Let’s discuss marketing problems faced by startups in Software, Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence
We always love reading success stories. How a startup gained lots of traction from this one marketing campaign. Or how a startup became a unicorn in just a few years, with this marketing hack that they used to destroy the competition.
Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the case with your startup.
Make no mistake, I am not saying that your company will never scale and succeed. What I am saying is that your startup is likely to be facing many problems with marketing. Problems that if not resolved, may result in your startup failing.
Every successful startup has solved every critical problem it faced to get to where it is today. If you follow the tips in this article, I am sure you will be one step closer to success!
#1 The product sucks, big time
There is no escaping it. The best form of marketing, or at least the foundation of any marketing plan, involves a great product. This product can solve one pain point really well or solves for multiple pain points considerably.
However, more often than not, the first product will have plenty of bugs and limited functionality at the start. Because the product was launched at a rapid pace, the foundations were not laid properly.
This is a big marketing problem because you have few product features to promote. Conversion becomes a big problem as well when promoting a product with many problems.
Potential leads who insist on a demo are unlikely to be impressed, especially if you do a live demo. In fact, you may find it embarrassing to do a demo to friends, let alone potential investors and customers
If you work in an early-stage startup, you are probably already well versed in these problems
So what can you do as a marketer if your product has many bugs?
Solution: Sell your vision
Sell the vision you have to potential customers and your marketing team. Always be transparent with your initial customers on the problems you face.
For example, if there is a bug with the platform, communicate with your customers immediately. A new feature will take longer to release? Explain to them why that is so. Customers of startups are usually more understanding, knowing that they are taking a risk by signing with you
By focusing on the vision, customers are more likely to tolerate minor hiccups to realize this common vision with you.
#2 Waiting for your product to be complete before marketing
This may seem contradictory to the above point, but it really is not. It takes time to build awareness of your brand and there are many things you can do as a marketer, even if a product has not been launched.
Startups that do not put any effort into marketing before product launch are more likely to experience poor product-market fit. Why is that so? Because they are out of touch with what the market wants!
Marketing an MVP product gives you a much clearer idea of your target audience and what are their exact pain points. Very quickly, you will be up to speed with who your closest competitors are as well.
Focusing on making the sale and using the revenue to improve your product should be your main goal as a founder. Customers prefer to use a beta version of a product that solves their pain points. In comparison, a finished product that does not solve for any pain point will always be lacking in demand.
Solution: Focus on getting product-market fit right
Document your company’s journey- the vision, challenges faced, breakthroughs made. Push out this content on your own channels, as a way to build awareness of your brand and as a form of motivation for the team.
Talk to potential customers and find out what are their pain points. More importantly, are they willing to pay for your product right now, if it is already complete?
Get your product team to join you in these customer calls, for them to have a better idea of the customer’s needs. Which solutions are your potential customers using right now? What is currently lacking in their product, as told by these leads?
Remember: Building a great product is the foundation of great marketing. Your goal is to build a product that is different and better than your competitors. Market your product early on to find out what makes a product better from the customer’s point of view, not yours.
This is why marketing before the product is complete is crucial.
#3 The world is not ready for your solution
This is especially true for emerging technology. Blockchain, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Quantum computing are just a few examples of technology that is not embraced by the mass market yet.
Think about it- If you were to pitch Uber to investors in the early 2000s, would anyone have even considered investing serious money? They would have probably found the idea of getting into a privately owned car weird.
The same goes for emerging technology. Until the market gets to experience the full possibilities of the technology, marketing these products is like marketing vitamins- Good to have but not essential for users.
Unfortunately, a big part of this problem is out of your hands. It depends on the behavioral changes of the society as a whole.
For example, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced many people to stay home. This has meant that video conferencing software and Cryptocurrencies were given a big boost. As more people communicated via video and were looking for investment opportunities while at home.
Market your product too early and you may not have demand for your product at all. Market too late and you miss out on a potential wave of users.
Solution: Time in the market vs Timing the market
There is no clear-cut answer to this. Ideally, you can time when to market your product and even better, find the ideal time to build your product. However, it is hard to execute this in reality.
External events may cause the market to be ready earlier than you expected, or things may stay status quo for a long time. For this reason, you only see a few startups in the early days of emerging tech, or a few big companies forming small teams to explore the potential of this solution.
Once you find from your analysis that there is a sizeable market for your product, start marketing! That is the bottom line. The longer you stay in the market, the higher your chance of success.
#4 Hard to position your product against big tech companies
If your target market has great potential to make revenue, chances are one of the big companies has already built a product to compete with you.
The big company may form a small team internally and builds a new product. Alternatively, they can create a subsidiary company with funds and resources that far surpass your company.
Either way, they will have a stronger brand name and more resources than you do.
Competing with them using better pricing and product is sure death for your company. In that case, you are left with brand positioning as one of the few ways to compete.
If customers cannot see a clear distinction between your company and a bigger one, they are likely to go with a more established outfit.
Solution: Use your small size to your advantage
Position your company as a disruptor and “rebel” of the industry. In the eyes of some customers, a startup is seen as more focused on execution and speed. Your company is seen as quick to make changes and more attention is given to these customers.
Furthermore, some customers like to give chances to startups, whether it is because of the “underdog” narrative or more attention being given to them.
Pitch your efficiency as a lean startup and your startup’s purpose in solving specific gaps not addressed by the bigger conglomerates. Show this in your rapid product enhancements and by solving just one customer pain point really well.
This way, you will build a distinct selling point for your startup in the minds of customers.
#5 Focusing on more than one channel
With the proliferation of even more social media platforms, it seems like there are endless opportunities to promote your product. However, as the saying goes, “less is more”, especially in the case of startup marketing.
Seeing your competitor build up their presence on different channels may make you feel anxious, that you are losing out to them.
Startups that try to create content on more than one platform almost always do not see any results. It takes a tremendous amount of resources and time to consistently promote on any channel.
Furthermore, your target audience may not be present on these channels. Even if they are, they will prefer to “do business” on only one channel.
Solution: Find out where your customers are at
When marketing your product, especially in the beginning, select only one channel to focus on. Find out where your target audience goes to conduct their product research.
Do they speak to their contacts offline for more information? Do they listen to certain industry leaders? Which social media platforms do they frequent and more importantly, make a purchase from?
Choose one channel where your target audience resides and produce content or buy ads on that channel. Before producing any content, plan how you can repurpose each piece of content to distribute to other channels. This way, you can maximize each piece of content while using up minimum resources.
Only after you have optimized the user acquisition process for one channel, should you start allocating resources to other channels.
#6 Constant change to your product-market fit
This is a similar point to waiting for your product to be complete before marketing. If are in the tech space, you are always under constant threat of your product being made irrelevant.
A competitor may release a product that makes your entire product redundant in the eyes of users. Take the DVD rental industry for example. In the past, you had to rent a DVD to watch a movie at home. You could only rent the DVDs one at a time.
Netflix then allowed users to watch hundreds of movies and shows at any one time on their platform. All for a monthly subscription fee. The entire DVD industry was made irrelevant very quickly.
Traditional industries are not the only ones at risk of disruption. The technology industry moves at break-neck speed, especially in the field of emerging tech.
In the Blockchain space, you have the Ethereum Blockchain, a network that was launched less than a decade ago. Ethereum is now at risk of being overtaken by new networks such as the Binance Smart Chain and Solana.
These new networks are faster and have lower transaction fees than the Ethereum network. Projects are increasingly incentivized to build their applications on these new networks. More users are trading their Cryptocurrencies on these networks as well.
In the next few years, a new network may emerge that may even supersede the current players. That is how fast the industry moves. Startups are always at risk of being disrupted.
Solution: Always keep your ears to the ground
Find out what are the latest trends from users before it actually becomes reality. If this latest trend has the potential to solve your customer’s pain points better than your product, consider building a similar feature, but better.
In addition to the latest trends, Always ask what will make a customer stay, as opposed to why they leave. This will give you and your team a clear understanding as to whether you still have a product-market fit.
A customer may share with you that he currently has no reason to leave, only to do so after your competitor has launched a better product. Whereas if you are clear on the reasons for a customer to stay, you can build features that will add value in the right direction.
Doing this will ensure that you always have a product-market fit and be in business.
#7 Not seeing any results (especially after spending money)
When working in a startup, everything is done “on the fly”. While the product is being built, marketing has to work on demand generation to acquire leads and customers.
With so many things happening, it is disheartening if all your marketing efforts yield little to no results. Unfortunately, this happens more often than not.
If you have a short runway due to a lack of funding, a lack of results on the marketing front may even mean the end of your startup. In this scenario, the tension between the tech and marketing team will develop.
From the tech team’s point of view, the hard work put into building the product has been wasted on ineffective marketing. Whereas the marketing team laments the slow speed of product development and the many product bugs.
In the end, no one really wins.
Solution: Pause and challenge all your assumptions
If you have spent significant money and three months or more executing your marketing campaigns, you have a foundational problem. Maybe you assumed the level of market demand for your product wrongly, or your channel assumption was wrong.
The main point is that you most likely got a major market assumption wrong.
In this scenario, stop all your marketing efforts and start talking to users. If you have paying users, ask them to show you how they typically use your product. Were features you assumed to be useful not used at all? How does your product solve their pain points as they go about their day-to-day?
Challenge your assumption on your customer’s preferred mode of communication. Do they really look for information on LinkedIn, or do they visit a particular publication for solutions they have the intention of purchasing?
Start testing the alternatives of everything- your buyer persona, the marketing channels, and your messaging. Do this until you have found the assumption you got wrong. Only then will results start to improve.
#8 Little to no analysis is done
For early-stage startups, the marketing team (probably just one person) does whatever it takes to get some traction. The marketing team will try everything to generate demand and leads for the business.
At this stage where there is little to no traction, it makes sense to just do whatever it takes to get started. However, many startups often stick to this mindset after gaining some traction.
Startups miss out on many growth opportunities by not analyzing the reasons behind their success. For example, a high churn rate can be masked by high traffic to the website. A startup may receive 10 new inbound leads every week, which is decent. However, the website may receive 1 million visitors a week, suggesting a low conversion rate for that level of traffic.
In this scenario, the startup is putting money on the table by not converting a higher number of website visitors. Another common mistake made by startups is the neglect of churn rate.
Many customers may be leaving the platform, but this fact is ignored due to the high number of new sign-ups. However, this is akin to pouring more water into a leaky bucket. It may seem like you have plenty of water at a point in time, but the water will eventually be drained away if nothing is done.
Solution: Start evaluating your marketing funnel
List down each step your ideal user takes from awareness to becoming your evangelist. What is the conversion rate for each step? Are there any numbers that seem abnormally low based on the industry benchmark?
Prioritize one metric you want to optimize for the month or quarter and get the entire team aligned with this goal. This way, every marketing effort is focused on achieving just one goal at any point in time.
This way, you and our team are more likely to achieve more with limited resources. Having data to guide your marketing at the early stages of your startup makes it less likely for you to make any critical mistakes for marketing.
While digital marketing has given startups a fighting chance to compete with conglomerates, many startups still make many marketing mistakes. These mistakes have cost many startups the opportunity to scale and even led to the downfall of some.
Find out if the above marketing mistakes apply to your startup and take steps to resolve these issues today
Need help with your marketing but don’t know where to begin?
Let’s have a chat! I would love to find out what are the current problems your startup faces. More importantly, how I can help. Email me at email@example.com and my LinkedIn