Most startups and fast-growing companies are terrible at marketing.

Some entrepreneurs believe they know marketing but they’re fooling themselves.

At the Igniter Conference recently, Rand Fishkin shared eight common marketing and growth hacking mistakes made by startups. Here’s my list of where startups go wrong:

They suffer from “the smartest person the room syndrome”: Many entrepreneurs are smart, driven, passionate and confident (verging on cockiness). While these are key characteristics when jumping into risky businesses and opportunities, the downside is many entrepreneurs believe they possess across-the-board expertise. They’re multi-tool players who can do it all. They often try to do it all or micro-manage.

Unfortunately, their skills are not that broad, particularly when it comes to marketing. They see themselves as marketers but they’re enthusiastic salespeople who really don’t understand their customers or how marketing has to properly planned, prioritized and executed to drive awareness, leads, and sales. Without external knowledge and perspective, even the smartest people will struggle, if not fail.

A bad story or no story at all: For all the hype about storytelling, it plays an important role in how startups and fast-growing companies position themselves. The ability to clearly articulate what you do, why it matters and who you serve is table stakes. Then, you create stories that engage, encourage, educate and entertain. I’m talking about stories that trigger emotions and allow customers to see how your product is going to impact their lives. These are stories that create experiences. These are stories that provide a company with a coherent and consistent narrative so employees, partners, and investors speak from the same page. In a hyper-competitive, multi-tasking world, storytelling matters more than ever.

marketingNo strategic plan: Far too often, startups and fast-growing companies have no marketing plans. If they do have a plan, it usually exists in the CEO’s brain. As a result, there’s no roadmap for success. No one within the organization sees how marketing happens, who does it and what success looks like. Instead, marketing is an on-the-fly activity. Spaghetti is thrown at the wall to see what sticks. Marketing fails and companies retreat from marketing with their tails between their legs.

A better approach is having a clear idea about your goals, target audiences and the type of marketing that gets customers into and down the sales funnel. Then, priorities are established to focus on the channels and opportunities that make an impact and meet goals. To create a strategic plan, check out my seven-step marketing framework.

The belief that marketing is a luxury: Why are product development and sales considered necessities, while marketing is a second-rate citizen? Marketing is often looked upon as an expense rather than an investment or an integral part of business operations. Many entrepreneurs fail to realize that salespeople are more successful when supported by marketing. Marketing builds awareness, attracts and nurtures prospects and makes it easier to turn prospects into customers. Without marketing, salespeople are working with one hand tied behind their backs. Marketing is an integral part of how a company builds and sells its product or services.

Thinking that marketing can be done later: Given that market is a luxury rather than a necessity, many entrepreneurs believe marketing can be turned on at any time down the road. If Website traffic slows, leads dry up or the competition is attracting more attention, all you need to do is turn on the marketing machine for instant results. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Marketing isn’t an add-on or a magical elixir. From where I stand, marketing is core to doing business. It is fired up as soon as a business is launched. At first, marketing may not be a major focus but it is a key part of the equation. This allows marketing to easily and naturally emerge when it’s needed because it’s already baked into how a business operates.

Not committing the time or money to marketing: Marketing is an investment. When done right, marketing generates a healthy return on investment – be it awareness, leads, happy customers or sales. But – and this is a big but – marketing requires a commitment. It requires money, time and/or people.to make it happen. If a company isn’t committed to marketing or doesn’t believe in its potential, marketing is doomed. Not enough money is invested and/or not enough people are tasked to execute. For marketing succeed, you’re in the game or you’re not. Move forward with confidence and defined strategic and tactical goals and then work like crazy to execute. If it doesn’t work, identify what’s happening and then reload, optimize or tweak the dials.

Believing that a good product negates the need for marketing: Sadly, this myth is rampant. A company has a great product (well, it thinks the product is great) so marketing is unnecessary. Ha! The idea that if you build it, they will come is a fallacy. If you build it and no one knows about it, that’s trouble. There’s too much competition from companies whose products are just as good or better than your product. As a result, not marketing puts you farther behind the eight ball. Here’s another thing to think about: while having a good product is crucial, companies that do great marketing but have a mediocre product eventually get uncovered by consumers. At some point, a bad product loses its luster. If you have a great product, market the crap out of it!

Hiring the wrong type of marketers: This links closely the lack of a marketing strategy. A company hires a marketer only to discover their skills don’t align with the marketing required to attract, engage and nurture customers. It’s like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. No matter how hard you try, there’s no fit. The problem is marketers are good at marketing themselves. They do a great job of getting hired but aren’t successful because they’re not the right person for the job. A better approach: a company identifies the type of marketing required do and then it hires someone with the right skills to tactically execute.

Forgetting to market to customers, not just prospects: In too many cases, a company assumes marketing is over once a customer is landed. It invests significant time and money attracting customers but takes them for granted afterward. If customers aren’t engaged, encouraged, trained and valued, it leaves them vulnerable to a new or better offer. To keep your customers and turn them into evangelists, aggressively and enthusiastically market to them. Make them feel the love. Showcase their success with your product. Talk to them on a regular basis. Take them out for dinner. In a must-read article, McKinsey talked about the importance of marketing creating a “post-purchase experience”.


Is marketing not working for you? I help fast-growing companies focus on marketing that makes an impact. I learn about your business, identify the best marketing opportunities (aka strategy) and then make it happen (aka tactical execution).

Check out my free video course that helps entrepreneurs create a better answer to: “So, what do you?”

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