Harmful marketing tips for startups and where they come from

Nelly Orlova, the founder of the international business network for start-ups and investors InnMind, tells why marketing recommendations from the Internet should be followed with caution and which start-up cases prove it.

Recently, the Internet is full of all sorts of materials on marketing topics. And the trend is that they more often are addressed not to professional marketers, but to entrepreneurs, start-ups, small business owners, promising them viral growth and rapid promotion of business through the use of marketing tools.

Loud headlines a-la “how to get millions of users in half a second” or “how to promote a business with SMM in a week, spending only 5 minutes a day” (exaggerating, but the message is clear), blow our mind and make us go through an endless number of long-reads, spending time to find the “Holy Grail” of marketing.

Of course, who among us does not dream to get millions of users or a lot of paying customers, making simple manipulations in social networks? The problem is that with the growing popularity of the topic, the information space is becoming more and more clogged: behind the intriguing headlines you find objectively low-quality materials, behind promises to “disclose the secrets of viral growth” — empty reviews listing all the known methods of traditional marketing.

Make bloggers hate themselves

It’s still okay if they do not bring any special benefit. But some tips can be purely harmful. I particularly refer to the templates of letters that are found everywhere in the guides for influence marketing for sending to opinion leaders, bloggers and owners of popular accounts in social networks with a request to write about your project.

Have you tried it yourself? If not — in any case, do not even try!

Such copy-paste letter will forever shut your door to the heart of any blogger and opinion leader, guaranteed! Since these templates from careless gurus have flooded the Internet, popular bloggers receive dozens of identical letters with applications from startups to their e-mails and, according to many of them, immediately note the sender as spam.

By sending such a letter, you demonstrate a lack of respect and interest in the author, a frank desire to use his resource/profile for your own purposes, without wasting time and energy to at least a little study his activities and write your own letter addressing him/her personally.

Do not do this, if you do not want to ruin your reputation and close your way to influencer marketing.

Instead, take a little time to go through the list of main bloggers in your topic. Learn how they write, what they are addicted to, what recent topics were in the focus of their interest. Write each of them your own letter, describing a little about yourself and your project and explaining why you turned to him and why your project/product/service can be interesting for their readers.

Such a strategy was used, for example, by the start-up Simformer, which developed an online platform for creating and conducting business games and evaluating business competencies. Initially, guys also tried to send cold emails taken from one of the marketing pseudo-gurus, and just on time they noticed that the result of such e-mails was zero, and they changed the strategy. Then they turned to the opinion leaders in the field of e-learning and corporate training, writing each of them a personal letter demonstrating interest in the activities of a particular author, asked about their “pains” and needs. They also offered to test their product with a request to express their expert opinion about the shortcomings and advantages of the product ..

As a result, several authoritative Western experts responded to the request, tested the product and released text and video reviews about the Simformer platform, which reached the team of the main industry publication Elearning! Magazine.

The startup received cool recommendations from professionals, promotion among the target audience of a million users, the nomination Best of Elearning! 2016 and large corporate clients who have learned about the product from these reviews and blogs — all that free of charge!

And it happened because the Simformer team spent more than a month studying the opinion leaders in their industry and carefully preparing each request.

Limit your audience and promotion opportunities

Another common advice for beginners in SMM — “do not rush to all social networks at once, choose one and work only in it.”

Yes, on the one hand, you cannot disagree with the fact that chasing 10 rabbits would be a bad idea: there is a big chance of getting it all wrong.

It’s impossible for a startup founder who is busy with product development and sales, manage to make regular posts and promote accounts in dozens of existing social networks at the same time. But advice given in SMM guidelines for start-ups, sounding like “select only one channel”, causes, at least, confusion.

The authors of such manuals completely forget about the small things: How to choose it? On the basis of what data and what criteria? How do you know which channel has the most active audience, and where will the marketing efficiency be above all other channels?

To do this, you need to at least try and explore several key channels. Create accounts in them, test websites, “check” the audience, communicate in key groups and communities, and evaluate the result. And only after that, choose the main, most effective channel for promoting your product or service.

And it should also be taken into account that in most cases it is not necessary to limit yourself to one channel, often the strategy of distributing promo materials in different sources is the most effective one.

For example, you chose Twitter or Facebook as the main social network for communicating with your customers and promoting your product. But if you use Triberr or Scoop.it in parallel, even a couple of times a week — this will positively affect both the ranking in the main channel, and on such indicators as backlinks and mentions by other users.

I will give an example of one of the startups, a service for reviewing business books MakeRight: during a year they tested various promotion channels, managing accounts in Facebook, on VKontakte, Twitter, Spark and Habrahabr (and other networks) before, as they found “their” social network, which became Telegram. It was that instrument, that proved to be the most effective for their business, with active and receptive target audience.

Now, MakeRight already has more than 5 thousand subscribers in its Telegram channel, it is the main source of traffic and paying customers. It is important to mention: MakeRight team has not stopped testing other channels and continues making posts from time to time and talking about their project in other networks.

Another case: Russian startup in e-commerce & fashion — SAME, who came up with series of identical clothes for children and parents. At the time of the launch, all the money went to the development and sewing of clothing collections, there was no money for advertising at all, so it was decided to move forward using free methods: SMM and partner programs.

The startup tested Facebook and VKontakte from the very beginning. Their group in VK gained popularity very quickly (now it has more than 35 thousand subscribers) and started generating revenue, while the audience in FB was not active at all. They concentrated on VKontakte group as the main platform, but did not give up and continued testing FB, and in the end began to receive paying customers from this social network.

With the growth of the popularity of Instagram, SAME connected to this network as well. As a result, within a year after the launch, the start-up has earned more than 20 million rubles and was able to reach the stage of viral growth — without advertising costs.

Yes, it takes extra time and effort and does not sound like a “secret formula of success without effort “, under the sauce of which marketing lifehacks are served. That is why their authors often forget to mention the need for careful preparatory work before choosing the relevant channel and then constantly assessing its effectiveness, as well as testing new channels.

Blindly following this advice, you limit your audience and promotion possibilities without having objective data to select the main channel for SMM.

First a hen — than an egg?

And one more harmful advice, often found in the so-called “startup marketing guides”: launch marketing activities only after you have a finished product. As if it was pointless to waste time and resources on promotion, when you do not even have a product.

I have a generally peaceful nature, sometimes even too melancholic, but when I read such advice for start-ups, I want to shake up the authors of such advice and ask: “Do you understand what you, a “guru”, are talking about?!”

To understand how absurd this advice is, let’s see how marketing for a startup differs from marketing for an established business.

  • First, most startups do not have an advertising budget. There are cases when founders attracted investments, having put in them some kind of budget for promotion, or simply borrowed money from acquaintances. But in most cases, startups do not have money or marketing specialists to promote the project.
  • Second, most startups are developing a new product or service. Speaking of innovative projects, they often create a new niche and build a product that does not have close analogues in the market. And this means that he does not have an established audience, “accustomed” users and those who are used to pay for it.

Promotion of a startup project often cannot be limited to marketing methods common in traditional business, since before you “sell”, you first need to form an interest, explain functionality, convey value, create an audience around the product, attract demo users, test the product and collect feedback . All this takes a huge amount of time and effort.

And do not forget about point 1 — the lack of a budget for marketing. Hence, it is necessary to actively use free promotion methods, digital marketing and SMM, compensating with investment of your time.

And now imagine that following such advice of one of the “SMM guides for startups”, you have focused all your efforts to develop a product, completely ignoring its promotion until you are ready to enter the market. It’s “hour X”, your product is completely ready (or you think so), and you are ready to meet the flow of users and customers with dignity. But there are no clients rushing to buy your product. And you do not have channels to attract them, there are no developed accounts in social networks, there is no blog and no subscribers, there is no audience that knows about the product, waits for it, wants to try, test, buy … You have not done anything yet and did not prepare your audience, because “you must first have a product, and then do marketing.”

And you have to start everything from scratch, creating a marketing infrastructure around your product, instead of releasing it using already prepared and developed channels.

In fact, this is the very common mistake of start-ups, which occurs literally in every second case. It hurts me to see how pseudo-gurus add fuel to fire with such advice, provoking more and more mistakes.

This year we at InnMind even launched a series of free webinars and consultations on startup marketing, as well as promotion support service. And you know, every time, when a startup addresses for help, we see a standard situation: there is a product, but no understanding of how to do marketing, no promotion channels, no prepared audience and no money for paid advertising.

The author of the book Startup Evolution Curve, marketing expert Donatas Jonikas, well-known in Europe, said: “It is necessary to start product promotion at the development stage. If you are thinking about marketing only after launching the product — then you are late”. We cannot agree more. And here’s the proof case: a Belarusian startup NormalFit, who developed artificial intelligence for personal dietology.

They started working with social media when developers were building the algorithms and finalizing the interface of the web application, and during development they began to create thematic groups in Odnoklassniki, involving interested audience, talking about the idea of their product, discussing active functionality, collecting opinions and requests of potential users.

As a result, when the first available demo version of the product was made, it was enough for them to announce this in their social network groups so that hundreds of users and testers registered in the application in the first days after the launch. And in the startup team there was no professional marketer (and there is still no), the founder and his team spent their own time searching for the best solutions and studying marketing “on the go.” This way the startup has saved time and money in the product launch phase.

In conclusion, I want to say: I hope this post did not seem too aggressive to you. My goal was not to offend authors writing about marketing: many of them do an excellent job. But I want to remind you that the creation and development of an innovative start-up has its own specifics, different from the traditional business, and in marketing a start-up, one cannot rely on and blindly copy traditional marketing methods.

I want to encourage authors to take a more responsible attitude to the advice that you give, and the founders of startups and all readers: think about promoting your projects and start marketing at the earliest stage, this will save you a lot of time, money and energy afterwards.

And please do not rush to follow all the tips that you get from the Internet (even mine :) — test, try, evaluate and choose the ones that work for your case. Good luck in promoting your projects!

Other useful articles:

Marketing in startups (Startup Booster, Episode 2)

Applied Neuromarketing (video)

Marketing for startups — WEBINAR (video)