Exposing the Truth: 5 Marketing Lies Startups Tell Themselves

Thomas Jefferson once said: "He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do so a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual…"

It's safe to say good old T.J. wasn't referring to marketing or how today's startups can easily deceive themselves into trains of thought that are detrimental to their overall growth and development. But, for a moment, let's pretend he was and consider how this wisdom could apply to our discussion.


Startup marketing lies

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The key word here is habitual. In today's global business landscape, where competition is not just limited to your region but rather a city or province halfway around the world, a clear, executable vision of your marketing strategy is not only critical in continually acquiring new leads and converting those leads to sales, but it's also a core component of differentiation from your competitors and a principle pillar of your brand awareness.

One, two, or even three lies or half-truths about the state of your marketing strategy can easily become part and parcel of your holistic approach to positioning your products, services, messaging and culture, and brand identity. Given their tools and resources, It may become difficult for companies to sort the lies from the truths about what they can manage. With this in mind, let's look at five common marketing lies startups tell themselves and why they can be so damaging in the short, mid, and long term.

1). "Everyone Already Knows What We Do…"

This very common lie often stems from something of a positive place: success. Companies who tell themselves this may have made a couple of important sales, have generated numerous positively-trending leads, and thus feel that customers within their industry know who they are, what they're about, and how their products and solutions are best-in-class simply because of the success they've achieved up to a certain point. But just because customers within a certain circle know who you are and what you're about DOES NOT mean you can rest on your laurels in marketing and messaging.

Long-term, sustainable growth comes from reaching outside your circle of contacts who DO NOT know who you are and who COULD benefit from better understanding your value proposition relative to their challenges or hurdles.

Think of it this way: Coke-Cola deploys aggressive, innovative, and multi-channel marketing campaigns every quarter, and we all know who Coke-Cola is and what they're about. Their marketing strategy and goal remain top of mind to those consumers who may not drink their products regularly but who might be able to be converted given the right opportunity with the right messaging and positioning of their products.

2). "Our customers aren't on social media…"

Depending on your industry, client base, or target audience, perhaps this lie holds some water in the B2C space – though the sheer volume of users across the Big 3 in terms of social media platforms is likely a strong counterargument.

This statement is even more false in the B2B, where a 2022 statistic estimated more than 90 percent of U.S.-based companies maintain active profiles across major social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This means that if your customers play in the digital sphere in even a minor way (and please try to find me a major company that DOES NOT exist in the online world), then odds are they maintain an active social media presence, which means your presence in that same sandbox is as valuable as maintaining a website, blog, or email marketing strategy.

And given how the major social media players have made it easier than before to target certain key demographics relative to your business goals with targeted advertising and other PPC forms of content, social media is something today's startups can ill afford to ignore as a major component of their overall marketing architecture.


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3). "Our subject matter experts (SMEs) don't need to help with marketing…"

The dirty little secret about content marketing, email marketing, or social media marketing in today's landscape is that the bar to entry is considerably lower than it was 5, 10, and especially 15 years ago. The tools are better, the resources for creating effective marketing campaigns more robust and easily accessible, and the sheer volume of companies operating in this sphere is considerably larger than ever. Leaning on your SMEs for insight, guidance, and in some cases, generating quality, meaningful content is a key way in which startups can differentiate themselves from the competition and carve out a critical niche in their given space.

Whether through guest blog entries, short explanatory videos, or other pieces of dynamic content for social media, your SMEs and their contribution to the knowledge base of your customer will not only allow for more varied marketing content opportunities (think back to our recent blog entry about maintaining enough content for various buyer personas and stages in the buyer's journey) but will also put your company on the map as a thought-leader and an organization that marketing not only its products and services but also those who create those products and services.


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4). "We'll try it for a month or two and see…"

This might be less of a lie and more of a misdirection, but it's something startups often tell themselves about, something like Inbound Marketing or other brands' content strategy. Essentially, too many startups are eager to deploy this marketing strategy but simultaneously all too eager to give up on it in too short a window. The dirty little secret of content marketing, in general, is that these efforts often take more time than startups convince themselves is appropriate to show significant ROIs. Still, those ROIs are consistently more sustainable and impactful when startups stick it out in growing and developing their content strategy.

Think of it this way: When a cruise ship, a massive vessel, veers just a few degrees off course from its original route, it doesn't appear to matter much in the few minutes or even hours following. But as more time passes, the new path deviates so significantly from the original course that the ship could be hundreds of miles off from its destination.

The same logic applies to content marketing – it may take time for content to impact your organic search traffic, inquiries, leads, and conversions. Still, with time, startups will see long-term, sustainable growth in the sales and revenue metrics that matter most.

5). "We tried a blog once, and it didn't work…"

This lie is somewhat connected to the previous one but operates on a slightly different principle. For example, I'm a distance runner. I run about 70 miles weekly, but does that mean I'm in the same class as a 2-hour, 30-minute marathoner? No. Similarly, I love to cook, but does that mean I'm Julia Child? Mais non!

A blog and a successful blog that continually draws interest, traffic, leads, and shares/engagement on social media are two very different propositions. Again, given the ease with which a startup can simply create a profile on a free blogging site, toss up basic, redundant content, and then say they tried a blogging or content marketing approach, it's pretty understandable to see how so many startups get caught in this particular lie.

A blog and associated content marketing strategy should be considered and given as much weight as traditional marketing methods, especially given the sheer volume of B2B customers online and in the social sphere. Simply updating your blog once every two weeks with a 200-word article that is no more dynamic than a blurb from your website or info sheet and does not constitute a sincere attempt at a content marketing strategy.  


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Nick hails from Northern Illinois where he writes, runs, home brews, and spends time with his wife, daughter, and pug.

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