What are the most common marketing mistakes that startups make?

By Dan Kaplan, B2B marketing guru and storyteller at Exponents.

In my time both working in marketing and consulting for startups, I've observed three tremendously-expensive marketing mistakes that startups love to make:

Mistake #1: Building & Launching Big New Products and Features Without Clear Positioning and a Compelling Story

If you’re a founder with a technical or product background who simply loves to build, this is a perfectly understandable mistakes. You’re a builder and a doer, and you’d rather prioritize building things over developing a detailed plan for launching them.

Unfortunately, neglecting to nail down the story and distribution plan is a surefire way to risk your launches falling flat, costing you a ton of money, and hurting your team’s morale.

Sometimes, you may even end up building and launching the wrong products and watching as all that hard work goes up in flames.

So how do you avoid this mistake? Here’s a simple solution, borrowed from Amazon: before your team builds or launches a big new product or feature (or as soon as possible if you’ve already got one in the works), draft the blog post announcing it to the world.

You don’t have to publish this post if you’d rather keep things under wraps. This exercise ensures you understand and communicate in clear terms how customers will get tangible value from your new product or feature. Doing it right dramatically increases the likelihood that you’re building something the people in your market need or want.

But when you write it, avoid simply talking about what the product or feature is and what it does. Instead, write in specific, concrete, powerful terms about what painful problems or compelling needs the new product or feature solves–then how it solves them.

Mistake #2: Publishing a Blog That Doesn’t Move the Needle

There's a high-profile Series C SaaS startup that blogs 1-3 times a week and then shares the posts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Often times, they’ll support that activity with some paid promotion on Facebook. I’ve noticed that when they do that, the number of "likes" on Facebook goes up..

The most problematic part? There’s no compelling offer on the blog to get me onto their email list. The primary call to action is something like “Sign up to receive our new posts,” and it’s all the way down at the bottom of the page.

To be fair, this isn’t completely the startup’s fault.

If you follow the conventional wisdom about content marketing and aren’t versed in its art and science, it’s easy to waste tons of money, time, and energy.

But despite the conventional wisdom that "if you build it, they will come," the key to content marketing is not simply producing great content. And it really isn't blogging product updates, company news, partially-baked case studies, and profiles of the people on your team.

None of these will attract new customers.

If want your content marketing to inspire customers to bang down your door, the majority of your content has to be precision-targeted to the desires, needs, and challenges faced by the people who need your product the most AND have the authority and/or budget to get it.

On top of that, your content must be:

  • Unique and compelling. Like any product you build, your blog and all the content you generate has to be a signal that breaks through the noise if you want it to create a breakthrough for your business.

  • Full of actionable advice. The best way to attract the people that need your product is to produce and promote content that helps these people solve their problems and meet their needs.

  • In-depth. When a content marketing tool called BuzzSumo analyzed millions of blog posts, they found posts with between 2000-3000 words got dramatically more traffic and shares. Let go of the idea that people don’t read long content. If the blogs you write, videos you produce, and webinars you host are compelling, actionable, and in-depth, people in your market will engage!

  • Promoted aggressively. When you create great content without a measurable distribution strategy, you’re playing a Mozart symphony to a half-empty theater. Publishing a blog post and simply sharing it on social media isn’t going to cut it. If you want your team’s hard work on content to generate returns, you need to work on distribution harder than you work on production.

  • Focused on growing your email list. No matter who you are or how awesome your product is, your growth will suffer if you neglect to leverage email. Sure, email may someday die. But for now, it remains one of the most powerful, effective, and profitable ways to communicate with your customers and convince them to buy what you’re selling. If you don't have an email marketing initiative going or planned right now, you’re losing out.

Mistake #3: Leaving Tons of Cash On The Table By Neglecting Pricing Strategy

There are tons of startups with great products and strong customer acquisition efforts that put their success at risk by neglecting to develop a strategy for determining the ideal price of their products.

In fact, MOST startups make this mistake in some form.

How do you know if yours is among them?

Your startup is underinvesting in its pricing if you have neglected to adjust your prices in the last year.

You're neglecting your pricing strategy if you also have:

  • Pricing grids that fail to make the differences in value between options abundantly clear.

  • Pricing pages that require me to move a slider to see how much my version of the product will cost.

  • Pricing tiers with vague names like “Basic,” “Professional," "Business" and "Ultimate.”

Like the other two hugely expensive marketing mistakes, this one is also understandable. Pricing strategy can seem like a dark art, and many founders and their teams would rather focus on more approachable activities.

But putting your pricing strategy on the back-burner is a huge mistake.

Indeed, Patrick Campbell, the pricing expert behind the Price Intelligently blog, argues that getting your pricing right is the single biggest lever you can pull to accelerate your revenue and profit growth–more than customer acquisition and retention combined.

Given how little attention most founders pay to their pricing strategy, Patrick has a point.

While there are other marketing mistakes that startups tend to make, these are the ones that create the most risk.

(Want more? Get my free email course on startup marketing and growth here).

Dan Kaplan helps startups get their stories right. He's done product marketing for Salesforce, Twilio, and Asana. Now, he runs a solo product marketing consultancy called threadling, where he uses his writing, storytelling, and email marketing skills skills to help B2B startups transform their websites from digital brochures into automated lead-gen and sales machines.