10 marketing pitfalls that can kill your startup

[The following post is a guest post on Oradea Startup Weekend Blog]

Launching a successful startup is not an exact science. Some succeed because they solve latent user needs, others because they are innovative, and few because they are plain lucky. However, many IT startups have solid marketing built into their products. Successful entrepreneurs know right from the start who is their target audience, what needs should the product meet, and what marketing strategy should they use to attract users, and finally, sales.

Avoiding the following marketing pitfalls will not guarantee your startup success, instead will help you make sure your efforts will not be hindered by these highly avoidable mistakes:

1. Focusing on features, not on benefits

This is a classic mistake. It’s often made by highly technical people who think having cool features will make people use the product. In reality, people only use products that help them in some way, if only to have fun.

2. Not having a clear audience in mind

This one’s very “popular” too and is related to the previous one. Not knowing who your target audience is will very likely prevent you from knowing what are the core features you should include in the product’s first release, how should it look and behave, and, not the least, how should you market it.

3. Having too narrow a niche

The opposite of not having a clear audience in mind - to cater to everybody - is targeting an obscure niche that’s too narrow. The problem is - even if you succeed and your limited target audience will use your product, you will not achieve the critical mass to scale your business. Niche marketing is a good way of avoiding competition, however, make sure your audience is large enough for it to support your development.

4. Delaying its release until the product is perfect

This one kills a lot of startups! A bunch of enthusiastic tech guys meet, they brainstorm, and decide they will create the best and most feature-rich product on the market. Right? Wrong. The healthy approach is to identify the core features that are needed for the product to be useful, and then take this Minimum Viable Product to the market. At Qubiz, for instance, we usually employ the Agile method, which allows us to deliver a working product after each sprint.

5. Launching too early

Although this is a much less frequent pitfall than the one above, you CAN launch too early. If the product is buggy or lacks a core feature that renders it useless, its reputation will suffer and people might never come back, no matter how you improve it after its release.

6. Spending all your budget on product development

This is typically the case of startups that spend way too much time trying to develop the perfect product (see point 4). The danger is twofold here: first, development is costly, second, the un-released product isn’t making you any money. In these conditions, it’s very likely that after a couple of years you’ll have no funds left for promoting your cool product.

7. Falling in love with your idea

The thing is, few startups get to be successful and nobody can guarantee that your idea will succeed. If that doesn’t happen, move on to the next idea. Many successful startups are flexible enough to let their original idea drift towards something different, better. You need to be able to recognise the better idea when it shows up and not mourn over the old one.

8. Wrong business model

Put your users first and then then worry about how to make money from it – this may have worked for lot of startups, and while we agree that creating a product that users love to use is crucial, it’s also very important to choose the right business model. Will you use the freemium approach? The risk is to have a free version that’s good enough for almost all users. Will you use free trials? They might not work well for individual users who don’t have budgets to spend. Our advice is to weigh all options and be flexible in the future.

9. Building a system that won’t scale, or would scale very slowly

This is partly related to point 3. If your target audience is too small, you won’t be able to scale your business unless you can sell them a second glass or widen your niche. On the other hand, many services can in theory be scaled, but it takes too long. This is the case for many social apps -which need a critical mass in order to be useful. If the process of getting people to use the app is too costly or too complex, it might be very hard for you to reach that critical mass.

10. Selling too cheap or too expensive

This one seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? If you sell too expensive, very few will buy your product, and if you sell too cheap, everybody will buy it, right? Wrong! In reality, fixing the right price is very tricky and you have to take into consideration multiple aspects – the competition, the value your product brings to your audience, the budgets your audience disposes of and so on. And no, just because your product is cheap, it doesn’t mean people will want to use it; it must provide them with a benefit. And even if they buy your product, if the price tag is way too low, you won’t be making enough profit on your sales.

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