If only demand generation was as easy as television shows like Mad Men make it seem. Have a great creative mind mix up a stiff drink and dream up an emotionally compelling storyline. Then, hand it over to a competent media team to put it in front of the right people consistently over time so that they flock to your doorsteps, wallets open.

I wish.

Unfortunately, as any startup who has tried winning new business will tell you, gaining attention is easy but capturing new customers is hard. Very hard. There are an endless variety of methods and channels where your startup can spend money, time and staff resources. But figuring out the right combination of marketing and advertising that generates profit is much more difficult.

In my experience as a founder and in working with startups, I regularly see smart people waste oodles of cash on dumb marketing investments. Why? They’re looking for that elusive silver bullet solution or, more commonly, simply don’t know what they don’t know.

Well, let’s make not knowing an excuse no longer. Below are the most common ways I see founders and startup marketers waste money and annoy prospective customers. Hopefully it’ll help you avoid these all too common potholes.

For The Unfamiliar, AdWords Is A Money Pit

I’m a big fan of Google’s AdWords pay-per-click advertising platform. It’s a brilliant idea, really. Leverage the fact that people are using search engines to get answers to questions or conduct product research before buying. Then, show them advertisements that help them as they do that research.

The problem is that AdWords is such a flexible platform for advertising that it is incredibly easy to waste money by not being relevant. In fact, Google has a measurement just for this. It’s called Quality Score. The more relevant you are to the intent of the user’s search, the higher your Quality Score and the less you pay when someone clicks on the ad. However, if your Quality Score is low… look out… you’re penalized by paying more than your competitors.

And that’s the rub. Google doesn’t always force you to stop spending money. They just make you spend more to maintain placement for your ads. Startup marketers who lack experience can see the value of AdWords but Google makes it entirely too easy to overpay.

Marketing Technology Is A Tool, Not A Miracle

Anyone plugged into the marketing world will readily admit that marketing technology, e.g. marketing automation platforms, email marketing services, advertising networks and social media management platforms, are incredible useful tools that help companies better communicate with prospects and customers. However, many startups who explore marketing technology underestimate the work associated with getting the most out of these platforms. For instance, marketing automation is great and all, but if you don’t have a clear selling proposition, compelling content, well-crafted emails and functioning landing pages then you will not receive value from implementing the technology.

Process and creative are as important as technology and tools. Successful marketers find a balance between the two.

Content Marketing Is Awesome… And Really Difficult

There’s no arguing that content is the foundation of stellar marketing. Great content not only informs and entertains, but at its best, it educates customers and helps them make better decisions. Furthermore, if you have a talent for creating content, it is also an effective way to get more traffic to your website via search engines or by generating positive word-of-mouth buzz.

Unfortunately, it is also extraordinarily difficult to pull off. Smart content marketing requires understanding who your customers are and what they’re interested in, having the vision to see the long-term narrative you wish to get across and then having killer writers, videographers and other content creators to pull it all together.

Startups that base their demand generation efforts around content marketing aren’t making a mistake. However, it is critical that you understand how deep the pool is before you jump in. Otherwise, you risk not being adequately prepared to swim.

Email Is Great, Expect When You’re Spammy

Want to see something fun? Get people to sign up for your email list but then send them more emails than they want to receive from you. It’s really amazing to watch how angry prospects and customers can get when you reach out to them too often.

The Fastest Way To Waste Money Is To Not Realize You’re Doing It

The purpose of marketing isn’t to raise awareness, build a brand or drive traffic. It is to help you make a profit. Ideally, a big profit. Unfortunately, all too many startup marketers spend more time and money than I’d advise on losing campaigns and tactics. Why? Because they have no bloody idea that they’re losing money.

Paying to learn isn’t a bad thing. However, paying without learning is. Therefore, it is critical that startups consistently measure marketing key performance indicators in order to understand the investments that are delivering the desired outcomes and/or why they’re not.