Igniter: Why Startups Suck at Marketing

by Luke Wroblewski October 29, 2017

At the Igniter Annual Conference in Mountain View, Rand Fishkin shared eight common mistakes startups make with their marketing/growth hacking and how to avoid them. Here's my notes from his talk: Why Startups Suck at Marketing

Most startups fail because they couldn’t find the right customers at an affordable price. But what specific mistakes do they make with marketing that could be avoided?

Terrible Name

  • Problems with names: no one can say your name (hard to pronounce), you don’t own domains or social handles, your name is used by other companies (esp. in your domain), etc.
  • Make your names easy to spell, say & remember, has no existing associations that could confuse, avoids trademark infringement, what the company does has no problematic overlaps, the .com and social media accounts are owned by you, has few or no Google search results, biases toward brand able.

Overvaluing First Exposure

  • Typical startup myths: make a great product, get some press, get customers.
  • But where people do to learn is from online lists, talking to others, using existing solutions, etc. If you only play at first exposure and/or decision time, it won’t work well.
  • Step 1: get known and trusted by your audience. Step 2: grow a presence across the channels they use to find solutions for what your product does. Step 3: be visible throughout their discovery, consideration, and decision processes.

Chasing Growth Hacks

  • Don’t fight the “law of shitty clickthrough rates”. Chasing growth hacks usually leads to death before success. A lot of exploitable short-term growth hacks start out working ok, then cease performing.
  • Great marketers focus on flywheels: systems that scale with decreasing friction. Most flywheels start out working poorly, but keep iterating and you’ll learn how to close the gaps.
  • Different types of flywheels: content, press & media, UGC/community.
  • Almost every flywheel finds points of conflict or friction. That’s where it is useful to apply a growth hack. Hacks are useful when applied to a sound marketing strategy.
  • As such, find a balance between long-term investments and short-term hacks.
  • The formula for marketing that will work for years to come: strategic roadmap + scalable flywheel + long-term investments + hacks to remove friction (in the flywheel).

Saving Marketing Until Launch

  • Seek out marketing channels & tactics at the intersection of: areas of personal passion & interest, areas where you can provide unique value to your audience, and areas the reach your potential customers and their influencers. Think about what marketing channels fits this criteria: blogs, forums, social media, video channels, events, etc.
  • Invest in 2-3 tactics long before you launch a product. So when you do, there’s a pre-existing community that wants to support & amplify you.

Relying on Paid Ads

  • Unknown brands with poor click-throughs (because they are new) have to pay more for ads to be effective. Ad networks want good click-throughs so their users get good experiences.
  • First earn brand exposure with your target audience, get organic traffic first, then advertise to those who know and like you.

Not Prioritizing an Easy-to-Reach Audience

  • Easier to harder to reach audiences: are people you know, know of you, are connected to you on email, social media, your website, have heard of your company, are reachable via ad targeting.
  • Have a strategy to increase the size of your easier to reach audience, target them first, and not aim 100% of his tactics at hard to reach groups.
  • Pro tip: having a lot of target customers in your personal network makes everything about starting up easier.

Failing at Funnels

  • Most sites & marketers are focused on optimizing conversations but startups often lack the right audience that the top of the funnel and the data they need to move people through the funnel. Get to know the people coming to your funnel so you know what they do. Once you have real customers, you can talk to them & learn from them.
  • Identify the right customers for you, find what/who influences them, then clone, expand, and repeat.
  • It is hugely helpful to visualize your funnel to show sources and see how each contributes to various levels. You can also find where people are not converting.
  • Gain a deep understanding of what makes buyers buy. Determine what makes some qualified visitors not buy. These two insights will help drive conversions. Interview customers that didn’t try the product, tried it and didn’t love it, tried and loved it.

Ignoring Brand

  • A brand is a promise that is ideally triggered when you need the solution you offer. Brand marketing reminds you of the brand’s existence, and nudges you to use the brand at the right time.
  • Before you can brand, you need a promise: we provide, we evoke feelings, we remind you of, we share values of … Everything should subtly reinforce your message.