The key digital marketing pitfalls tech startups need to avoid: A guide

Christine Brewis is the Head of Digital Marketing at Studio Graphene – a firm that specialises in developing amazing blank canvas tech products. Working with many startups alongside innovation teams in more established companies, the London-based agency plans, designs and builds astounding tech products for its clients. What’s more, Ritam and the team also use their experience and expertise to help leaders grow their business from ideation, to launch and beyond.

There are few things more difficult than starting your own business. Studies show that as many as 60% of firms close their doors within three years.

For those of us in the startup world, the same question often arises: what causes the downfall of so many promising businesses? Well, the relative strength of the core proposition is undoubtedly the most important determinant of success, with research showing as many as 42% of companies fail because their central product idea is weak.

According to the same research, cash drying up contributes to 29% of failures, and in my experience this can often be attributed to too much time spent focussed on extraneous things, like making an immediate profit, over-complicating the proposition by wanting to build too many features into a product, or simply just living the ‘startup lifestyle’.

That said, some blame ought also to be attributed to weak marketing. After all, what’s the use in an incredible product if no-one knows about it?.

In my experience, there are a few basic pointers to follow.

Take a long-term view

One crucial downfall that many founders make is wasting too much energy on the short-term payback from marketing. This is particularly true when we consider launch marketing efforts; many founders are under the impression that a single campaign will bring floods of customers to their doors. While this might be true in a limited number of circumstances, this is certainly not the norm. Building an audience, reputation and brand loyalty takes a considerable amount of time, and viewing the process as a one-stop-shop campaign rarely works.

Instead, startups ought to take a more patient approach, nurturing their campaign and marketing output and managing their cashflow accordingly. Converting a potential customer into a sale will often take a period of time, wherein the audience members will need to consider whether your product is worth purchasing or engaging with their hard-earned money, and sought-after time.

Founders needn’t get disheartened if a marketing approach doesn’t build an audience immediately. However, if it is effectual, the work doesn’t end there. Maintaining and building from a strong start is necessary to avoid losing momentum and fading back into obscurity.

Understanding your audience

Succeeding in tech requires a forensic knowledge of one’s own product, which most of the founders I have previously worked with possess. However, when it comes to approaching the audience with your offering, the focus ought to be on how your product can improve your customer’s life. The challenge that many founders face is assuming they know exactly what their audience wants from the product, which might not necessarily be true.

Market research and seeking constant feedback can certainly help. By understanding the aspects of your product that resonate with your target customers, and those which need to be improved, both your marketing approach and your product design can be refined.

Similarly, it’s important to make existing customers feel like part of your journey. Those who have been loyal to your business from the early days will no doubt appreciate being first to hear about new ventures or advertising campaigns that they might soon come across. Being directly involved in your startup’s growth will also organically nurture ambassadors for your brand.

After capturing the market that you know, it’s worth considering how you could reach further afield. Studio Graphene recently carried out some research which found 60% of tech employees think the industry has a worrying lack of diversity. If your firm does suffer from this, consulting with or employing people from other backgrounds may be necessary, and may also help you understand how to create a marketing strategy with broad appeal, rather than tailored to the narrow preferences of your immediate audience.

Understanding which platforms and metrics to utilise

Once you have a keen grasp of your audience, and have devised the right kind of content to approach them with, you’ll need to decide which channels to utilise. Having a good understanding of which are best suited to your startup proposition is of most importance. It might be easy to assume that social media will form the centrepiece of your approach, and for firms with products with broad appeal, it is often the case.

However, companies with specialised or technical products might be better suited to Google Ads, Facebook, or email. Whilst these might seem less glamorous, if you are promoting a product that requires a particular kind of customer, it could be more efficacious. When your budget is tight, redirecting funds to more fruitful channels, and not simply the ones which seem socially important, can pay dividends.

There is also a risk of focusing on social media metrics that fail to translate into more sales or income. Whilst ten thousand followers may bestow some kind of legitimacy, and for some it might open the doors to brand partnerships, often it doesn’t necessarily mean your bottom line is improved. It may be better to have 1,000 loyal customers who understand your story and return to your product repeatedly.

Regardless of the many complexities of a successful marketing strategy, there is one thing that really matters: reaching your customer with the right message at the right time. These points will help you avoid certain pitfalls, and consulting with a professional can also help hone your approach.

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Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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9 comments on “The key digital marketing pitfalls tech startups need to avoid: A guide

  1. WBSO on

    Great story. Recognize a lot of things, especially the pressure for the short-term payback from marketing. Investors keep pushing, which can lead to the wrong focus of entrepreneurs.

  2. Megha Jhariya on

    Startup investing can be rewarding both financially and personally. By investing in a startup you are contributing to job creation and capital formation. The influence of entrepreneurs has shaped the country. since before its founding and the contribution with such innovation its absolutely immeasurable.


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