5 Deadly Marketing Mistakes Startups Make

The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow. —Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

As a leader in today’s startup environment, you're expected to fall into the mindset of both employees and the managers that guide them. Anticipating the needs of the organization is a given and understanding how to best maximize your value to the entire organization is key. After years of working with both various startups and Fortune 500 companies, experience has shown me that there are five deadly mistakes startups make when developing their marketing teams and efforts.

[bctt tweet="5 Deadly #Marketing Mistakes #Startups Make, by @digitalshalonda "]

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Building Effective Marketing Strategies for Startups

1. No Leader. No Team

We get it. Everyone gets it. You're bootstrapping and you want to build a company culture where everyone's opinions and great ideas matter. You’ve read that this is why people love to work at companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook. However, it may not be the best fit for your five- to ten-person team.

It’s important, particularly in the beginning, to stick to letting people lead their specific tasks with leadership that can provide input across teams. Marketing, just as much the development and product team, is its own specialty and deserves to have someone specifically charged with managing its functions. I have often witnessed (and been a part of) startup team meetings where everyone on the team takes on the role of marketer.

Yes, every individual brings with them a multitude of talents, insights and knowledge, but it all comes down this: not everyone is a marketer. Once you've decided that your startup will let specific people work on marketing-related tasks, let those individuals create effective marketing strategies and implement them across the necessary teams.

I have often watched startup teams become “jacks of all trades”; without clear leadership and direction, the door is open for frustration, confusion and the breakdown of the very team culture that you have been trying to build.

As a marketing team leader or member, it is important that you have a clear understanding of the organization’s goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). When this is not the case, I’ve witnessed complete team dysfunction, employee fatigue, long-term position vacancies and worst yet, the continual repetition of the same problem that could have been solved by someone making the decision to lead, communicate when problems arise, and encourage team members to work together.

[bctt tweet="No #leader no #team. #Startups need a #marketing team leader, says @digitalshalonda"]

2. Knowing the Product Not the People

In my experience working with many startups, founders and teams, the one thing they know out the gate is what they have built. What they struggle with is defining the audience they have built it for and why they might need it.

For example, Company A knows that their delivery app will help their Brooklyn, NY market have access to a wider variety of food delivery service to match that of their Manhattan counterparts. Brooklyn, NY becomes their target market and audience, rather than foodies in Brooklyn, or Brooklyn residents that like or have joined local commuter websites such as the MTA or Long Island Railroad on social media. A granular approach to marketing like this is so easy to tap into these days and attract targeted audiences, particularly on social media.

In 2010, when I started my express bus service from Washington, DC to Brooklyn, NY, Theknowitexpress , my intention was to create a bus service that served a niche customer that didn’t want to go into Manhattan to get home and also wanted to bring their bike. It was immediately nicknamed the “hipster express” and even featured in the Transit Section of The New York Times. My thought was that I was marketing to hipsters, folks that were between the ages of 21 and 27, loved skinny jeans, and lived in Williamsburg.

For the most part, I was correct, but week after week, baby-boomers were showing up. When I asked them how they heard about the service, they told me word of mouth—positive reviews from their children and friends. It opened my eyes to a new market that was using my service and the reasons they were using it. Week after week, the number of travelers in that demographic grew and I started to adjust my marketing to fulfill that need.

[bctt tweet="#Startups need to know not only the product but also the people who use it, says @digitalshalonda"]

3. Not Setting Micro-Marketing Goals

It isn’t so much about getting it right as it is about getting it moving in the right direction.

The “buffet” of marketing options is quite extensive. There really is no shortage of what to do and the channels you can use to get your message across. The key is to pick one or two Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) (i.e., build email list or grow social media audience) and focus on one or two channels to tackle at a time. It is nearly impossible to focus on every marketing tactic at the same time. There just isn’t enough time or resources for most companies, let alone startups.

Think about it this way. If the marketing team is going to focus on a strong direct mail campaign, you could focus your attention on driving people to social media channels like Facebook and Instagram (that already have over one billion users) and utilize these channels as lead generation tools for your website and email acquisition efforts. One size doesn’t fit all and it can’t all be done at the same time. Developing an effective marketing strategy for startups means building systems that allow your team to maximize results with small wins.

[bctt tweet="The key to successful #marketing strategy? Focus on 1-2 #KPIs at a time, says @digitalshalonda "]

4. Following The Crowd

It’s easy for any business or individual to want to follow in the footsteps of other companies and key influencers, particularly when they have achieved great success. If you're a ride sharing application in today’s market, top companies like Uber or Lyft may well have inspired the model you use to develop how you will market to your target consumer. Just don’t forget to understand that the biggest marketing value that you can offer to your customers and team is your ability to be yourself and have a product that comes from your point of view.

[bctt tweet="Your biggest asset in #marketing is being unique, says @digitalshalonda #marketingstrategy"]

Here are some important starter questions to ask yourself:

- What’s the customer profile? Get as specific as possible. Think habits, gender, occupation, likes and dislikes.

- Where do your customers live?

- What is the main problem that this product or service is solving?

- What technology do they utilize most (mobile, web, etc.)?

- What’s their age?

- When are they most likely to use your service?

- Who do you want them to recommend this product or service to? How will they do this?

5. Keeping Data On Mute

The numbers are talking. Many startup teams deal with data in the same way we might place someone not on hold, but mute the conversation so that we can quickly multi-task or keep any additional noise silent.

The data is out there, but the team is busy doing something else, until something brings analytics into the conversation. The difference between a phone call and a startup is that on a phone call, even if you miss what the other side said or end the call, you can always call back. In the realm of startups, when it comes to customers or potential investors, if you don’t know your data, you don’t know your dollars.

[bctt tweet="In #marketingstrategy, if you don’t know your data, you don’t know your dollars —@digitalshalonda"]

It's impossible to have maximum success as a startup without collecting insights about your customers, whether it comes from a platform such as Google Analytics or Salesforce, and then have a plan for how to retarget your audience based on the information you have gathered. The insights you need are out there, you just need to know where to look and how to make the most of them.