What Startups Get Wrong About Their Marketing

Startup Marketing is Deceivingly Difficult

“If I could go back, I would do one thing differently,” a client recently told me.” I would have hired a good marketer right from the start. Now I am playing catchup and feeling like I am a bit behind instead of leading the pack.”

This is a common story in the startup world. While many tech companies are built on great products and software solutions, the people behind those solutions don’t always know how to properly market their company to their target audience.

The Marketing 261 client who shared his story came from a development and product background. He thought it was important to first staff his company with engineers, then product experts. Business leaders came next, then sales and customer support. Marketing came last. It was one of the biggest mistakes he made in the early days of his company.

You might be asking yourself: Isn’t marketing a soft skill? Why can’t it wait?

Because your competitors aren’t waiting. You can have a great product, talented engineers and strong leadership, but without a solid marketing strategy, your best efforts will fade into the white noise of competition.

Marketing is your brand’s voice to the world. It gives your company the discipline and framework with which to build a successful brand from scratch. Here are four common mistakes to avoid.

1. Cooking without a recipe

Marketing without a larger strategy in place is like cooking without a recipe: Everything might turn out fine, but the risks are much greater than the reward. Many startups see marketing as something they can “just figure out.” They plug in a blog and social accounts, post regularly, and don’t see results. Or else nobody agrees on a unified strategy and the brand message gets diluted. When their efforts don’t bring results, they blame the medium or give up for a while.

Marketing sounds simple, but it’s actually complicated. It takes place in many different channels at once—think website content, email, social media, search, and more—and needs to be organized and united by a common brand message and position. An experienced marketer can oversee the development of this strategy, which will serve as a blueprint for coordinating and managing many different campaigns at once.

2. Taking on everything at once

Launching a company is a lot of work (duh!). There is hiring to do, capital to raise, a platform to build and products to develop. If that were the end of the list, it would already be a monumental task.

Startup leaders take a big risk by adding marketing activities to their plate.

This often leads to the marketing leader being overworked and stretched too thin. It’s easy to see how this leads to weak marketing performance and low ROI for the company.

3. Thinking anyone can do it

Startups often think they can cut corners on their marketing by dividing basic activities up among their employees. They might hand the company blog over to an engineer with some basic writing skills, or pass off social media to someone in sales or an intern.

While you might technically be publishing blog posts and posting to social accounts, non-strategic activity makes for a lot of busywork without necessarily leading to ROI. Even if they enjoy posting photos of the company happy hour, non-marketing professionals are far less likely to be adding value to the company by creating lead opportunities, building brand awareness and generating ROI.

Marketing needs to be placed in the hands of experienced professionals who can create that critical value and demonstrate ROI for their efforts.

4. Locking marketing away from everyone else

Today’s digital marketing is more integrated with the larger workplace than ever before. Marketers don’t work in isolation: They increasingly work alongside sales, lean on engineers to leverage new technologies, and report to the CFO to demonstrate the ROI of various marketing campaigns.

Poor communication and a lack of leadership can lead to a disconnect between marketing and the rest of the organization. Startup leadership should make a point of keeping departments in contact with one another, coordinating business activities, and cultivating a culture in which marketers are constantly kept in the loop of what’s going on in the company.

Most leaders of young startups come from disciplines outside of marketing, which makes it all the more important that they delegate this important work to experienced marketers and marketing teams. The sooner you deliver marketing into capable hands, the sooner your brand will resonate in the marketplace—bringing in leads, profit and growth. As with every other facet of startup life, it’s never too early to start.

For more insights on startup marketing, check out our Marketing AMA.

By Michelle Urban

Michelle Urban is the founder of Marketing 261, a digital agency for startups. With a hands-on, get-it-done attitude, she and her team focus on executing measurable plans to get real results. For over 15 years, she’s built scalable marketing programs for demand creation, lead generation, customer advocacy, and engagement. She’s also a wanna-be writer and weekend windsurfer who occasionally binge-watches Netflix. Ask her about the time she danced with Oprah and Beyoncé on live television.