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Top 10 Marketing Mistakes Startups Make and How to Avoid Them

Founder of Orchid Agency
Mariya Finkelshteyn
March 7, 2021
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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 your differentiated products or services can meet their needs. 

Studies show that on average, a visitor will stay on your website for approximately 15 seconds. As a result, the visitor must be able to quickly identify what is unique about your product/service, if not, they’ll bounce. To overcome this barrier, a highly engaging website must clearly articulate the “what and the why” – what is the product or service, and why is it valuable for the potential buyer.


2. Not setting appropriate key performance metrics for marketing

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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 ensures that you are focusing efforts in the areas that drive engagement and results while lowering customer acquisition cost (CAC) and 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) amount of pipeline influenced and/or created , and 4) won amount of pipeline influenced or created. 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 the “spray and pray”, “my VC told me” or “ I heard it on the podcast” approach to guide your “marketing strategy”, which never ends well and 99% of the time does not drive results.  You only incur costs and waste time and energy for nothing. Not formulating an effective marketing plan, by an experienced marketer, only results in losses,  increases burn rate, and makes it  harder for you to find effective marketing channels. 

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 pivot quickly and effectively to adjust to the needs of the organization, customers or the market (i.e. COVID-19 pandemic).


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: targeting everyone under the sun with generic 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, engagement, pipeline, etc. The more targeted your marketing approach is (i.e. segmentation, personas, content based on where they are in the marketing funnel and previous engagement, etc.), the more successful you’ll be in closing revenue and new customers. 


5. Not measuring your marketing performance 

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 drive awareness, leads, or revenue for your business.

As mentioned above about setting KPIs, it is important to make sure that they are tailored  to your company’s goals and sales motion. 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. Go the extra mile and talk to your target audiences to build better products and services that are relevant, solve the pain points of your customers, and are differentiated from your competitors. Take advantage of the “voice-of-the-customer” and ask for a brief 20-30 minute conversation to find out what their pain points are, where they go to learn about various products and services that would help them make an informed purchasing decision, etc. The more accurate and real “voice-of-the-customer” data  you can gather about your target market, the more likely you’ll build amazing, relevant and differentiated products that create value for your target audience. 


7. Using the wrong marketing channels for your go-to-market motion 

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There are a plethora of marketing channels to reach and engage with your target audience – from account-based marketing, email marketing, 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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