7 deadly sins of startup marketing


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Startup life is tough, and reaching your users is the most difficult part of it. Sometimes, it’s tempting to just go on a spending spree and hope for the best. Needless to say, “the best” rarely happens. What does happen is a lot of discouragement and pain due to poor growth, which leads to anger directed at both your users and your marketers.

Here is a list of seven startup marketing sins I saw too often. Commit too many of them, a tad too often, and you’ll find yourself in a deadpool.

1. Focusing on growth instead of retention

In my personal experience, only a few startup founders think about retention from day 0. Unsurprisingly, they get quite upset when discover that out of 1000 users they got last month, only 100 stayed until day 30 after registration.

If your product is so bad that most of your users drop off within days after trying it, you shouldn’t even think about marketing. Go buy a crate of Red Bull and get your shit together.

2. Not building trust

Users might try your product out of curiosity, but they won’t stick around if they don’t trust your brand, your team, and you personally. Start a goddamn conversation with your users: reach out to them via email (and I don’t mean newsletter, I mean a good old personal email), thank them for signing up, ask for feedback, and ask to spread the word about whatever it is you’re building.

3. Forgetting about word of mouth acquisition

Cost per user is garbage. If you’re acquiring users who don’t even think of recommending your product to their friends, you’re in trouble. As painful as it is to accept, but most likely there’s something wrong with your product. Go get your dev team a second crate of Red Bull and rethink your UX choices, maybe? :)

4. Not making it easy for users to share your product

No invite system? No “share this stuff on TwitBookTerest”? Well, if that’s the case, you shouldn’t have any high hopes. Your product might be amazing, and although people usually have the best intentions, they are fundamentally lazy creatures. It is your job to make it easy for your most active users to share your product with anyone and everyone.

5. Relying solely on paid user acquisition

If you can’t grow organically or with healthy PR alone and, at the same time, can’t retain users for long, these are solid indicators that your product sucks. I’m tempted to suggest that you buy a third crate of Red Bull, but I’m afraid you might give your team and yourself a heart attack.

6. Setting up regional marketing offices before growing

Now, this sin is a different beast. Sometimes, when you’ve been doing well in one country and now launching in another, it may be tempting to go “all in”: set up shop in a new territory and go on a spending spree.

I’ll be your voice of reason: this is a really stupid thing to do. Users come first, office comes second. In fact, you’re better off localizing and then doing some healthy PR (standard strategy employed by Tinder, by the way), rather then hiring a bunch of local marketers.

7. Intervening in the work of your marketing team

You hired them exactly because they know marketing better than you, right? By highjacking their decisions (“we discussed and I decided” sort of thing) would be shooting yourself in the foot — twice: first, you’d be showing that you don’t trust your own team, second, you’d be spending their time (for which you’re paying!) on crafting a marketing strategy based on your subjective (and unprofessional) opinion.