No matter what kind of business you start, some marketing mistakes are inevitable. But startups in particular must navigate a unique set of marketing challenges: restricted budgets, limited resources and the pressing need to build brand visibility.
Knowing when and how to invest in marketing for your business may be the key ingredient to your startup’s success. Here are some common marketing mistakes that every startup makes — and how you can avoid them.
1. Spending money on ‘big marketing’ too quickly
You may want to take the industry by storm, with a powerful ad or a killer booth at the next trade show, but, whoa! You should really rein it in and start slow. You don’t want to blow your budget this early in the game.
If you do make the mistake of spending too much too soon, the worst thing that could happen is . . . nothing. The next worst thing that could happen is that your marketing turns out to be a huge success — but you’re incapable of meeting the resulting new demand.
“You don’t know what platforms work best because you haven’t had the opportunity to test them,” points out Jayson Demers, founder and CEO of AudienceBloom (and an Entrepreneur.com contributor). “You’re essentially gambling on what you think might work in your favor.”
Take the time to test your audience. Find out who your buyers are and spend small amounts of money on hyper-targeted marketing. Focus on content marketing and work PR angles, and use free video to spread your brand message.
2. Speaking through the wrong channels
There are countless marketing channels you can use to engage customers, but which ones are right or wrong ultimately depends on who your audience is and where you can grab their attention. Don’t rush ahead without understanding your audience.
You’re likely to have more than one target audience for your product, and each audience may have its own channel. You need to figure out which channels will give you the best return and which should be avoided.
3. Staffing up your marketing effort too quickly
It’s tempting to want to bring in the best of the best to build your brand by making an investment in high-caliber marketing staff, but don’t do it. The only time you should invest in expanding your marketing team is when you’ve exhausted all of your efforts and low-cost options, or you have no choice because time commitments require you to focus on other things.
Low-cost options here include agencies, independent freelancers and interns. By using them, you’ll get more marketing for a lower spend, compared to hiring full-time in-house marketing personnel.
4. Spending too much time on brand perfection
Too many startups want to change their name early on and completely rebrand, or revise their website design over and over. Investing in perfection too early in terms of your brand assets will yield few results other than a waste of funds.
Then there is excessive brand promotion. Hyper-focusing on your brand, particularly on social media, is another no-no. “In response to such increased noise, many consumers may respond by simply tuning out,” says Brett Relander, founder of Launch & Hustle. “Even worse, they may disengage altogether and even unfollow your brand, if they see that you post too frequently without providing anything of real value.”
The best approach is to run a lean startup method. Don’t delay launching a website just to get the copy or design perfect. Once you’ve launched and start rolling, you can pick up more information and make those tweaks and changes from a much more stable position. You can also learn more about what your followers want to hear from you regarding your brand and your industry, so you don’t drown them in your launch.
5. Giving everyone a voice in marketing decisions
When it comes to marketing, everyone seems to have an opinion, but the more people you invite to have a say in the marketing, the longer it will take to finalize anything. Recognize that you can never please everyone.
You don’t need to pass marketing ideas around to every employee, family member and friend. In the end, trust the people you pay to create your marketing assets.
6. Chasing competitors
Part of building a business entails recognizing what your competitors are doing. Take cues from it, learn from it and find ways to do it better than they do it. Don’t get caught in the trap of replicating their efforts in hopes of getting more attention.
Not only will you create more noise that customers will grow tired of, but you’ll have no idea how effective that marketing strategy has been in the first place. Can you really trust that your competitor is doing everything right all the time?
“Your competition may have a bigger budget and hundreds of employees, but don’t dwell on that,” writes Mike Kappel, founder of Patriot Software. “They don’t have your passion or your know-how. They have nothing on your experience and the lessons you’ve learned. Just focus on your competitive advantage — your ‘secret sauce.’”
7. Failing to measure results
When you do spend money on marketing, you need to track everything you do. If you don’t know what kind of traction you got from a specific campaign, you’ll have no idea if you made a return on your investment.
In 2014, Internet advertising grew, from $133 billion to $194.5 billion. That’s a lot of potential lost money when you consider that 84 percent of businesses don’t track ROI in social media.
Every campaign you launch online should use tracking codes/pixels or unified threat management (UTM) codes. Print ads should use unique phone numbers, special discount codes and custom URLs. Never be afraid to ask customers how they heard about you, and always have a way to link every customer back to a campaign.
Recognize that the mistakes described above are completely preventable, but even if you do make them, they won’t necessarily end your business. Just make sure you retool, rethink and relaunch your marketing strategy as you move forward. As long as you prepare accordingly and learn from your mistakes, you can move on to better strategies and drive your business to success.