True or false: the best marketing is a great product.

For startup entrepreneurs tasked with growing their user base on a limited budget, it’d be amazing if this statement was true.  

While it’s fair to say that a great product can foster customer loyalty and lots of word-of-mouth referrals for organic growth, you probably already know that even great products need to be marketed, at least to some degree.   

But here’s the problem.

Your time and money are limited whether you’ve taken outside investment or self-funded your startup.

Do you spend them on growing the product or growing the users? Should your time go to product or marketing?

Let’s find out.

Product Model vs. Marketing Model

This dilemma comes down to two main schools of thought: the product model and the marketing model.

The product model says if you produce a quality product at a favorable price, your company will be successful.

“No growth hack, brilliant marketing idea, or sales team can save you long term if you don’t have a sufficiently good product.”

– Sam Altman

The marketing model says that the aim of the organization is to uncover the needs and wants of customers in the target market and adapt to meet them.

On one end of the pendulum you have the product and on the other end is the market (customers). Which do you focus on?

Marty Cagan, writing for the Silicon Valley Product Group, said that “if you have a great message but the product doesn’t support it, users won’t return.”

Problem solved! But wait…

He also went on to say that “if you have a great product but your messaging isn’t compelling, users won’t know it because they won’t visit to find out.”   

“If you have a great message but the product doesn’t support it, users won’t return. But if you have a great product and your messaging isn’t compelling, users won’t know it because they won’t visit to find out.”

– Marty Cagan

So product is critical…

And so is marketing.

You can see how this is an impossible choice to pose to startup entrepreneurs!

Marketing myths startups believe

Many startup entrepreneurs faced with this dilemma end up focusing exclusively or almost exclusively on product due to commonly held false beliefs about marketing.

1. Great products don’t need marketing

We started out with this statement for a reason: it’s by far one of the most common myths about marketing, as well as the most dangerous.

When Shakespeare wrote Romeo & Juliet, do you think he just laid it out in a field hoping someone would stumble across it?

When Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, do you think he kept it in his house, waiting for someone to notice it at a dinner party?

Your startup’s success is limited to the number of potential customers who’ve heard about it. In order to avoid becoming one of the 50% of all startups that fail within five years, you’ll need marketing to grow your customer base.

If you have something awesome, people need to be told about it! Instead of saying “great products don’t need marketing,” how about we start saying “great products deserve great marketing.”  

Great products don’t need marketing. Great products deserve great marketing.

2. You don’t need marketing until after the product launches

Most startup entrepreneurs don’t think about marketing until after the product launches. How can you market something that doesn’t exist yet?

Easy. You market an idea.

Building authority and brand awareness is a long-term strategy that takes time, so the time to start is yesterday! Get your target audience excited about your product’s eventual release, and you’ll get more users once you do launch.

Make marketing an early priority and do your part to avoid the typical fate of most startups.

3. When growth is slow, it’s because of bad marketing

“I’m not getting the number of signups or demo requests I need. There must be something wrong with our marketing.”

Maybe, but not necessarily.

The prevalence of the term “growth hacking” in recent years hasn’t done much by means of helping this misconception.

growth hacking

“Growth hacking” says that sustained growth can be achieved quickly, and in the race to take your product to market, its siren song is almost irresistible.

While you may be able to achieve some growth with quick wins, taking the time to develop repeatable, scalable marketing techniques might take longer and look less effective at first, but it will produce the sustained, long-term growth you’re after.

4. A marketer won’t understand my product well enough

Many startup entrepreneurs are reluctant to hire a marketer because they think that a marketer won’t understand their product, and fully understanding their product is table stakes for being able to market effectively.

In reality, unfamiliarity with a product (at least compared to your level of understanding) actually makes for a better marketer.

How is that possible?

Because they’ll have a better understanding of how to communicate the benefit to product-unfamiliar people than someone who is stuck in the weeds of the product details.

Be willing to sit down with a marketer, explain your product, and answer their questions. They’ll be able to find the unique selling proposition and get that message in front of your ideal customers.  

You didn’t start a business to spend time on marketing

Whether you’ve taken outside investment or are self-funded, you have a choice between focusing your time on your product or spending your time on marketing and business development. In other words…

Do you work IN the business or do you work ON it?

In your company’s early years, CEO of Small Business Trends Anita Campbell says that you should probably spend around 20% of your time on marketing your business.

If you work 50 hours a week (and you probably work more), that’s 10 hours per week – or an entire workday every week on marketing.  

Do you have that kind of time?

Even if you do, do you want to spend that time on marketing or would you rather do what you founded your business to do?

You need to focus on what only you can focus on – your product.

“What is the point in acquiring all those users if they leave once they see the product?”

Andrew Chen

As we’ve seen though, you also need to focus on marketing. Thankfully, other people can do that.

Hire someone to focus on growth so you can focus on the product

If you have a great idea that you risked everything to start a business on, you deserve to be able to dedicate your attention to making that product great. Only you can do that.

Marketing, however, is something that can be outsourced.

It can be difficult to relinquish control and outsource any aspect of your startup. It’s your baby, after all!

However, when faced with the impossible choice between making your product great and telling people about your product, marketing is the preferable of the two to outsource.

If you hire a good marketer, they’ll serve as an extension of your own business, working with you to grow awareness and acquisition of your product.

Outsourcing your marketing means growing your business without taking your time away from doing the things you love, but you may need more details before pulling the trigger on a growth strategy.

You may need to consider:

If you are ready to explore outsourcing some aspects of your marketing, we’d love to help you decide what you need!

Or, you can follow our founder on Twitter or sign up for Get on Your Soapbox, occasional content and marketing tips for your business sent straight to your inbox.   

Growing your startup shouldn’t have to mean sacrificing time spent doing the things you love. It’s time to get back to doing the work that made you want to start a business in the first place.