Consider This Before Setting Your Marketing Strategy

As a marketer, it’s not uncommon to feel tempted to emulate the marketing strategy of another company you admire.

While there’s nothing wrong with drawing some inspiration from great companies, there’s a big risk involved with following someone else’s footsteps: they may be at a different point on the path, or might be on a different path entirely.

This brings up something every marketer should consider before developing a marketing strategy: the state of the industry you’re trying to enter.

Read moreConsider This Before Setting Your Marketing Strategy

If Your Startup Isn’t Growing, Here May Be The Reason Why

If growth at your startup has stagnated, not knowing the cause can be enormously frustrating. The good news is that there’s probably a good reason your startup isn’t growing. In this post, I’m going break down three of the most common roadblocks so you know where to begin.

The 3 Reasons Your Startup Isn’t Growing

OK, there aren’t only three reasons a startup isn’t growing. Poor culture, legal issues, regulatory changes, and other factors can all contribute equally. But here, we’re going to focus on the three most common reasons related to product and marketing.

Reason #1 – Bad Product: Let’s face it… you can only get so far before people realize your product isn’t great. If you’re reading this and aren’t aware if your own product is good or bad, I’ll just assume that (a) you’re brand new at your job; or (b) you already know deep down inside and you’re hoping that this article will let you off the hook.

Reason #2 – Bad Marketing: Your product is fine. Maybe it’s even great. And people seem to buy it. But they’re not responding to your marketing, because, well… it’s lame. If you’re a marketer, you probably don’t want this to be the reason. But better you find out yourself then someone else (your boss?) be the one to break you the news.

Reason #3 – Bad Market: Trying to sell the world’s best yoga mat to your local Harley-Davidson club? Life insurance to a 17-year old? This weird, cucumber-flavored Pepsi to someone who doesn’t live in Japan? You get the idea. You’ll always hit a brick wall if they’re selling a great product to the wrong market.

So which one of these is the main culprit? Keep reading and we’ll find out…

It’s 3rd Grade All Over Again, And I’m Giving You a Worksheet To Do For Homework

At least I won’t be grading you on the results. And this assignment will only take about 5 minutes. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. First, download and print this PDF.
  2. Grab a #2 pencil (or go really crazy and make it a #4)
  3. Below is a list of 10 areas you’ll evaluate your company on. Read them now and then return here.
  4. Go through each line on your worksheet and rate your company as weak, average, or strong. Don’t spend more than 30 seconds on each.
  5. At the bottom of this post you’ll find what results look like for a company with a bad product, bad marketing, or a bad market. Don’t peek! Whatever result your worksheet most closely resembles will point you to the real reason your startup isn’t growing.

Finally, at the end of this post, I’ll provide a bit more commentary on each result. 3-2-1-Go!

Click here to download your worksheet

Rating Your Company On These Areas Will Help You Find The Real Reason Your Startup Isn’t Growing

Again, on your worksheet, you’ll find these ten areas listed. Which of these your company is weak or strong in will indicate where your problem lies.

PPC/SEM Marketing – anywhere you spend money to drive leads, clicks, etc. Evaluate the ads themselves, not the entire conversion funnel (here are some good benchmarks to reference). Why this matters: if your ads themselves perform well but you’re not growing, it probably indicates a product- or market-related problem.

Search traffic for your product/company – what’s the search volume for the name of your company or if applicable, your own products? Nonexistent? Moderate? Growing? Why this matters: if people are searching for you, they’ve probably heard about you from someone else. That’s a usually good thing!

Search traffic for related terms – this is the search volume for terms that are related to what you do, like “landing page software”, “energy efficient lightbulbs”, or “books on how to find a girlfriend”. Why this matters: if there’s high search volume for things related to what you do, that’s a good sign that there’s a market for what you’re selling.

PR coverage – are other sites interested in writing about you? Or does your local newspaper turn you down so they have space to cover that local fashion show for seniors? Why this matters: if you can’t get any PR, chances are your product isn’t interesting or valuable enough to be worth writing about.

Direct/referral traffic – having plenty of these visitors means people are (a) bookmarking your site, (b) heading there directly, or (c) coming to your site from articles written about you. Why this matters: it means you’re doing something right – people love you enough to visit you often to tell others.

Website Conversion Rate – you might generate lots of “top of the funnel” interest from a paid ad campaign, but once visitors actually learn what you do on your website, are they still interested? Why this matters: a low-performing site means your product just isn’t compelling, or that you haven’t described it clearly.

Sales Close Rate – do leads show up for calls, and are they closing at a healthy rate? Or do you resort to discounts just to get a few closes? Why this matters: a really good marketing team can get people interested, but if the product is weak and/or the market is wrong, then sales won’t get very far.

Referrals – what portion of your does your growth come from referrals? If your not sure what a good benchmark is, look at this article from FriendBuy. Why this matters: if you’re getting little growth from referrals, that’s a sign that people aren’t passionate enough about your product to tell others.

Retention/Repeat Purchases – do your customers buy from you again? And if you’re selling a subscription-based product, do they stick around for long? Why this matters: low retention or a low repeat purchase rate is a major red flag that your product doesn’t fit with the market.

Reviews/Net Promoter Score – either one will tell you what people really think about your product. If you don’t know how to measure NPS, here’s how to do it. Why this matters: low ratings on either metric are a sign that your product is weak. But if you have high ratings and still aren’t growing, that points to a marketing issue.

Which Type of Problem Are You Facing?

With your worksheet complete, compare it to the three examples below. Chances are it will line up with one more closely than others. If you find a match, read that section to find out the real reason your startup isn’t growing.

Can’t find a match? Read each section a few times, and you’ll probably start to see one that sounds mostly like you. And if you’re still not sure, there’s probably a combination of reasons your startup isn’t growing. More commentary on that at the end.

What A Bad Product Looks Like

This is the easiest to diagnose, so we’ll start here. Your product gets few referrals, weak reviews, and customers don’t stick around for long.

when your startup isn't growing because of bad product

When your startup has a bad product, you might be able to get people to buy it, but as soon as they find out what it’s like, your referrals, retention, and reviews will suffer.

You might get away with decent performance in your paid ad campaigns, perhaps because you’re still addressing a need that your target market actually has. And perhaps your sales team or website can even do a decent job of generating new customers. But as soon as people find out what your product is really like, the truth becomes evident.

How is this different from a bad market? These two problems are most easily confused, so let’s look at that one next…

What A Bad Market Looks Like

The tricky thing about having a bad market is that you’re also likely to see mediocre reviews, a poor net promotor score, and weak referrals – just like you do with a bad product.

But there’s a key difference.

When you’re trying to sell to the wrong market, nearly everything is a challenge. There’s not a lot of search traffic in your product category, so you can’t rely on SEO. Since your paid ads aren’t really addressing a need that your market has (or understands) they’re never going to work well.

when your startup isn't growing because of bad market

Selling to the wrong market is the toughest battle to face – nearly nothing works!

You might have pockets of people who “get” how valuable your product is. But if you’re finding that potential customers just don’t understand the problem you’re trying to solve (regardless of how well you describe it), then you’re probably selling to the wrong market.

This can be a particularly thorny problem if you’ve sold most of the “early adopters” in your market but haven’t established enough credibility to sell to the “early majority.” The book Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey A. Moore, provides some great insights here. If you were growing quickly early on but now your startup isn’t growing at all, it’s definitely worth a read.

What Bad Marketing Looks Like

If a bad marketing strategy is your main issue, then your company’s growth is mainly limited by your success with referrals, PR coverage, and search traffic.

when your startup isn't growing because of bad marketing

If you have a great product, some people will still buy it despite your poor marketing. You’re lucky – this is actually the best problem to have, as it’s the easiest to fix.

When customers have great things to say about you, when the press loves writing about how wonderful you are, and when more and more people search for you online, then you know that that product and the market are solid. So if these things are happening but your startup isn’t growing, it’s probably because: (1) you haven’t found the right marketing channel; (2) your ad campaigns themselves aren’t messaged properly; or (3) you haven’t figured out how to convert paid traffic into revenue.

While no one gets joy in learning that their marketing needs improvement, this is actually this best scenario to find yourself in. If you have a great product and are selling it to the right market, then marketing is really there to serve an accelerator for growth – not the only thing keeping your company alive!

The World Is Messy, And The Real Answer Might Be A Combination Of The Above

Of course, there’s probably more than one reason your startup isn’t growing. So which problem do you fix first? Here’s a quick rule of thumb:

  • Great marketing can only do so much to offset a bad product. If you’re dealing with bad marketing and a bad product, then improve the product first. Focusing marketing will only get you short-term gains. But you can actually build a business on a great product.
  • Likewise, a great product cannot account for a bad market. If you’re facing both of these issues, find the right market to sell to first. The right market will tell you what problems they need addressed (if you ask), and will lead you to the right product and the right way to market to them.
  • In other words, focus on fixing your marketing last. This may sound counter-intuitive coming from a blog that’s focused on marketing, but if you deal with the underlying issues of bad product and bad market first, you’re marketing will be much more effective.

Have you dealt with this conundrum at your own company? If so, what was the underlying issue – and how did you solve it? Let me know if the comments.


This post was originally published on Flag and Frontier, my marketing consulting business for B2B technology companies.

Should You Hire a Marketing Agency For Your Startup?

One of the defining characteristics of a startup is that you never seem to have enough people to get everything done. Marketing is no exception. The desire for extra marketing help is always going to be there, whether you’re a team of one or one hundred. While recognizing that you need to add manpower is simple, deciding whether to hire more employees or bring on a marketing agency isn’t so straightforward. There’s no answer that works for everyone.

I recently went through this dilemma myself. And to help you learn from my experience, I wanted to share why I decided to consider a marketing agency and what questions I asked myself to make the decision.

Read moreShould You Hire a Marketing Agency For Your Startup?

How to Sharpen Your Marketing Message by Creating Personas

We see and hear as many as 5,000 marketing and advertisement messages a day. From what we read in magazines to what we hear on the radio, we are bombarded with advertisements. But how many of those do you think we pay attention to? Probably very few. We’re so overwhelmed with marketing messages we tune most of them out.

How Personas Get Your Message Heard

Unfortunately, the large majority of your marketing messages get tuned out too.

To cut through this message clutter and reach your prospective customers, you need to create marketing personas. “Personas” may sound odd if you’ve never heard about them, but they’re easy and fun to create.

A persona is a thorough and detailed description of your ideal buyer or customer. Personas tell the story of your customers’ behaviors, needs, and concerns. They help you understand your prospects better so you can speak to them clearly and directly in your advertising messages.

While creating personas might seem like an unnecessary step, the work is invaluable. Without them, your marketing messages will be less effective at cutting through the clutter, and less effective means fewer new members at a higher cost to acquire them.

So now that you know why you need personas, you’re probably starting to wonder how to create them. Well, just read on.

Steps For Creating Personas

Do Research

Your goal is to thoroughly understand your prospective customers. To do this, you need to do some research. You can conduct interviews with your customers, send surveys to your community, or talk to people in your network.

Go into the research process methodically and with an open mind. It’s easy to think you know your people, but you’ll be a bit surprised with what else you can learn. You should also start with a set of basic questions or a template for what you want to find out. But be sure to ask open-ended questions to generate conversations.

Here are some common things you’ll want to find out:

  • Personal details like age, gender, goals, motivation, challenges, education, spouses/children
  • Professional or career background, skills needed for their work, approximate household income (if willing to share)
  • Where and how they like to find information (ex: social media, books, magazines, the news, etc.)
  • Where and how they like to shop, and where they buy nutrition items and supplements
  • Things specific to your business (ex: what programs they like, how far would they drive to get to you, ideal hours of operation, etc.)
  • Why (and how) they were attracted to your business.

Identify the Traits of Your Ideal Customer

Now you’ll need to take the information you collected and start to make sense of it. You’ll want to look for patterns and common characteristics to tell the story, or stories, of your prospects and members.

For instance, do you have a customer base that’s mostly female and professionally-minded? Or is your community young men who are family-focused? Try to find the commonalities in the stories you’ve collected. It’s normal to have a couple of different stories emerge, and you can have as many personas as you need to account for the generalities in your community.

Document Your Persona(s)

Here’s where you can be creative. There’s no right way to document your personas. You can use poster board, PowerPoint, a whiteboard, or any other medium that captures the nuances of your personas. Some people like to name their personas so they are easy to remember, and assigning an image to your persona is also helpful. You will want to keep and use your personas for the foreseeable future, so be sure they will be savable.

After you’ve created your personas, share them with your team. Ask for their feedback on what you’ve created. Your team will have ideas to help you refine your personas. 

Using Your Personas to Reach Prospects

Now it’s time to be heard above all the marketing noise, or cut through it with a well-sharpened knife, if you will. You can use your personas to create targeted advertisements and marketing messages, using words and ideas that will resonate with your ideal prospect. For instance, let’s use the examples we gave above.

An advertisement for working professional females building their career will differ significantly from an advertisement for ex-corporate, entrepreneurial males.  Not only will the words you’d want to use be different, but the colors, images, and the main point of your message will be as well. Your personas will also give you insight for promotions and seasonal attendance drivers, as well as clarity on where to post your advertisements. 

Another thing that makes personas helpful is the ability to address a person’s reasons for wanting your product, or conversely, not wanting your product. If you speak to these issues in your marketing messages, they will be compelling and powerful.

Personas Are a Powerful (And Necessary) Tool

Personas must be a part of your marketing strategy, and they’re essential for building a strong brand. They will make your marketing messages targeted, specific, and effective for your intended audience. Although they take a little time to create, they are invaluable and will help you grow your business.


The post was originally published on Causely, where I was co-founder and CMO.

Your Growth Will Fall Short Without A Brand Promise. Here’s Why.

“Come on,” my dad quipped, pretending not to notice the look of sheer horror pasted on my face. “It’ll be fun. I promise.

I was just a 9-year old kid, getting ready to ride a roller coaster called the Loch Ness Monster: 3,240 feet of bright yellow steel tubing wrapped around itself like a two contortionists playing a game of Twister in the middle of tornado. I nearly crapped my pants when I saw it.

Read moreYour Growth Will Fall Short Without A Brand Promise. Here’s Why.

6 Reasons The Facebook Ad Platform Is Really Just A Terminator

If I said that the Facebook ad platform is the most powerful ad network in the world, it might sound a little crazy. It also happens to be true. Do you know why?

It’s because the Facebook ad platform is actually an experimental software-only version of Skynet’s artificially intelligent autonomous war machines, also known as Terminators. Here are the six pieces of evidence that prove it :).

Read more6 Reasons The Facebook Ad Platform Is Really Just A Terminator