3 Most Common Marketing Mistakes Young Entrepreneurs Make (and How to Fix Them) : Under30CEO 3 Most Common Marketing Mistakes Young Entrepreneurs Make (and How to Fix Them) : Under30CEO
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3 Most Common Marketing Mistakes Young Entrepreneurs Make (and How to Fix Them)

| August 21, 2013 | 29 Comments

Marketing Mistakes

You’ve heard it before: the vast majority of businesses fail within a few years.

Now… let’s think about this for second.

Why do smart, hard-working people with good intentions crash and burn? It’s often a combination of factors, from co-founder conflict, to funding issues and execution struggles…

But at the core of it, businesses fail for one fundamental reason: they can’t sell their stuff.

That’s the bottom line.

And one of the root causes is that most entrepreneurs don’t truly understand marketing. You might be super passionate about your product or service, have a tremendous work ethic, and a wonderfully designed website…If you’re not highly skilled at marketing and selling, chances are you’re going to fail. Sorry to break it to you.

Now if you’re thinking, “oh I took a few marketing classes in College, I’m good.”… Think again.

I personally have a marketing degree and an MBA from 2 reputable universities, and when I started my first business… I was in for a rude awakening.

I quickly realized that marketing in the entrepreneurial world is a whole different game than what I learned in the classroom.  Business schools tend to focus on Fortune-500 type marketing, they don’t allow us to interact with real customers, and they’re years behind when it comes to online marketing. If you’re committed to building a world-class business, you have to be willing to saddle up and learn “real-world marketing”. Take online courses, read books, get out here, experiment relentlessly, and get excellent mentors to help you build your marketing skill set.

If you’re willing to do that, sky’s the limit. You’ll develop skills you can use to be successful in any business endeavor for the rest of your career.

Today, I want to share with you the 3 most common marketing mistakes you’re likely to be making right now, and how you can effectively solve them for good.

Mistake #1: Trying to Serve Everyone

The blessing and the curse of many entrepreneurs is that they’re good-hearted, and really want to make world a better place.

The blessing part is easy to figure out… but the curse? By trying to help everyone with their product or service… They often end up helping no one.

Having too broad of a target market is probably the single most common marketing mistake people make. In order to stand out in the crowd, you need to be really specific with which sub-segment of the population you’re targeting. The narrower your niche, the better.

Now you’re probably thinking… “Ahh, but what about all these other prospective customers I’ll be giving up on?” I get that.

You have to think about it the other way: get excited about how well you’re going to be able to serve the specific customers you’re going after. By focusing on a specific group, you’ll be able to serve them much better and have a more profound impact on their life.

Let’s go concrete with this. When you’re describing your ideal customer, you should be able to get highly descriptive of that person, both on a demographic and psychographic level.

For example, “Men between the age of 25 and 40” is a lousy target market. Instead, it should be something like “Professional men between 25 and 40 who live in major cities, are passionate about the outdoors, who struggle to find time for their hobbies, and are afraid that their best years are passing them by”. Now we’re talking. This is a target you can really help… and make a lot of money in the process.

Solution: Write down the main characteristics of your ideal customer. Describe their frustrations, fears, and aspirations. Get as deep and as personal as you can. You want to able to put yourself in their skin and feel what they feel, think what they think. 

Mistake #2: Building Without Customer Validation

Many entrepreneurs have a weird fantasy. They envision themselves spending a few months in a basement/garage/cave, building something extraordinary, emerging from their confinement, announcing their creation to the world, and becoming a massive success.

Sounds cool pretty cool indeed… Only problem is that it’s NOT how the real world works.

It’s very hard to accurately predict what your customers want. Conversely, it’s very easy to get carried away with an idea, without seeking validation along the way…

…and then fall face first when you realize that no one actually wants it.

In business and marketing, you should take on a “scientist” mindset: always experiment and test your assumptions, and have as much contact with your test subjects (customers) as possible.

Now in order to do this, it’s important to keep your ego in check. You don’t always love the feedback you’re getting, but that’s ok. It’s only data. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you.

Here’s why: If your idea isn’t good, you’re much better off finding out about it now, instead of 6 months down the road, when you’ve already sunk thousands of dollars into the project…

Test, test, test. That’s what all successful marketers do. Because it works.

Solution: Before you even build anything, you should spend time interviewing potential customers to discover what they want (and learn their frustration, fears and aspirations). Then, build a prototype and test it to get customer feedback as fast as possible. From there, go back in the lab, incorporate the feedback, and test again. Repeat this cycle until you have something that customers really love, and for which they’re willing to pay money.

Mistake #3: Shouting from the Rooftop

Now that you’ve clearly established your ideal customer and that you’re building exactly what they want, the next step is to communicate with them effectively.

The key to that is to speak to each customer as though you’re talking directly to that person. One-on-one. Not one-to-many. This distinction is so critical, and so often overlooked.

When you’re writing directly to one person, you can speak to their frustrations, fears and aspirations. You can make them feel understood. Which in many ways is the magic sauce of marketing.

Eben Pagan, one of the best marketers of our time once said “the moment you make your customer feel understood, magic happens.”

When they feel like you get their problem, they will automatically assume that you have the solution. Once that happens, selling becomes easy. And fun.

Solution: Every time you create marketing material, write directly to your ideal customer. Put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself “Does this really speak to me? Do I feel understood? Does this inspire me?” If the answer is not a resounding “YES!”, go back to the drawing board.


Since marketing revolves around human psychology, and the human psyche is a complex system, many nuances and subtleties that go into becoming a world-class marketer.

But to become excellent and shine in your niche is not as hard as you think. Simply by focusing on the solutions to the 3 common mistakes I’ve outlined above, you’re likely to outperform your competition within a few months.

To recap, here’s the magic recipe:

1)     Get crystal clear on who your ideal customer is.

2)     Regularly interact with live customers and build exactly what they want.

3)     Communicate with them in a “one-on-one” way, and make them feel understood.

Et voila!

Apply these 3 principles and you’ll be well on your way to beating the odds, building a very successful business, and actually making the world a better place.

Choose Greatness,

Phil Drolet is a Peak Performance Coach and helps entrepreneurs improve their marketing, mindset and lifestyle so they can build their business faster while having more fun in the process. You can check out his blog and follow him on Facebook.


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Category: Entrepreneurship, Finding Customers

  • Tim Ryan

    Really great advice Phil. Love that you included validated learning as part of the mix. I highly recommend “Running Lean” by @AshMauyra for simple methods to validate your product ideas.

    Also, developing buyer personas is a vital step to help clearly understand the needs of a target audience and how you’ll communicate with them via social, blogs like this one, and within your own content marketing.

    It takes a lot of work to try to communicate directly with your target audience but if you offer something that solves a problem for them, they will listen.

    Good work.

    Tim Ryan

  • http://www.transpiral.org/ Yasmine Khater

    Absolutely agree with this, and Tim is right Running Lean is incredible, it literary walks you through step by step.

    As a small business coach, I actually do the same process with my clients and they get ridiculous results and when they get deeper in their target market they learn alot more than trying to market to everyone. Save money and Save time.

    The point of validation is incredibly powerful, one client came to me after spending 17,000 dollars on this really technical designed for who they assumed was their customer, then they realized it wasnt and had to change the whole system which is such a waste of money! I love the example of groupon, the founder initially started to test the concept on a wordpress blog.

    Thanks again

  • http://getbrode.com/ Marc Brodeur

    #2 #2 #2 #2. Don’t build anything until you can figure out how to cheaply test it. Sometimes, even, having money can make you lazy.

  • phildrolet

    True. Every time I’m unsure of anything (in business or life) I ask myself “how can I test this assumption as cheaply and quickly as possible?” I also find it helps to look at it as a big experiment… it’s more fun and less daunting.

  • phildrolet

    Thanks @disqus_maeKqcOqZ0:disqus! It’s funny, I just bumped into a friend an hour ago and he highly recommended Running Lean. Might take this a sign that it’s time to dig through it :)

    I heard recently by Eben Pagan that the #1 business skill is compassion… caused me to reflect (I sure didn’t learn that in business school) but it makes a lot of sense. Deeply understanding, empathizing and caring for customers’ needs is the root of effective business/marketing.

  • phildrolet

    Wow… @yasminekhater:disqus There’s so many horror stories like that one… and they can be avoided so easily.

    Do you think entrepreneurs avoid customer validation because they don’t know any better, or because they’re afraid of what they might hear and “self-protect” their ego?

  • Tim Ryan

    Nailed it!

  • Kevin Diamond

    If you’re committed to building a world-class business, you have to be willing to saddle up and learn “real-world marketing”… Love this. Truly believe in that “war-zone” “in-the-trenches” style of passion/self injected marketing.

  • http://www.transpiral.org/ Yasmine Khater

    I think its really to protect themself. Its very difficult for us to admit when we are wrong or have not so great thoughts.

    I often tell people when they are just starting whats more important, the lifestyle or the idea, before if its the first one, they need to learn to let go and follow the customer needs versus their own

  • http://www.softship.com/ Ava Cristi

    Many young entrepreneurs are always inspired, and that’s not a bad thing. What makes this end with disappointment is they lack the necessary resources, guidance, specific objectives and strategy with accompanied study regarding their product’s field. In short, they don’t think it through. Marketing isn’t just about mathematics and statistics, it’s also about socializing and being creative.

  • http://www.callboxinc.com/ Belinda Summers

    Marketing definitely talks about customer’s satisfaction and when you can’t bring it then you’re most likely to fail. It’s really a great idea to have confirmation with your customer’s wants and needs because you don’t just launch products, you solve problems. That’s what big brands have, they make themselves a necessity to their customers. :)

  • http://www.twoodo.com/ Andrea Francis

    Unending deep and detailed research will be the best input into your product in the end. It’s slow, painful, sometimes boring… but when you have figured out the answers – your demographic, and they want in your product – you’ll save yourself the likely pain of failing.

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  • phildrolet

    @andrea_francis:disqus – Agreed! With that deep understanding, we can create the ideal solution and market optimally… pretty hard to fail from there!

  • phildrolet

    @avacristi:disqus Marketing is definitely a blend of art and science. I would say.. “they don’t think it through… and TEST it through” :)

  • phildrolet

    Cheers @kevin I grew up as a competitive swimmer and I now see entrepreneurship as the ultimate sport. Really takes all of one’s character and dedication to make it big.

  • phildrolet

    “you don’t just launch products, you solve problems.” I love that @bsummers:disqus ! Wish I had learned that in business school ;)

  • mgeraudm

    Too much of a focus is not good either. Case in point. Viagra. It took them a few years to change their specific narrow focus from heart medicine, to sexual. Post-its, too.
    In my career I have shifted a few targets and gotten amazing results. My exboss, a wonderful marketer was so fixated in narrowing the market that lost more than a few opportunities along the way, some of them I found and exploited later.

    Way too many cases of specific focusing have gone way bad, and proven when shifted. Wonder how many die before we all even notice? Too much time is usually lost in market research to find the perfect niche.
    My point is, focus is good, targeting is good, relentlesness is good, testing the waters along the way is good. Too much narrowness, stubborness, risk-averseness and rigidity are not.


  • http://www.callboxinc.com/ Belinda Summers

    Thanks @phildrolet:disqus, glad you agree. Well, you know through time you will learn more, more than what marketing schools could ever teach and that is experience. :)

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  • Falilou

    Interesting article! The “2nd mistake” is far more convincing that the two others. For the 1st one I do not completly agree with the author when he says “your niche should be as narrow as possible. I think for any given market or product the size of targeted customers depends on several factors mainly Productivity and Capacity to sell or to reach potentiel customers. If your productiveness enables you to be leader or amongst the leaders why do we need to keep it narrow instead of enlarging our market share as we need only profit? in short, I think the mistake of entrepreneurs is not having broad or a narrow number, the problem lies on their ability to control over or to master their market!

  • Sarah Miller

    I agree with number 2 on the conclusion part. It is important to know exactly what customers in your niche want. This same concept applies to advertising using promotional products, you need to know what is useful to your customers when ,choosing the promotional item you will give away that way they will be able to grasp your brand name better.

  • Guy Dumais

    Great article! Look at my recent finding about a big mistake that I came across recently with Bitly, that anyone should avoid: http://blog.guydumais.com/bitly-be-careful/

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  • http://australiancontacts.ning.com/ Michael Clayton

    True Entrepreneurs Don’t Make

    In the eye’s of a true entrepreneur; they do
    not conform; In their eyes they are doing something different in order to learn
    and understand. In this way new procedures and processes; products or services
    are discovered or improved.

    In traditional businesss funding processes
    true entrepreneurs are restricted and new inventions are held back because or
    outdated procedures which rely on conformity.

    True entrepreneurs in their
    mind go years into the furure; then have to come back and try and guide people
    and business funding institutions; make them see and try and adapt too see or
    envisage their vision.