Marketing is the key to a young startup’s growth. Efficiency is key in the early stages, though - your budget for promotional efforts is limited, so you need to spend it where it will be most effective. What are the right marketing tactics for a company that’s just starting out?
Look for options that give you fast results and fast feedback. Options like pay-per-click ads, direct email marketing, and product giveaways can put you in touch right away with your target customers. Even if they don’t, you’ll know right away, and you can switch up your tactics.
Don’t lean on strategies that take a long time to deliver just because they’re cheap. SEO is a good example: waiting months for your article to reach the front page of Google should not be the central pillar of your marketing plan. This article will discuss a few of the most common approaches and whether they make sense for an early-stage company.
What Are the Best Marketing Strategies for Startups?
Many of the challenges that startups face in the early stages involve making the best use of limited resources. That’s especially true for something as unpredictable as marketing.
Huge, well-funded companies have the resources to throw tons of different marketing tactics at the wall and see what sticks. When you’re on a tighter budget, you don’t have that luxury. You need to consider your marketing research and concentrate on executing one or two strategies really well.
Any marketing channel for your early-stage company needs to be:
We’ll take a look at a few popular marketing tactics for startups and see how well they fit our description.
It’s common for new founders to be a little wary of the PPC model, because not only does it cost money, you don’t know in advance exactly how much money it will cost. However, it meets our #1 requirement - speed - far better than a no-cost option. When you launch a PPC campaign, you’re putting your site in front of potential customers immediately.
If your landing page is tracking conversions, you can see immediately what kind of return you’re getting on your PPC investment. Are your ads paying for themselves? How many times over?
If you discover that you’re losing money on them, you can do something about it right away. You can shift your keyword list or bid limit quickly, or scrap the whole thing and try another approach.
Search Engine Optimization
SEO is a hot field since the value of having your page show up in the first few Google results is obvious. But it’s not where you should be directing your efforts as a startup founder.
Most SEO firms estimate that you’ll start seeing results in 4-6 months - and that’s coming from the people who are trying to sell you on the service!
“Results” doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re ranking in the top 10, by the way. It can take closer to a year for your site to start showing up near the top of the list for your keywords. And the process heavily favors sites with an established reputation and a regular content publishing schedule.
If you don’t yet have enough of a customer base that you’re sure your company will be around in 12 months, don’t prioritize SEO.
This includes SEO, but it can also involve writing a piece of content intended to go viral in your target market or get noticed by industry publications.
Content marketing strategies like those can have a more immediate impact on your business. That makes them a better choice for small startups than SEO, but they’re still fairly hit-or-miss.
Even superstar content marketers like Neil Patel write tons of pieces that go unnoticed. If you’re just starting out, it can take a long time to figure out what kinds of articles will strike a chord with your audience.
Content marketing works best in a relatively niche space, especially one where you already have substantial experience and/or connections. The more voices you’re competing with, the harder it is to be heard.
Note that it’s always a good idea to have some content on your website - it’s a quick and effective way to build trust and engagement with visitors. Just don’t build your marketing strategy around this unless your niche is fairly narrow and you know it well.
This is the classic low-cost, high-effort strategy. Directly calling or emailing potential customers requires some persistence (see our article on effective follow-up with cold prospects), but it can pay off well for B2B services.
The advantage here is that you can see right away whether your approach is working. Are people answering your calls? Are they opening your emails? Are they converting to sales?
If not, you can change up your messaging right away.
Cold outreach is less of a headache today than it’s ever been, thanks to services like Mailchimp, HubSpot, and ActiveCampaign which let you automate the most mindless parts of the process. Some of them even have free versions in case you want to test the waters before you commit.
Giveaways are great for B2C or e-commerce businesses. By offering something for nothing, you can quickly grow a large, self-selected subscriber list.
Be creative when picking the reward. Don’t just offer cash; choose something that will appeal specifically to your ideal customers.
Are you selling a fitness app? Give away a smartwatch. Do you produce medical devices? Offer tickets to an industry event.
Don’t forget about runner-up prizes. They’re great opportunities to give out discounts on your products, or free trials of your services.
Once again, the most important factor here is speed. You’re building a lot of engagement quickly - or else you’re learning immediately that you need to change your approach.
The Bottom Line
Startup founders want to minimize costs wherever possible. Sometimes this can lead to an over-emphasis on marketing strategies that are cheap but slow. You should certainly think about cost, but it’s worth spending a little extra for tactics that offer immediate feedback.
The early stages of a startup are all about learning and adapting. So pick an approach that lets you stay flexible.