Photo Credit: Erwan Hesry

5 Marketing Traps Start-Ups Should Avoid

…And The Tactics that Fix Them

When it comes to customer acquisition, the landscape is fiercely competitive. Unless your product has created a brand new market that did not exist before, a host of companies are actively consuming the existing pie and frankly, do not want another person at the table. The moment your team has a general idea of when you will bring your product to market, it is time to start marketing and planning your campaigns. Avoid these common pitfalls and overcome them by challenging yourself to address these 5 traps and tactics.

TRAP 1: Keeping your product fully under wraps during development

It is very easy to fall into the mindset that you are going to retain first-strike advantage at all costs. Being the first to market only makes sense if your product is fully refined and polished AND there is not anything else out there that addresses the pain point. Both are very unlikely. Do not send a product roadmap to your competitors, instead…

TACTIC: Test small campaigns that promote specific features of your product

Experiment with small and very targeted campaigns and surveys to gain feedback on your product, your marketing message and your value proposition. You should aim to improve the response rate on your ads, incorporate feedback into your ongoing roadmaps and build some momentum for the big show (aka, launch).

TRAP 2: Falling into the mindset that spending marketing dollars while there is a 0% chance of revenue is a bad idea

I get it, you are burning money and development is taking a little longer than you thought. This plagues 99% of start-ups (I made up that statistic, but it sounds about right). Advertising seems to be the worst place to spend money — the last thing you need is to further accelerate your burn rate. However, showing up to the big day unprepared is like getting the nod to start in the NBA finals without ever picking up a basketball. It won’t be pretty. Consider this approach…

TACTIC: Use campaign tools to build micro-campaigns and build this small investment into your budget

Facebook and Google allow you to specify daily limits on your budget. $5, $10 increments. Test as many $5 campaigns as you can. 200 campaigns at $5 is $1,000. That is an awful lot of knowledge you can acquire for a small price. Also, the campaigns will be small enough to avoid letting the cat fully out of the bag. Just put aside the funds. If you are a founder and did not clear this with your investors, put it on your credit card and expense it back later.

TRAP 3: Waiting until launch to build your marketing campaign strategy

It’s launch day — your product is out. Where are the customers? Time to call marketing! If you hire your marketing or PR team the day of your launch and expect results, you are going to have a bad time. Many companies are so immersed in day-to-day development and getting to release that they forget to invest the time and resources designing the engine that needs to carry the product to the land of customer success.

TACTIC: Start plotting your approach as soon as is practical and build a knowledge base along the way

Whether your launch is 6 days, 6 weeks or 6 months away, the answer to when you start building your marketing campaign strategy is always “yesterday.” Leveraging test campaigns you have been experimenting with along the way, have all of the pieces ready. Connect your analytics accounts, determine the evaluation tools you need and subscribe to them, design your creative, write your ad copy, specify your target audiences, determine your KPIs. The war is won before the battle is fought (thanks Sun Tzu). Having a good plan will also inspire confidence from your investors.

TRAP 4: Assuming you will hit a home run on day 1 of customer acquisition

If your continued survival is dependent on hitting a customer acquisition Hail Mary on launch day, there is a high chance you will end up going home with a basket full of disappointment.

TACTIC: Allow ample time to give campaigns the necessary runway to evolve

For campaigns to be successful, it takes time. You must measure yourself, however. The clock is ticking, but having a mediocre day today does not mean that with adjustments to the campaign, it cannot do better tomorrow. Rome was not built in a day and neither is a successful marketing campaign. Set the expectation that day 1 is going to be a challenge but it will get better. And in the event that a miracle does happen on launch day, that is just gravy.

TRAP 5: Moving too fast and not spending the time to document your efforts

Cash-strapped start-ups are constantly under the gun to gain some form of traction before the funds run out. Often times, this means doing less of what should be done to keep the lights on. There is only so much time in the day. However, failure to take the extra time today to make sure you have the foundation for a successful future.

TACTIC: Build a customer acquisition wiki

Document, document, document. If you run a campaign, whether it be for the minors (experimental, pre-launch) or majors (post-launch), take note of the creative, the copy, the variables, the cost and the results. If things are not going well, you will have a path of how you reached a brick wall and can still right the ship. Think leaving a trail of lights in the forest. When the company grows, you will have a blueprint to provide a training grounds for new team members. Investors will also feel more comfortable fueling the ship if they can see what you have worked on and what is next. It also spares everyone the time wasting conversations of ‘marketing scope creep’ where everyone in the company has an idea for an ad or campaign.

Terence Channon is the Managing Director at SaltMines Group, a Start-Up Studio that helps early stage business ideas take shape and come to life through technology, product development, leadership support and capital.

Follow Terence on Twitter @terencechannon

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