After working with start-ups founding teams for nearly a decade, the evidence is clear: You can have the best product or service in the world but if you don't have a solid go-to-market plan, your business will fail. As founder of your company, knowing when and how to invest in marketing your business may just be the key ingredient to success.
Enter Kate Maul. Boston-based Maul is a seasoned marketer who has helped companies of all shapes and sizes, from established corporations to early stage start-ups, establish brand awareness, build solid sales pipelines and nurture prospects through the sales cycle. I asked Maul what the most common marketing mistakes start-up teams make and how they can avoid them. Here's what she had to say:
Spending money on big ticket marketing programs too soon. It's tempting to want to make a big splash with a cool ad or a killer booth at that must-be-seen-at industry conference. "It's too early to blow your budget," says Maul. Instead, look for low cost options that can help you scale. Social media is a great way to test who your buyers are, where they look for information, what they care about and how to engage with them at an individual level. Just a few thousands dollars over the course of a few months can help you boost your presence with your target buyers. Great content with a consistent messaging and frequency of sharing will prevail: Post a whitepaper based on marketing insights by your CEO, share short video interviews, or host free webinars. In addition, it's a good idea to target specific media outlets and journalists who cover your topic, offer to do presentations and keynotes at industry events, and if applicable, establish and leverage a solid partner channel marketing program to extend your reach.
Staffing up the marketing department too quickly. Like most things in life, the timing of your marketing FTEs can make or break your business. It may be tempting, especially if you are building a brand-company instead of a product-company, to make early investments in high-caliber marketing staff. Don't do it. Only hire FTEs after your have exhausted your own efforts and the investment you have made in lower and variable cost talent options. "Agencies, contractors, and college interns can help keep costs down while you are ramping up your efforts," says Maul.
Hiring the wrong marketing people. Marketing is not something that everyone was born to do. Being a marketer in the digital age is both an art and a science. Anyone who has ever hired someone knows that people misinterpret about their experience. If you know what to look for, you can separate the legitimate candidates from the frauds. If you are not a marketer, make sure to do your homework before making an offer. "Leverage your network for referrals and for suggestions on the right questions to ask during the interview process. And before you make an offer, check references to find out the impact the candidate made on business outcomes," says Maul.
Focusing on brand perfection instead of brand iteration. By now, you are probably aware of the lean start-up methods. MVP and other approaches aren't just for product development and release; they can also be applied to marketing. "Many start-ups will change their name in the first year or two and completely scrap their original branding and website," says Maul. Investing too early in perfecting brand-related assets can be a waste of time and money. You might be tempted to delay the launch your website or e-commerce platform until you get the copy just right. Don't wait. Apply the MVP principles. You will learn along the way what people respond to and what they do not. This is priceless information that will help you perfect your value proposition while you establish your company's brand.
Giving everyone a voice in marketing decisions. When it comes to marketing, everyone seems to have an opinion. The more cooks in the marketing kitchen, the longer it is going to take to finalize your company's marketing strategy and get marketing materials out the door. "In the end, you can never please everyone. Take the relevant input, apply it as it makes sense to your end goal and move forward," says Maul.
If you have made any or all of these mistakes, there is no need to panic. "Start-up founders tend to worry too much about marketing mistakes when they shouldn't. The brand has yet to be established. This is the time to make mistakes and learn from them," says Maul.