Marketing can be one of the most significant challenges faced by early-stage startups. Working with a significantly limited or nonexistent marketing budget, entrepreneurs must promote their products or services while trying to establish a name for themselves. Further, they must go beyond their initial task of convincing someone to make a purchase; they must also convince consumers to care.
While startup marketing may seem a daunting task, entrepreneurs can rise to the occasion with a bit of creativity and strategic planning. The following are seven important goals to strive for when developing a startup marketing strategy:
1. An outstanding customer experience
Oftentimes, an impressive product or service is a company’s most effective marketing tool. Likewise, it is difficult to effectively market something that simply isn’t any good.
Before formulating a marketing strategy, entrepreneurs should make every effort to ensure that they are offering the maximum value possible to their customers. They should take time to analyze the competition, assessing what ideas have been successful and how they can expand upon or improve current offerings in the sector.
Startups should also engage with their customers, gleaning feedback from their earliest supporters in order to optimize their products. In this vein, startup founders might consider implementing a “velvet rope” release schedule that invites a select number of consumers to get a sneak peek at their offerings; doing so will enable them to solicit feedback while generating interest throughout the wider market.
2. A knowledge of customer demographics
Entrepreneurs must develop an idea of their ideal customer base—the age, gender, geography, or general lifestyle of those who stand to benefit most from their products and services. This data is key to staking a claim in a competitive niche as startups establish themselves within a given market.
Even if a startup has not yet amassed enough funding for in-depth consumer research, a general understanding of who the company is attempting to sell to will help it determine how best to reach potential customers both online and offline. In addition to determining the ideal marketing channels and messages for a particular product or service, knowledge of customer demographics can also help entrepreneurs create non-promotional content that is engaging and share-worthy, thus encouraging readers to naturally spread the word about their brand.
3. A robust content strategy
By creating and sharing online content that goes beyond advertising, a startup can further solidify its role as an expert and trusted player in a given niche. Content creation can be an excellent marketing tool when used intelligently and deliberately; otherwise, companies risk muddling their message rather than amplifying it.
Startups should establish a presence on multiple online platforms frequented by their core demographics. These may include common social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube; business-oriented platforms such as LinkedIn and AngelList; or industry-specific websites, blogs, or news publications.
When creating content, entrepreneurs should strive to offer their readers something new and interesting, whether it is non-promotional stories about the company, expert insight into market news, or a laymen’s introduction to more technical industry topics. By developing a strong online presence supported by genuine social engagement and data-based strategies such as SEO, startups can increase the chances that people will find, read, and share their content, thereby introducing their brand to endless new potential customers.
4. Strong relationships
Companies, news publications, individual journalists, and professional organizations within a startup’s sector can be extremely valuable allies as it works to establish its reputation. Therefore, entrepreneurs should seek out these groups and individuals to form genuine, meaningful relationships that will be mutually beneficial throughout the lifetime of their business—not merely for the duration of a single news story or event.
Business leaders should keep an eye out for companies with offerings that complement their own and seek opportunities for promotional partnerships and other joint endeavors within the industry. For example, entrepreneurs might consider offering to pen a guest contribution for a relevant news website or publication in order to build an ongoing rapport. They might also seek out opportunities for their startup to co-sponsor an event tied to their niche; in addition to increasing the visibility of the brand, doing so can also help developing companies network with other organizations and reach out to potential customers.
5. Embedded virality
When crafting a startup’s initial marketing strategy, founders have the opportunity to embed product promotion within the fabric of the company. One way to accomplish this is to make social engagement and customer feedback a significant and valued aspect of their operations; for example, they may offer review incentives to early purchasers, set up customer referral programs, embed social sharing within their purchasing platform, or simply make a habit of producing share-worthy content.
Coupons are also a proven method of product promotion that can help a brand go viral. In fact, a recent study commissioned by RetailMeNot found that nearly half of customers were likely to purchase from a specific company because they had a coupon. Sending out coupons to customers on an e-mail list can not only convince new consumers to sign up for a startup’s mailings, but is also a great way for developing companies to show appreciation for those who have already offered their patronage.