of account-based marketing, sales-led revenue and growth, partnerships, and thought leadership.

8. Not focusing on building the brand

Establishing and building your brand is important in making you stand out from the competition and creating a space for your business in the market. A strong brand will help create awareness, reputation, credibility, and customer satisfaction. But you should know that your brand goes beyond your logo.

Spend some time and be thoughtful about building your brand. Specify and stay true to the core of your brand which is your mission, vision, and values. Create your overall brand messaging: tagline, value proposition, and 3-5 messaging pillars. Establish a verbal and visual identity by using a consistent tone, look, color scheme, iconography, and overall aesthetic throughout your marketing.

9. Not building partnerships with non-competitive players in the same space

Co-marketing with other companies that are tangential, distinct, and non-competitive to your product/service can help you penetrate a new market, gain new technology, or acquire new skills at a much lower cost.

So how do you scope out a business for a potential partnership? First, find out if they have complementary capabilities and resources such as customers, technologies, capital, and people, which can help extend yours. A collaboration like this can help you boost profits, attract your target customers, reduce marketing costs, and much more.

10. Imitating the competitor’s marketing strategies

While spying on and copying your competitor’s marketing strategies could help you win some customers, it won’t help your new business to grow its market share and stay ahead. Great marketing relies on originality and the ability to find novel ways to attract valuable attention. Besides, spending too much time watching your competitors will only distract you from focusing on your business. Instead, concentrate on what makes your product special and put strategies on the roadmap to influence your sales.

What’s Next?

Focus on your business and work just as hard as when you were just building it up. Strive to improve your startup marketing efforts and don’t forgo analyzing your campaign results.

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