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Busting Some Marketing for Startups Myths

You know those articles with long, boring intros that try to lay the foundation for the article itself (mainly for SEO reasons)? Well, this is not one of them!

In this post, I just wanted to put together a list of statements I have constantly heard and dealt with over the years, and which I know are so wrong and clearly do not help the founders grow their businesses properly (the “if I had a dollar for each time…” type of thing).

So let’s dive straight into it:

Myth #1: Educating the market is easy when you have the right product

This is probably the number one misleading approach to a business (especially an innovative/disruptive one), which drags so many mistakes on the back of it (think wrong budgets, timelines, marketing channels, etc.).

If you stop and think about it for a second, most startups develop a new concept. It’s something that disrupts the way people are doing things. We cannot expect people to immediately understand it and accept the change with welcoming arms (no matter how good we think it is for them). People do not like changes; they are creatures of habit and usually need several encounters with a brand/product before they will give it a chance.

That’s why we cannot underestimate the time and resources we need to put into educating the market, raising awareness, and building credibility. We also shouldn’t underestimate the level of commitment we are requiring of our customers when we ask them to try our new products or services (even if it’s for free). And the bigger the commitment is (in terms of time/money/resources), the harder the company has to work on establishing its credibility.

So don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s very easy because your offering makes so much sense and everybody told you it’s such a great idea. Getting early adopters MAY be a bit easier to do, but without proper awareness you may run out of money before you reach the tipping point.

Myth #2: Your website is not perfect, but at least you have one

Oh boy… where do I start…?

Let’s establish something – having no website is better than having a bad website. Why? Because if you don’t have the right messaging and you can’t explain your business properly, you end up losing those very few customers (and even investors) who did want to validate you but couldn’t understand it or didn’t find the right information (be it B2B or B2C).

I’m not saying that you have to have a website full of bells and whistles, explainer videos, interactive stuff, etc.

However, you do need a website that works for you. One that explains what it is that you’re doing in the eyes of your target audience and what problem you’re solving for them, all in a way that will keep their attention span going. At the very least, it has to have calls-to-action and a way to contact you.

These days, your website is your business card and, in most cases, the face of the company. Both your customers and your investors are looking at it, so if there’s anything you need to “fix” first, make it your website.

Can’t find the time/budget to do it? Put a “Coming Soon” or a very simple one-page WP-based theme – but whatever you do, make sure it serves you well.

If you find yourself apologising for your website, it’s time to do something about it.

Myth #3: Branding is for the big guys

Unfortunately, there’s a misconception of how hard, expensive, and unrewarding branding is, but I have to tell you that from my experience it is super important, and when done right (from the beginning), it is actually a very powerful tool for startups.

Branding does not necessarily mean big billboards on the main highway or fancy giveaways in conferences. Branding is about creating something that people can relate to, connect with, and, most importantly, remember! And that’s very important when fighting the competition (especially when they have big budgets).

So how can your startup use branding (the startup style)? First of all, you have to acknowledge that it’s important and have a brand guide in place, not only in terms of colors and logos but also in terms of language, identity, vision, aspiration, etc.

Then, you have to make sure that your brand shines through each and every touch point with your customers (including support and product micro-copy) and be consistent and coherent about it. Have a fun, easy-going brand identity? Make sure you “sound” like this in every type of communication. Have a very artistic type of brand? Make sure everything you put out there is at the same high design standard. You get the idea…

It’s those little things that count and it’s these micro-engagements with your brand that will help people connect with you, recognise you, and maybe even recommend you to others.

Later on, when you grow and scale, you can obviously pour more money into it and buy these fancy billboards, but it all starts today.

Which leads me to the next myth:

Myth #4: It’s ok to leave marketing to the last minute

Remember myths #1, #2 and #3? They all have a few things in common: you can obviously do them by yourself and you can do it at any given point in time. But trust me on this – you do not want to wait on it until you really don’t have any choice.

I’m not saying you need to hire a CMO next thing tomorrow morning or spend enormous amounts of money on advertising and PR, etc.

What you do need is to get your fundamentals right – the strategy, the tools, the focus, the messaging, and the brand plan. Why?

First, when you understand your strategy and the right way to go about things, you don’t waste your money on things that won’t maximise your ROI.

And secondly, it’s really hard to fix a lot of these things later on when you do have the money for it. It becomes a “headache” to change things and re-do them for the sake of having a better marketing effect, and you end up either spending a lot more money than planned or going ahead with products/assets that are not optimal for success.

Again, I’m not preaching to you to spend a lot of money on marketing in your early days – on the contrary! I just urge you to keep this in mind and start acting on it when the time is right (and it’s usually a little bit earlier than you would like to think).

Myth #5: A good marketing agency can help me out

With the risk of having some colleagues getting really angry at me, I’m going to make a very bold statement here – “regular” marketing agencies are not for startups.

Sure, they seem like they know it better (because they worked with the big shots and have a mind-blowing name-dropping portfolio section on their website), they have everything you need under one roof, and they are very creative and artistic.

But is that really what your startup needs? Can you afford the retainer and commitment that come with it? Would they know what to do with a budget that is in no way near that of their other clients? Do they understand your position in time and in the market and the need for market education? Are AdWords/Facebook/Google really the best channels for you (just because they take a cut out of it)? Will they know how to sharpen your pitch deck or website and make it work (other than making it really pretty)?

The truth is that most of them have never run a startup and don’t understand the dynamics of it or the special needs of a growing business where every dollar counts. I’ve seen so many startups that paid a lot of money for campaigns that didn’t work, websites that did not convert, and collaterals that did not really sell.

It’s not because they are not good at what they do, it’s because startups require a different approach and have zero room for errors.

Bonus – Myth #6: I’ll contact the investors when I need money

Now this is not really a marketing tip, but as the CMO of a VC fund and as someone who shares her life with an investor, I had to bust this myth as well.

It takes time for an investor to invest in your startup. You have probably heard a lot of them saying that they invest in people, not in ideas. And it’s true. They need to feel like they are giving their money to someone who can reduce the risk as much as possible (by possessing the characteristics required to guide this ship through the rough ocean).

In order for them to trust you, they need to get to know you. A cup of coffee and an email with a beautiful deck is not enough (although having a good deck is very important, we will leave that for another post).

The key to raising funds is relationship building (before you need any money at all). Connect with investors, ask for their mentorship and advice, try to implement some of it (if it makes sense, of course), send them progress updates, make catching up in person a working habit, and slowly get them to trust you and form a relationship with you.

That way, when the time is right and you really need the money, you will already have a mature connection that is more likely to result in an investment.

Final words

If you are anything like me, as a startup founder you find yourself pushing the things you are not good at to the end of your to-do list. For me it’s legal and finance things, but if it’s marketing for you, I strongly suggest that you either confront this as early as possible or get someone that can help you with it. Getting the fundamentals right is so important in a startup journey, where every dollar counts and failing is not an option.

Yifat Shirben
Yifat Shirben
Yifat Shirben is an entrepreneurial marketer, with over a decade of international experience in marketing, branding, PR and business development within the innovation and entrepreneurial environment. As a former start-up founder herself, Yifat has developed a unique consumer-driven methodology to analyse and allow cost-effective, tailored made marketing strategies and solutions for start-ups and entrepreneurs. Yifat is also a director at Jayride (ASX:JAY)

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