5 Dos and Don’ts for Startup Marketing

In my 15+ years of experience as a marketer, I’ve learned my fair share of tips and tricks. When helping startup founders understand what marketing tactics are most effective for their own business, I like to keep it simple and actionable.

Below I share 5 different Dos and Don’ts – these are just a sample of some of the practical tips I share when looking at how you plan your marketing and activate it.

Hopefully, by considering some of these points, it can help you:

  1. Engage the right kind of customer that becomes a champion of your brand
  2. Attract decision makers to buy your product and help quicken sales cycles
  3. Enhance sales conversations with better quality content to keep potential customers warm until their ready to buy from you
  4. Build stronger relationships with customers through thoughtful and carefully crafted marketing messaging and tactics

This advice will be purely based on my own marketing experience.

Let’s jump in!

DO #1

Do take the time to build a clear and thoughtful messaging map.

You can start by answering the following questions and build on from there:

  • What answers are my customers looking for to do their own jobs better?
  • What’s relevant in the industry that my customers are probably thinking about a lot right now?
  • What information would really help my customer?
  • What inspires my customers?
  • If I chose one big problem/challenge my customer is facing, what would that be?

The output should be a small selection of key points, or even one big one, that you want to become known for.

But as well as being something you want to become known for, it also has to be something that your target customers really care about.

It’s far too easy to overcomplicate messaging or try to list absolutely everything you want to be known for, but this becomes confusing to the folk that are trying to understand who you are, what you do and how they feel about you.

Keep it simple and focus on the big things that you know your customers will genuinely be interested in.

Having a message map will keep you focused and accountable.

DON’T #1

Don’t use jargon or overly used messages in your marketing.

You might not even realise how much you could be doing it, but it’s a common pitfall for many businesses. Critically assess what you’re saying and make sure it’s clear, concise, and unique.

Generic/ boring messaging will do more harm than good in the long run.

Remember to ask yourself:

“Is this genuinely interesting? Or am I being boring and saying the same things as other companies? Is this message new to my customer or have they heard it many times before?”

So take time to think about how you can be different / interesting / provocative / unique / memorable in order to cut through all of the marketing out there and stand out to your customers.

Simply put – don’t be boring.

DO #2

Do build and execute ONE major tentpole programme that everything else is built around.

Startups can try to do too much and so the founders/ leaders can be overwhelmed with thinking they have to be across every channel to make a dent. When in reality, it’s when you’re trying to do absolutely everything that’s holding you back from driving real results.

The scatter marketing effort does not drive impact.

In my previous role as Director of EMEA Marketing at UserTesting, the one standout programme I awarded a lot of our success to (positive customer feedback and at least $5 million+ in direct attributed closed won sales) was The Espresso Webinar Series and it was down to consistency and value.

But more on this in number 3!

DON’T #2

Don’t plan your marketing with the channel first!

A lot of marketers build their plan by channel (which I’ve also been guilty of); events are planned, social is scheduled and blog posts are published all without establishing what the core message/ objective is of the activity. Instead of planning your marketing around the channel, try switching this up to the audience, message, and sales objectives.

For example, in Q4 2024, maybe you’re looking to attract 50+ Senior level decision makers across 5 of your Tier 1 accounts, in order to close 1 or 2 of them in Q1 2025.

Therefore, your marketing plan in Q4 2024 needs to be executed based on this objective.

This means looking at:

  • Producing content that matters most to this group
  • Providing experiences that engages this group
  • Showing up where this group already are to be easily found
  • Building a holistic experience that continually touches this group across different channels

It can feel a bit clunky at first, and you might get a tad nervous about specialising your marketing so much, but it’s a test worth trying.

With a bespoke approach, around a specific objective, it helps you measure the success of marketing’s effort when it’s directly focused on delivering a specific result.

DO #3

Do be consistent with your marketing programmes.

I mentioned The Espresso Webinar Series above. It was a hugely successful programme I ran at UserTesting that generated millions in revenue and tons of great feedback from customers (and it even got praise from the sales team). In essence, it was a series-led webinar series that aired live, every Thursday morning at 10am, for 30 minutes, interviewing Customer Experience leaders across all industries and professions. Our strapline was ‘Your Weekly Shot of CX’.

So, what made this programme so successful?

It was consistent above anything else. Every episode was live and the calibre of guests was high quality. We also prepared meticulously and the pre/ post promotion was repetitive, engaging and memorable.

The learning here is that being consistent with your programmes and building series-led experiences eventually become expected by your audience. This is the goal.

Giving a strong content programme time to mature builds real awareness, familiarity, and a deeper connection with your audience.

Take this as your sign to start that podcast/webinar series/in-person events series.

Consistency will pay off (if the programme is well executed of course).

DON’T #3

Don’t overlook the importance of brand.

If you’re constantly changing the way your brand looks or playing with your tone of voice, then your customers will notice and not for the right reasons. 

Commit to your brand and invest in getting design experts to set you up with the foundations, templates and guidelines to make sure your brand is defined and sparks recall across your target audience. Respect your brand assets and see every touch point as a connected experience for your customers.

The most successful companies in the world are successful because they built a memorable, strong and defined brand.

We can always do better with brand. Investing in your brand now will pay off in the long run – so don’t overlook its impact.

DO #4

Do design your content with each customer buying stage in mind to support decision making.

The simplest (but perhaps a tad old school) way of doing this is looking at the standard ‘funnel’ approach.

The typical funnel goes from (top to bottom):

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Conversion
  4. Loyalty
  5. Advocacy

However, I like to simplify this even more into 2 main categories:

  • ENGAGE: a variety of interesting, inspirational, or educational content that is most relevant to your audience and attracts your target audience and gets them to engage with your company in some way.
  • BUY: information relevant to your product, upfront objection handling content, pricing, FAQs, onboarding info, on-demand demo – basically information customers can access without having to meet with Sales.

Designing it like this will define what your content is trying to do, which will not only help you create it but also measure it – setting objectives for your content is key!

Basic human common sense tells us what messages are appropriate for people based on the situation.

For example, it’s unlikely you’d ask someone to marry you on the first date, so why would you cold email someone asking them to buy from you or even get on a call, when they know absolutely nothing about you and have never engaged with you before?

Unfortunately, too many sales folk still do this, which can ruin brand reputation and reduce the likelihood of purchase.

Think of your content as a journey.

Introduce → connect → build interest → develop relationship → drive decision


DON’T #4

Don’t rush into spending cash on paid media.

Before spending loads on paid media/Google ads, give yourself a bit of time to understand how your organic content is performing based on engagement and requested feedback.

Many Startups rush into using this channel, thinking it’s a ‘quick win’, without really thinking it through and then complain that they got no results.

‘Boosting’ your webinar on LinkedIn isn’t going to convert if it’s a last-minute decision without considering a proper paid media strategy.

Take time to understand how your message is resonating with your audience across your organic channels and ask for feedback to understand what your audience thinks about your messaging. Iterate your content to get it into the best shape possible before investing more.

It’s important to think about how this channel connects across other customer touch points.

For example, design a strong paid media campaign that you promote across organic social, email, website, sales, PR, and customer marketing channels so that you’re investing in a multi-channel campaign and giving the ad spend more chance to succeed.

There are many benefits to paid media: direct targeting being the main one and bringing your brand out of your small audience to a much greater one. My only caution is to take time to figure out what campaigns should be promoted before you jump in too fast.

DO #5

Do run in-person events with the customer experience at the forefront of your planning.

I love running events! Since I was a baby marketer, I’ve hosted countless events, from red carpet to roundtables - so I’ve learned a lot about how to get it right and also how to get it very wrong.

To ensure you deliver a positive customer experience at your event, you need to think about how you want your customers to feel when they’re invited, when they attend and even days after the event.

So many things can make an impact for your guests:

  1. The message: what’s the event about and what’s the hook for me to attend this
  2. The venue: does it sound like somewhere I want to go or can easily access
  3. The format: does it feel corporate? Social? Exclusive?
  4. The involvement: do I rock up and listen or will I be participating?

Ensure you are providing an appropriate event for that persona and you’re also thinking about how you align the event around your brand.

You want your attendees to remember this event (for the good reasons) and associate your brand to that experience, so it’s important to make sure the promotion, execution, and follow-up represents your brand in the best way possible.

Here are 9 questions to ask yourself when it comes to event planning:

  1. What’s the goal of this event?
  2. How will we measure the success of this event?
  3. What’s the invitation plan?
  4. What is the onsite plan / run of show to ensure we have every fine detail covered?
  5. What’s the health and safety plan to ensure our attendees are looked after?
  6. What do we want to say at this event?
  7. What is the aligned sales plan to this event?
  8. What is the holistic marketing plan for this to ensure effective promotion?
  9. What is the follow-up plan and next steps for attendees?

Lastly, when designing the entire event experience, try to focus on creating something unique.

There are a lot of events out there – so how can you stand out?

DON’T #5

Don’t overuse AI… yet.

The obsession with AI puts pressure on teams to embed AI into everything: creative, copywriting, and customer service.

At this relatively early stage of AI, approach with caution.

Artificial intelligence is undoubtedly great for helping get things done faster, but it can also get things wrong, and it can produce very generic/lacklustre outputs.

AI generated content can be obvious to your audience, especially when the prompting is basic instructions.

Don’t forget that AI can’t form an opinion (yet anyway) and so this is important to show in your marketing to make it feel like your own work.

So, use it, but don’t abuse it. Make sure your marketing still feels human.