Tactics vs Strategy: Why Most of the Digital Channels Will Not Work For Your Startup

During an impromptu meet with some founders, the conversation drifted towards digital marketing. One of the founders was talking excitedly about their startup when his co-founder jumped in. “Which channel do you think Akshat, has the most ROI for a niche ecommerce platform.”

Now, I try and avoid such questions without a thorough understanding of the product, industry etc – but after a couple of futile protest – I blurted out, you should try building an Email List.

(Offer great content -> Build email list -> Share great content over email -> Optimise for Purchase)

We already have an email list, north of 50K subscribers.

Woah! Then you guys must be doing something right.

PPC campaigns, and email marketing. But our revenue is stuck at 25 lac since the last quarter and we’re not sure how to increase it

Are you doing all this by yourself?

Yes, learnt Facebook/Google marketing online and have had enough sales to build the list.

In another conversation (with a client), we were exploring an alternate channel for corporate sales. Long sales cycles, slow decision making and inability to convert multiple leads had resulted in frustrations. After closely observing the corporate sales process for 2 weeks, I came up with a small experiment to see if we can tackle this in a different way. The suggestion was immediately met with “We’ve done that before but it did not work”. I pressed a little to explore why it did not work. Asked for numbers/reports to share so that we could diagnose.

A very similar conversation with another (now a client) prospect was around how it was time for them to start investing in long term, sustainable organic channels. The topic of content marketing came up and was immediately met with, “We’ve done a lot of blogging before but it never really helped”.

This discussion is about 1 year old, and since we’ve taken up their content. The blog currently has upwards of 50K hits a month. Their lead acquisition has gone up 400% with 70% of that attributed to the blog.

All these discussions were with three different company founders, but had a very similar undertone. I call this the Channel Plateau Syndrome.

Amongst all the qualities a startup founder should have, being a generalist and a super-fast learner is amongst the top. In all three of my conversations above, the founders had successfully built their startup to a respectable revenue without any external help. All three cases have a two-founding-member situation with a couple of interns helping out. And one of the Founders, with no background in marketing, was running their marketing.

Things that got you this far would seldom get you to the next level.

A More Strategic Approach to Marketing

Getting your startup out of the Channel Plateau, and getting out of it quickly is crucial for the next phase of growth. This is the time when the Founders should start seeking expert help.

Marketing, however, is much harder to solve for than any other company vertical. Especially on the digital front, you have so many people saying so many things – it can get mind boggling. To add to that, the ever-evolving, ever-changing digital world.

So how do you really approach a marketing plan that’ll move you in the right direction?

These points, in the order of importance:

  • Knowing what to measure and how to define success
  • Sustained, long term and consistent investment
  • The ability to course correct when things aren’t working

Knowing what to measure is important. And it’s an extension to the organisational priority. Having the metrics clearly defined sets the tone for execution. It also gives a clear direction to the team members. You might have a ton of social media engagement but if that doesn’t translate to revenue, there’s something wrong. Or putting all your eggs in the SEO basket at the start of your company is probably not such a good idea. Your company needs to outlive the time it takes for SEO to show results.

Consistent investment, in terms of both time, effort and budget. We were recently working with one of our clients to create a Framework for user acquisition, it took us about 6 months to exactly nail the message, channel and the CPA. The Framework is now narrow enough that we exactly know the audience, the creatives and the amount of money it’d take to acquire new users. But this took consistent efforts of 6 months with a lot of experimentation.

The ability to course correct needs expertise. Not the bookish kinds, but real world, problem solving that only comes with experience. Unless you’re okay with the cost of learning.

In over three years of my consulting work, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with many entrepreneurs. And if there’s one common undertone to every conversation – what do we do first.

Half hearted execution without enough time and efforts will only result in channels that are half-working.

Probably the reason why most of the digital channels wouldn’t work for you.


  1. Hey Akshat,

    Have experienced the same. Do you manage to convince them to get you onboard to improve these existing channels which have plateaued? I often find they have developed a bias against those channels and want something new. When we talk about using those same ones, they tend to be quite sceptical…

    • I agree. Convincing folks who’ve developed a bias against, or for a specific channel is quite hard. It makes sense to take up small experiments to show value in such cases.

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