Lacking Strategy Can Result In More Than Lagging Sales

Startups, a key part of the economic engine, face many challenges as they begin. They are started by smart, entrepreneurial people that have either a great product or a great idea that solves an industry problem. Most times, these same entrepreneurs struggle with the marketing necessary to help their product or service get off the ground. That’s a shame, especially when you consider that 25% of startups fail in the first year and that number grows to 55% by the fifth year. Think of how many great ideas where developed but just couldn’t be sustained because of marketing inefficiencies. Let’s examine some of the most common mistakes that startups seem to make when it comes to marketing.

Marketing Strategy
Regrettably, the most common mistake made is a lack of a marketing strategy. From experience, I can tell you that most startups begin with what I call the “Field of Dreams” mindset of “if we build it, people will buy it.” This may be the case if people are aware of your product or service, but you must have a strategic plan to help you connect your product or service with your target audience. A clear marketing strategy identifies your target audience, their pain points, sets a clear and measurable objective and focuses its message directly at addressing/solving that pain point.

Even those startups with a marketing strategy still stumble by not planning their marketing activities and resources properly. Marketing should not be a spur-of-the-moment activity. This dangerous exercise is very common at the onset of the business venture. By not having a well-defined marketing strategy, you’re only putting your business success at risk by frivolously spending money. You need to first develop the plan, then work the plan.

When planning your activities and resources, you need to keep a few things in mind. Are your activities centered around the buying habits of your target audience? Are you reaching your target audience in the medium that best reaches them? Do you have enough frequency in reaching your audience? Do you have the proper resources in place for follow-ups? How are you going to measure the success of your marketing investment? These are some of the basics you need to make sure you address in your planning.

Many times, startups have the urge to bombard their target audience with multiple messages. This practice only confuses the target audience and leaves the startup wondering why their products or service offerings aren’t resonating. Messaging is complex yet simple. Here’s what I mean, it’s complex because the startup has to narrow what they want to say into a single message. What makes it simple is that it’s only ONE message to communicate. The best way to decipher your single message is to ask yourself, “what is the single, most important point we want our audience to know about our product/service?” Everything else is secondary and should be avoided.

All Your Eggs in One Basket
This is a big one. Most startups make the common mistake of thinking they only need one method of contact with their audience. If you recall, I mentioned marketing activities and not activity. Your plan should be integrated with multiple ways of reaching your audience.

An example of this is a startup that sends one direct mailer to their audience and does nothing else. While I’m not going to argue the strengths or weaknesses of direct mail or any other medium, I will tell you that you should incorporate an integrated multi-media campaign. Again, you should know the habits of your target audience. Do they spend a lot of time in front of their computers or are they constantly on the road? Do they prefer email over regular mail? Do they spend a lot of time online? If they do, what sites are they visiting most? Knowing how your audience works can help you determine the best modes of communications with them. Having an integrated campaign that includes direct mail, email, outbound follow-up, etc. allows you to expose your brand to them in different ways, and more importantly, in ways that they are most likely to receive your message. This will help for your message break through the clutter.

The last step is to measure your plan. This commonly overlooked step goes hand-in-hand with the strategy and planning. If you recall, I mentioned earlier that you need to set clear and measurable objective for your marketing. You need to establish your benchmarks for success to see how your marketing activities are progressing toward your objectives. If you don’t establish your measurement benchmarks, then you can’t track the return on your marketing investment. In essence, you’re throwing good money after bad.

Marketing is not rocket science by any stretch of the imagination. But it shouldn’t be looked upon as purely subjective either. Successful startups and businesses should develop their marketing strategy, plan out their activities and resources, be integrated with their messaging and incorporate measurement milestones. Startups need to be smart with their marketing expenditures and the best way to be smart is to have a strategy. It’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter. When startups work smarter, we all win.