There’s a trap when it comes to startup marketing. Far too many founders and their teams get stuck trying to find that mythical beast of marketing: virality. You know it exists because you’ve seen it on the internet. But where does it live, can it be bred in captivity, can it even be domesticated?
All good questions. But the bigger issues comes down to why it’s problematic to rest the life or death of your startup on something akin to “here be dragons”. Relying on virality for your marketing to succeed means taking more risks than are necessary.
“But”, I hear you say, “startups are all about risk!” True, that’s why the real key is approaching virality in the right way. That means experimenting, being realistic, and building in contingencies.
A Classic Example of Doing Startup Marketing Wrong
So you have a fantastic idea and want to build a company around it. You decide the best way to explain your vision to the world is to pay a professional animation company to create a high-quality video which goes over everything. The video costs $10,000 to make. Once made, it will serve as the basis for a kickstarter campaign to get your idea funded and off the ground.
What’s the problem with that approach?
Too Many Difficult Steps
Several things. The first is that there are too many components, all of which have to work properly for the campaign to succeed, built into the plan. If you create a startup marketing plan which fails if even a single step goes wrong, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure.
The Sunk Cost Fallacy
The second problem is that you’re making yourself vulnerable to the sunk cost fallacy. This is a principle in economics that makes us believe that if we’ve spent money on something it’s value is somehow greater, when that’s actually not the case at all. By putting so many resources into making that video, you’re locking yourself into that one strategy and making it unlikely you’ll be able to successfully pivot if something changes.
All or Nothing
Not to mention the problem of putting all of your eggs in one basket. You’re likely blowing your entire early startup marketing budget on this single approach. If it fails, it’s game over no matter how successful any other part of your startup may be. Once again, that makes for unnecessary risk.
How to Do Things Differently
Start with the first issue, too many steps. The thing about entrepreneurs is that most of their initial assumptions about their business are usually wrong. What you need to do then is plan for that. At every stage of your marketing plan, ask yourself “what do I do if this fails?” Understand that you’re going to be learning what works and what doesn’t as you go and don’t take what goes wrong as a pure failure. Learn and adapt.
Speaking of which, there are two ways to avoid falling prey to the sunk cost fallacy I mentioned above. The first is to simply be aware of it, to never let yourself get stuck in that mindset when making decisions. Spending a lot of money on something doesn’t make it smart.
Beyond that, breaking up your marketing into smaller experiments avoids the problem of spending a ton of money on a single big ‘hail mary’ stunt. If a small marketing experiment only costs you $100, it’s easier to move on both emotionally and financially if it doesn’t go right. You stay lean and adaptable.
An Example of Doing it Right
Let’s say you take that same $10,000 you were planning on devoting towards a high quality video for a kickstarter campaign and try something different.
The Safe Route
A more conservative approach would be to try dividing your resources into smaller bundles and devoting them to a variety of small marketing experiments like a Pay Per Click campaign, some A/B tested landing pages, some podcast advertising, etc. There are also good ways to still try for virality without taking the kind of risks detailed above.
Satrtup Marketing: Going for Virality the Right Way
We here at Hop Online are big believers in content marketing, we’ve seen it work time and time. But one element many people don’t consider is that you can create articles, infographics, and other similar content which is designed to go viral, but still enjoy the benefits if it doesn’t.
So, if you were hoping for 1000+ shares and you only get 40, that doesn’t mean the content was a failure. It can still be a part of building up high quality content on your site to boost its ratings and bring in organic traffic. It’s a bit of both worlds.
It comes down to finding your own balance between the risks involved in any marketing strategy. So consider all of the possible outcomes, make a great plan, and be ready to adapt.
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