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Hackernoon logo6 Most Common Product Marketing Mistakes Founders Make by@Nemek

6 Most Common Product Marketing Mistakes Founders Make

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@NemekNick Zviadadze

Co-founder at Apollo Digital | Digital Marketing Consultant

At this point, my co-founder and I have helped over a dozen software companies with their product marketing (both as an agency, and freelancers).

We see similar market problems in just about every other product co, so, we decided to compile this handy-dandy guide to "help change that."

Here’s a tl;dr of what we’re going to cover:

  1. Focusing on “growth hacks”
  2. Hiring the wrong marketing folks
  3. Focusing on “free” marketing
  4. Going full delusional about the product
  5. Hiring too hard, too fast
  6. Starting marketing too late

1. Focusing on “growth hacks”

Oh man, if there’s one thing that grinds my gears, it’s “growth hacking”

There’s this misconception that to achieve explosive growth, you need to find this ONE growth hack that’s going to catapult you from a mere startup to international renown.

After all, that’s what Airbnb did with CraigsList, right?

Or, what about PayPal’s legendary referral program? That’s an amazing growth hack, no?

No.

Just no. If you’re one of those guys still chasing after growth hacks…

Successful companies are built on strong, scalable marketing processes, and not on some one-time hack you came up with while on a vision quest up a mountain.

Back in the 1990s, 2000s, or even early 2010’s, the internet was basically the wild west. 

You could figure out ways to game social media, Google, and do all sorts of legally questionable, blackhat “growth hacky” stuff.

Want to build a PBN and make millions through SEO? This guy did it.

Build a scraper, harvest people’s emails and send them unsolicited pitches? Sure, there was no GDPR back then.

In 2020, though, “growth hacking” is dead.

There’s no cure-all hack that’s going to drive new users with the snap of a finger.

  1. PBN’s are nowhere near as effective as back in the day
  2. Privacy laws are stronger than ever
  3. Google is basically unscrapable
  4. Social media is much harder to game

Most growth hack ideas you’re going to find today are actually super impractical gimmicky crap marketers publish online just for the recognition of “oh hey, I did a cool hacky thingie.”

They’re trying more to drive leads for their agency/consulting biz than to actually teach you something useful.

If you want to get REAL results, you need to: 

  1. Experiment with conventional marketing channels 
  2. Find what works for you
  3. Build scalable marketing processes around it
  4. Scale it up!

Simple?

Yeah, but that’s usually what works.

2. Hiring the wrong marketing folk

Unless you already have experience growing a product company to break-even and beyond, hiring the right marketing people can be tough.

A lot of product companies we’ve worked with were previously burned out by marketing employees, freelancers, of agencies they’ve worked with in the past.

Here are the most common reasons why that happens:

They hire corporate marketers.

Generally, in the startup world, that’s a no-go.

See, marketing works completely differently in a corporate environment. 

Usually, a corporate marketer’s job description revolves around:

  1. Creating marketing materials (e.g. leaflets, brochures, and the like)
  2. Creating web copy
  3. Planning PR campaigns or events

Corporate marketers are used to having someone to tell them what to do, and they’re NOT directly involved with driving traffic or revenue for the company.

Whereas if you’re building a software company, it’s a COMPLETELY different ball game.

Your marketing team has to be as proactive, experimental, and sciencey as possible. They’ll need to do all sorts of marketing things, including:

  1. Designing well-converting landing pages
  2. Running PPC ads
  3. Creating articles around your product

Generally, the type of skill-set you develop as a marketer in a corporate environment is different from what you’ll need in a tech startup.

What you should do instead is hire a T-shaped marketer as your #1 marketing hire.

What that means is, they need to specialize in one marketing channel, but also have an adequate understanding of the rest of them.

This gives them the know-how they need to establish a foundation for your marketing strategy.

If, on the other hand, you’d hire someone that only knows PPC, they’d look at your business through ONLY that lens.

This is pretty detrimental for an early-stage product company, as your #1 task is to find channels that work best for your business and not to just focus on this ONE specific channel.

3. Focusing on “free” marketing

A lot of founders follow the “I’m a startup, so I need to minimize my expenses as much as humanly possible” approach.

Which, to be fair, if done on a reasonable level, isn’t too bad of an idea.

The leaner you can go, the better.

A lot of founders, though, really take this to a whole new level. Some of them try to avoid doing any type of “paid advertising” just because it’s paid and they’re a startup and they’re all about lean.

These types of founders tend to stick to “free marketing tactics,” which usually means:

  1. Content marketing
  2. SEO
  3. PR

This is a harmful approach for your biz for 2 reasons:

1. “Free” is not really free. If you want REAL results for any of those 3 channels, you’ll need to put in a lot of man-power. E.g. want to do well with content marketing? You’ll probably need to get real good at writing real fast, or hire a professional (and not an underpaid intern to just churn out articles).

2. You’re missing out on paid channels that could be getting a LOT more bang for your buck than content or SEO. For example, if you don’t have much competition for search ads, you could be easily getting a 2x return on ad spend. 

Mind you, though, we’re not talking shit about SEO or Content Marketing. We’ve managed to grow a SaaS from 0 to 200k monthly organic traffic with SEO.

We’ve also used content marketing to drive $25,000+ in revenue without spending a dime.

What we ARE saying is that you really shouldn’t avoid paid ad channels just because they’re not free.

4. Being delusional about the product

This one’s a startup-killer.

A lot of founders created their product on a gut-feeling or a “vision” instead of customer feedback and research.

And when that blows up (e.g. you launch the product and you’re failing to get users or you have a high churn rate), you just blame marketing for “not marketing enough” or something.

At best, you realize this early on and pivot on time. At worst, you spend 5-6 figures on marketing before realizing you messed up big time.

So in short, if you’re driving qualified leads to your website, and they’re not converting or they churn too fast even after experimenting with your landing page, it might just mean that your product, in its current stage, doesn’t work.

5. Hiring too hard, too fast

9 women can’t make a baby in a month.

The same applies to both your tech and marketing teams.

You might be tempted to go all out with your hiring once you raise that sweet sweet VC money, but we urge you to reconsider.

You should ONLY hire new people to:

  1. Help scale your processes. E.g. you already have working marketing processes, and now all you have to do is scale up. Let’s say sales turns out to be the best channel - all you have to do is hire new sales people.
  2. Fill in key roles. E.g. you don’t have someone with a marketing skill-set in your founding team, you’d want to hire a Head of Marketing.
  3. Delegate a function  that’s taking up too much of the founding team’s time. E.g. Your day-to-day work is just writing blog posts? You’d hire a content marketer.

Now, here’s when you should NOT hire new people:

  1. You want to “add more brain power.” 
  2. You want to hire an “amazing candidate someone recommended.”

    6. Starting marketing too late

“If you build it, they will come” is total bs.

The sooner you start marketing your product, the better.

Heck, do you know what’s the best time to start your product marketing? 6 months before launch.

You should already have potential users lined up on your landing page just waiting for when your product is out.

For the optimal use of your time, you should also be doing marketing at the same time. This usually means:

  1. Slap together a landing page that describes the features of your product
  2. Use an opt-in that’s going to collect “pre-orders” for the product
  3. Start doing content marketing and SEO. At this stage, since you don’t have a ready product, you want to focus on channels that just require work, not on PPC.

Conclusion

Conclusion sections are overrated.

So instead, here are some of the top growth marketing readings you could check out (in order to avoid all the potential mistakes we’ve mentioned above):

99+ free resources on how to learn digital marketing (not growth hacking)

What’s a T-shaped marketer

How to validate your product



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