It's too bad we don't have different words to describe the range of marketing strategies and tactics that are employed during different stages of a business or product. Instead, we lump it all into the word "marketing". In particular, marketing for a startup is very different than marketing in a large, well established market. I think those of us working on startups forget this and try to emulate larger marketing campaigns to our own detriment.
To me, marketing for a startup is communicating an idea first, before a product. The product is what happens as a result. With good marketing, the product seems almost inevitable. If we didn't build it, there would be an angry mob at our door.
The fallacy in startup marketing, I think, is confusing the technology with the idea behind it. We all like to believe that people think rationally and make decisions based on product comparison charts. In reality, it is the idea that we're sold on. Technology alone is not a product. A product comes to life by forging technology, position, distribution channels, and pricing. Marketing is the glue that holds them all together by forming the proper abstraction in the customer's mind.
The mark of good startup marketing is rapid iteration on an idea and the way we are communicating it. Two things should be happening at each iteration: 1) Change the way we communicate the idea, and 2) change the idea itself based on the reactions we are getting. After each revision of our idea we cast the communication net a little wider; testing it with more people each time. The revisions can be rapid, sometimes within hours, or they can be infrequent, like within months.
So, good marketing is a feedback loop of story telling, revision, and expansion of our communication channels. This feedback loop is the mechanism that matures an idea and grows it into a product. That is especially important in a startup hoping to achieve a high growth rate.
If we believe the philosophy that people buy into ideas rather than products, then we should let the idea drive the product. In other words, what aspects of the idea are attracting the largest number of people? When we can start to answer that question with some consistency, then we are ready to build a product that simply inherits the characteristics of the idea.
This is what defines a startup, because established brands cannot do it. Their ideas are already proven, disseminated, and therefore unmalleable. In their 1984 commercial, Apple took advantage of this by attacking the establishment; IBM. If you don't believe that ideas sell, then have a look at this: