5 Common Advertising Mistakes That Startups Make (and How to Avoid Them)

Entrepreneurs can’t afford to make big mistakes. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in five small businesses fail in their first year, and about half of small businesses fail by their fifth year. That means every resource available to an entrepreneur is precious. And one of the easiest—and perhaps fastest—ways to lose time and money is through advertising.

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Common advertising mistakes and ways to avoid them

You invest in advertising without a thorough business or marketing plan

If you begin advertising without a true grasp of your business model, your audience will find it hard to know how to respond to your advertising. A vague grasp of your business isn’t enough.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the roadblocks in your path?
  • What kinds of milestones do you wish to achieve?
  • How long will it take your business to attain profitability?

Answering these questions will help you put together an effective marketing plan. You don’t have to watch episodes of “Shark Tank” for very long before you notice how quickly participants without a marketing plan or a business plan fail to get a deal.

Your advertising is self-absorbed

Entrepreneurs dedicate a huge part of themselves to getting their product to succeed. Because of the hours, days, months and years spent focusing on their business, they understandably feel very proud of it.

However, don’t allow emotional involvement in your business to show through in your advertising. While you should be excited about your product and your company, consumers are usually not eager to be exposed to a commercial message from yet another seller talking about how amazing they are.

Your advertising will have a better impact if you focus, instead, on how your customers benefit from your product and what it can do for them.

Consider these subtle changes to make an impact:

  • Saying “you” or “your” more often than “we” or “us.”
  • Incorporating empathy for your customer’s pain points.
  • Keeping your message clear and simple.

Taking the focus off your product and making sure that your advertising is all about showing your customers how the product improves their lives is the way to advertise successfully.

Think of your advertising like a story, with your customer as the hero. You and your product are the guides that help them accomplish their goals and overcome any obstacles. For example, if your company advertising was the movie “Star Wars,” then your customer would be Luke Skywalker and you would be Yoda.

Related: How to Advertise Your Business on Social Media

Your business isn’t ready for high demand

When you build a great product and advertise it well, you hope that it will be a runaway success. Often, however, many small businesses aren’t prepared for the massive rush of orders or requests for more information that advertising delivers.

If you’ve got a website, make sure it’s capable of handling an increase in traffic from the interest that your advertising generates. A website crash means lost orders and frustrated customers. It’s also helpful to ensure that your site loads quickly, because modern shoppers are an impatient bunch: one study estimates that a business loses roughly 25 percent of its online visitors if its site takes over four seconds to load.

There’s also the matter of fulfillment. If you take weeks (or worse, months) to fulfill the backlog of orders you receive, you’ll deal with customers demanding refunds and never buying from you again. Worse, they may share that information with their friends and family or post a negative review of your business. A tarnished reputation can take forever to rebuild.

Be absolutely sure your advertising plans line up with your capacity to service the orders and attention that will result.

You neglect to identify your target audience

You might think your product or service is right for every consumer out there. Your advertising, however, can’t be intended for everyone (and, while I hate to break it to you, your product isn’t, either).

Excessively broad advertising campaigns lack focus and can fail to touch individual customers. Imagine you’re a fisherman out at sea. Casting a net in a random part of the ocean may result in a big catch, but much of what you catch may be of no commercial value.

Similarly, it’s important to think about what particular age, gender, occupation, income level, etc. you need to appeal to in order to capture your target audience. If you are attracting people who can’t use your product, your advertising dollars are effectively being wasted.

Focus on using your advertising to present an attractive option to specific groups, one at a time. Once you advertise and sell successfully to one or two individual groups of customers, word-of-mouth will help your business gain popularity among other potential customer groups.

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You neglect to embrace your individuality

In most cases, your product will not be unique. It may be better than the competition’s products in some ways, but not necessarily one-of-a-kind. This means that you will need to consider how competing products from better-established companies also vie for the attention of your target customers.

Tackling the market with advertising that looks more or less the same as advertising by the competition gives potential customers little to no good reason to switch brands. It’s important to avoid this mistake and to advertise in a way that provides buyers with an angle that allows them to see your product as different and better-suited to their needs than competing products.

Here are a few examples: In the complicated world of health insurance, Oscar stands out by stressing its simplicity. In cosmetics, Lush speaks to its customers’ values (social and corporate responsibility), rather than a perfect out-of-reach image of beauty.

Start perfecting your elevator pitch, or how you describe what your business is and the products it creates. Chances are that you’re already explaining what sets you apart without even realizing it, and you can take pieces from your pitch and work them into your advertising campaign.

Finding success in advertising your startup’s product or service tends to be much more complex than advertising for a large corporation. You need to work harder to sharpen customer focus and create a message that resonates with your target audience. Avoiding these five mistakes can be an excellent way to get started.

Originally published on Feb. 12, 2020.

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