75% of venture-backed startups fail.
According to a recent CB Insights report, 14% fail because of poor marketing and 29% fail because they ran out of cash — which happens when startups don’t attract customers fast enough, and can also be attributed to poor marketing.
Considering the vast and multifaceted state of modern marketing, “poor marketing” could mean any of a number of things. Perhaps they weren’t driving enough traffic to their website, or maybe they were failing to build trust with potential customers — or maybe they just weren’t reaching the people they needed to reach.
Regardless of the actual reason, it all boils down to a single misconception: a good product will sell itself.
While I don’t have any hard evidence to back this claim up, I would be willing to bet the startups that failed due to poor marketing would strongly disagree with this statement.
Instead, I believe the following to be true:
A good product helps real people solve real problems. A good marketing strategy identifies who these people are, how the product can solve their problems — and, most importantly, conveys this message in a way that is both engaging and informative.
There’s a reason that any good marketer knows that “Content is King”. Having a good product is important. Knowing your target audience is also important. But generating valuable content that draws readers in, builds trust, and converts visitors into paying customers — that’s gold.
So how do you convey the message that “my product can help you solve your problem” in a way that isn’t obnoxious, invasive, and pushy?
Well, you start by NOT doing the following five things:
1. Making it All About You
What all startup founders need to remember when developing content is that people don’t care about your product. They don’t care about your solution. They don’t care about your software.
All they care about is their problems. And they want to know if you can help them solve their problems.
That’s why Moz, the SEO behemoth, doesn’t write this:
“Our all-in-one toolkit is built by a team of industry experts and includes both SEO tracking and research.”
They write this:
When you’re writing your content, you need to start with your customers.
Who are the people you’re trying to reach? What are their problems? And how can you help them solve their problems?
Of course, the answers to these questions aren’t going to drop out of the sky on a golden platter — you’ll have to do some rigorous contemplation and research to figure it out. If you’re interested in starting this long, arduous journey, we wrote an article with some tips to help you out.
(Note: talking about yourself isn’t always bad if it helps increase transparency and build trust with your customers — Ben and Jerry’s does a great job at this. It’s just important to talk about yourself with your customers in mind.)
2. Focusing on the Feature, Not the Benefit
Let’s say we’re a company selling commercial jets, and we introduce our newest product as such:
“Our company’s new XYZ model offers a wide range of options for passenger capacity and length. Our smallest model seats 50 passengers; the largest model seats 100 passengers. This model is available in three different lengths: 20 m, 33 m, and 45 m.”
My deepest respect for anyone who managed to get through that mind-numbingly boring paragraph. But let’s dive deeper — why, exactly, is it so boring? Because it focuses on the features. There is no attempt to understand what readers’ potential problems may be, or how the XYZ model can help solve these problems.
Let’s rewrite the paragraph with a more reader-focused strategy:
“The XYZ model is our most fuel-efficient model yet, giving our clients an edge in a highly competitive market.”
This paragraph does a much better job focusing on the reader problems they might be having — fuel is expensive, the market is very competitive, and they need a solution that will help them get ahead — and how the product will benefit them.
3. Forgetting to Tell a Story
Humans have been telling stories for thousands of years. Storytelling is the way we share information, learn from collective experience, and teach moral values to the younger generation.
Storytelling is so hardwired into our brains, that we are able to better retain information when it is conveyed to us in the form of a story.
If founders want to sell their product or promote their company, they need to start by telling a good story.
But beware: telling a good story doesn’t mean “telling the story of you”. As Cheryl Corner noted in her article “Selling by Story Telling”, “If you talk primarily about yourself, you are missing the chance to share the most compelling story of all: The ones your customers would like you to tell”.
4. Boring Readers with Industry Jargon
“We are a SaaS company that provides a fully scalable solution with an intuitive UI that operates seamlessly across multiple platforms.”
You’re a what now?
Shorthands like “SaaS” or “UI” become so ingrained into our everyday conversation, that it’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t know what these words meant — and, more importantly, that they’re not part of most people’s daily conversations.
In short, smart people are cursed with knowledge — and in order to successfully market your product or solution, you need to learn how to become un-cursed.
5. Ignouring Grammmar and Speling
Spelling and grammar mistakes are one of the easiest ways for your company to lose credibility. In a survey of over 1000 Britons, 59% said they would never use a company with poor grammar on their website — and a whopping 82% said they wouldn’t use a company that incorrectly translated its material into English.
Besides that, spelling mistakes can completely distort your meaning — take it from the content strategist who published an article that contained the line:
“Preceding the 2013 Wimbledon tennis tournament, Evian’s UK branch launched a cleaver marketing campaign rooted in user-generated content.”
Such a minute spelling error may leave an unsuspecting reader mistakenly believing Evian is pivoting into the knife business. (The content strategist in question owned up to the mistake, and wrote a great article about how to avoid spelling mistakes in your own writing).
Luckily, spelling and grammar mistakes are relatively easy to fix. To avoid embarrassing (and potentially revenue-killing) mistakes, we’d recommend doing the following:
First, read the content aloud to yourself. If you can do so without disturbing people around you, we’d recommend reading out LOUD, rather than just muttering under your breath.
Second, give the content a sweep through Grammarly, a great spelling and grammar tool that is guaranteed to give a completely objective opinion, and often manages to find a few blatant mistakes.
Finally, find a fresh set of eyes to catch any errors you may have missed.
In sharp contrast to the gaudy advertising of marketing past, modern marketing has evolved to meet the demands of the shrewder and less easily manipulated eyeballs of the present day — which means high-quality content has never been more important.
Fine-tuning your marketing strategy and generating informative, useful, and engaging content that will establish trust between yourself and potential clients isn’t going to be easy — but it’s absolutely necessary if you want your startup to be one of the 25% of startups that *don’t* crash.