Marketing a Startup on a Low Budget
If you had the marketing budget of Nike, Hanes, or Wheaties, you could hire Michael Jordan to be your celebrity endorser. If you were Subway, Coca-Cola, or Budweiser, you could spend millions on SuperBowl commercials. Even in the online realm, big spenders like the Obama “Yes We Can” campaign and Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” can teach us all a thing or two about marketing.
But startups can’t spend what Nike and Budweiser spend; and, frankly, we startups need the exposure more than the household names do. So we find ourselves in a conundrum: we know we need marketing prowess to get our ventures past the startup stage, but as long as we are in the startup stage, we do not have the budget to properly market our ventures.
Luckily, there are some online marketing opportunities that can be classified as stealth, guerrilla, grassroots efforts. No matter what industry jargon term-of-the-day you apply to them, they are inexpensive and they work.
Internally, create content that interests your target audience. This content can be in the form of blog posts, guest posts on other sites, white papers, infographics, videos, etc. This content should not be promotional and may not even discuss your product. The purpose is to engage your target audience and build your authority.
iDone, this is a startup out of San Francisco that chronicles what members of a team have done. Their content, therefore, focuses on productivity. Without touting their services, they publish white papers like “The Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List,” blog posts like “The Science Behind Why Jeff Bezos’s Two-Pizza Team Rule Works” and syndicate video inforgraphics like “Why Do We Procrastinate.” These example don’t talk about their product; these examples do work to attract teams interested in increasing their productivity.
Another great example is Plated, a NY startup that combines home delivery, fresh ingredients, home-style cooking and healthy food all into once nicely parceled box. Their explainer video on Youtube has over 50,000 views and their blog posts focus on healthy eating, cooking tools, and other topics of general interest to their target audience.
Connect with Influencers
While you build your own thought leadership status with content curation, you can also research industry influencers in your realm. Tools like Traackr, Kred or Klout can help you identify the influencers, or you can just search around on your own. Find out who is engaging with your audience on social media, then reach out to them. Retweet their updates, like their posts, comment on their articles. Get involved with the people that drive the industry.
Is your company targeting foodies? Connect with @paulbarron, @katieparla, and @LAFoodie. Chances are that by familiarizing yourself with them, they will familiarize themselves with you – and may be an early adopter of your startup, give you an enthusiastic shout out if they like what you are doing, or share your brilliant content (see above) with their audience.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
The most valuable leads are the ones who find you. You could spend a lot of money on PPC campaigns, display advertising, remarketing, and sponsorships; or you could invest a small portion of your resources on search engine optimization. By defining keywords that your target audience searches for and incorporating them on your site and in your content, you will raise your search engine ranking results and enable users to find you. Read more about SEO here.
Another important element is not to neglect the leads you have already collected. Even if they were not ready to purchase your product at first, continue to engage with them, offer them content that matches their place in the buying cycle, and build yourself as a trusted advisor with regular social updates, email campaigns, and targeted content. Read more about lead nurturing strategies here.
Do not limit yourself to these suggestions. Try new things. Perhaps create a sweepstakes on social media, like Qwertee, the t-shirt maker, did. They ran a Facebook sweepstakes in which users had to like their Facebook page and submit their email address to win. As a result, they reached their goal of 100,000 Facebook likes.
- Create a viral challenge like the recent ALS Ice bucket challenge.
- Start discussions in relevant LinkedIn groups.
- Attend local Meetups or trade shows where your target audience will be.
Whatever crazy idea you have, give it a shot!
Lacking Budgets Do Not Mean Lackluster Results
Startups entrepreneurs operate lean machines. Not having the budget of Nike may mean that you can’t pay Michael Jordan to say your product is great; but, who says you need to? There are cost-effective ways to curate quality thought-leadership content, engage with industry influencers, optimize your site for relevant keywords, and nurture the leads you have.