Busting Myths About Startup Success in Marketing

One of the best things about early stage companies is they “do” instead of deliberate. It’s a healthy and important way to be when you’re trying to move fast. But when it relates to marketing, this too often leads to lots of wasted activity with zero impact — or worse yet, market confusion. Misdirected marketing will only slow things down by associating the wrong customers with the wrong products — the opposite of the intended fast action.

Here are the five biggest myths for “acting fast” in marketing and what early stage startups should be doing instead.

Myth: You need demand gen right away

Reality: Not until you have a strategy and better know your target customer

Before doing anything else, establish a strategic framework. Is this to enable evangelism? Is this to validate our messaging and then amplify it? Establishing even a simple marketing strategy framework clarifies the WHY behind everything you’ll do. When you have a list of 50 things you think you should do, this tells you what is in or out, how to prioritize, as well as the angles. It also makes you set goals so you’ll know whether your actions are worth the effort. Likewise, demand gen only makes sense when you’re ready to add gas to a growing fire. If you don’t have the basic working engine in place, it’s going to be expensive and resource-intensive at a time when you’re not ready for the expense.

Myth: Associate yourself with the biggest trends and buzzwords

Reality: Saying what you do simply and what’s truly different works better

I’ve written about how to avoid the Revolutionary [insert product] Fallacy in the past. But another variant of this is trying to coast in the wake of a big category and not have it be the right one for you. For example, don’t call yourself a big data company if what you’re doing is performance monitoring for the data stack at massive scale. An informed audience would know these are two different things so say exactly what you are. Calibrate your messaging to the ‘who’ in your target audience, and if they’re technical — developers, in the infrastructure stack or in cybersecurity — be specific, clear and concise.

Myth: Marketing success = creating a big funnel, starting at the top

Reality: Start at the bottom and work your way up with selective, right-sized investments

When you’re just getting started with sales, it’s still hand-to-hand combat. The bottom and mid-funnel activities are far more important than the top of the funnel, which in the early days is driven mostly by direct relationships and referrals. Wait til you know what’s repeatable AND what messaging is resonating before amplifying it (top of funnel).

Myth: A young get-shit-done marketer is better than a more senior/expensive one

Reality: The younger the company, the more experience you need

My big caveat here is you don’t need to hire senior marketers full-time when you start. Find a senior marketing advisor. This is someone who has seen lots of different companies and can accurately help you find your position in the market and help you calibrate execution and priorities. A senior person helps ensure activities are done in a realistic, thoughtful way that sets you up for both a) great learning and b) future success. That being said, there is still a case to be made for hiring a junior marketer who can do much of the actual day-to-day work — with guidance; this can be a less expensive way to get the tactical work done. But don’t have one without the other.

Myth: company name + logo = brand

Reality: Your brand is every touch-point of the company and starts with your product

Especially with the advent of awesome sites like 99designs, it’s never been easier to choose from oodles of logo designs. This is not your brand. Brand comes from defining the qualities you want associated with everything your company does ex: innovative, warm, authentic, funny, intelligent. Your logo is the most iconic visualization of these attributes, and you should pick the one that best embodies your chosen attributes. Brand is also expressed at every single touch-point of your company — from how sales does their calls, to how customer service behaves, to the UX in your product. Brand = the sum total of all these parts.

So be bold! Go against convention and bust these myths by doing it right from the start.