Startup marketing has so many shapes and styles that vary from one company to another. It is highly dependent on your business model, target market and nature of the service or product you’re selling. It requires agility and the ability to work with low budgets and minimum resources (at least to begin with) but with maximum creativity.
Marketing is a wide area of expertise with lots of disciplines and skills, but I believe there are some basic elements that can help companies rise above the noise and stand out, even in crowded markets and competitive industries.
In this article I’ll share with you a few my tried and true tips for building a successful startup marketing strategy that will increase your chances to become a category leader or at least a fast-growing player.
For the TL;DR crowd, here is my short list of marketing best practices:
- Tell a story
- Build your brand from day one
- Identify your target audiences and buyer personas
- Listen, engage and build connections
- Create quality content
While working with startup companies and brilliant entrepreneurs, I’ve learned that “one strategy fits all” is never an option, but great strategies tend to have these elements in common.
Now, let’s dive in and get started:
- Everyone loves a good story
The backbone of every successful marketing strategy is a well-told story.
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell”
– Seth Godin
Founders of startups usually come up with brilliant ideas to solve big problems. Along with the millions of tasks they have, they also need to interact with lots of stakeholders and audiences.
However, in many cases, when telling their company story, they tend to focus on features, technologies and lots of details that are part of the solution.
These things are important, no doubt – but only after you get the attention and interest of your audience.
A rational story informs, but an emotional one persuades
A good, clear, emotional story can really make a difference. An inspiring story will help you raise funds, attract new customers, secure partnerships and hire talented team members. Emotional stories also help to build strong connections and increase brand loyalty, too.
This is one of my favorite videos that shows the real power of words:
Here are my tips for coming up with a good, emotional story:
- Start with the problem you’re solving. Why is your company so necessary? What is the size of this problem? Look for the bigger picture.
- Try to think about the value you bring to the world – the way you change the lives of your users, whether they’re consumers or companies.
- Find your purpose, your WHY (See Simon Sinek video on this topic).
- Come up with a narrative – a hero, a plot, a resolution. Just like in stories we all love and remember.
- Start your story with an anecdote, a number or piece of data that is surprising and memorable.
A good example of great storytelling can be seen by comparing the two versions of the Waze story. One is taken from the company Wikipedia page, which requires a dry, technical description with no superlatives. The other one is the story the company tells.
A. “Waze is a navigation application program for smartphones and display screens that provides user generation information to improve driving time and route details.”
B. “Imagine millions of drivers out on the roads, working together towards a common goal: to outsmart traffic and get everyone the best route to work and back, every day.”
Can you tell which one is better and more engaging? (I heard this great example in one of Uri Levron’s FB live interviews.)
After figuring out your story, share it with everyone around you. Your company story will also help share your company’s culture, and you should live by it, day in and day out.
Put it on all your digital assets, social pages and add it to your website under the “our story” section.
- Build your brand from day one.
Ok, maybe not from day one, but from the first day you start communicating with investors, potential customers, partners and the world in general. It doesn’t mean you should start a full branding process with an agency like Natie Branding Agency at this stage (although you’re lucky if you can do that!), but you should invest your time and efforts to articulate your brand essence.
A brand is not just a logo and colors. It’s your entire story, culture and company personality. In today’s world, your brand should be part of every interaction with your audience. It should offer a 360-degree experience that is consistent and coherent.
Doing it right from the beginning is a great opportunity to shape customers’ expectations and attitudes towards your brand.
After figuring out your story (step 1), you can continue the exercise and answer the following questions to help build your brand platform.
- How relevant is your company? Why should customers care?
- What is your differentiation? What makes you unique?
- What is your credibility? Why should they believe you?
When building your brand, focus on the 4 Ps
Purpose – Why do you exist? What value do you bring to your target audience?
Promise – What do you commit to provide? What is your value proposition?
Positioning – How are we going to deliver on the promise? Target audience, channels, types of experiences.
Personality – What will it look like? What will be the tone of voice you use?
When we built the new brand for Promo.com, we made sure to share the story behind it, the brand purpose and the meaning of our new logo. We also created this launch video:
Brand-building requires resources and is hard to measure in the short term. However, its impact on long-term success and sales can be significant.
- Identify your target audiences and buyer personas
When building your marketing plan, think about all relevant audiences that can benefit from your product or service. Identifying them early on and understanding where they hang out and how they consume their content can help you build loyalty and increase conversion rates.
One exercise you can do is build a user persona for each type of user on your target list. A persona is an ideal customer profile that you create after researching your target audience, existing customers and other data sources.
I found this example by Hubspot (from 2012!) where they outlined the different marketing personas that use Hubspot and tailored the messaging to their specific needs:
Building your customer personas can also help you figure out where to find these people online and off-line. You might run separate webinars and events for the different types of customers you’re targeting and run different campaigns for them, too.
- How do you know what people are saying about your brand? Listen
This tip is about listening to what your customers say, monitoring your brand and building relevant connections.
Two of the most strategic relations I developed at Promo.com started from talking to our customers and listening to their feedback. One (Ken/AdZombies) ended up becoming a large partner and brand ambassador, and the other one (Sarah Evans) became our PR and digital advisor.
Listening to what people say about your brand is crucial. It will not only help you build relationships with industry experts, it will also allow you to shape your messaging and enhance your product.
Listen…then it’s your turn to talk
However, listening is not enough. You should also be engaged in the conversation.
Many brands post content on social media and see no results. Posting regularly is not enough. You should be active and responsive in order to increase people’s exposure to your content. Comment, respond to comments, communicate with other brands and share other people’s content.
For brand and keyword monitoring, you can use Google Alerts, which is totally free.
However, there are tools that also allow you to like and comment, like Hootsuite (for social channels) and Brand24 (for all online channels).
- Create quality content – including videos
This tip is related to the way you fulfill your promise and communicate with your audiences. Building thought leadership and brand authority is a long-term effort. Content is not only king, it’s everything. It includes your emails and newsletters, website content, landing pages, blog and social media channels. It also impacts the way you answer support requests via chat or emails.
Following your brand guidelines and tone-of-voice for consistency is a great thing…but it’s not enough. Make sure the content you’re creating is valuable for your audience. Always think about your readers and ask yourself, “What’s in it for them”? If you share valuable content consistently, you will eventually become a resource for them. That’s the goal.
One such brand that I really enjoy following is Canva. Even their emails are brilliant. They share valuable tips and hacks with their users, and they do it with a playful tone and great copy.
Discover what your audience needs, then provide it
When you tailor your content to your audience needs, it works. At Promo.com, for example, we became a resource for thousands of SMBs in all things digital marketing. We shared best practices on social media management, introduced guides for digital advertising and disclosed all the secrets of great video marketing.
Many times I see company Facebook pages that post content on a daily or weekly basis, but their posts have zero likes and comments. None.
My recommendation is to take the time to check what your audience cares about.
A few of my personal tips:
- Check out Facebook pages of competing companies and follow other successful brands for inspiration.
- Try different posting times, different copy and different visuals.
- Join relevant groups and try to learn about the interests and needs of your audience.
- Ask your team members to like, share and comment on your posts and ads. It will increase your content exposure.
- Don’t be afraid to boost your posts. Organic exposure for pages is very low to begin with. Even $1 dollar a day can make a difference.
To summarize, a successful marketing strategy is one that starts with a clear story and consistent brand, and it evolves as a result of your users’ changing needs and goals.
It’s not magic…it only seems that way.