Guest post by James Burbank - Editor-in-chief at BizzMarkBlog
While you might want to check this with someone who has a degree in History of Marketing, it is more than probable that marketing has been a part of business since the very earliest days. The first time one of our prehistoric ancestors figured out they have a bit more meat that they could swap for something they also need, they probably went on telling everyone that their meat was the best.
Thinking that startups can survive and thrive without any kind of marketing would, therefore, be completely delusional.
Unfortunately, the intersection between startups and marketing is often muddled to such an extent that startup owners and would-be founders simply cannot find cold, hard facts.
Today, we will be taking a long, hard look at many marketing misconceptions that startup people are exposed to and that can seriously harm startups they worked so hard on.
1. Marketing is Omnipotent
There is a very simple reason why marketers and various "marketing experts" want you to think that marketing can do just about anything – it is their livelihood.
Unfortunately, the ubiquity of such a sentiment towards marketing makes startup owners (among others) to actually start to believe that marketing is omnipotent. In other words, they start to think that marketing of their new brand and product is the most important thing there is.
It is not.
A startup is built on a product, first and foremost. There is no amount of marketing and branding that will bring anything but the most short-term customers to the startup. In case you are not aware of this, short-term customers are rarely (if ever) enough to build a startup. Even if you do see a massive initial interest in your subpar product because you marketed it well, your customers will soon find out that your product is not what you told them and you can rest assured that you will experience a serious blowback.
Do not get us wrong, marketing can do a lot, especially if it is done the right way. However, every startup that is to have any chance of surviving and thriving needs to be done on a product that people need and want. A product that is, also, executed well.
2. It is all about the Brand
Having a distinguishable brand is important, there is no doubt about that. Everywhere you look, everyone is raving about having a recognizable brand that stands for something and that makes people immediately think about you.
As it turns out, it is really not that important. As it turns out, people don't really care that much about brands. In fact, they wouldn't blink an eye if three quarters of the brands disappeared tomorrow.
It might actually turn out that the modern consumer wants what every consumer has wanted since the dawn of civilization – they want a better, more available or a cheaper product. Preferably the combination of all three.
This is why branding should not be the end all of your marketing efforts.
Your marketing efforts have to be about defined, actual goals that you can quantify.
For instance, "enhancing the adoption of our brand among young people" is not a defined, actual goal that you can quantify.
"Increasing the percentage of new sign-ups from companies with 10-50 employees by February 2018" is a defined, actual goal that you can quantify.
Your marketing needs to be about such goals. Not about branding.
Once your product is being sold and once your customers stay with you, then you can think about actually spending time and money on branding.
Of course, your brand will develop naturally along the way and you can pay some attention to it.
Just don't make it the only thing.
By the way, there is a reason why there is so much hype about branding and it has everything to do with the matter of vague vs. concrete goals. It is much easier for a marketing snake oil peddler to keep charging a company if the goals are vague.
Startups simply do not have the time or the money to waste their time on marketing snake oil peddlers.
3. Anyone can do Great Marketing
One of the greatest and most widely believed misconceptions about marketing in the last couple of years has been this myth that just about anyone can do great marketing. Trying to get to the bottom of this myth would require far too much time, but it is safe to say it has been perpetuated by various "digital marketing gurus" whose credentials are often suspiciously absent and whose knowledge of marketing revolves around a few articles they read over the last couple of months.
There is a reason why people go to college to study marketing. There is a reason why all of the world's largest companies either hire marketing agencies or build their marketing teams with actual experts.
Marketing is exquisitely complex and regardless of what strategies, tactics or channels you use, you will need to know how to do it.
This is especially true for digital marketing where everyone dabbles, but very few actually do it the right way.
For startups, this can backfire one of three ways – they hire subpar professionals, they take on a "social media intern" (or something along those lines, or the people who should be working on the product waste their money trying to figure out stuff that takes years to master.
Sure, some marketing-like presence can be maintained by the startup founder or an intern, but actual, great marketing takes a whole lot of work.
It starts from designing the website (this article from Quikclicks explains the DIY vs. professional-made debate) continues through doing SEO and doing content marketing to buying ads and anything else digital you can think of.
If you go back to the previous myth we covered, marketing has to be about concrete goals and putting one such goal in front of your social media intern will immediately show you how equipped they are to do actual, salt mines marketing.
As a startup owner, you need to understand the limits of the DIY approach.
The good thing is that you can nowadays find plenty of marketing agencies that offer services tailored to startup needs and budgets. If nothing else, most startups will at least be able to afford a consultation with a marketing professional who will know about setting and achieving goals as opposed to spouting catchphrases.
4. Social Media Marketing does Wonders
If you are to believe the innumerable social marketing experts, your startup is just a single Tweet from becoming the next big thing. According to them, a cool Instagram influencer campaign will turn your accounting software startup into a household name.
The only problem with this is that social media marketing is almost painfully ineffectual. It does not matter what kind of industry you are in or what you are selling, the chances are fantastically slim that your social media marketing efforts will translate into actual results (remember those from before?).
This article from Optin Monster, for example, provides some very interesting statistics about social media when used for marketing. For example, the customer acquisition rates are just abhorrent for Facebook and Twitter (less than one percent), two of world's most popular social networks. Click-through rates are even worse, estimated in hundredths of a percent.
Of course, saying that social media has no place in a startup's online life would be absolutely myopic.
Social media can have quite a reach, especially if your customers are engaged enough to share your content. You can also provide great customer service on social media, as well as share some brand messages.
The important thing is that you do not count on social media to bring you customers.
That is something that social media does not do well.
One other thing that you should keep in mind and that people mostly do not follow brands on social media. In one of his famous speeches about the limitations of social media, Mark Ritson published his findings that the average Australian follows one brand on social media, at best. And we are talking huge brands here, not a tiny startup no one heard of.
The reason for this is actually quite simple and we can actually find it in the very term social media. Social media is used by people to interact with other people. Not with brands. Brands are impostors on social media and they are, at best, tolerated.
Now, once again, we shouldn't get all apocalyptical about social media and its utility in the startup world. Like we said, it has its uses and there is always that one-in-a-billion chance that you might go viral, but when we are talking marketing, social media still has a long way to do.
If it gets anywhere, to be honest.
5. Always Target Millennials
There is arguably more being written about millennials today than about just about anything else in the business/marketing/tech niches. Every other article is about how to entice millennials, how to sell to them, how to hire them, what they want, what they need, etc.
There is just one problem with this.
The millennials do not exist as a market segment. Ask anyone who knows anything about market segmentation and they will tell you the same thing.
In case you think the author is insane, just consider the following – anyone born between 1980 and 2000 is a millennial, or at least roughly so, right? There has to be at least a couple a hundred million people born between those two years? And they are all supposed to like and want the same things?
In case you want more than just common sense, i.e. data, we should to turn to two articles from Marketing Week (this one and this one) which cite a whole lot of research that shows that millennials are very different from within and not that different from the generations that precede them.
The reason why this myth can be harmful to your startup's marketing efforts is that targeting this notion of millennials with your marketing will get you nowhere. Millennials do not exist as a homogenous market segment and marketing efforts that are aimed at it will not be successful.
6. You Have to Go Viral
People's attention spans are getting shorter, especially when online. It is a scientific fact and there are no two ways about it.
It is therefore really easy to start believing that only viral and sensational marketing message can yield any results.
If it is not sensational and doesn't go viral, how is anyone going to be influenced by it?
This is a perfectly sane question to ask and one that makes a lot of sense coming from a startup that is battling a dozen similar companies for a limited number of customers.
As it turns out, marketing does not have to explode in people's faces in order for it to influence their purchasing decisions. Sometimes it is enough to let them know that your product might be better, more available and cheaper than what the competition is doing (we already mentioned this).
Sometimes the simplest message can be the most effective, put in front of the right people, at the right time and addressing their problem in the clearest way possible.
Startups often waste money and especially time trying to come up with a marketing campaign that is supposed to wow the world and end up trending everywhere you turn.
Because of this, they will miss out on some very simple and affordable marketing wins and this is why this virality myth can be very harmful to a startup.