Why Digital Marketing Isn't Working for Your Tech Startup by@Daniel

Why Digital Marketing Isn't Working for Your Tech Startup

Daniel Ndukwu HackerNoon profile picture

Daniel Ndukwu

That are countless blog posts that extoll the benefits and power of digital marketing. There are even more that show you exactly how to do it.

If it was so easy and the blueprints are already there then why do startups have so much trouble gaining traction? Are the common digital marketing best practices all wrong?

Well, not exactly. They work but there is a specific set of conditions that need to be met before they’ll yield the fruits brands are looking for. If you’re trying to grow a side project or launch a startup full time then this guide will save you a lot of time, energy, and tears.

I’ll outline the common areas where people drop the ball and accidentally sabotage their own success. By the end, you’ll know exactly what NOT to do.

Marketing Your Tech Startup Digitally isn't Working Because You Haven't Clearly Defined Target Personas

I work and interact with and interact with many creators. Developers, photographers, bloggers, video creators, and other makers are all the same. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation:

Me: “So, who are you aiming to serve with your X?”

Them: “Oh, anyone can use our X.”

Me: “You may be right, but who do you think would be best suited for it?”

Them: “Young people”

Me: “…”

I don’t blame them. They’ve made sacrifices and spent their time building something and want to get it into as many hands as possible.

Can you relate?

Oftentimes, they know in the back of their heads that they should define their target audience but they’re reluctant to do it.

Here’s the simple truth. If you don’t define your target customer and create marketing messages that appeal to them directly, your work will fall on deaf ears. No one will notice because the generic messaging has been seen 1,001 times already.

Get off your computer, leave your office, and go interact with the people who you think are in your target audience. Figure out what their problems are by surveying them. Ask demographic questions, psychographic questions, and open-ended questions related to the problem you believe you solve.

Aim for 100+ surveys or at least 20 in-person (or over the phone) interviews. When you come up for air, you’ll have a much better idea of
who’s looking for a product like yours.

Digital Marketing Isn't Working for Your Startup Because You Haven't Defined Your Goals

The next problem with digital marketing is that there’s no real goal. Teams or individuals usually say things like “we want to grow traffic” “we want more email subscribers to ramp up our email marketing strategy” “we’re focused on customer acquisition so we can prove our business model.”

That’s fine, but how much more traffic, how many more subscribers, and what’s your target CAC cost? These are the benchmarks that’ll let you know if the strategies you’re using are working or not. These metrics inform your marketing plan. If you don’t define them then you don’t have a real plan.

For example, if you want more traffic, you can use a thousand different channels from SEO to forums. Without a clear goal, 100 new visitors is a win. When you have a goal of 30,000 visitors a month in 6 months, you can disqualify channels that are underperforming and only focus on the ones that move the needle.

We want to go up and to the right – no?

The same thing applies to any digital marketing initiative. Saying you want to increase or be better won’t cut it. Quantifiable goals aren’t optional-they’re the only way you can succeed. For this, fall back on the SMART goal-setting process.

Once you’ve outlined concrete goals for your organization, get your team on board (if you have them). Use a project management tool to improve team collaboration and stay abreast of everyone’s progress.

You’re Doing Startup Digital Marketing the Same Way as Everybody Else

If you market like everyone else, sound like everyone else, and do the same things as everyone else then you won’t get the same results as them. In fact, your results will be much worse because they’ve been in the game longer and may have a larger online presence.

What are you to do?

Be exceptional.  

You may have heard the term 10x content. You create content 10x better than anyone else. While that sounds nice on paper, it’s much more difficult in real life. How do you define better marketing or better content?

Here are a few things to look out for:

  • It gets a response for your target market
  • People cite it as a resource
  • It drives tangible revenue

Here’s an example of 10x content that revolves around types of flowers. It gets almost 20,000 visitors a month and has nearly 300 referring domains.

I suggest you start with 3X or 4X content to get the hang of it. You’ll realize it’s much more difficult to develop but the ROI is also much better.

Good candidates for exceptional marketing content include:

  • Video with high production standards (Dollar shave club’s launch video)
  • Original research (Hubspot State of Inbound report)
  • A comprehensive resource ( Basic principles of responsive web design by Froont)
  • Data visualizations that make people go wow (Percent of US population by age group by Pew Research)

I’ll be honest. It takes a few tries before you will hit a home run but it’s worth it because that home run can take you from zero to a million – real quick.

You're Using Too Many Digital Marketing Tactics and Platforms

Do you know what my favorite advice is? You need to be everywhere and try everything. Throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.

Webinar software tools don’t cost that much and you can convert 10% of people per event. Email marketing is a breeze once you build your list. All you need are great images to succeed on social media.


I disagree.

You don’t need to be everywhere. In fact, it may be more
detrimental than good if you’re everywhere.

The main acquisition platforms like Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. have enough humans to take your brand from zero to millions. That’s possible without any other traction channel.

In reality, you only need one distribution channel that works to build a successful brand. Instead of being everywhere, I recommend you find one channel and own it. I don’t care if it’s LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Pinterest, or forums.

Your customers don’t care either.

Once you hit a healthy revenue number then you can start
experimenting with other channels. Not before. In short, if you’re not
generating up to $1 million a year from your first channel then it’s too early
to branch out.

Lack of systematic testing

This problem goes hand in hand with using too many tactics and platforms. Choosing a platform is just the beginning. You almost never get it right on the first go-around. You may see the potential but your efforts will need optimization.

What do most startups do? They either keep doing more of the same (throw good money after bad money) or give up on the channel too soon. If you see some early wins then that means all you have to do is optimize what you’re doing until it’s profitable.

For example, if you’re getting decent opens through email marketing but people aren’t clicking, you shouldn’t write off your email marketing strategy. Instead, you start optimizing the emails so they’ll get a higher CTR. If you accomplish that but people aren’t buying, you optimize your offer.

Marketing has different stages and touchpoints. Each one should be tweaked individually so it improves the whole. The beautiful part is that it’s a multiplying function and not an additive function. What I mean is that a 2X increase in clicks can result in a 3X increase in revenue.

Here’s a simple process you can use to create better testing programs:

  • Isolate a single variable to test
  • Create a hypothesis (If I change my headline to be more benefit-driven, I can increase clicks by 25%)
  • Run the test until you get a statistically significant sample size
  • Assess whether it succeeded (or not) and figure out why
  • Rinse and repeat


Digital marketing is all it’s cracked up to be. It’s an impartial taskmaster. If you know what you’re doing then you’ll thrive. If you don’t know what you’re doing then you’ll waste a lot of resources.

This guide has walked through the common mistakes people make when launching campaigns but it’s up to you to take action on it. Audit your current strategy and figure out where you’re dropping the ball. Make the changes you need, assess the results, rinse, and repeat.

How are you marketing your startup using digital marketing techniques? Is it yielding the fruits you expected or are you making some of the mistakes outlined here?


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