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Startup Marketing Mayhem

By April 1, 2015Article

“We will use social media to drive sales of our big data solution to CEOs of major corporations.” I fear I let out an audible groan. Startups fail with astounding frequency. From my observation, lack of rational marketing strategies are the primary cause of startup mortality. So routine are the misguided and incomplete go-to-market plans for founders that I wrote a book to help them avoid the pitfalls. And despite startups not being a target market for my company, we decided to design a marketing strategy kick-start program for them. 

The modes of startup marketing self-destruction are numerous, and most derive from how founders view the science and art of marketing. Most commonly, startup CEOs crash their companies through the following seven marketing mistakes. 

Disinterest: In our tech world, most founders are techies. They too often view marketing as uninteresting and thus unworthy of research. Like any discipline, marketing is complex, which adds to many founders’ disinclination to dig into the subject. Thus they march off to the market wars unarmed. 

Disbelief: Techie founders also often see marketing as a fuzzy, right-brained mysticism, and thus disbelieve most everything marketers tell them … including advice from big data, analytics driven, quantitative campaign mongers. With this distrust comes the reactionary response of ignoring guidance from people who know their craft. 

Faddism: Like the CEO who opened this article, many founders flock to whatever promotional mechanism they have near-religious belief in. No degree of external prodding will shift them off their preplanned go-to-market mistake. 

So how does a smarter-than-average founder avoid being the Abraham to his Isaac company? It mainly falls to self-discipline. 

Tough things first: I had the privilege of seeing the manuscript for “Tough Things First,” the upcoming book by Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley and founder of Micrel. He advises entrepreneurs to learn to love doing the things they hate, which includes learning the essentials of marketing strategy. 

Self-educate: Founders do not need to be marketing gurus. They just need to know the pillars of marketing strategy on a conceptual level so they can effectively plan and lead. A little not-quite-lite reading will suffice. 

Mentoring: Startup CEOs love acquiring mentors but rarely add any from the marketing discipline. It is better to trade a little equity for a marketing strategist in exchange for guidance on going to market than it is to go down in flames for having an unguided strategy. 

Blunder avoidance: Startups make the same mistakes over and over again. Founders should be watchdog-aware of who has gone to market before them and never returned. Learning from other people’s mistakes is always cheaper than making them yourself. 

Click here to learn more about mentored one-day marketing strategy development sessions for Silicon Valley area startups. 

Guy Smith is the chief consultant for Silicon Strategies Marketing and the author of “Start-up CEO’s Marketing Manual.” Guy has led marketing strategy for a variety of technology companies vending high-availability backup software, wireless middleware, enterprise software, infrastructure software, mobile applications, server virtualization, secure remote access, risk management applications, application development tools and several open source ventures. Before turning to marketing, Guy was a technologist for NASA, McDonnell Douglas, Circuit City Corporate Headquarters and other organizations. Contact him at or










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