6 Devastating Marketing Mistakes Startups Make

In 2014, Internet marketing ad spend alone grew  from $133 billion to $194.5 billion. Though I haven’t seen any official numbers in this category released for 2015 yet, I’m sure it’ll be MUCH higher. Overall, advertisers spent over $500 billion globally.

Consider though for a moment that those numbers really aren’t really promising for anyone but big media companies, who’re raking in all that cash. What all those billions really amount to is a whole heaping pile of wasted money for big corporations and startups like you, who were essentially throwing steaming piles of crap at a wall and seeing if it stuck — or as Gary Halbert used to say (paraphrased): “Send something up the flagpole and see who salutes it.”

Startups can’t afford to be frivolous with any of their spending — whether that cost is actual dollars, or time: The one asset we can never get back.

Here are 6 devastating marketing mistakes that will cost you more time and money than they’re worth in the lean startup stage:

1. Spending like you’re already an established brand.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could afford a 30-second spot run during a SuperBowl commercial? This and many other kinds of major ad spend is reserved for the big corporations for a reason — they can afford it. Pretty much all advertising is a gamble; you don’t know how much business anything is going to generate until customers start calling or barreling through your doors.

Trade shows, radio spots, television commercials, expensive magazine layouts, etc. All are unknowns. Perhaps the only kind of media advertising that’s a given is getting Oprah to recommend your brand — she’s been sparking careers since way back in the early 80s when she told the world about Tony Robbins and how great of a coach he was. They don’t call it bootstrapping for a reason. If a particular advertising avenue is going to put you further in the red, it’s not time yet — find another way!

2. Using the wrong promotional channels.

Though not as detrimental as throwing money away that you don’t have, using the wrong marketing distribution channels isn’t going to push your company any closer to the big time (whatever you consider that to be). YouTube’s great and mostly free, save production costs. However, if you’re trying to sell Jet Propulsion Navigation Systems to NASA and other government agencies around the world, wasting time and a few bucks on a YouTube channel to promote yourself is just a complete waste of time. Figure out where your target market is and hang out where they do.

Startup Marketing Tips

3. Splurging on marketing staff too quickly.

If you’re a startup, you’re probably not ready for the likes of Marty Kaan & Associates just yet. Nor should you be trying to hire on the best and the brightest in the industry to work full time in-house. It’s great to think about what’s on the ground up ahead, but walking into a big pile of dog crap without any shoes is just plain dumb. Seek out upstart advertising and the many other advertisers, agencies, freelancers, or college/university interns to help you build your brand.

These folks need the help just as much as you do and when you’re successful, they’re success will grow too. It’s a win-win. Plus, they’ll work much harder for much less. They may not be able to generate the massive results or have the reach of Marlene Dickinson & company, but you simply can’t afford to “hire” results at this stage of the game. Not to mention, you’re not big enough to justify the exposure at this point…

4. Wasting time/money on intangibles.

Where to start? Rebranding when you don’t really have a brand to rebrand yet. Overhauling your website when you don’t even have any visitors. Redesigning your promotional materials when you have little or no customers. Spending all day refining your social presence, to the point of incessant posting about things that have no relation to your brand, in a pathetic attempt to garner more exposure to your brand. None of these things will help add value to a startup, especially if you’re bootstrapping and have no foothold on the market yet.

This is called seeking branding perfection and it’s a huge time sink and bank account killer. You need to get out there and sell yourself and your brand. If you have something worth paying for, customers and investors will appreciate you’re running lean. They don’t care about the frilly stuff right now and neither should you!

5. Too many hens in the hen house.

One can only hope that someone, perhaps you or one/some of your partners has direct marketing experience to bring to the fray. That’s rarely the case with a lean startup though. Most times you need to learn as you go. However, what you don’t need at this point is for you, your entire staff, family and friends to all equally be learning how to market your company as you go. Expensive and risky!

Keep your marketing team as small as possible, while using mentors and (affordable or free) consultants who really know what they’re talking about to help make final decisions on your marketing efforts. Keep the final say limited to you and/or one or two of your partners, if applicable. Otherwise, you’ll just spin your wheels and plans will never get deployed.

Startup Marketing Tips
Image Credit: SWCompiegne/Flickr

6. Emulating your competition too closely.

You have to know what your competition is doing. Analyze what they’re doing. However, don’t blow your entire budget trying to do everything they’re doing. Not only is this a bank account killer, but it also just creates excessive noise that will annoy your target market.

Worse, if you just flat out copy them, you’re doing the opposite of what marketing’s all about: ie., Brand Differentiation. Don’t get caught up in what a competitor with a bigger budget is doing — you’ll be there soon enough, if you play your cards right!

How’s your startup coming along?

Have you found yourself, your team and/or your partners succumbing to any of the above 6 mistakes?

Are there any common mistakes you feel are missing from this list?


Main Image Credit: SWCompiegne/Flickr