4 min read

5 Startup Marketing Myths

Or, 5 lessons I learned the hard way.
5 Startup Marketing Myths
Photo by aisvri / Unsplash

These are all things that I believed when I first started doing marketing. I wish someone had told me they weren't true, so now I'm telling you!

Myth #1: I should be doing what my favorite companies are doing.

Emulating our heroes is only natural. Whether you're just figuring out marketing for the first time or are a seasoned veteran, we look at the companies we admire and want to emulate their style or their methods.

Unfortunately, it's very unlikely that what works for them will work for you.

Effective marketing is all about context. If your business crush is in a different industry or at a different stage of growth or has a different audience, the likelihood is very low that their approach will work in your situation.

One of the most important lessons I ever learned about marketing is: Run your own race. Stay focused on your own situation and objectives. Don't worry so much about what other companies are doing.

Myth #2: I should be doing what my competitors are doing.

This is the same thing, really. This one might be even more appealing, actually, because presumably, your competitors have a lot of the same variables: Similar products, similar target audience, maybe similar size.

However, the context still isn't exactly the same. You still have the run-your-own-race element, especially because you're not going to lead your industry by chasing what others are doing. To quote Steve Jobs quoting Wayne Gretzky: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

Plus, there's the issue of channel saturation.

If all of your competitors are bidding up the relevant keywords on Google Ads, for instance, it will be very expensive to beat them. This is why the Bullseye Methodology is so valuable: Your goal as a marketer is to find underutilized channels. Trying to figure it out where everyone else has already established themselves is a surefire way to wage a long war of attrition.

Myth #3: It’s important to utilize as many distribution channels as possible.

This is so tempting! We want more marketing conversions... let's add more marketing channels! If your company isn't using a particular tactic, there's a grass-is-always-greener sense that, not only are you missing out on potential growth, but it's probably really easy to get more people in the door that way.

Unfortunately, marketing doesn't work like that. Peter Thiel popularized the idea that 'distribution follows the power law,' which Brian Balfour (one of my all-time favorite marketers) further explained in this post:

From Brian Balfour - "Product Channel Fit Will Make or Break Your Growth Strategy"

So, rather than doing a mediocre (or poor) job across multiple growth channels, figure out the channel in which your company can be uniquely strong.

And I'll add: Don't just pick a channel at random and go all in! This is where an intentional process and rigorous experimentation will guide you. As you've probably noticed, I'm a big fan of the Bullseye Method. You can also check out another method that Brian outlines in his essay, here.

Myth #4: We should invest in brand marketing.

Once again: These ideas are pervasive myths because they're so appealing. Certainly, brand marketing has its place. But my guess is that this is mostly Myth #1 coming back in a different form: Nike's enormous success is largely due to brand marketing! Steve Jobs made Apple what it is, largely through brand marketing! Who doesn't want to market like Nike and Steve Jobs!?

So, same myth, same solution: As a marketer, you have to understand your specific context. Larger, more established companies can and need to focus on branding because they have different challenges and opportunities than you do, as a startup company.

Check out how blunt Andrew Chen (one of the most successful startup investors) is on this topic, in this essay: The Startup Brand Fallacy: Why brand marketing is mostly useless for consumer startups

In my experience, great brands come from having other foundational pieces in place: an excellent team, a larger purpose, and a phenomenal product that solves specific needs. Focus on your customers and the brand will come.

Myth #5: Marketers should be able to do it all.

If Myth #3 says that the company should do everything, this one is based on the idea that you should be able to do everything. And, admittedly, startups will force you to wear a lot of hats. The "That's not my job" mentality is not going to fly.

However, this First Round Review article does a great job summarizing 4 separate types of marketing that are relevant to early-stage companies:

From First Round Review: So You Think You’re Ready to Hire a Marketer? Read This First.

That article is actually targeted at founders who are looking to hire someone, but it provides some good perspective. The author goes on to confirm Myth #5:

Mistake #1: Seeking a unicorn.
“Often times when I look at a founder’s initial marketing job description, it’s a laundry list of almost everything on that list of activities. And I know very, very few people who are strong across all of those buckets,” says Jackson.

If you're already in a marketing role, you can't necessarily change your natural skill set, but this is one more reason to lean into your strengths. Aside from the inherent context of your company (industry, product, audience), part of the context... is you! Identify your unique talents and leverage those to help your company grow as fast as possible.

As you can see, these myths are compelling. I know a lot of exceptional marketers who believe them—and I still get pulled into their orbit occasionally, too!

However, learning from more experienced marketers—including some of the ones I quoted in this article, like Brian and Andrew and Arielle Jackson—has helped me identify the underlying reality. If you’re still operating under the influence of these myths, I hope you’ll reconsider!

What about you? Are there myths about marketing that you hear all the time, but have realized aren't true? Email me and let me know!