Make it Big Without Breaking the Bank: Tips for a Successful Bootstrapped Marketing Campaign

It’s no secret that these days, you don’t need to spend money to spread the word about your startup. There are numerous incredible marketing tools available that are free to use or that cost next to nothing and enable you to spread the word of your company like wildfire.

Both small and large businesses frequently receive broad market exposure from low-cost marketing techniques. Wendy’s, the fast food chain that features an internationally-recognized red-headed girl in its logo, once struggled with gaining a millennial audience. However, by making use of a good sense of humor, Wendy’s managed to win over millennials with its cheeky Twitter account that frequently calls out trolls and once offered a lifetime of free chicken nuggets to a follower, leading to the most retweeted post in Twitter history.

Even large corporations are utilizing inexpensive marketing strategies to appeal to target audiences, proving that it is easier than ever for startups to hold their own against corporate powerhouses with massive marketing budgets.

The following are things to keep in mind when looking to make a big impact with a small marketing budget.

Make your product worth buying

If you’ve ever seen an episode of “Shark Tank,” then you are aware of at least one instance when a company exploded onto the scene without any marketing or advertising. The best and least-expensive form of marketing is a product that speaks for itself. The more you listen to expert feedback and work to improve your products or services, the better your audience’s response will be. Happy customers talk, and as any entrepreneur is aware, word-of mouth exposure is the ultimate goal of any marketing campaign.

Related: 4 Realities of Bootstrapping a Business From Nothing

Find your target audience

Knowing your audience is key to a successful marketing strategy. The size, wealth and age of your target market are among the essential characteristics to identify before the launch of your marketing campaign. It is also imperative that you understand who your competition is, how your audience responds to your competitors and how your products or services are different from others in the market. The more specific your target audience, the less effort you spend focusing on consumers that may not be interested in your company, which ultimately helps you save on marketing costs.

Use social media and influencers

Platforms like Instagram and Twitter can be valuable tools for your startup, as they allow entrepreneurs to take control of their company’s messaging. To create a social media account that is sure to grab your audience’s attention, use Twitter and Instagram to document anything from a day in the life of your employees to landmark events. Allowing followers to keep track of daily occurrences humanizes your company and staff, creating a connection between your startup and audience.

While many people use social media on a daily basis, not everyone can engage an audience. When deciding who should take over your startup’s social media accounts, choose someone who not only knows how to use the platforms but understands how to utilize them in a way that will attract the attention of your audience. As mentioned before in the example of Wendy’s, an excellent Twitter account has the power to attract even the most stubborn consumers.

Reaching out to relevant social media influencers in your target market to promote and test your products or services is another good way to gain exposure. Many influencers are even willing to feature your product in a review for their large audiences to see if you simply send them a free sample. It may be nerve-wracking to have your product critiqued, but it is also crucial to remember that any feedback you receive, positive or negative, is vital to your company’s growth.

Don’t be afraid to take it “old school” with swag

As long as people enjoy receiving and showing off free merchandise, display advertising will not die. From old school stickers and T-shirts to their modern equivalents, smartphone accessories like PopSockets and phone stands, inexpensive merchandise that is fun and useful for consumers is a strong asset to any marketing strategy. Additionally, these products are typically more cost-effective when purchased in bulk, so the more you buy, the more you spread the word.

Additionally, aesthetically-pleasing (and legal) street art that features your company can likely end up on the Snapchat and Instagram stories of local users, enticing curiosity among themselves and their followers. For example, the West Hollywood location of the retail store Paul Smith is well known by Angelenos for its millennial pink exterior wall. While the Paul Smith brand couldn’t possibly foresee the wall’s eventual social media success when painted a decade ago, it currently attracts both locals and tourists who often post pictures of themselves in front of the wall, using it as a colorful backdrop. Today, a search of the hashtag #PaulSmithWall on Instagram results in over 2,000 posts and the wall is now synonymous with the Paul Smith brand.

Display advertising spans all age groups, and free merchandise or enticing images from a company creates an automatic connection with its audience at little to no cost.

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Remember, content (marketing) is king

Content marketing is a great way to gain exposure by making use of your expertise in your startup’s industry. Contributing guest posts to relevant online publications on topics in which you are already well-versed can help your company gain exposure with the right audience. You can also post to your startup’s website to create more on-site content, which will lead to visitors spending more time on your site and ensure a lower bounce rate.

Besides increasing your brand’s visibility, content marketing also allows for consumer trust and loyalty. When building a company from the bottom up, credibility is crucial and utilizing your knowledge of the space can build your audience’s faith in your vision.

The cost-effective marketing tactics mentioned above have time and again proven to be just as powerful as those used in multi-million-dollar campaigns, if not more. However, it is important to note that just because a strategy won’t hurt your budget, doesn’t mean it won’t hurt your startup. Take it from the broke college students who caused a stir earlier this year with a swimsuit giveaway promotion for their company, Sunny Co., which went notoriously viral on Instagram after the company offered a free bathing suit to anybody who re-posted the announcement within 24 hours.

Problematic and poorly-planned, the Sunny Co. marketing fiasco only further proves the power a low-cost campaign can have on a startup’s exposure. Sunny Co.’s Instagram following may have jumped from a mere 7,000 before the promotion to 750,000 in less than 24 hours, but the company faced huge backlash and nearly imploded. Learn from Sunny Co.’s mistake and put some extra thought into your marketing campaign. In this case, a simple cap after the first 500 shares would have done the trick.

Today, entrepreneurs and startups have unprecedented access to the tools they need to create exposure, without depriving the company of the funds and resources necessary for its growth. Use these tools correctly, and you’ll hit marketing gold for an iron price.

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