Nine out of ten startups fail. Yikes. And what do 14% of unsuccessful startup founders blame for their failure? Poor marketing.
You can have a great product that’s ideal for the market. You can have venture capital coming out of your ears. But if nobody knows you exist, or doesn’t know why they should care, then your startup is already on shaky ground.
Rather than sharpening pencils to write their post-mortem essays, entrepreneurs need to focus their energies on wowing the world with their startup’s marketing copy—before and after launch. Products and services sell when you give people a reason to get excited. As Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” That’s what good marketing is all about.
Crisp, persuasive copy is a marketing essential. New businesses that harness the power of words early can avoid the Cult of Failure, and work towards entering the pantheon of success. To demonstrate this, let’s take a look at a few failed ventures that might have survived with better copywriting prowess—and some startup success stories that show how it’s done.
In an open and honest autopsy of his failed startup, Licensario founder Gil Sadis concedes that poor marketing was one of the reasons his smart billing system for SaaS businesses never took off.
“Our messaging was too broad,” Sadis admits. “We wanted to catch them all. Guess what happened? We didn’t catch anyone.”
Licensario’s messaging was so broad in fact that Sadis jokes their “bounce rate was so high that Google Analytics was too embarrassed to show it.” Ouch.
The brutal truth is, no matter how brilliant your marketing is, there’ll always be someone it can’t win over. Instead of trying to appeal to everyone and their dog, startups need to ask themselves—who is this product/service built for? What problems does it solve for them? And why can’t they live without it? With these questions at the forefront of their marketing strategy, they can hone in on the audience their product or service is perfect for, and tailor their messaging directly to them.
Poor marketing was also a factor in the death of auction aggregation service Overto. In a blog post on lessons learned from Overto’s failure, Pawel Brodzinski admits that the team simply wasn’t “skilled in that area.” Worse still, no one had the time to really try.
A fatal mistake that many new businesses make is assuming marketing will come easily to them. Knowing and believing in your product doesn’t necessarily equate to being good at marketing it—and neglecting marketing altogether is not an option. As Brodzinski notes, eventually you’re going to “hit the ceiling of what [you can] achieve effortlessly.” And when that happens, you’d better have powerful and persuasive messaging on your side if you want to attract the new customers you need to survive.
The Success Stories
San Francisco fintech company Social Finance, Inc. (SoFi for short) was envisioned as a provider of affordable options for students forced to take on debt to pay for their education. Founded by four Stanford students in 2011, the company is currently valued at more than $4 billion.
Personal finance is a complicated industry, and not the most exciting. SoFi’s web copy takes the company’s complex offering and streamlines it into easy-to-read snippets bolstered by impressive results. “We’re all about helping you reach your next financial goal—great rates, zero fees, unprecedented service, and awesome member perks,” their homepage assures. Crisp, concise, and appealing, their copy gives readers an immediate insight into what the company offers.
Founded in 2012, Blue Apron delivers meal kits with proportioned ingredients and step-by-step recipes. They allow customers to cook easy meals at home and reduce their food waste. And while they’re not the only company offering this service, Blue Apron has set themselves apart from the pack. Their app is intuitive and well designed. Their recipes are delicious, varying cultures and flavors every day to keep their offering fresh, even after dozens of boxes. As for their messaging, it’s simple and effective, with copy that resonates with consumers.
“Food is better when you start from scratch,” their website’s homepage tells us. It speaks to a desire many of us have to eat more home-cooked meals, if only we had the time. A fun infographic follows, demonstrating how the company will give us time. Using just a handful of words, Blue Ribbon has created desire and solved a problem. And as their infographic shows, they’ll bring that solution right to our doorstep. No wonder they currently ship around 8 million boxed meals every month.
Whether your business is a scrappy bootstrap or a venture-backed protégé, good copywriting could be the difference between dizzying success and dismal failure. In an age where we expect to get our information faster and faster, communicating your offering precisely and efficiently is more important than ever. Speak to the customers who’ll love what you have to offer. Make them an offer they can’t refuse. And don’t try too hard to please everyone, because you never will.
Co-authored by Chelsea Fleetham