We attended MassChallenge’s much-anticipated StartupShowcase last week, and loved it. We talked to only a fraction of finalists at the event. Three hours just wasn’t enough.

During our conversations we realized that most of these ideas — even the best ones — won’t succeed unless they can alter how they think about going to market. So, here are three marketing pitfalls that, if ignored, will cause the demise of even the creme de la creme of the innovation economy.

1. Lack of market definition

We hear over and over again how a product or service has “So many potential market applications!” Entrepreneurs are falling into the trap of blind optimism, imagining how far their idea can reach without first getting a grip on who they are and to whom they matter most.

It’s great to have an idea with legs but to gain traction startups must begin with a core audience and build out from there. With an innovative solution, casting a wide net at the outset causes confusion, and that’s poison to your critical first buyer audience. Connect your biggest, loudest group of potential buyers to why you exist. Then expand. Remember, you’re influencing people one human being at a time. Tell them why it’s for them, specifically.

2. Perfection paralysis

When asked “What are you doing about marketing?”, we hear all too often something along the lines of “We will start marketing when it’s done.” The truth is, in creating a brand, it’s never done. If it’s done, it’s dead.

Start reaching your core base as soon as you have something interesting that can improve their lives. Then you can ramp up as you roll out new or improved products. You often can’t predict where funding or a market “pull” could come from. Putting a marketable product into the market early can establish brand advocates, prime the sales pipeline, and most importantly, bring important insights to light that you can learn from. Targeted branding and marketing efforts can go a long way for a brand just out of the starting gate.

3. “If we build it they will come”

This is perhaps the number one misconception of entrepreneurs and startups. The problem is that people are creatures of habit, and they’re busier than ever. They don’t have time to learn about your new thing and figure out why it’ll improve their lives.

You have to make your innovation relevant to their life at the moment they’re up against a problem you’re solving. Ask yourself, “How will people learn about you if they’re not actively looking?” Because most of them are not. And when they learn about you, why will they care about you? Save all the terrific how-it-works explanations for the technologists who want to know, and recognize that most of your potential customers just need what it does, without wondering how it works.

“Experience” is what we call the accumulation of our mistakes.

(That’s a Yiddish proverb according to the internet, which is always correct.)

We have worked with more than 50 young and startup companies over our 13 years and have found many common mistakes made by smart, capable, hungry entrepreneurs that have caused worthy ideas to fail. Let our experience guide you, and avoid these all too common mistakes.

Next up:
Top 3 challenges of marketers in young companies and tips to overcome them, #3:
Making order in the midst of chaos