Marketing for startups is a hot topic in the media, blogs, meetups, conferences, and elsewhere. Despite this, founders may still struggle to understand how to approach marketing for startups correctly.

In conversations with Southeast Asian entrepreneurs from various industries, I’ve noticed a few recurring misconceptions. Over the last four years, my team and I have worked over 300 startups and even more founders, giving us good insight into trends and perceptions that permeate that community.

Though each market is different entrepreneurs and founders tend to be cut from a similar cloth, meaning they have common characteristics no matter which country they are from. This is clearly shown in the fact that founders from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia or any other market in the region have the same misconceptions about how marketing works for them.

I’ve compiled this into 5 misconceptions and how it affects their business.

Hype beats branding

Creating buzz before a product launch appears to be an obvious and necessary step for any startup. What could possibly go wrong here? The hype isn’t all bad. The disadvantage is that it cannot be sustained over time. Most startups operate on the verge of superhuman abilities in order to deliver the best possible results before the first significant milestones, such as a product launch or a crowdfunding raise.

Building your brand and creating long-term equity through your marketing and communications is critical. Most startups don’t see it that way and look at short-term wins rather than playing a long-term game.

This also creates an issue when the hype is based on users’ and investors’ belief that the startup will grow into an industry leader. Many Southeast Asian startups sigh with relief when they reach this stage, believing that the most difficult part is over. However, without implementation, the promise is meaningless. Instead of focusing on product development and building relationships with the audience, teams begin to slow down. Losing the hype is not as serious as losing customer trust. You can restart the hype, but rebuilding trust is a more difficult process.

By focusing on brand building – long-term equity in the mind’s of your consumers and not chasing short-term gain, it allows you to sustain growth and eventually lower cost of acquisition.

Good products mean good sales

Despite numerous sources emphasizing the importance of marketing, some entrepreneurs continue to believe that having an innovative product with cutting-edge technology is enough to generate sales.

In reality, the “if we build it, they will come” approach is almost never the winning one. Even if your product is excellent, you must ensure that people are aware of it. Because it is difficult to sell an unknown product, one of the primary marketing goals for an early-stage startup is to raise product awareness.

We worked with a founder who couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that his SaaS product was not selling despite his claims that it solved “99% of the most common problems businesses have“. While we could see his passion, he did not seem to realize that a couple of LinkedIn posts and messages weren’t enough to generate the growth he was looking for. Despite a great campaign and strong growth results, I do not think he ever acknowledged that marketing is essential to his company’s growth.

Startups only focus on product marketing

When reviewing pitch decks, investors typically pay close attention to the startup’s team. Even if the product concept appears to be raw and imperfect, the team’s potential can play a critical role in convincing. A typical consumer thinks in a similar manner. People are more understanding of startup mistakes if they believe in the brand’s team.

But are you certain your audience recognises you? Although product marketing is unquestionably important, there may be other things you want to market at the same time. Many startup founders overlook the importance of developing a personal brand. Working on positioning yourself as a thought leader can significantly contribute to the overall brand reputation unless you prefer to remain anonymous intentionally.

The same is true for promoting your team members’ professional accomplishments and track records. Ensure that your target audience learns about you through media outlets, podcasts, conferences, online events, and social media. In our experience, we see the most benefit from building up the brand presence first and then creating a narrative and strong brand association with their desired industry.

Technical founders don’t value marketing

The heading for this section is admittedly a bit “clickbaity”, but I would argue that it overall stands true. In our experience, we have noticed a pattern where technical or more technically-included leadership tends to undervalue or underestimate marketing in the grander scheme of success.

A marketing strategy is not as hard to develop as a fully-fledged product development plan, but it isn’t easy either. Building a strategy that is consistently ignored with the expectation that a new one can be developed overnight directly impacts the effectiveness of the campaign and the outcome. This used to be one of the main reasons that marketing and PR agencies avoided working with startups.

Advertising is marketing

This is another common misconception among entrepreneurs with non-business backgrounds. Advertising, of course, plays an important role in the marketing mix, but marketing is not limited to it.

Promoting goods through various channels is insufficient. Marketing entails far more than purchasing advertisements and posting on social media.

You must determine whether your target audience requires your product, whether it is worth paying for, whether it is superior to your competitors’, and so on. In an era of increased competition and market saturation, these insights can be game changers for your product even before it is released. Before embarking on any advertising endeavours, founders must examine them.

Ideally, you should begin developing a marketing strategy as soon as your product hypothesis has been validated. You will quickly understand what needs to be done and how marketing can help you reach certain milestones if you have a comprehensive roadmap of marketing activities.

Can the perception of marketing and PR be changed?

There is more education in the market, as founders are more exposed and advancements in the marketing industry has pushed accountability over “making things pop”. However, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. As an industry, we need to focus on education rather than trying to sell our services incorrectly and perpetuate a false narrative around marketing and PR.

This article titled “5 common misconceptions about marketing that most Southeast Asian startups havewas contributed by Terng Shing Chen, CEO of SYNC PR.

About the author

Terng Shing is the Founder and CEO of SYNC PR, a PR and content marketing startup that uses technology to reduce time wasting and administrative tasks in delivering results. Based in Singapore, Terng Shing has been focused on helping startups and SMEs build their brand story through media and content. Since 2018, SYNC has worked with over 300 startups, SMEs and MNCs to help them scale their business in Southeast Asia and beyond.

His experience includes a decade of work in PR and communications agencies, managing top-tier fortune 500 companies to the leading startups in Southeast Asia. Terng Shing has a passion for innovative communications and is convinced that PR is the next great industry to see positive disruption.

Terng is also the co-host of popular business podcast Business over Drinks and co-founder of travel platform Travel Wanderlust.