One of the more alluring qualities of startups is the optimism that permeates every bit of the company culture. I’m a sucker for the take-over-the-world attitude and nothing is more exciting to me than tackling big and complex challenges. Yet no matter how large the idea that is being brought to market, we all know that there are learnings to be had… and this is especially true when it comes to marketing.

As a grizzled veteran of more than my fair share of failed startup marketing campaigns, allow me to highlight some of the surprises that lay ahead for your first-timers.

1. You’re probably not selling to who you think you are.

Every marketing campaign starts with the best of intentions, but then you get out there and start asking people to actually pay you money for what you’ve created. Quite often you’ll discover that the people you think should be interested in buying your product either aren’t interested or aren’t yet ready. Don’t be afraid to chase the low hanging customer fruit. It’ll fund your growth and give you some great learnings as you continue the customer development process.

2. Your customers won’t act as rationally as you might expect.

This one always gets me. It goes something like this:

You: “If you buy X from me it can [save you money, save you time, make you money].

Them: “Nah, thanks, I’m good. I’m using Product Y right now.”

You: “Yes, but isn’t Product Y [hard to use / expensive / not giving you what you want]?

Them: “Well, yes, but its what we’ve gone with and changing now [is too expensive / makes me look bad / would make me do extra work].”

You: “**Sigh**”

Ever hear the saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”? Pretty much the same with customers. Humans evaluate rationally but make purchase decisions based on emotional triggers. You’ll need to conduct a lot of testing of your marketing messages to make sure it hits the right tone at the right stage of the prospect’s decision making process.

3. Its really easy to spend money on marketing and advertising, but really hard to measure what works.

Give me $100 million and 18 months and I’ll give you back a national brand. But it probably won’t achieve the revenue or profitability goals you’ve set for yourself.

Don’t fall into the trap of spending marketing dollars to generate awareness or website traffic. Focus your budgets on generating measurable actions (e.g. signups, leads, sales, etc). After all, budgeting is just another way of saying prioritizing.

4. PR won’t generate quick sales.

Dear PR friends, please don’t hate on me for this one. But I’m telling you, PR does not generate quick sales. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen PR success drive a ton of traffic to a website and then deliver just about zero sales. Does that mean PR is a waste of time? Absolutely not. However, it does quite often drive prospects who are fairly early in their decision-making process.

Moral of the story? Learn the difference between a Marketing Qualified Lead and a Sales Qualified Lead, and then prioritize your early-stage marketing investments to drive prospects who are ready to take action. Your bottom line with thank you.

5. One touch won’t be enough.

Direct response campaigns are all well and fine, but it is highly unlikely – especially early in your marketing endeavors – that your prospects will visit you once and instantly become a customer. Why? Because all buyers navigate through a decision making process. Your prospects need to know you exist, view you as having a credible solution to their perceived problem, and their pain has to be significant enough that they’re ready to buy. And guess what? That process requires multiple touches.

Don’t spend your entire budget in one sitting. Get ready for the long haul and orient your marketing resources accordingly.

6. Build it, and they probably still won’t come.

Yes, it is possible to have your business go viral. No, it probably won’t happen. I don’t care how good your product or service is. We live in a world filled with noise and competition. I’m a believer that stacking the deck in your favor and creating an unfair advantage via great story telling (e.g. marketing and advertising) makes sense. But then again, as a marketing guy I’m a teensy bit biased.