This article is based on a keynote titled 5 Mistakes and Cures for Low-traction Startups that I presented at the Growth Marketing Summit in August 2022.

The room was packed with marketers. The screen was lit up with stupid (or, arguably, lovely) cat and raccoon GIFs. The air was filled with painful truths and aha-moments.

Essentially, everyone had gathered to find the answer to a burning question, albeit simplified: 

Are we making any mistakes in our marketing, brand, or product strategy? And how to fix it? 

Are you spending your marketing $$$ the right way or throwing them straight in flames? 💸🔥🚒

How I imagine the CMOs and CEOs must feel…

Taking a step further, it’s important to realize that marketing, brand, and product are intertwined. You can’t grow if one key aspect of your company is dysfunctional.

So instead of focusing on tiny mistakes like using on the wrong Facebook ad campaign structure or missing out on email marketing automation, I asked everyone to take the macro-level view.

Zoom out of your everyday work and consider your company from the birds-eye level.

Now, you’ll begin to notice the actual problems. And once you see them, you’ll be able to fix them.

But before we jump to the TOP 5 mistakes of low-traction businesses, I suppose I should briefly comment on why I am even the right person to talk about this topic…

20+ Marketing audits later…

For the past 1.5 years I’ve been freelancing as a marketing consultant, working with both B2C and B2B brands.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak to 60+ businesses and work with 20+ of them.

My favorite marketing collabs

Quite often, I begin a new marketing consultation project with a 360-degree marketing audit.

What is a marketing audit?

The goal of a marketing audit is to understand how the company is doing in all aspects and channels of marketing and growth. 

It might also arise from burning questions like: 

“Marketing isn’t working. What are we doing wrong?”


“Are we using the full potential of all marketing channels?”

To compile a marketing audit, I request access to the company’s marketing reports, ad accounts, etc. I always set up calls with relevant team members to get their insights.

Once I have all the requested information, I’ll get to work…

Ultra busy checking ad accounts…

It usually takes ca 1.5 weeks to compile a marketing audit…

Typing down the 100th recommendation

In the end, I and my client end up with 60-70 pages’ worth of a Google Doc. It includes an overview of all the marketing channels. 

I also look into the onboarding process and product retention as it’s just as important a contributor to a company’s growth as new user acquisition. 

Below is a quick overview of the marketing audit sections that I generally cover.

Marketing audits cover more than just paid ads

In regards to each of the above topics, I share my advice on: 

🔍 The current state

🔍 Opportunities

🔍 Suggestions

We then meet with the marketing team – often the CEO joins as well – and discuss the key takeaways and, most importantly, how to go forward.

💫 Goals

💫 Action plan

💫 Work

As a result of a marketing audit, the company will have a clear understanding of how each of their marketing teams/channels/actions performs and how to improve it.

Now the real work begins!

Alright, sounds sort of legit… 

But what are the BIGGEST mistakes and priorities?

Let’s get right down to it!

🔥 Mistake #1: No clear goals

The first things in a marketing audit that I check are the company’s marketing KPI and growth reports.

I mean… 80% of the time I don’t check them as they do not exist. Rather, what’s been happening is the CEO or CMO saying:

“Let’s run some ads and find out who our customer is.”


“We’ll find out the ROI and CPA once we start with marketing.”

Um… No you don’t!

You (the CEO or CMO in this case) should know the company’s growth forecast for the next 6-12 months. 

You should know where that growth is supposed to come from. And at what CPA, ROI, and payback period. How else do you intend to ever make your startup or early-stage business profitable?

Without clear growth goals, there won’t be a clear action plan.

The best a marketing team can do at such poorly-guided companies is to try to get “some” results. Without a long-term vision, this tends to result in wasting time on poor-quality social media posts or blog articles that nobody will actually read. 

Working 9 to 5… 🎵🎵🎵

Doing marketing without a clear understanding of the goals amounts to being busy for the sake of being busy.

If you don’t know where you want to go, you can’t get there.

If this sounds like your company, here’s a not-so-easy (and yet unavoidable) solution. You’ve got to demand clearer input from the top management.

The only fix to Mistake #1 is getting clear input from the CEO

Top management needs to know the goals

When consulting various companies in growth and marketing, I always begin by establishing a detailed Marketing KPI Tracking sheet. Together, we fill in the past 3 months to see if there’s any past data on the LTV and CPA per lead and paying customer.

Up next, I collaborate with the CEO or CMO to understand the next 6 months’ revenue goals and work down to other growth and marketing projections based on revenue expectations, churn, LTV, and expected CPAs. 

All this leads to having…

🗝️ A clear 6-month plan

🗝️ Alignment of marketing & product

🗝️ No gut-feeling-based surprises

… on the high level. And on the marketing team level, you’ll have…

💫 Clear expectations (numbers)

💫 Revenue, ROI, LTV

💫 KPIs and measurement

Ready for the takeoff

Once we know all this, we can proceed to implement the planned marketing activities and campaigns.

Moreover, as you know the expected KPIs, you can compare whether your results match the projections and make quick adjustments (e.g. channel & budget allocation) if needed.

🔥 Mistake #2: Amazing product, bad packaging

Remember that quote used in startup blogs and books around the 2000s? 

“If you build it, they will come.”

Well, as it turned out as I googled it, the words come from a movie titled Field of Dreams.

When talking to various businesses – both B2B and B2C – I’ve realized that many of them have a very strong product and there’s a high potential for finding product-market fit.

However, their website and ads looked like out of an early aughts’ financial scam.

Great products need great packaging

Around 10y ago it was still possible to build a breakthrough product and get people using it via engaging the early adopters and betting on word-of-mouth.

In 2022, this is no longer the case. Almost all business verticals are saturated with tens of businesses building a similar product. 

Even if your product is the best in the industry, you’ve got to earn the user’s trust. And nobody these days trusts a brand that looks low-quality.

People don’t buy from brands they don’t trust

Take this example of a well-known fintech company…

Here’s what their website home page looked like in 2012. (IDK how it didn’t look sketchy already down in 2012, but anyhow…)

Would you trust your money to this company in 2022? Hopefully not.

Of course, they know that design trends as well as website-development opportunities have changed over the past 10 years.

Today, the same company’s home page looks like this:

Looks 100x more legit, doesn’t it? 

It is told that your brand should be good enough not to get in the way of growth.

But how to tell whether your branding is good enough? I usually suggest a simple exercise:

Ensure your brand is at least as good as the competitors’.

But don’t just go with the gut feeling – your own baby will always look sweeter and smarter than those of others.

Ask three types of different audiences to evaluate your website / App Store listing and to grade its quality and trustworthiness.

🍪 Ask a brand/marketing expert

🍪 Ask your friends

🍪 Ask 10 neutral people

And what shall you do once you realize that your brand really isn’t as strong as it should be?

Hire a branding expert or agency to help you out.

Now, let’s get to the next mistake that’s the exact opposite of having a strong product and a low-quality brand.

🔥 Mistake #3: Amazing brand, no product-market fit

You can trick people on a date with your product…

… But they’re free to leave any time.

What this means is that you can spend a lot of money on paid advertising and other venues for customer acquisition.

However, if your product fails to deliver on its promises, the new customers will immediately churn.

I’ve often seen Product and Marketing teams fighting over this conundrum. Is it the fault of the product or marketing that you fail to attract new paying users with a high LTV?

Sometimes, as I ask during a marketing audit what the customers think about the product, I hear that all the users are huge fans and give positive feedback. 

“The feedback from 20 customers tells that the product is great…”

The problem with such easy-way-out customer surveys is that you might send an email asking for feedback to 1,000 users. But only the ones who like your brand will answer. 

The few fans would of course tell you almost anything you want to hear. But is it the information that you actually need?

Yes this is Dog I like the product

Here’s the problem…

People who are disappointed in your product do not bother to reply to your emails. Nor do they fill in the surveys.

So how can you get honest, relevant, unbiased feedback about your product?

By hiring a group of 10-20 random, neutral people who more or less fit your target audience group and getting them into a room or on a 1h call one-by-one. You can then ask them to test the product and to give honest feedback.

The goal here is to uncover the real issue. The most common issues include:

🔥 Solving an inexistent problem

🔥 Not the best way to solve a problem

🔥 Too expensive (time + money)

The solution to a non-existent product-market fit is, well, to find it. And it’s not going to be easy – you’re going to have to make substantial changes to the feature set, pricing model, or another product aspect. Or pivot completely.

P.S. By “improving your product” I do not mean building new cool features that seem like quick wins. This almost never works. A meaningful product change will probably take months, but will also be worth the effort.

Looks like we’re steering away from marketing and spending too much time on the product? Thing is, no marketing can make people use a bad product.

But let’s get back on the marketing track for now…

🔥 Mistake #4: Lack of focus

Most marketing teams are constantly on the lookout for new user acquisition and growth channels.

At one point, this will lead to your team of 1 or 20 – depending on the size of your company – working on many different channels at once.

Most of the time, focusing on so many marketing campaigns at once will lead to a big bold mess.

If this looked like your marketer, keep reading. Salvation is coming.

One of the most common suggestions I write down in marketing audits is this: Stop working on this marketing channel.

❌ There’s no point to post on social media if your posts are not original

❌ There’s no point to create another blog article on a topic that’s been covered 100x

❌ There’s no point to work with influencers if you don’t see measurable results

Consider all the marketing activities that you and your team spend time on and ask: Is this bringing us new customers and revenue? 

If the answer is no, stop working on that marketing channel.

Quite often, I recommend to my clients to focus only on paid advertising and automated emails for a while. 

If you can’t make paid ads work for you, the chances are low that you’ll find substantial growth opportunities in any other channels.

You can drag along for a year or more doing low-impact work. Or you could just spend the time and salary money on running 4 weeks of paid ads.

Instead of 12 months, you’ll find out in 1 month whether there’s a product-market fit / whether your brand is strong enough.

To explain this a little further, I’ll share a quick story from my Bolt years.

As one of Europe’s biggest mobile advertisers, we received a pitch from a new ad platform every week. They promised lower cost-per-install and lower cost-per-purchase prices than we had in Google or Facebook ads.

However, we always turned them down.


Because their platforms could reach only 1% of the people we could reach with our Facebook and Google ads. 

Why would we spend time on working on tiny marketing channels instead of funneling all our efforts into scaling and improving our top channels? 

Instead of wasting your team’s time on tiny marketing campaigns that promise low-cost results, focus on the activities that bring results on scale.

🥲 Kill your darlings and cute pet projects 

🥲 Focus on 3 high-potential growth channels

🥲 The same applies to product features

As a result, your team’s focus and output will improve. You’ll have to work less, but will yield better results.

To put this in Moomin terms: instead of reaping ten unripe green pumpkins, you’ll get one big juicy pumpkin.

Continuing on the subject of (vegetable) growth, we’re down to the last mistake…

🔥 Mistake #5: No growth loops

Whenever you bring a new user into your product, the first challenge is to keep them there for the first 3-5 minutes.

If you achieve that, you’ve likely got an excited user looking to explore your product further.

While it usually falls on the Product team to increase retention, reduce churn, and keep users happy over a long period of time, there are points in the in-product user journey that fall under the Marketing team’s radar. Such as…

  • Post-signup retention newsletters that urge the user to complete their profile or try the product
  • Post-onboarding requests to refer a friend
  • Automated lifecycle marketing emails that keep bringing people back into the product/store

Know your retention stages – Image source

If you forget to think about user retention, you’ll be filling a water bucket with a hole in the bottom.

You might bring in 10,000 new users… But in 2 months only 20% keep using your product.

My friend where are tho?

Yup, that’s sad.

But there’s more than just retention marketing that you can do.

You can also build growth loops.

A playbook definition goes like this: “Growth Loops are systems designed to make every input to generate an output. That output is then reinvested as an input and, since this is a closed-loop system, the process repeats.

In more practical terms, the best-known growth loops are:

🍯 User-2-user referrals

🍯 User-generated content

🍯 Rewards programs

However, offering people €5 to invite a friend for another €5 promo code doesn’t quite cut it in 2022. You may need to find more attractive incentives.

For example, Revolut has upped their referral offering to €50 for every referred friend. On the other hand, they’ve also made it 5x more difficult to fulfill all the conditions.

Test various referral programs to turn one new customer into multiple new customers. By the time the first one leaves, their invitees are referring their own friends. 

The best time to ask for users to refer friends is while they’re excited about your product – either right after signup or after another successful engagement (e.g. ordering something from your store / unlocking a milestone inside the product).

🍩 Build in the initial surprise moment

🍩 Establish growth and retention loops

🍩 Keep people excited and engaged

Once you’ve figured out the biggest hurdles to your company’s growth, you’ll be able to fix the holes in your marketing and product buckets.

It’s only an uphill ride from there.

🍪 Thx for listening, thx for reading! If you’ve got an article/keynote topic you’d like me to cover next, drop me a line on LinkedIn.

A quick note: 

I am back from my writing sabbatical and taking on new marketing consultation projects. 

While my schedule for the upcoming months is already 60% booked with confirmed projects, I am still open to 1-2 extra interesting projects starting from October/November 2022. 

Reach out at and tell me how I could help your marketing/growth team.