Start-ups typically have constrained resources—money and people. On top of it, they often have little, if any, awareness and few consumers. Breaking through the start-up stage to become a viable firm requires extra vigilance.
To better understand marketing from a smaller-sized firm perspective, I’m publishing a series focused on their unique challenges. In this article, to better understand the biggest marketing challenge that start-ups face, I turned to Kipp Bodnar, CMO of HubSpot, a leading growth platform. Bodnar has unique insight into this question because their clients are primarily small to medium-sized firms. See here for insight about the biggest marketing mistakes start-ups make (and how to avoid making them).
Kimberly Whitler: In your experience working with small to medium sized firms, what is the single biggest marketing challenge that they face?
Kipp Bodnar: The biggest mistake is that they simply try to do too much. While larger firms can get away with—to a degree—being less focused, more resource-constrained firms can’t. The consequence can be significant. Doing too much can mean that nothing is executed very well and despite their best efforts, employees become overwhelmed and potentially dissatisfied. It can result in poor quality implementation and higher levels of turnover. On top of it, it often means that the most important work central to advancing the firm isn’t focused on and so it negatively impacts firm performance.
Whitler: When you say that they try to do too much, can you elaborate on what you mean?
Bodnar: I mean that in terms of the choice of strategies and tactics. Too many firms try to focus on all consumers and then want to reach them across too many channels. However, they don’t really have the depth or expertise to do anything well. And they do a lot of things at a below average level. On average, they typically only have one or two marketers and so they really have make tough decisions about what they will and won’t do – or everything will be poorly executed.
Let me give you an example. Assume this is a small company and they have one marketer. They essentially have 30-50 hours of labor a week. The firm/marketer decides to do the following: 1) a weekly email newsletter of original content that the marketer has to write, 2) create content and communicate via a number of social media vehicles (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook), 3) set up marketing automation and a number of different support programs, and 4) develop content for a blog that is published once a month.
In addition, the marketer needs to understand what the company is doing and so they sit on a number of committees/teams/projects. They also need to monitor email and social media and interact with and funnel prospects appropriately. They are essentially doing a little bit of everything. What is the cost of doing a little bit of everything and nothing well?
They don’t have the time to develop writing skills, so the content is just average – not compelling. When they do publish that content, there is no organized timeline and they might not publish as frequently as they should. They don’t have much time to invest in really engaging with prospects on social media. They tend to post to monitor whenever they have a spare minute. You get the point. By trying to do a lot, they sacrifice quality which can then lead to poor results. This is the ultimate contradiction. The marketer is working hard and yet is overloaded and can’t do much well.
Whitler: What advice do you have for marketers to prevent this from happening?
Bodnar: Look at most businesses. They are typically focused on the next 6-12 months—a short time horizon. You have to ask a simple but tough question: what is the one strategy that will enable me to achieve my goals? If the core business problem is attracting new customers, then the focus has to be on the tactics that drive that. Can they create compelling blog or email content to bring in new customers? I’d focus on that and ignore some of the other channels.