Five Deadly Start-up Marketing Mistakes


In our work with many early and mid-stage start-ups, we have seen a set of common mistakes that can derail growth. Start-ups are running fast, and everyone is so deeply enmeshed that it can be hard to have the perspective to see problems. Consider this checklist to determine if these issues are cropping up in your company. Catch them early, before they cause major damage.

This is an overview of the problems, and in this continuing series of posts we will share our solutions for each of the mistakes in detail.

Mistake #1

Not knowing the details of the customer’s journey through purchase and active use .

What this looks like

  • You have problems with your conversion funnel. You may be generating plenty of leads or traffic, but they aren’t converting.
  • People aren’t actively using or staying with your product.
  • Revenue goals aren’t being met.

How to fix it

Interview customers and prospects and gather data on how they make busying decisions then map out the journey. You will want to note the key stages and determine what steps you need to take to ensure success. One very important step is to understand the conversation funnel and address any places where potential customers get stuck or even worse, give up on your product.

Mistake #2

The messaging focuses on the product, not customers

What this looks like

  • Messaging with lots of features and few benefits
  • Prioritizing messages based on what is cool in the product instead of what customer’s care about

How to fix it

Create personas with detailed pains and gains. Write a messaging framework that highlights the most important and unique benefits, and gives product features as proof points. In other words, lead with the benefits. Also, be sure that the product and the adoption process are smooth by watching customers buy and use your products, noting and fixing any confusing areas.

Mistake #3

Not having a clear unique selling proposition.

What this looks like

  • If you took away the product name, your product messaging could be mistaken for someone else’s.
  • All your competitors are basically telling the same story.
  • You are losing a lot of deals or not getting customers to commit
  • The main question you get asked is price

How to fix it

There are two main ways to solve this. The first is with technology: your product has leapfrogged the competition and has something clearly different that you need to tell people about. And second, you understand what the customer cares about and you have picked a focus within your product where you can own a unique space. It could be product functionality, a market focus, a pricing strategy, a service offering or even a unique brand voice and approach.

Mistake #4

Thinking that agile marketing means you don’t have to put a long-term strategy in place.

What this looks like

  • Lots of testing without an overarching framework or strategy.
  • Changing direction frequently
  • Poor results from testing

How to fix it

Focus on the customer and their needs to create some high-level strategies and assumptions applied to each stage of the buyer journey that you will test in a systematic way, learning from the earlier tests and applying those to later ones. Make sure that you have done the research and have the analytics to know the obstacles to forward momentum at each stage of buying and using your product. Be clear on your goals and make sure your strategies and tactics are in alignment.

Mistake #5

Not having alignment across the organization

What this looks like

  • You are not getting traction
  • Departments may be blaming each other and pointing fingers
  • Projects and priorities – shift frequently

How to fix it

The first step is to recognize it is happening by getting clear about the customer journey and then mapping the roles of each department against that journey. Make sure that your sales, marketing and support processes are all aligned with the way the customer thinks and works and that all hand-offs are clear and that metrics are shared.

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