You’ve got a great idea, enough funding to hire an expert team and a developed product ready for customers. You also have some marketing strategies in mind, and now it’s time to validate them, grow your business and scale up to the next phase. But, before all of that… there’s a lot of work to do.
New businesses have all kinds of challenges that get in the way of building out that growth engine, and marketing teams in early-stage startups often face similar problems, such as:
- Lack of budget: A lot of the time, there just isn’t the marketing budget available to do everything you want. Paid acquisition can be expensive (particularly in the early stages before optimization) so marketing teams need to prioritize budget expenditure on channels that will have the biggest impact.
- Incomplete product market fit: For a lot of startups, product market fit is very rarely completely solved before a product launch. Early stage teams should spend a lot of time thinking and rethinking their personas based on available engagement data. These iterative alterations can shift the goal posts for marketing teams.
- No social proof: One of the biggest barriers for new products or services is a lack of trust. You might be getting some traction with early adopters, but how do you convert these customers into advocates and cast your net wider? Building trust is crucial for building a customer base that can scale.
Then comes the real question: how can fledgling businesses overcome these strains? There are a number of different tactics for achieving this, but no single silver bullet. As with any startup business, the key lies in figuring out what actually does move the needle as quickly as possible.
Understand your customer
It’s crucial for any business to understand its customers. But especially for companies building innovative new products, this isn’t optional. Rather than building fictitious personas based on assumptions or guesswork, build personas using real data from your current customers.
Gather feedback from them constantly to better understand their pain points. This is a tremendous help in two ways. First, it helps you nail down your key messaging to potential new customers by presenting the problems you solve. Second, it pinpoints which aspects of your product are working and where you should focus your efforts. When you’re starting out, you need your campaigns to be as efficient as possible.
Build a community
Word-of-mouth is one of the most important tactics to harness in the early days of a business. Your marketing budgets might be slim, but word-of-mouth is free and incredibly effective.
The best way to build a community is by creating and publishing content to your social media channels. To start, your audiences don’t have to be particularly large – but the more opportunities you seize to stay front-of-mind for your most engaged customers, the more likely they are to recommend your startup’s product or services.
Avoid content that celebrates your brand or service. Instead, build content that helps potential customers and show how you can solve their problems. This can not only create more trust amongst your current customers, but also acquire new users in need of your service. Just be aware that organic social reach is low, but building a community takes time and patience.
Own your niche
If you’re starting off, chances are you can’t afford to be a master of every channel. Stretching your budgets too thinly across too many channels can have disastrous impact on efficiency.
The good news is that you don’t need to be everywhere to run an effective marketing strategy. You just need to find a single channel that works, and scale it appropriately. A great place to start is by researching keywords that are relevant to your business, and focus in on terms that demonstrate high-intent but aren’t very competitive.
Once you have this list, build SEO, PPC and content campaigns around these keywords. Once you’ve found a channel that is driving results, react fast and pour on the gasoline.
Right from the start, you should encourage your customers to leave reviews. There are a number of platforms for aggregating user reviews, which you can then showcase on your website.
First, display these reviews on your website to build social proof. Build case studies and shoot testimonial videos of your most engaged users. A real person with a face adds a lot more credibility than a five-star rating alone. Next, aggregate your reviews and add them to your Google Business listing (which requires 150 verified reviews within the last 12 months). Lastly, repurpose these reviews in your ads and test them to see how they perform.
Do more with less
Constraints can be the birthplace of creativity and force you to figure out innovative ways of outshining your competition. This really is the heart of bootstrapped digital marketing, because adopting a mindset of doing more with less and working economically will help drive meaningful results.
One channel that is often overlooked is email. It’s a comparatively low-cost channel (usually only the price of a single subscription tool), and allows you to contact your most engaged customers with news, updates and opportunities to refer your business.
Giveaways that require users to sign-in with an email address to enter can be a cheap way to gain new qualified leads, and grow your email lists organically. If designed correctly, these campaigns are prime candidates for shareable content.
Content and SEO is another high-impact but low-cost channel. Think carefully about how you can repurpose your content across multiple channels. Producing a podcast? Try cutting it into clips and sharing them on Twitter. Developing a new trailer? Turn short clips into GIFs and share them on Instagram.
It’s not easy at the beginning. There are dozens of factors competing for attention, and so many marketing avenues that seem inaccessible. But, by prioritizing relentlessly and experimenting constantly – early stage businesses can capitalize on incremental growth and begin to scale.