Why that marketing agency won’t get you the customers you need

There’s a disempowering perception out there in the business and startup world that marketing agencies have all the answers when it comes to making a product or service wildly successful. 

It comes from the deep-rooted belief that marketing is a special art that only marketing agencies have the power to wield.

This is a hangover from the pre-social-media days of TV, radio, and print advertising where the media owners were in full control of the scarce advertising real estate. 

How many times have you heard a founder or business owner say: “I’m not a marketing or advertising expert, so I’ll hire the professionals to do that part.” 

This also leads to the dangerous perception that working with an agency is going to be the silver bullet to getting to product-market fit and scaling exponentially. 

Nothing could be further from the truth, and this belief puts startup founders at great risk of spending big money and resources in the wrong areas at the wrong time – before they can even get their idea off the ground. 

Still, every week, founders contact us saying things like: 

“We haven’t spoken to many of our ideal target customers yet.

We wanted to forge ahead and get our SaaS platform built.

Now we’re wondering how best to prep our ideal customers so they’ll be willing customers when the platform goes live.”

OR 

“I don’t have any marketing expertise on the team to market the platform once it is built. Do you have any recommendations?” 

OR

“We’ve almost finished building the product, but I’m concerned we won’t have enough revenue or funding left to market it.”

It’s the classic “build it, market it, and they will come” fallacy. 

The ultimate fallacy leading founders straight to the startup graveyard. 

Learning this can cause founders a lot of confusion at first, though. 

“So, if marketing agencies are not the answer to the wild success of my product,” they enquire, “Does that mean the marketing is somehow up to me as the founder?” 

The answer, at first, is yes.

Here’s where things can get a little tricky to explain, but understanding this is crucial for every founder. 

Where many marketing and branding agencies excel is in: 

  1. Designing slick-looking graphics for websites, landing pages, apps, print materials, signage, merchandise, etc. 
  2. Driving traffic to your online presence via paid advertising

However, no matter how eye-catching and nice-looking your branding is, if your offer isn’t clear and the right people don’t understand the pain you’re trying to solve with it – beautiful branding alone will not create the sales you want. 

Your ideal customers need clarity that their problems are going to be solved for them to part with their money.

Equally, more traffic does not automatically mean more sales – or more of the right sales (i.e. to your ideal customer).

This is because, in most cases, marketing agencies will just work with what you’ve got when it comes to your organic online presence and the offer you’ve created. 

They will not do the deep work – with or for you – to work out exactly what your offer should be and for who (especially if you’ve built the wrong thing – they won’t do the work with you required to change that). 

They’ll do the best they can for you according to what you bring them. 

But if you bring them the wrong thing, they’ll market the wrong thing, and you run a high risk of not getting a return on that investment. 

If your online presence is unclear, or your offer is unwanted – because you didn’t do enough of the right market research before building your ‘solution’ – the marketing agency’s ads will yield crickets. 

Millions of founders spend millions of dollars globally with agencies only to realise the product they raced ahead and built isn’t wanted by any segment of the market. 

Ouch. 

This is particularly painful when they learn they could have come to the same conclusion more quickly – and much more cheaply – by following a proper product-innovation framework right from the beginning, saving all that wasted time and money. 

Marketing agencies won’t walk your product-innovation journey with you, but when we work with founders on their path from idea to exit, we take them on what’s called the “disruptive innovation journey,” which starts with three key stages. 

Completing these stages takes a lot of risk out of your startup without you having to spend much time and money working out how successful your idea is likely to be. 

  1. Vision-market fit: this is where you go through a systematic framework to do the right market research to find out if there’s a big enough market that makes your idea worth pursuing. 
  2. Problem-market fit: This is where you systematically conduct user research to find out what the big problems are in particular market segments related to the idea you have. You’re learning to deeply understand the potential user and find out where their biggest pain points are. You’re looking for a “pants-on-fire” problem worth solving (i.e. a problem that certain market segment would be very happy to pay to have solved).
  3. Concept-market fit: This is where you create low-cost prototypes or solution concepts like videos, storyboards, wireframes, and mockups of the proposed product so you can get feedback from users who are possible early-adopter customers about whether they’d actually use it or not.
    Once you’ve established that they would use it if you built it, then you give them a way to sign up to be a paying customer once it’s made, and then you can start the product build.
     

The next step is to soft launch an early iteration of your product to those people who signed up to be early-adopter customers. 

So, you can see, even at ‘initial launch’ stage of your product, a marketing agency still doesn’t come into the picture. 

But ticking off these early steps sets you up for taking the right offer and the right messaging to a marketing agency later down the line once you’re ready to scale up. 

If you’re a founder navigating the early stages of your startup and you’re committed to following a proven framework to ensure you build the right product without wasting money on developers and agencies too early, we can help. Fill out this short questionnaire, and introduce your idea to us.

 

Whenever you’re ready, here’s how we can help you.

If you’ve got a startup idea, or you’ve already embarked on your journey – you might be facing one or both of these situations.

  1. You’re struggling while going it alone. Worse, you’re wading in the muddy waters of some not-so-great advice.
  2. Perhaps you’re trying to raise capital for your startup and you’re hitting a dead end. Raising capital is a notoriously difficult thing to do. Globally, only 0.74% of startups manage to raise capital at Seed stage. Despite this, 16% of startups we’ve worked with were able to raise capital at Seed stage.

If you’re ready to step up and get the help you need, our Startup Builder™ program was created especially for you.

The Startup Builder™ process is specifically designed to take you all the way from idea to global success – in a way that’s simple, sustainable, and scalable.

If you’re ready to grow your revenue, profit, and social impact faster without wasting time and money on the wrong things at the wrong time, click here to request your Startup Builder™ Strategy Session.

 

Did you find this article valuable?

Go here to sign up to receive future weekly editions in your inbox.

On LinkedIn? Click here and press “follow” to get notified of the startup insights I share.

Share this article

Subscribe to our newsletter