Top 9 Startup Marketing Dos And Don’ts in South Africa


As you know, marketing a startup is different from marketing a small business. Most startups fail, and up to 90% of startups will fail again. It’s a brutal game, and the problem with marketing in startups is that many founders want to treat it like a standard business. It’s not. Here are some quick startup marketing in South Africa tips to help you through your journey.

The Dos

The Customer Is ALWAYS Right

I can pull my hair out every time I do this. If your prospective customers don’t agree with your value proposition, then they will not buy your product. It’s that simple. As your marketing effort scales with your startup, so too must your customer-marketer relationship. South Africans are generally kind, but we will lose faith in something very quickly if the business doesn’t listen to us (see DStv). Lose those important opinions of what customers think about you, and you’re right back to square one. This means putting in processes to help keep on top of what customers think of your product, for example, focus groups, events and case studies. Just because you have accurate website analytics, it’ll never beat interactions with real people.

Increase Your Marketing Leverage

Your marketing leverage is the ability to control and generate a large profit from little-to-no cost methods. And, it is vital in startups. To put it simply, in a startup, you need money to make money. As your startup starts to scale, you’ll need to increase BOTH your revenue AND your marketing ROI simultaneously. Make sure you don’t start too early, finding the sweet spot to start leveraging correctly. Improving your marketing efficiency (such as reducing costs but still reaching your market or finding alternative marketing programs) is a great way to increase your marketing leverage. Without marketing leverage, you simply cannot scale your startup.

Fail Fast, Adapt Quickly

If something isn’t working, don’t waste your time on it. Many startups fail, in South Africa for example, 50% of all startups fail within 24 months. This is mainly because they think if they keep targeting a specific audience or keep sinking money into a specific area, it’ll eventually come right. However, startups are different from other businesses, things always change and you’ll never have enough money. Terms like agile marketing and growth hacking come to mind, but in the end, focus on small, incremental changes rather than large risky ones. Adapt quickly by setting in place marketing metrics that will provide you with immediate user feedback and experiment constantly with new ideas. Treat your marketing like the East Rand treats their cars – always improving it, making it faster and more efficient.

Automate The Process

As mentioned above, in-person interactions are the best, but you can’t be sitting next to every person when they are busy trying to buy your product. It can range from anything, from in-depth analytics for when a user exits the buying process to linking different payment services. Anything that can make your life easier when working in a small team or minimal budget. You don’t have to be a programmer to learn about marketing automation, either. Google Analytics is your friend here, make sure to pick up an easy course to help learn more about your users.

Be a cheapskate

The hardest part I found when assisting startups – there’s no money. I mean, the end goal is amazing, but living off 2-minute noodles for a few months isn’t. However, it is vital when we talk about marketing leverage. For example, why spend money on hiring a graphic designer in the early stages when you can do it for free online. The less money you spend on your marketing, the higher the leverage. This means word-of-mouth, guest blogging, organic SEO, product placement and posting surveys for free are the best ways to gain the highest leverage. Almost all startups will need to follow this approach, and once your startup starts to grow, these strategies will give the best value for money.

The Don’ts

Follow-Ups Aren’t Your Friends

If you have accurately created a solid target audience and your MVP is good, you won’t need to keep following up with prospective leads. This isn’t the same as the “build it and they will come” mindset. If you focus directly on prospects whose problem you are trying to solve, they will get back to you. Wasting too much time here will only cause you to sink more money and time into a place that isn’t going to help your startup.

Shotgun Approach For Insights

Start with a small target audience. Don’t waste your time gathering large groups of people with the mindset “well, it’s numbers game, the more people I interview the better”. Interview key people and make it personal (such as chatting to them over coffee). Smaller, smarter interview techniques work much better than continuously gathering large groups. Marketing to a larger audience also costs a lot more. Smaller groups also help with generating organic growth. For example, chatting to rugby players about a new pre-game energy bar might make them speak to their other rugby teammates. Targeting the whole school or university will just lead to dismal feedback and confusing insights.

Acting Like A President

Once your MVP is sound, and you have accurately focused your target audience, you’ll know what they want and need. Giving them false promises, telling them how great you are (so what?), over-complicating your features (over over-simplifying them) and just in general marketing your audience like they’re sheep won’t help you at all. If you don’t understand your users’ challenges, issues, pressures and reason for needing your product, you need to head back to the drawing board.

Startup marketing in South Africa is incredibly challenging, especially where the target markets are harder to find and define. In a startup, you’ll never have enough money and you’ll never have enough people, but these startup marketing dos and don’ts should be enough to help guide you through your journey. Are you thinking about creating a startup or busy in the process of one? Drop me an email for assistance to take your business to the next level!

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