Why Traditional Marketing Will Turn Your Startup Into a Garbage Fire

No one wants to buy something they don’t understand

Joe Procopio
6 min readMay 28, 2020


When a brand new company launches a brand new type of product, that company faces a unique marketing challenge. The marketing messaging not only has to quickly sell the customer on the product, it has to first educate that customer on what the product is and exactly what problem it solves.

Traditional marketing methods often fail to do this.

Regardless, startups tend to fall in love with these methods, especially branding. When startups think marketing, they usually think Coke, Nike, or Apple — companies that have spent decades branding themselves as purveyors of aspirational products to multiple market segments.

But the reason why startups often fail at branding is that they lean on it way too early, and wind up skipping the entire education process. For an unknown product from an unknown company to achieve product-market fit, the marketing has to be far more educational.

The difference between branding and education

There are two scenes from the sitcom Silicon Valley that distinctly explain the difference between branding and education when marketing a new product.

The first scene comes when the mega-tech-company — and obvious Google clone — Hooli sets up a focus group for its new Hooli Phone. The focus group moderator asks each participant in turn how the product makes them feel. The responses are all negative because the product just doesn’t work.

The second scene is when the startup Pied Piper winds up in the same focus group setting with its competing product. This time the responses are negative because no one understands what the product is supposed to do or how it is supposed to do it. The CEO bursts into the focus group room and spends hours explaining the product to the focus group, eventually winning them over.

Both products are going to fail. The first will fail because all the strategic branding in the world can’t save a subpar product; the second will fail because all the tactical education in the world isn’t going to sell that kind of complexity.



Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com