Digital marketing strategies are arguably the best way to grow a business—especially a tech startup that’s looking to reach a wide audience and scale with online product and service offerings. But the sad truth is that employing a digital marketing strategy is no guarantee of success.
It’s hard to determine what percentage of digital marketing strategies succeed or fail, since the definition of “success” varies (as we’ll see). However, it’s reasonable to conclude that the majority of digital marketing strategies don’t achieve their full potential—and a disproportionate number of strategies end up losing money for their respective businesses.
So why is it that so many digital marketing strategies fail?
First, we need to define what “success” in digital marketing is—and incidentally, this is the first point of failure for startup entrepreneurs. Too many people go into marketing without a clear definition of success of their own to guide the strategy. If you don’t know what success looks like, how can you possibly achieve it?
There are a few different ways to define success in marketing, but the most common metric is your return on investment, or ROI. Your ROI is a measure of how much money a strategy brought your business, compared to how much you spent to achieve those results. means you made money, and the higher your ROI is, the better. A negative ROI is a clear indication that some element of your strategy isn’t working.
However, you may be more interested in achieving a specific level of success; for example, you may want your marketing strategy to bring in 100,000 new customers, regardless of how high or low the ROI is. What’s important is that you have some goal and some definition of success to drive you.
Lack of a Coherent Vision
Similarly, many digital marketing strategies fail because they lack a coherent, overarching vision. A marketing strategy is a set of ideas and directives designed to help you achieve a goal. Within that strategy are many tactics you’ll use, such as email marketing or search engine optimization (SEO).
Too often, marketers focus exclusively on tactics; they execute the ground-level work to bring new customers to the brand, but they don’t have a “big picture” vision to tie all those ground-level tactics together. Without a foundation to provide a map for all those individual tactics, those tactics will remain unguided, and may fail.
Your company’s brand is at the heart of all its marketing, advertising, and core messaging—. Throughout all these materials, your brand should be front and center, and it should be presented consistently.
On a superficial level, you can think about your company’s name, identity as it relates to colors, logo, and other visual features. But on a deeper level, you should be thinking about your core values, your tone, your voice, and how your brand is different than your competitors. These features should shine through whatever other messages you want to present—and should be consistent across all mediums and channels.
Overly Independent Channels
Modern digital marketing includes attention to a multitude of different channels, including email, social media, search engine results pages (SERPs), and banners on various websites. There are dozens of ways to reach your customers, and the most effective marketers know that you’ll need some combination of these to see the best results.
However, there’s a difference between adopting a true “omnichannel” strategy and simply investing in many different channels simultaneously. Well-executed omnichannel marketing strategies attempt to unify these channels and give customers a cohesive overall experience. If each channel offers a different message and an experience so unique that it feels like a different brand, it’s not going to work in your favor.
Cheap and/or Spammy Tactics
In an effort to see fast results or spend as little as possible, some brands succumb to investing in spammy or cheap marketing tactics. For example, they may buy spammy backlinks in an effort to boost their domain authority or buy an email list to send marketing emails to as many people as possible—even if they never signed up to receive those emails.
In the short-term, some of these tactics can work. They provide decent on-paper results. But long-term, they almost never pan out. Eventually, your business could attract a penalty from Google or get blacklisted by email service providers. And even if you escape that fate, your reputation may take a massive hit.
Not Investing Enough
On a similar note, some digital marketing strategies fail because the business wasn’t willing to invest enough to make the strategy work. Sometimes, it takes more money to invest in quality work; a $10,000 designed website is probably going to look better and be more functional than a $100 one. Other times, investment is a form of trouncing the competition. For example, if all your competitors are paying $10,000 per month on marketing in a specific channel, and you’re only paying $1,000 per month, you’re not going to beat them. If you spend $15,000 per month, you’ll almost certainly rise to the top.
Obviously, there’s such a thing as investing too much, but investing too little can also be a death sentence.
Taking Competition Head On
Your startup is going to have competition, whether it’s now or later. Competing effectively is all about finding a way to compete indirectly. If you try to compete directly, you’ll be butting heads against an entity that already has experience in this area, or that is willing to outspend you. Instead, try to compete in a way that renders their power useless.
For example, instead of competing to win the attention of a national audience, try to appeal to a local audience. You could also appeal to a different target demographic.
Investing Too Much Too Early
Digital marketing depends on an ongoing process of measurement, evaluation, and adaptation. The more time you spend marketing and advertising, the more you’ll learn about your audience, your competition, and even your brand itself. With this increased knowledge, you’ll be able to spend money more efficiently and market “better.”
This course requires your business to gradually increase its investment over time. If you invest too much, too quickly, you’ll be investing quite heavily into a strategy that has not yet proven itself, with minimal knowledge to work with.
Lack of Measurement
Marketing without measurement is like throwing darts blindfolded. You can’t see the target and you can’t see whether your shots are landing. Despite this, many startups are perfectly willing to treat their marketing strategies this way.
If you want to be effective, you need to be measuring everything and studying those metrics. How much are you spending? How many people are you reaching? If you change a variable in your messaging or distribution, ?
Doing Everything Internally
It’s possible to market your business exclusively with an internal team—but it’s not always productive or efficient. Most of the time, it’s better to work with a dedicated professional outside your business, such as a marketing agency or a team of independent contractors. This way, your internal staff can stay focused on your core products and services, and you can get access to more dedicated specialists.
Refusing to Adapt
Marketing strategies must change if they’re going to become successful or remain successful. You need to learn from the past, study the changing competition, and consider adopting new technologies and new approaches. Otherwise, you’re going to fall behind. Some digital marketing strategies fail simply because their executors failed to keep up with the latest changes.
Digital marketing can be tricky to pull off effectively, but digital marketing success is well within reach for most startups. If you work hard to avoid these common pitfalls, you’ll have a much higher chance of getting the results you want.