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5 practical tips for marketing a startup

Our goals are the same as they’ve always been: attract customers’ attention, stick in their memories, and provide a great service (or product) they keep coming back to.

That’s never going to change. So what’s the difference? Consumer choice. Gone are the days when we could spray-and-pray radio ads and advertorials in high-circulation outlets. Consumers are absolutely glutted with options. There’s more out there than anyone person could ever experience and it’s just as difficult – if not more so – to stand out in the all-too-familiar “crowded marketplace” as it ever was, fancy tools or not.

1. Turn off your phone and call a meeting

Meetings aren’t anybody’s favourite pastime. But you’re going be glad you arranged this one because you’re going to get your entire team together to figure out the most important step in implementing any marketing plan for a startup: “what do we want to achieve?”

Your business' success depends on every person within it. And, you’ll probably find that not only are you (mostly) on the same page, but their ideas on how to get from A to B can be dramatically different from yours – and maybe even more effective, provided everyone’s realistic about the gains to be expected and how they can be achieved. Fresh perspectives and different ethos can all make major contributions.

Argue it out. Get passionate. Pass the mic around the room, involve everyone, and freestyle yourself a chartbuster. Not only will you get valuable input, you’ll also be able to choose only the best from a broad diversity of ideas you might not have heard otherwise.

2. Budgeting: numbers aren't everything

I’ve grown companies from the ground up, over and over, and the way I do so today is vastly different than it used to be. Over the years I’ve learned that, as marketers and entrepreneurs, we can easily get so obsessed with “numbers”,  that we lose track of what suits our audience. Our philosophy. Even our products.

Be hypercritical of every pound you invest in marketing initiatives. Don’t spend a cent you’re not absolutely confident in. Sure, there’s always a chance and every campaign’s a gamble on some level. But make sure you’re being realistic. Is that the right channel for your PPC campaign? Is boosting that Facebook post actually going to yield any sales? Target All The Things.

This is where data comes into play. It’s one thing to get super-creative in promotions (do this), but your marketing team needs to love data from tracking to analysis as much as they love artistry. Data should be one of the key drivers in determining how much to spend on marketing strategies – make sure your team knows how to wield it effectively.

One of the best marketing investments you'll ever make is a person or team who knows what they're doing - how to run a campaign, how to collect data and analyze, and how to optimize current and future initiatives based on what they've learned. Don't be afraid to let them push boundaries or use their imagination.

Keep sight of the whole. Always have a clear vision and remember: a campaign that nets more with a higher CPA isn’t necessarily better than a lower-cost initiative. Because hey – startup cash doesn’t just fall from the sky. Use it wisely.

3. Build a perfect lead/sales-gen platform

Whether it’s a full-blown website, a branded mobile app, or even just a social media presence, always look back to your lead-generation platform when trying to boost visibility and sales. It’s got to tick every box, especially online.

Users expect a certain level of performance and flow from both apps and sites (or any other digital platform), and if they don’t find it with yours, it’s easy for them to look elsewhere. A one-second delay in page loading or users being unable to find the Next Step immediately can have a dramatic effect on conversion rates. And solid copywriting? Cleverly-crafted copy can improve the ROI of any marketing investment you make.

UX, design, and copywriting look simple on the surface – like a painting viewed from afar. But get up close enough to see the brush strokes and you quickly realize things get a lot more complicated pretty quickly.

The bottom line here is, “optimize” is more than a digital buzzword – tiny changes in design and user experience/interface measurably affect sales. “Perfect” might be too strong a word, but it’s what you should be striving for. Always. Even if something doesn’t seem broken, looks for ways to improve it anyway – listen to your customers and keep an eye on your industry because your market, driven by consumers’ expectations, will constantly evolve.

Know your customer

Understanding who you’re actually selling to is one of the cornerstones of marketing. That’s why you hear the word “targeting” (or its variations) so frequently: targeting helps you choose the correct look, tone, and channel to showcase your product effectively.

This part’s more science than art. It’s fairly easy to layout a basic ‘customer profile’. You know who they are, generally speaking. But remember the consumer choice overload we talked about? Somewhere out there, some people are going to find a platform that more closely matches exactly what they’re looking for.

And that’s okay – you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But what you can do is focus on learning everything you can about your best people. Then you can tune all your marketing messaging – content, channels, everything – to match what they want and exceed what they expect.

Know your customer's journey

Now that you know who they are, you can get a pretty good idea of how they find you. Some channels will always outperform others, and certain customer habits are both predictable and predictably emergent.

For example, if you’re running a campaign for a B2C product, the best time to advertise probably isn’t during business hours – your customers are working. They’ll miss it. Vice versa, too: your B2B customers may see your ads because they’re working.

The same is true of the time of year: odds are surfboard sales slump in winter. Holiday decorations and Halloween costumes don’t move much in July. It’s more efficient to allocate your marketing spend to campaigns that take advantage of high-sales times of year.

Those are simple examples, and they come with a slight caveat: no matter what, don’t drop off the map entirely. Maintain a constant presence; just know when to invest and when to pull back.

Over time you’ll start to see patterns in your customers’ device usage – tailor your efforts to the devices they use most frequently for better results. That said, cross-platform marketing (AKA “people based marketing) means you can make sure you’re in front of the customer when they’re ready to buy, which isn’t always right away. Know your customer lifecycle and take advantage of it.

Use data

One word: DATA. Measure everything. Record it all. Track your best and worst-performing initiatives, the actions your prospects and customers take, and how and when they take them. Analyse and refine non-stop.

Data should fuel every marketing decision you make.

Some useful tools to measure performance across platforms:

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Alerts
  • TweetDeck
  • Hootsuite
  • Facebook Insights
  • MaximizerCRM
  • MailChimp (and other email marketing platforms)

4. Scale down sometimes

Even national-level businesses don’t always advertise on that big a scale. Geo-focused marketing helps them trim the fat off their campaigns for near-immediate ROI improvements.

As companies grow, so too do their marketing budgets. Almost inevitable. But taking a good look at where your revenue’s best generated – the places bringing home the most bacon – means you can focus specifically on those locations for better, more reliable returns.

It’s like this: why put up a set of expensive billboards on the freeway (passive) when you can advertise directly to potential customers who are walking by your restaurant at lunch hour (active)? Wouldn’t you sell more tickets to this weekend’s rock festival if you advertised in train stations and hotels, where inbound tourists are already wondering what to do?

It’s a big, crowded world out there – trying to capture it all is a good way to blow your budget. Instead, focus on those small, hyper-targeted locations and moments to cost-effectively win your customers one at a time.

5. Don't be scared

When something works a little, it’s easy to get comfy. To settle. But why not do something that works a lot? Why be satisfied generating 3 leads a day when, with a few small tweaks or a big step sideways, you could turn that into 30?

The market – your customer – will never stop evolving. What works a little today might not work at all tomorrow. Don’t get too stuck in your ways; you’ll fall behind competitors. Continuously shape yourself to match the market. Stay fun. Stay interesting. And do not be afraid to take risks! For now, those 3 leads will still be there tomorrow… and you just might get 27 more.

Startup marketing in a nutshell

Showcasing your brand consistently and in ways appropriate for the channels you utilize (for example, people don’t want to see advertising in social media – that’s for genuine engagement and conversation) is crucial. To find out what those channels are, and what platforms your customers use to access them, you’re going to need data.

This can all be distilled down to a few simple sentences:

The more data you’re able to collect, the better-targeted your efforts will become. The better-targeted your efforts become, the more efficiently you’ll be able to invest in them. And the more efficiently you allocate your marketing spend, the higher and more reliable ROI you can expect to enjoy.

Thanks to Ian Naylor for sharing their advice and opinions in this post. Ian Naylor is the CEO & Founder of AppInstitute. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

By Carolanne Mangles

I am Smart Insights' Digital Marketing Executive and Blog Editor - I write on a range of topics - SEO, Analytics, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Strategy and Planning - to bring you the best advice on all things new in Marketing. You'll also find me traveling and exploring new parts of the world when I'm not writing. Connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter

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