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  • Tyler Harman

10 Marketing Myths

As soon as I call these "myths", everyone can take a sigh of relief and feel liberated. All of us have heard these sayings for years, and we all know deep down in our bones that they're not true.


But sometimes, we get a little insecure and see all these other brands doing well and hear experts repeating this nonsense. That's when we start to doubt ourselves and get tempted to believing them again. It's a cycle.


As Anatole France famously said, "If 50 million people say a stupid thing, it is still a stupid thing."


Let's get to the myths:


Myth 1. Find a big market to be successful.


Ironically, having a big market usually has the opposite effect. To illustrate the point, consider selling "comfortable dress shoes" that appeal to everyone. That's a giant market. But even though the sales potential is huge, remember, so is the competition (and their economies of scale), and so is the apathy most of that market will have for your general products.


However, if you went after a smaller market, maybe "comfortable dress shoes you could run a marathon in", you shrunk your market considerably, but you might also have a product someone would be interested in. Carve out your niche.


Myth 2. "It worked for our competitor, it will work for us."


First, who's to say it actually did work for them? Nobody knows. In fact, I'd be willing to bet your competitor doesn't know if it worked for them! Not to mention, if you do what they do, you're going to be compared to them, and then everything comes down to price, and you're a commodity. Don't fall for that trap.


Years ago, I worked at an ad agency and the slimy sales guys brought in two competitors and we unfortunately represented both of them. Both brands talked about the other, on how good the other one had it, how well their campaigns were probably going and how bad their own campaigns were.


So think for a second: That marketing strategy you're about to ditch because it doesn't work, there's probably a competitor out there right now, about to copy what you're doing because they think it's great!


Myth 3. Marketing is only for getting new customers.


If you haven't read my post on The Six Ways to Increase Sales, I suggest reading it. But also, there are FIVE other ways to increase sales, and many of those involve some kind of marketing.


At the heart of this myth is the assumption that you shouldn't have to do any work to keep your existing customers. But just know, one of the most hacky advertising campaigns out there is called "Conquesting" where your competitors bid on your brand name on Google search and try to steal your customers away from you right when they're trying to visit your website and make a purchase. Yes it's hacky, but there's a lot of hacks out there! What are you going to do about it?


Myth 4. Good products sell themselves.


"If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door." Wonderful words like that, they sure do paint a pretty picture in our heads regardless if they're true. The truth is, over the years, there were plenty of folks who did in fact build a better mousetrap, but nobody seemed to care. (Read about it here.)


Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx, told her story of bringing her product to the market. From coming up with the idea, designing, getting the patent, and finally clawing her way into the department stores to sell them. Such a triumphant story! Only to find out, that wasn't the "finish line", but the "starting line". Her products were collecting dust on the shelves and she had to figure out how to sell them before they got taken back off the shelves. (Spoiler alert, she did!)


Myth 5. You need to have a presence everywhere.


"What if this is the next big platform?" "We need to be early movers." Is there really a benefit of being there early? That's like saying, "Start advertising on TV before anyone's watching." Maybe if you just want a bunch of followers or subscribers, then fine, get there early. But, if what you're doing is shallow or it sucks, they won't follow you for long.


Think about the resources you'd need to do be everywhere. Most Fortune 500 companies don't even do that. Instead, focus on one or two channels or "core competencies" and master them--which is plenty time-consuming, by the way. Then if you want, you can expand once you have a foothold and a good process for keeping your audience engaged.


Myth 6. It's all about finding the right audience.


This is why people advertise on LinkedIn. "We have a B2B service, so we should hit these exact people on LinkedIn, because it's business!" The only people on LinkedIn are either looking for a job, founders patting themselves on the back, or enterprise sales guys. Truth is, talking about audiences in this context is the "war cry" of a novice who's repeating what they've heard, or someone who's scared to use all the tools in the bag. Clicking buttons and turning dials, "optimizing campaigns" and wasting money.


But if someone is saying that with a straight face, then they don't know who their customer is. Why did you build your product in the first place if you don't know who your customers are?


"Finding your audience", they're not your keys... Where was the last place you had your audience?


Myth 7. You need a big product launch to kick things off.


What you actually need is momentum from your grand opening, but it doesn't have to be grand. Instead, just start, and you can build from there.


But let's say you did get a bunch of great PR at the beginning, maybe you can find a way to ride that wave. But in terms of ad budgets--which is usually what people are talking about--I'd suggest you save your money. Find out what works first, then gradually increase budgets. Odds are, you're going to fail a few times before you strike oil.


The only exception to this rule is in "crowdfunding". Raising money on StartEngine, WeFunder, even Kickstarter and Indiegogo, momentum and hype is important, so you need to have a very thoughtful launch process. Or a nightclub where it has to be packed for someone to want to go in. But if you sell t-shirts online or app installs, it doesn't matter as much.


Myth 8. If nobody is buying your product, it's too expensive, lower the price.


Aside from the "find the right audience" remark, this is the second war cry of the novice. Lower the price, offer a discount, cart abandonment emails, compromise at every step.


Price is rarely the issue, if ever. In sales, we talk about the "price objection" which is usually a smoke screen for the real objection. Truth is, if lowering the price does work, you're a commodity, and the only thing that matters is your price. Not your brand, your quality, your reputation, nothing. Just price.


Unfortunately, most companies who debate this issue couldn't give their product away for free. That's right! I dared them to give it away for free, they did, and guess what? Nobody wanted it! There's actually a lot of opportunity in that realization, and the only direction to go from there, is up.


Myth 9. You need good content marketing and SEO.


Search engine optimization (SEO) is the snake oil of marketing. It's easy to sell to founders, and impossible to quantify--a truly great racket.


The biggest problem is, even if they do improve their ranking in the search results, it's linking to a blog post with the worst content known to man, since most people who write this drivel aren't qualified to speak on the subjects they're writing about. And now, they're using ChatGPT to write this content to be processed by the search algorithms. That's great. Robots marketing to robots. Money well spent.


Myth 10. Follow "best practices" and "traditional wisdom".


They'll tell you to use influencers, user generated content (UGC), get on TikTok, use SMS marketing, etc. Or worse, use expensive market research to understand your customers, spending money on campaigns to build email lists you don't do anything with.


There are no best practices by the time you get to them, and traditional wisdom is more tradition than wisdom. And when you hear someone use words like "best practices", they're usually just referring to something they've seen someone do way back when they were still an "empty cup" as the Zen story goes.


In conclusion.


As a startup, you're going from "0 to 1" (as opposed to "1 to 100"), which means you're forging your own path that's never existed, so you're going to have to think for yourself and do something new. The best advice you're probably going to get is going to be about work habits, hiring, and avoiding dangerous landmines. Not cute tips or tricks.


Or as Doc Brown famously said, "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads!"

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