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Why Marketing Matters as Much as Technology for Startups

mark zuckerbergA lot of promising startups ended up in the scrap heap of broken dreams because they didn’t understand the importance of marketing. Many entrepreneurs have failed because they believe that building a great product will win the race. While there are always exceptions, building a great product usually only gets you to the starting line. One of the greatest challenges facing startups is convincing enough potential customers that they should trade their hard earned dollars or limited time for the thing you created. Fortunately, we can learn from companies like Facebook who used marketing to gain massive adoption.

Why Facebook Succeeded
How was Facebook able to crush their competitors and gain nearly a billion users? In the early days there were numerous social networks throughout the country and it was hard to argue that Facebook had the very best technology. Sites like Friendster had a huge head start and millions of users while Facebook was being run by a small team of college students out of a dorm room. Yes, Zuckerberg emphasized the importance of creating a great product that rarely went down (unlike Friendster) and keeping it “cool” by being conservative with banner ads. However, a key reason Facebook succeeded was that Zuckerberg was a masterful marketer who understood what people wanted and executed a great marketing strategy. For example, a great move early in the company was to make the site exclusive to people who had a .edu email address to create artificial scarcity and brand themselves as the social network for college students. They also targeted the influencers like students at Harvard and Stanford. They took requests for launching Facebook on campuses and only launched there when they received enough requests. When a university wanted to use their own school social network instead of Facebook, they launched at surrounding schools so all the students’ friends would be on Facebook. This encouraged the students to influence the faculty to support Facebook’s social network instead. Facebook focused on connecting people with their “poke” feature, relationship status, photo albums, messaging, and The Wall, none of which were considered revolutionary technology but aligned perfectly with their brand of connecting people. You could argue that Google Plus is a better product than Facebook in multiple ways, however they have been unable to make much of a dent into Facebook’s share of social media time. According to ComScore, Google Plus users spend an average of 3 minutes per month on the site as of February 2012 while Facebook users spend an average of 405.

Where to Start
To be successful at marketing, the first and most critical step is to develop a marketing strategy. As Sun Tzu said “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” A lot of companies make the mistake at throwing tactics at the wall to see what sticks or doing whatever tactic is popular or used by their competitors. This is far less effective then using tactics that will support the long term goals of the company while also attracting new customers in the short term. John Jantsch describes strategy as “your marketing reason for being” which inform every marketing decision. The tactics you implement should be aligned with the strategy that you have established.

Do you agree that marketing is just as important as technology for startups? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo by Robert Scoble

Charles Sipe writes for Sparkplug Digital, an online marketing company that helps tech companies execute effective online marketing campaigns. You can contact us at info(at)sparkplugdigital.com. Charles tweets about marketing and SEO at @charlessipe

2 Comments
  1. My thoughts exactly. Unless you’re a rare exception like Instagram or an Omgpop (creators of Draw Something), product alone won’t be enough to stand out. Product, design, UX, etc… should always be priority #1, but tech startups are only shooting themselves in the foot if they take the stance that marketing is somehow optional or unnecessary.

    The tough part I think is knowing when to go full throttle with marketing and when to ease into it, especially in the early stages. There are many example of companies who push too hard when the product isn’t ready or the business model isn’t proven. There’s also the reverse, when the product is beyond ready, yet owners are still hesitant to tell the world about it. It’s a delicate balance.

  2. Great points. Thanks Dan! Your tweet inspired this post by the way.

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