Why Startups Stumble With Marketing

Mark Evans
3 min readAug 20, 2014

Marketing is treacherous ground for startups because it makes them operate outside their comfort zones.

As a result, many initial stabs at marketing fail to deliver. It’s unfortunate given that marketing is expected to drive brand awareness, fuel the sales and lots of other good stuff.

So why does a startup’s marketing efforts stumble?

Here are some of the biggest culprits:

1. Lack of clarity about marketing goals: It’s not enough to do marketing because it seems like the right thing. It makes no sense, for example, to embrace marketing because rivals are using it successfully. Instead, startups need well-defined strategic and tactical goals. It does not mean having a crystal clear idea about what to do, but there are objectives – e.g. more Website traffic, leads, downloads, media coverage, etc. This gives marketing clarity, rather than ambiguity.

2. A product not ready for prime time: While the “Lean Startup” approach suggests the path to success lies in rapid product iteration, many startups do not have the luxury of offering a product with warts. The marketplace is too competitive. If a startup’s product is unable to go to head-to-head, it’s difficult for marketing to work. It’s the old adage that you can’t put lipstick on a pig. If a startup’s product is just okay, marketing can’t perform magic.

3. Insufficient resources: Marketing success depends on having the horses to make it happen. You can do lots of planning but it’s a pointless if there are not enough people and money to execute. This is a big challenge for startups. While marketing sounds good strategically (aka talking), the hard part is making it happen tactically (aka walking) without people and money.

4. A lack of commitment: This should really be 3A because it’s so intertwined. A startup may have a solid marketing strategy and resources but it’s not able to pull the trigger tactically. Having to actually invest in marketing is a show stopper due to cost, uncertainty or shifting priorities. As a result, marketing execution never happens or everything comes to a screeching halt before the ball is pushed into the end zone. For marketers, this is frustrating because all the work done to prime the pump goes for naught despite the initial enthusiasm.

5. Letting marketing operate in isolation: To succeed, there is alignment between marketing and sales, product development and customer service. It thrives when everyone sits at the same table to create clarity about the objectives, target audiences and the strategic and tactical options. This lets marketing become a key cog in the machine rather than operating in a vacuum. As important, it is easier for the organization to get behind marketing because they are part of the process rather than bystanders.

6. Weak or non-existent approval processes: Unless a marketer has compete autonomy (not always a good thing), it is important to have approval processes that provides structure and workflow. Marketing thrives when it is agile and opportunistic. It falters when there is bureaucracy and an unclear path to tactical execution.


For startups looking to jump-start their marketing, I offer strategic and tactical services: marketing strategies, core messaging, product marketing and content development.



Mark Evans

A fractional CMO for B2B SaaS looking to attract & engage better prospects. I focus on positioning, planning, and content-driven marketing. marketingspark.co