You And Your Cofounder Are Smart So, Why Not Do Your Own Marketing?

Never before has so much access to such powerful marketing tools been within the reach of absolute neophytes. It’s not the technology that’s the stumbling block. It’s a) how marketing actually works today, and b) communities and ad vendors (Google chief among them) who benefit from new marketers laboring under mistaken pretenses.

If you’re a starter, entrepreneur, or founder and you’re reading this – with zero experience marketing and an open mind – you’re actually better off than a veteran marketer who doesn’t know marketing changed c. 2008 – 2010. If you’ve got (mistaken) notions about how marketing works, having sold libido-enhancing pills through Facebook Ads, then deprogramming you might be more difficult, and you might do better leaving your marketing to experts.

There are a bunch of reasons founders and heads of companies – particularly tech startups – don’t always do so well when it comes to marketing. They figure that, since they’re smart, they can learn marketing.

It’s actually this conclusion that can be the greatest hurdle to overcome. Nerds are smart and yet, by reputation, don’t do so with women. Intelligence or success in one area doesn’t always translate to other areas, and this is particularly so when the new area doesn’t work the way it seems to work, or has recently undergone a revolution, as marketing has.

If a founder weren’t familiar with the ideas put forth by Gary Vaynerchuk or Marcus Sheridan or Mark W. Schaefer, they could, honestly, do at least as well as the middle 1/3 of marketing agencies – who also aren’t aware we’re in the middle of a paradigm shift in marketing caused by Internet search.

The problem is that doing as well as ‘marketing professionals’ who, on average, enjoy a less-than-1% click-through rate (search and display averaged) when there’s keyword alignment, search history and complex analytics, is not doing well, in our book. And this is a key distinction because most startups fail from an inability to generate profits, ahead of prematurely scaling; better marketing performance, leading to more sales revenue, could have kept the company alive, or even made it successful. The flutter of the wings of the Angel of Death can always be heard in the startup world. 

This is less true of established businesses that are marketing the wrong way. 

When it comes to marketing, a founder’s intelligence and spirit of ‘jumping in and figuring it out’ – the traits that lead him or her to create a startup in the first place – actually work against them, because since 2008 marketing doesn’t work the way it seems to work. 

Below is a list of how founders of companies – whom we honestly think the world of – can go wrong in their thinking and execution, as it regards marketing. 

  • Founders aren’t ‘naturals’ at sharing or opening up. The bulk of good marketing happens with content, and company founders are in a unique position to generate content. But many don’t. 
  • The ‘through the looking glass’ way that buyer-centric marketing occurs is not a natural way of seeing the world, and is a skill that takes years to hone and perfect. How To Win Friends And Influence People is an all-time best-seller, despite effectively saying, “Be nice to people. Consider what you like and treat people like that.” We’re all selfish and self-interested by default. There’s a lot of evidence evolution has had to make the human brain so complex in order to deal with other complex humans. Indeed it is rocket science to negotiate the needs, boundaries, and wants of others. It’s laborious and an art and a skill at the same time. Many successful startups simply represent the digital iteration of an offline product, service, or practice (eBay is auctions online, Yahoo! mail was digital mail, Craigslist was an online bulletin board); finding the appeal of your particular product or service, seeing it as others do – from a product and content offering viewpoint – is exceedingly difficult. it takes not just intelligence and determination, but wisdom.
  • Companies are ‘inside a wine bottle, trying to read their own label,’, and unable to view themselves objectively as a matter of their vantage point. Even with determination and training, it’s easier for an  outsider to really see a company objectively, and to translate a value proposition to a demographic or client base. The reasons for this are self-explanatory. We often see a messaging gap, where where founders or starters know too much about their product, and fail to communicate minutiae of use cases, or the nuance of a product story, to their audience. Everybody thinks their baby is beautiful, that others know what they know, and that others regard their interests as they do. This is why interruption marketing happens in the first place: vendors and marketers infer that, because a customer’s pain point aligns with their offering, they’re justified in interrupting them with ads. They forget that customers have many options, and want to choose the right fit; therefore, their immediate want and need is not a product, but information they can ingest and consider at their discretion. 
  • Starters and founders have an inclination to buy visibility (‘Push’ Market) with investment money, because it’s fun and feels like it’s working. And in fairness, it kind of does. Many new principals don’t know there’s another option – of pulling leads and traffic with content, rather than pushing ads in front of them.  not knowing the option of creating content placed for people to find during search exists. This is a problem of not considering how starters themselves – like everybody else – actually buy something. They have a pain-point, embark on search, and encounter buyer-centric content they find helpful. Instead, starters use their ad budget – which can at times be substantial VC or other funding – and give it directly to Google, Facebook, or other ad platforms.
  • Excited about their service or product, new founders’ websites are seller-centric, and talk about them, rather than being buyer-centric and This is a very human mistake. When we engage other people, part of getting to know them is a dialogue of back-and-forth talk called ‘disclosure.’ But on the Internet, hundreds of companies are doing that and buyers want to be able to research on their terms. 
  • Very often, not just the  startup product or service messaging, but the actual product lacks a Unique Sales Proposition. Starters often pick a product to enter into a saturated or competitive market, thinking they’ll make more money that way. Instead, a) because they’re seldom the best, and b) they’re often not differentiated, they end up losing by going too broad. People don’t have time to granularly compare the features and benefits of 20 products in a given market, and end up being single-feature buyers.  Competitive markets and undifferentiated products are the death knell for startups.
  • Founders’ ads (along with their website) lack content offers, and are seller-centric and not buyer-centric. Too often, founders, not being experts in Web 2.0 marketing, aren’t aware that they’re busy ‘disclosing’, as we do in offline relationships; asking people to listen to them talk about themselves, rather than offering useful, objective-value, content. They’re trying to sell people rather than help.
  • Besides lacking buyer-centric content, often founders’ self-made website looks amateurish. Many times startup websites someone knew a little about WordPress and made a college try. From their colors to their fonts to their logo, they aren’t the best.
  • Messaging is an art; beside seeing your value proposition objectively, articulating that simply and aesthetically really requires a professional. This is a problem not of being unable to properly message because you can’t be objective, but complex messaging considerations after you are differentiated and understand your value proposition. Unless you’re a seasoned expert at design and messaging, getting them to culminate on the site might prove challenging.
  • Starters doing homemade websites often have technical hurdles with their website that only an industry professional would know to look for or remedy. Things like slow page load speed, missing H1 and H2 tags, robots.txt, sitemap, missing internal links, all contribute to a site not playing well with Google, and suffering on SERP. These are relatively easy problems for an expert to fix, but as they say, you pay a master to avoid the mistakes the rookie would make. 

Access to, and the relative ease of, powerful marketing tools has lead even smart people to believe they understand marketing. We’re not trying to say what we do is rocket science. This entire blog is pointed at demystifying the mechanics of Web 2.0 marketing; it can be taught. It can be learned, and it should be practiced. 

But if your business or line of business is actually launching a new SaaS product, or disrupting an industry, you will not have the time and effort required to be able to produce a world-class website, with clear messaging; to run effective inbound (content, ‘pull’) marketing and email campaigns. You may be able to half-ass a website of AdWords and think you’re doing it, but since win distributions are absurdly unfair, coming in second, being ‘just okay’, is tantamount to not existing or coming in dead last. You’re the best in your niche, or you’re nothing, in the Web 2. world. 

Nor can technical proficiency or complexity rescue a marketing effort, if the engineers of said marketing stack or operation don’t first understand the psychology.

The first marketing effort many new companies make is build a marketing stack or operation and start spending money, not knowing the technology only mitigates losses; it can reduce churn, but not create wins. It’s counting beans to make a meager soup, when there are woolly mammoths you could carve up and eat, mere feet away.  

Marketing doesn’t work the way it looks like it works. Just knowing this, and being familiar with the mistakes starters often make, can spell the difference between a startup succeeding or failing.