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Why so many founders & early teams fail to profitably acquire customers at
scale, plus tactical tips to help solve these dilemmas.
7Ways Startups Fail at Marketing
Rand Fishkin | Founder & CEO
Too Many Startups Die Because
They Can’t Get Customers
CB Insightscompiledan
analysisfrom startup post-
mortems.
These 5 are mostly “couldn’t
find enough customers” or
“couldn’t affordably find
customers”
To stay focused on marketing, I’m going to
assume your startup has* a:
A) product people want & will pay for
B) serviceable market
C) team that can execute, learn, & improve
*don’thavethese?Get‘emfirst,thencomebacktothemarketingprocess
#1
A Terrible Business
(or Product) Name
Problems:
No one could say our name until
they heard it
Ona .org, so folks assumed
we were nonprofit
Took ~$500K torebrand in
2013 (“Moz”)
Problems:
Lunar is already
associated w/ dozens of
other things (including
other watches)
Brand name directly
conflicts w/ product’s
UVP
Problems:
Hustle has negative
connotations outside SV
(hustlers, getting “hustled”,
“Hustler Magazine,” etc)
Name suggests product is
something it’s not (a case)
7
Easy to spell, say, hear, and remember
Has no existing associations that could confuse
Either suggests what the company does (AirBnB, Lyft), or has no
existing/problematic overlap (Google,Atlassian)
The .com site and major social accounts are owned by you
Has very few or no Google search results
Avoids trademark infringement
Biases to brandable > keyword rich/generic
#1
#2
#3
#4
#5
#6
#7
Rules for a Marketing-Friendly Startup Name:
Some Startups Who Nailed It:
You Can Succeed, Even With a Criteria-
Breaking Name…. It’s Just Harder.
Pssttt….
So long as the name matches the criteria, you
don’t personally have to like it 
#2
Not Respecting the Long Journey
from Potential Customer to
Conversion
Startup Marketing Mythology
Step 1: Build a Great Product
Step 2: Launch on PH/HN (or RunAds)
Step 3: Customers! $$$! SeriesA!
This is a long process,
with many steps
Yay! You made it to the top of PH & received
15,000 visits + 500 email signups
But, only ~0.01% of people are looking for
email verification APIs that day 
Every day, a few dozen people search
for this (and don’t find you)
Loads of searches for your
service, but none of these
people can find you 
They visit lists like this
(but you’re not here)
They ask friends +
colleagues (who’ve
never heard of you)
They rely on existing
providers
They lean on social
proof from their
networks
Via Wordstream
New to a market? This
happens.
Known & loved?
Welcome to Profitville.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, &
display ads all work the same way
Via Resolution Media
How to Win at Digital Advertising
Step 1: Earn brand exposure w/ your target audience
Step 2: Get >1 organic visit (or social engagement)
Step 3:Advertise to those who already know + like you
If you only play here
(first exposure)
Or here
(decision time)
You’re gonna have a bad time 
Startup Marketing Reality
Step 1: Get known + trusted by your audience
Step 2: Grow a presence across the channels they use
to find solutions your product solves
Step 3: Be visible throughout their discovery,
consideration, and decision processes
#3 Chasing Growth Hacks
Hack-Chasing Usually Leads to Death
Before Success
Via ProStart
Hack Hack Hack Hack Crap.
You’re Fighting the “Law of Shitty Clickthrough Rates”
Via
Andrew Chen
A lot of exploitable, short-term
“growth hacks” start here
And end here
Great Marketers Focus on Flywheels
(systems that scale w/ decreasing friction)
Content
Marketing
Flywheel
KW Research +
Industry Intuition
Publish
Content
Promote via Social
Channels
Push to email +
RSS subscribers
Earn Links +
Amplification
Grow social, email,
RSS, & WoM channels
Grow Domain
Authority
Earn Search &
Referral Traffic
Rank for More
Competitive KWs
PR+Ads
Flywheel
ID Sources of
Customer Influence
Craft Stories to
Draw Coverage
Earn Press
Coverage
Pitch Media
Amplify +
Promote
Run Ads Targeting
Cookied Visitors
Expand Social
Following
Slowly Convert
Fans + Followers
Refine Ad+CRO
Processes
Events +
Sponsorship
Flywheel
ID Events w/
Customer Targets
Sponsor + Pitch to
Present
Capture
Visitor Info
Host Booths,
Dinners, Parties
Reach Out w/
Direct+Indirect
Emails Cookie Site Visitors &
Email Opens
Run Hyper-
Personalized Ads
Improve CRO +
Sales Process
Uncover Customer
Connections & Affinities
Hard at first, but
gets easier
(& more profitable)
with scale
Find
Find
Create
Create
Amplify
Amplify
Convert
Convert
Learn & Apply
Growth Hacks
Can Accelerate a Flywheel
Hacks aren’t necessarily evil,
spammy, or without value.
They can be useful when applied to
a sound marketing strategy.
Find a Balance Between Long-Term
Investments & Short-Term Hacks
High upfront costs Pay (in time/$$) as you go
Long-Term Investments
Slow to show ROI
Earn customers while you
sleep
Low Risk (PR/legal/etc)
Can Show Fast ROI
Effort In = Links Out
Often High Risk
Short-Term Hacks
The Formula for Marketing that Will Work
for Years to Come:
Strategic
Roadmap
Scalable
Flywheel
Long-Term
Investments
Hacks to
Remove
Friction
+ + +
#4
Saving Marketing Until Your
Product Launch
Via ASmartBear
The First Time Someone Hears About You…
You want my
credit card &
email???
Which One(s) Should You Do?
Create a blog?
Participate in forum discussions?
Build a community on your own site?
Become a guest contributor to other communities?
Participate in events & conferences?
Grow relationships/awareness via social media?
Invest in video on aYouTube channel?
Invest in 2-3 tactics long before you
launch a product.
So that when you do, there’s a pre-
existing community that wants to
support & amplify you.
Via ProductHunt
#5
Your CRO Process
Misses the Big Picture
Incremental testing of headlines,
colors, layout, pricing, etc.
Local Maxima
Uncovering why
most qualified
customers who
visit don’t buy &
addressing their
issues
Global Maxima
Early Stage:
Build a community &
recruit folks excited
about your product.
Later Stages:
Once you have real people
signing up for your product,
you can learn more about
them
A few dozen emails &
names give you a
treasure trove of info
about your customer
targets
Now we can find more
people like this!
Interview or
survey this
audience to ID
their clones.
Then we can identify traits that separate right
prospects (who’ll use & love our product) from
wrong (those who won’t).
Ideally You Want to:
A: Identify right customers
B: Find what/who influences them
C: Clone, expand, & repeat
My Favorite
Process:
From Conversion Rate Experts’ case study
Boom.
And Shakalaka.
Didn’t try the
product
Tried, but didn’t
love it
Tried & loved the
product
What do you think the
product does?
What made you try it? What made you try it?
What would make you
more likely to try it?
What are your biggest
objections to signup?
What objections did you
have and how did you
overcome them?
What caused you to stop
using the product?
What would have made you
stay a customer?
What objections did you
have and how did you
overcome them?
What’s been most
valuable to you?
If you’ve loved it, can we
share your story?
#6
Not Prioritizing an
Easy-to-Reach Audience
easier toreach
harder toreach
Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee)
Know of you, like you, &follow your work closely
Are already connected to you via email
Already follow you on social media channels
Have visited your website at least once
Have heard of your company (and can recall it)
Are in your target audience and reachable via FB/GG ads
It’s Foolish to…
easier toreach
harder toreach
Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee)
Know of you, like you, &follow your work closely
Are already connected to you via email
Already follow you on social media channels
Have visited your website at least once
Have heard of your company (and can recall it)
Are in your target audience and reachable via FB/GG ads
1) Lack any strategy to increase the
size of these groups
easier toreach
harder toreach
Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee)
Know of you, like you, &follow your work closely
Are already connected to you via email
Already follow you on social media channels
Have visited your website at least once
Have heard of your company (and can recall it)
Are in your target audience and reachable via FB/GG ads
2) Not target these
people first
easier toreach
harder toreach
Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee)
Know of you, like you, &follow your work closely
Are already connected to you via email
Already follow you on social media channels
Have visited your website at least once
Have heard of your company (and can recall it)
Are in your target audience and reachable via FB/GGAds
3) Aim 100% of your tactics at
only these groups
But Rand…
Mark didn’t start Facebook with…
Oh dang… He totally did.
Brian & Joe didn’t start AirBnB with…
Oh dang… They totally did.
Jeremy didn’t start Yelp with…
Oh dang… He totally did.
Dharmesh & Brian Didn’t Start Hubspot with…
Oh dang… They totally did.
easier toreach
harder toreach
Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee)
Know of you, like you, &follow your work closely
Are already connected to you via email
Already follow you on social media channels
Have visited your website at least once
Have heard of your company (and can recall it)
Are in your target audience and reachable via FB/GG ads
Pro Tip: Having a lot of target customers in
your personal network makes EVERYTHING
about starting up easier.
#7 Ignoring Brand
Brand is…
Apromise.
i.e. when you see “Brand X” it means “YAttributes”
Amemory trigger.
i.e. when you experience problem Z, you think of “Brand
X” as the potential solution
Brand Marketing is…
Acoded message.
Reminding you of the brand’s existence
Reinforcing the brand’s colors, shapes, sounds,
experiences, & feelings
Nudging you to use the brand at the right time
What do you think of when you
see this brand?
Brand marketing reinforces that:
What do you think of when you
see this brand?
Brand marketing reinforces that:
What do you think of when you
see this brand?
Brand marketing reinforces that:
Before you can brand, you need a
Brand Promise
We
provide…
We evoke
feelings…
We remind
you of…
We share the
values of…
product/
service that
solves a
problem you
have
that make our
customers most
anxious about
whether our
solution is right for
them
Memories that our
target
demographics &
psychographics will
have ++
associations with
People who are
statistically most
likely to be our best
customers
Everything Should (Subtly) Reinforce the Message
SEO Snippets
PPC Ads
Big
Content
CommentsTweets
Photos
Landing
Pages
UI & UX
Brand Name
Facebook
Posts
Emails
Product
Names
Videos
Visual
Branding
Outreach
Onboarding
Press & PR
The Brand
Promise
Brand
Cost of paid acquisition drops as people prefer to click on your ads
Retention, LTV, and marketing ROI all rise
You earn more free coverage, amplifying your reach, your SEO rankings, and
reinforcing your brand
It feels difficult, even impossible to reverse engineer your success
Switching costs feel higher (even if your competitors make it easy)
People want to take your calls, open your emails, and respond to you with a
“yes,” making all your bizdev activities easier
#1
#2
#3
#4
#5
#6
The Awesome Powers of
Rand Fishkin | Founder & CEO
Thank You!
Come see what we’re building at SparkToro to Help

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The Big 7 Startup Marketing Mistakes

  • 1. Why so many founders & early teams fail to profitably acquire customers at scale, plus tactical tips to help solve these dilemmas. 7Ways Startups Fail at Marketing Rand Fishkin | Founder & CEO
  • 2. Too Many Startups Die Because They Can’t Get Customers
  • 3. CB Insightscompiledan analysisfrom startup post- mortems. These 5 are mostly “couldn’t find enough customers” or “couldn’t affordably find customers”
  • 4. To stay focused on marketing, I’m going to assume your startup has* a: A) product people want & will pay for B) serviceable market C) team that can execute, learn, & improve *don’thavethese?Get‘emfirst,thencomebacktothemarketingprocess
  • 6. Problems: No one could say our name until they heard it Ona .org, so folks assumed we were nonprofit Took ~$500K torebrand in 2013 (“Moz”)
  • 7. Problems: Lunar is already associated w/ dozens of other things (including other watches) Brand name directly conflicts w/ product’s UVP
  • 8. Problems: Hustle has negative connotations outside SV (hustlers, getting “hustled”, “Hustler Magazine,” etc) Name suggests product is something it’s not (a case)
  • 9. 7 Easy to spell, say, hear, and remember Has no existing associations that could confuse Either suggests what the company does (AirBnB, Lyft), or has no existing/problematic overlap (Google,Atlassian) The .com site and major social accounts are owned by you Has very few or no Google search results Avoids trademark infringement Biases to brandable > keyword rich/generic #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 Rules for a Marketing-Friendly Startup Name:
  • 10. Some Startups Who Nailed It:
  • 11. You Can Succeed, Even With a Criteria- Breaking Name…. It’s Just Harder.
  • 12. Pssttt…. So long as the name matches the criteria, you don’t personally have to like it 
  • 13. #2 Not Respecting the Long Journey from Potential Customer to Conversion
  • 14. Startup Marketing Mythology Step 1: Build a Great Product Step 2: Launch on PH/HN (or RunAds) Step 3: Customers! $$$! SeriesA!
  • 15. This is a long process, with many steps
  • 16. Yay! You made it to the top of PH & received 15,000 visits + 500 email signups But, only ~0.01% of people are looking for email verification APIs that day 
  • 17. Every day, a few dozen people search for this (and don’t find you)
  • 18. Loads of searches for your service, but none of these people can find you 
  • 19. They visit lists like this (but you’re not here)
  • 20. They ask friends + colleagues (who’ve never heard of you)
  • 21. They rely on existing providers
  • 22. They lean on social proof from their networks
  • 23. Via Wordstream New to a market? This happens. Known & loved? Welcome to Profitville.
  • 24. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, & display ads all work the same way Via Resolution Media
  • 25. How to Win at Digital Advertising Step 1: Earn brand exposure w/ your target audience Step 2: Get >1 organic visit (or social engagement) Step 3:Advertise to those who already know + like you
  • 26. If you only play here (first exposure) Or here (decision time) You’re gonna have a bad time 
  • 27. Startup Marketing Reality Step 1: Get known + trusted by your audience Step 2: Grow a presence across the channels they use to find solutions your product solves Step 3: Be visible throughout their discovery, consideration, and decision processes
  • 29. Hack-Chasing Usually Leads to Death Before Success Via ProStart Hack Hack Hack Hack Crap.
  • 30. You’re Fighting the “Law of Shitty Clickthrough Rates” Via Andrew Chen A lot of exploitable, short-term “growth hacks” start here And end here
  • 31. Great Marketers Focus on Flywheels (systems that scale w/ decreasing friction)
  • 32. Content Marketing Flywheel KW Research + Industry Intuition Publish Content Promote via Social Channels Push to email + RSS subscribers Earn Links + Amplification Grow social, email, RSS, & WoM channels Grow Domain Authority Earn Search & Referral Traffic Rank for More Competitive KWs
  • 33. PR+Ads Flywheel ID Sources of Customer Influence Craft Stories to Draw Coverage Earn Press Coverage Pitch Media Amplify + Promote Run Ads Targeting Cookied Visitors Expand Social Following Slowly Convert Fans + Followers Refine Ad+CRO Processes
  • 34. Events + Sponsorship Flywheel ID Events w/ Customer Targets Sponsor + Pitch to Present Capture Visitor Info Host Booths, Dinners, Parties Reach Out w/ Direct+Indirect Emails Cookie Site Visitors & Email Opens Run Hyper- Personalized Ads Improve CRO + Sales Process Uncover Customer Connections & Affinities
  • 35. Hard at first, but gets easier (& more profitable) with scale Find Find Create Create Amplify Amplify Convert Convert Learn & Apply
  • 37. Hacks aren’t necessarily evil, spammy, or without value. They can be useful when applied to a sound marketing strategy.
  • 38. Find a Balance Between Long-Term Investments & Short-Term Hacks High upfront costs Pay (in time/$$) as you go Long-Term Investments Slow to show ROI Earn customers while you sleep Low Risk (PR/legal/etc) Can Show Fast ROI Effort In = Links Out Often High Risk Short-Term Hacks
  • 39. The Formula for Marketing that Will Work for Years to Come: Strategic Roadmap Scalable Flywheel Long-Term Investments Hacks to Remove Friction + + +
  • 40. #4 Saving Marketing Until Your Product Launch
  • 42. The First Time Someone Hears About You… You want my credit card & email???
  • 43. Which One(s) Should You Do? Create a blog? Participate in forum discussions? Build a community on your own site? Become a guest contributor to other communities? Participate in events & conferences? Grow relationships/awareness via social media? Invest in video on aYouTube channel?
  • 44.
  • 45. Invest in 2-3 tactics long before you launch a product. So that when you do, there’s a pre- existing community that wants to support & amplify you.
  • 47. #5 Your CRO Process Misses the Big Picture
  • 48. Incremental testing of headlines, colors, layout, pricing, etc. Local Maxima Uncovering why most qualified customers who visit don’t buy & addressing their issues Global Maxima
  • 49. Early Stage: Build a community & recruit folks excited about your product.
  • 50. Later Stages: Once you have real people signing up for your product, you can learn more about them
  • 51. A few dozen emails & names give you a treasure trove of info about your customer targets Now we can find more people like this!
  • 52. Interview or survey this audience to ID their clones.
  • 53. Then we can identify traits that separate right prospects (who’ll use & love our product) from wrong (those who won’t).
  • 54. Ideally You Want to: A: Identify right customers B: Find what/who influences them C: Clone, expand, & repeat
  • 55. My Favorite Process: From Conversion Rate Experts’ case study Boom. And Shakalaka.
  • 56. Didn’t try the product Tried, but didn’t love it Tried & loved the product What do you think the product does? What made you try it? What made you try it? What would make you more likely to try it? What are your biggest objections to signup? What objections did you have and how did you overcome them? What caused you to stop using the product? What would have made you stay a customer? What objections did you have and how did you overcome them? What’s been most valuable to you? If you’ve loved it, can we share your story?
  • 58. easier toreach harder toreach Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee) Know of you, like you, &follow your work closely Are already connected to you via email Already follow you on social media channels Have visited your website at least once Have heard of your company (and can recall it) Are in your target audience and reachable via FB/GG ads
  • 60. easier toreach harder toreach Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee) Know of you, like you, &follow your work closely Are already connected to you via email Already follow you on social media channels Have visited your website at least once Have heard of your company (and can recall it) Are in your target audience and reachable via FB/GG ads 1) Lack any strategy to increase the size of these groups
  • 61. easier toreach harder toreach Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee) Know of you, like you, &follow your work closely Are already connected to you via email Already follow you on social media channels Have visited your website at least once Have heard of your company (and can recall it) Are in your target audience and reachable via FB/GG ads 2) Not target these people first
  • 62. easier toreach harder toreach Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee) Know of you, like you, &follow your work closely Are already connected to you via email Already follow you on social media channels Have visited your website at least once Have heard of your company (and can recall it) Are in your target audience and reachable via FB/GGAds 3) Aim 100% of your tactics at only these groups
  • 64. Mark didn’t start Facebook with… Oh dang… He totally did.
  • 65. Brian & Joe didn’t start AirBnB with… Oh dang… They totally did.
  • 66. Jeremy didn’t start Yelp with… Oh dang… He totally did.
  • 67. Dharmesh & Brian Didn’t Start Hubspot with… Oh dang… They totally did.
  • 68. easier toreach harder toreach Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee) Know of you, like you, &follow your work closely Are already connected to you via email Already follow you on social media channels Have visited your website at least once Have heard of your company (and can recall it) Are in your target audience and reachable via FB/GG ads Pro Tip: Having a lot of target customers in your personal network makes EVERYTHING about starting up easier.
  • 70. Brand is… Apromise. i.e. when you see “Brand X” it means “YAttributes” Amemory trigger. i.e. when you experience problem Z, you think of “Brand X” as the potential solution
  • 71. Brand Marketing is… Acoded message. Reminding you of the brand’s existence Reinforcing the brand’s colors, shapes, sounds, experiences, & feelings Nudging you to use the brand at the right time
  • 72. What do you think of when you see this brand?
  • 74. What do you think of when you see this brand?
  • 76. What do you think of when you see this brand?
  • 78. Before you can brand, you need a Brand Promise We provide… We evoke feelings… We remind you of… We share the values of… product/ service that solves a problem you have that make our customers most anxious about whether our solution is right for them Memories that our target demographics & psychographics will have ++ associations with People who are statistically most likely to be our best customers
  • 79. Everything Should (Subtly) Reinforce the Message SEO Snippets PPC Ads Big Content CommentsTweets Photos Landing Pages UI & UX Brand Name Facebook Posts Emails Product Names Videos Visual Branding Outreach Onboarding Press & PR The Brand Promise
  • 80. Brand Cost of paid acquisition drops as people prefer to click on your ads Retention, LTV, and marketing ROI all rise You earn more free coverage, amplifying your reach, your SEO rankings, and reinforcing your brand It feels difficult, even impossible to reverse engineer your success Switching costs feel higher (even if your competitors make it easy) People want to take your calls, open your emails, and respond to you with a “yes,” making all your bizdev activities easier #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 The Awesome Powers of
  • 81. Rand Fishkin | Founder & CEO Thank You! Come see what we’re building at SparkToro to Help