Your Fault, Always. 8 Reasons to Blame the Marketer For Startup Failure.

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I’m a marketer. I became a marketer by accident – because I had created a product the world hadn’t seen before – and no one knew how to market it.there are good and bad marketers and growth hackers in the world. But there is also a strange perception of marketing in the startup world. And that leads to some very entertaining comments. Have fun with this rant about marketing. #digitalmarketing #onlinemarketing #marketingstrategy #entrepreneurship

Well, Susanna and I worked out how to market it right – and when we went bankrupt a couple of years later, it wasn’t because the marketing hadn’t worked. Since then we are marketing bloggers, teachers, and consultants – and we’ve learned one thing: When another startup fails, the marketer messed up.

At least that’s the easy way out for many founders: They didn’t fail, the marketer failed. It’s not their fault – it’s marketing’s fault.

If you couldn’t tell by now: This article has a slight tendency into sarcasm. Sarcasm, because, of course, blaming the marketer is not always legitimate.

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Or maybe it is? As you might have guessed – this post is a rant. Have fun!

Here are the reasons why marketers are always at fault for startup failure:

Success In Marketing Always Comes Too Late

This may be the most obvious reason why the marketer is to blame for everything – marketing worked in the end, but it was already too late. The product was finished (maybe even in time according to plan) – so when it came to getting the word out, the marketer couldn’t do his job. It cannot be the fault of bad planning – because, well, the product was finished in time, right? The business plan said that marketing should start when the product is finished, and it also said that marketing had x weeks to be successful. So when the marketer started to work on marketing, he/she had a business plan to follow?

Why this is total BS:

What founders mostly forget when they claim their failure is really the marketer’s fault, is that the marketer usually isn’t hired in time. CMOs usually are not founding team members – why is that? Because founders decide they need to invest everything in product development and show investors that they are spending money responsibly. Because founders decide that they write their marketing plan at first – the marketer is only there for finetuning and executing it.

Reality check for founders: Do you know enough about marketing to plan marketing measures? Where did you take the knowledge from that marketing only starts when the product is finished? Why do you plan to give the developer 6 to 12 month and then expect a marketer to be successful in 2?

Why do you expect the marketer’s job to be any easier than the developer’s?

The Marketers Are Not Invested Enough In The Company

This may be true in many cases. Marketers are often not very invested in a company’s success. Here is why:

  • Interns and low-level employees are very often not as invested in a company’s success – so stop trying to create amazing marketing success by hiring interns. Hire a CMO – or better, make him/her a founding member of the team – with as much power as any other member of your core team.
  • Outsourced marketers are not as invested as core team members. That’s just the way it is. Have at least one core team member be responsible for marketing. (Outsourcing still has its benefits – but execution should be inhouse. Advice and ideas can come from the outside.)

Both points lead to the same conclusion – have a marketer be the founding team member. Never treat your CMO like he is not needed. If you do, you will lose his motivation. If you want to blame the marketer, in the end, make sure you invested enough into the marketer in the beginning.

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Marketing Didn’t Create Enough Leads For Sales… (With No Marketing Department)

I’ve seen startups that employed a small sales force. Their plan was to create leads for these sales people via marketing. Good plan – if you have a plan for how to do this. When you ask these founders how they planned to do this and what exactly their marketing measures were, you get a dialogue like this:

“We did content marketing. But content marketing is overhyped – and never works.”

“What exactly did you do in content marketing?”

“Er… we sometimes published blog posts.”

“How often did you publish posts?”

“We published 4 posts…”

“Every week?”

“No we wouldn’t have had the time for that… we published 4 blog posts in total.”


“Yeah, well, we decided to let that go – we weren’t into SEO traffic anyway…”

As a marketer, this is when you want to start screaming. First, SEO is not why you write a blog. SEO also doesn’t simply happen by accident just because you published 4 posts in as many months. And when you want to do content marketing you need to invest a couple of months at least before you start reaping massive results.

But it doesn’t just stop with this dialogue. It goes on:

“So, who was responsible for writing posts and marketing in general?”

“Well, everyone did a little…”


Just had to scream. So you had a team of 8 people and managed to write 2400 words in 4 months (4 articles of 600 words each). The same person who wrote a 100-page business plan in less than a month…

In reality: No one was responsible for marketing. And therefore, no one did anything. Blink if I’m telling the truth. Ok, but your imaginary marketer is to blame for your failure. Right?

The Marketer Came Up With A Strategy When I Told Him We Only Wanted Results…

Marketing strategy… Many marketers come up with something they call a strategy. But startups usually don’t care about strategy. They want results. After all, we all bought into the startup hype to escape corporate stuff like “strategies”.

Sounds strange? Well, that is what many founders think. And, if there needs to be a strategy, it needs to be cool. Like… “guerilla marketing”. I’ve no clue what this means, but guerilla is cool, very startuppy.

But, only if there is an absolute need for a strategy – I’m not a fan of strategy, anyway. All I want is results.

Said the startup founder who never got any results.

The Marketer Didn’t Make Anything Go Viral

I’ve been in meetings with startups, where I talked a long time about what to do next – what measures to take, what parts of the strategy to implement next, which metrics to measure next, how to measure them, which results to expect, …

What marketers do, usually.

End of meeting – I ask: “Did you understand everything, any questions about this?”

Answer: “I think I understood everything – but now I think we should brainstorm something that goes viral.”

This happened. Not that long ago in 2015. I’ll never forget the look on Susanna’s face.

Here is the thing: Things going viral are hard to plan for. VERY hard!

You don’t just brainstorm a blog post that goes viral and then watch it happen. You optimize your blog – make sure that you don’t lose any shares at all because of simple things like: No share buttons, bad share buttons, bad page layout, etc. You then sit down and write the best blog post ever. You hit publish, watch how it doesn’t go viral, and do everything again.

Even very successful bloggers sometimes never see even a single blog post go viral.

There are very few startups in the world which got to be successful by setting up a viral loop. Face the truth – usually, things go viral by accident – and even if they do, you probably won’t even win a t-shirt.

But hey – marketers have the job of turning things viral, right? If not, what’s the point of marketing!

The Marketer Actually Made Something Go Viral – But We Didn’t Get Any Sales!!!

Even if something goes viral, that doesn’t mean that you will get any profit from that. Usually, it’s not your product that goes viral – it may be an infographic, an image, or even a blog post. And, while that may be good for your brand and brand recognition – just because something goes viral doesn’t mean you will make a single sale from that fact.

What you need to make sales from something going viral is:

  • A product that people actually want (you need that to make any sale!)
  • A lead generation process that allows you to generate leads from the actual content piece that went viral
  • A sales funnel that turns leads into customers

What this means is that if you are a B2B startup, you won’t make a lot of sales just because your cat picture went viral.

Your marketer should have told you that – but he/she probably did, you just didn’t listen.

If your startup fails - blame it on the marketing staff. Really - everyone is doing it. It makes a lot of sense especially when you only hired interns - why should you take the blame?The Marketer Asked For A Budget

This is a startup – things that cost money are unwanted. You just spent 100s of 1000s on creating a product, and you need to pay the marketer as well. How the hell should you sweat out a budget for marketing?

Well, that’s easy to answer: If there isn’t a budget for marketing, you made the mistake in planning the project. Marketing isn’t solved by simply hiring someone and then forgetting about it. Marketing does cost money. Money that may need to be spent on marketing tools, advertising, leads or something else.

But many startups make the mistake of thinking that because modern marketing most of the time works without expensive stuff like TV ads, that this means modern marketing is cheap, or even free. And if it turns out to cost money, then who is to blame?

You get the picture…

The Marketer Needed Too Much Help…

Too many less than successful founders expect marketers to “just do their job.”

Well, it doesn’t work that way. Marketing is like product development a task that often needs the help of the whole team. Feedback is needed, input, ideas, and often marketing results in development tasks.

I’ve had startups CEOs telling me: “Our developer needs to finish everything else first, he can not work on marketing tasks right now.”

And that’s often ok: It’s a CEO decision.

What’s not ok is that I had the feeling that the idea behind this decision was: “A developer is for product development, a marketer for marketing. Don’t mix these 2.”

That’s just plain wrong – a marketer may need the developer to build a landing page feature. Marketing is a task that is so versatile, that the marketer would need to be a magician to know every skill that is involved.

But, that is what’s expected of marketers, right? Magic.

Final Words

Ok, this was a rant.

Of course, there are good and bad marketers and growth hackers in the world. But there is also a strange perception of marketing in the startup world that marketing has just to be implemented and work magically after pressing the red button.

That’s not going to happen – so you better plan for marketing right from the start. Plan a budget, plan for things going wrong. Plan for marketing taking it’s time before it becomes successful.

Then enjoy when it works how it should.

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