Building a Product vs. Building a Brand: Five Marketing Mistakes Engineering-Oriented CEOs Make


August 29, 2023

Engineers are undeniably the backbone of any tech startup, transforming innovative visions into viable products. While their technical acumen is often awe-inspiring, many engineering-oriented CEOs underestimate the intricacies of effective marketing. Marketing is more than just selling a product; it’s a complex interplay of psychology, strategy, and, increasingly, technologies like data analytics and artificial intelligence.

Consider the case of Google Glass. While it was a marvel of engineering, its downfall was attributed in part to marketing missteps and inadequate customer outreach. Then there’s Microsoft Zune, a well-engineered alternative to the Apple iPod that failed to resonate with consumers due to a lack of compelling brand storytelling.

If tech giants with abundant resources can falter in the marketing arena, it’s clear why startups must pay especially careful attention to their branding and marketing strategies.

Why Strong Communication Skills Aren’t Enough

It’s reasonable to think that the excellent communication skills needed to drive the development of complex products would naturally extend to external communications. However, marketing requires unique skills that differ significantly from those needed for effective leadership.

The key differences lie in several factors—timing, style, and likability, to name a few. In marketing, it’s crucial to reach prospects at the right time and place with messages that resonate on an emotional level. It’s an art as much as a science and requires a nuanced understanding of human behavior across the buyer’s journey.

Consider a few basic psychological principles. For instance, the human brain often uses mental shortcuts, or “heuristics,” to simplify complex decisions. A well-known brand can act as a shorthand for quality, especially when competing against established names. This underscores the importance of making a strong first impression.

Moreover, marketing messages must be tailored to overcome innate cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias, that shape buyer perceptions. And with advancements in AI and data analytics, the realm of marketing is becoming even more complex. 

While AI can generate content quickly, it’s not a panacea. What sets your brand apart is thought leadership and a unique value proposition that can’t be autogenerated.

Clearly, there’s more to marketing than often meets the eye, so let’s dive into five common marketing mistakes often made by engineering-oriented CEOs, along with some practical solutions to them.

 1. Underestimating the Importance of Branding

Branding isn’t merely about having a flashy logo or a catchy tagline; it’s about establishing an emotional connection with your customers. This emotional bond is crucial because factors such as likability, respect, and trust are often as impactful in decision-making as technical specs or pricing.

Consider a study which revealed that consistent branding could increase revenue by up to 10 – 20%. The same study also found that consumers are willing to pay a premium for brands that they feel a connection with.

Engineering-oriented CEOs often misstep here by equating the technical utility of a product with its brand value. This overlooks various nuanced factors like customer psychology, market trends, and competitor positioning. In essence, it’s not just about how good your product is but also how people perceive it.

Take Tesla, Apple, and Adobe, for example. These companies are celebrated for their innovative products, but what sets them apart is their unparalleled brand marketing. Tesla is not just about electric cars; it’s about a sustainable future. Apple isn’t merely a tech company; it’s a lifestyle. Adobe doesn’t just sell software; it empowers creativity. This level of branding elevates these companies above their competitors, making them not just successful but iconic.

2. Overestimating Content Creation Abilities

Just because you can engineer a cutting-edge solution doesn’t mean you can effectively communicate its value to potential customers. Having an in-depth understanding of your product is different from understanding your customers’ specific problems, values, and needs.

Ask yourself: does your content map out the different stages of the buyer’s journey? To rise above the competition and instill confidence in your prospects, it’s not enough to offer generalized information. It’s imperative to deliver targeted content that resonates with customers at various touchpoints of their buying journey. Especially at the onset, your audience is not looking for a sales pitch. They are looking for neutral, educational content that not only addresses their specific challenges and needs but also positions you as a trusted thought leader in the field. By aligning your content with these expectations, you can build a stronger, more authentic relationship with potential customers.

Moreover, the nature of the buyer’s journey can differ significantly depending on the type of solution you’re offering. For instance, a cloud-based software solution often comes with lower perceived risks, such as fewer upfront costs or easier implementation. This can affect not only the types of content resources your prospects seek but also their decision-making process. In contrast, an enterprise software solution or a hardware product usually involves higher stakes, such as more substantial investments or complex deployment processes. This often means prospects will require more in-depth content, like case studies or whitepapers, before deciding to make a purchase.

Consider the approach taken by Salesforce. They offer a wide range of content, from blogs and whitepapers to webinars that address different stages of the customer’s decision-making process. This diversified approach ensures they meet potential clients where they are, offering relevant insights that guide them toward choosing Salesforce as a solution.

 3. Believing “If We Build It, They Will Come”

You may recall the story of Segway, the self-balancing scooter initially shrouded in mystery and touted as the next big thing in urban transportation. After its much-anticipated launch, it failed to meet the generated hype and never became the transformative product it was expected to be. The downfall wasn’t necessarily the technology but the flawed assumption that a good product would automatically find its market. This is a classic example of engineering brilliance that overestimated its product’s innate appeal.

Success involves more than just an innovative product; it also requires effective positioning, focused outreach, and strategic user acquisition. For the vast majority of advanced tech B2B products, this means driving awareness, establishing thought leadership, building brand recognition, and generating leads through marketing.

  • Awareness is about expanding your brand’s reach to a wider audience through tactics such as social media, content marketing, public relations, and event sponsorships. 
  • Brand recognition aims to make your brand easily identifiable and memorable to potential customers. This involves consistent visual branding, memorable taglines or slogans, engaging storytelling, and more. 
  • Thought leadership entails creating blog posts, white papers, webinars, and participating in  speaking engagements at trade shows to position your company and its leaders as authoritative, trustworthy sources in your industry.
  • Lead generation is the process of attracting potential customers and converting them into leads for your sales teams using tactics like email marketing, pay-per-click advertising, and gated content

4. Casting Too Wide a Net: Over-generalizing Customer Segmentation and Sales Strategy

In the early stages of a startup, there’s a temptation to attract as many customers as possible. However, trying to be everything to everyone drains your resources and dilutes your brand message. Moreover, it’s usually far more lucrative to focus on a specific customer segment likely to find genuine value in your product than every possible segment. 

The secret to ongoing profitability isn’t just about attracting new customers; retention is also critical. One study found a mere 5% increase in customer retention can boost profits by up to 95%. While the study is old at this point, it’s a powerful reminder of why ongoing engagement and relationship-building matters. Here are a few things that are important to keep in mind as you move forward.  

Low-Hanging Fruits: Start by identifying the low-hanging fruits—these are potential customers who already have a need for your product and are easier to convert. Targeting this group can offer quick wins that not only boost revenue but also help generate positive reviews and testimonials, creating a momentum that can be leveraged for future sales.

Tailored Sales Strategies: Failing to customize your sales strategies to specific customer segments can result in missed opportunities and reduced ROI. For example, a software startup targeting both small businesses and enterprise clients will need drastically different sales pitches and value propositions for each.

Tools and Resources: Platforms like Google Analytics and specialized Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software like HubSpot can provide invaluable insights into customer behavior. These tools can help you zero in on your core customer segments, allowing for more personalized marketing strategies and a higher likelihood of conversion.

Consequences of a Scattershot Approach: Without a focused strategy, you’ll likely spend money attracting customers who are either uninterested or not a good fit for your product. This could not only lead to wasted resources but also make it challenging to establish a strong brand identity.

Concentrating your efforts on a narrower, more defined target market can build stronger brand resonance, ensure higher customer satisfaction, and ultimately drive more sustainable growth.

5. Fumbling External Communications

External communications have evolved into a complex blend of social media management, advertising, public relations, and crisis management. With influencers and brands hopping from Twitter/ to LinkedIn and other platforms, and the social media landscape in constant flux, your communication approach needs to keep up to continue to reach the right people at the right time.

Social media isn’t casual anymore: If you think casual weekend Twitter banter qualifies you as a social media expert, it’s time to reassess. Effective business communication takes a far more strategic approach. You must maintain brand consistency, develop targeted messages, and thoughtfully engage your audience. An inconsistent or off-brand post can turn off prospects and quickly erode brand trust.  

The undervalued power of public relations: When it comes to building awareness and a strong reputation, nothing beats the credibility gained from third-party endorsements. These could come in the form of feature articles in respected industry publications, interviews, podcasts, or panel discussions at high-profile industry events. 

Getting your company’s name and thought leadership content published in respected industry magazines or websites elevates your brand and positions you as an expert in your field. It’s not just about press releases; it’s about storytelling and shaping public perception in a way that resonates with your target audience.

Strategic messaging and branding: Consistency is vital. Your messages across different platforms should align with your brand’s values and mission. A clear and consistent message can build a stronger brand image and increase customer loyalty.

By paying attention to these aspects of external communications, you can mitigate risks, improve your brand’s reputation, and enhance customer loyalty. Adopting a strategic approach in this area is not just an option; it’s a necessity for any startup aiming for long-term success.

Acknowledging Limitations and Leveraging Expertise

Engineering-oriented CEOs bring invaluable expertise to their startups, but a holistic business approach that also encompasses marketing is crucial. It’s okay not to be a jack-of-all-trades; collaboration with experts can fill in the gaps. Look for marketing partners that understand your industry, your customers, and your challenges. When choosing a partner, evaluate their previous work, customer testimonials, and whether they understand your specific niche.

Contact OmniScale Media today to schedule a discovery call and see how we can help make sure your solution doesn’t end up being a case study for products with poor marketing that never reached their full market potential.

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, acknowledging your limitations and leveraging expertise from other domains can make all the difference between a startup that sputters and one that soars.

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