Marketing is essential for startups. After all, if people don’t know about your business, how can they buy your products or services? That said, startup marketing can be a challenge.
Limited resources mean you must have a solid strategy and cost-effective tactics if your startup is to succeed and grow. So in this guide, we’re going to walk you through how to develop a startup marketing strategy and then share our tried-and-tested tactics to grow your startup.
What is a startup marketing strategy?
A startup marketing strategy is a marketing plan designed to support rapid growth that also works for limited resources — time, money, and talent, for example.
It can either involve growth hacking or growth marketing, depending on whether you are looking for fast results or a solid foundation to build on.
Since marketing for startup businesses is unique, traditional marketing strategies don’t always work. The key is to plan thoroughly and execute effectively by combining the right channels and tactics.
How to develop a startup marketing strategy
Every startup is different, so you’ll need to use various tactics to suit your market. But underneath, each startup marketing strategy has the same core elements:
Let's break it down:
Focus on SMART goals
SMART goals – those that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely – are crucial for startups as employees typically have more than one responsibility due to limited resources.
For instance, the founder of a SaaS business might be responsible for business strategy and product development, while the co-founder looks after marketing and finance.
SMART goals help you focus on the business-critical goals that will drive revenue and growth.
Our SaaS founder might have goals like:
- Develop and release the top five user-request features by the end of Q1
- Secure the latest round of investor funding by the end of Q2
And the co-founder might have goals such as:
- Create 12 new blogs to build awareness of the product in Q1
- Publish five social media posts to promote new features each week in Q2
Instead of worrying about insignificant initiatives, SMART goals keep you focused on the vital tasks.
Develop your ideal customer profiles (ICPs)
No matter what kind of startup you have, it’s crucial that your marketing reaches the right audience with the right message. So, as you’re developing your strategy, consider your ideal target audience or who you want to reach.
Consider these questions as you develop your ideal customer profiles:
- What makes you and/or your business unique?
- Why should your potential customers choose you?
- What makes you different from your competitors?
- Are your products better suited for large or small businesses
- Are your products designed for a particular industry?
- What are the locations, demographics, or interests of your ideal customers?
Ideal customer profiles let you refine your marketing and segment your audience(s). Use the information to create marketing campaigns that focus on the right people at the right point in their buyer's journey.
Identify your product-market fit
To give your startup the best chance of success, thoroughly research your competitors' products and gauge interest from your potential customers.
According to research by CB Insights, a lack of market demand is one reason startups fail:
“Tackling problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was cited as the No. 2 reason for failure, noted in 35% of cases.”
- Does your product or service solve a problem or differentiate itself from the competition?
- Has it been positioned correctly to reach your ideal customer?
- Is its focus too narrow and the pool of potential customers too small to build (and scale) a successful business?
Once you’ve identified your product-market fit, you can begin to think about how you will reach your target audience.
Craft a unique value proposition
Whenever you choose a product or service, you research the options to see which offers the best value.
The same applies to your startup – you need to craft a unique value proposition that is concise and:
- Addresses your ideal customer needs
- Cannot be duplicated
- Creates market hype
For example, Zoom took advantage of the pandemic lockdown restrictions to scale its business with its value proposition:
“In an increasingly remote age, Zoom helps you keep your life moving.”
When Uber started, its target market consisted of people who needed low-cost, on-demand transportation. So they clearly explained their solution:
“One tap and a car comes directly to you.”
You could use one of these templates to help write your value proposition:
- “We help (X) do (Y) by doing (Z).”
- “For [target customer] who [needs or wants X], our [product/service] is [category of industry] that [benefits].”
Once you’ve crafted a few options, test them and see which resonates most with your ideal audience.
Set a marketing budget
Several factors affect marketing for startups, including operational costs and revenue forecasts. But more importantly, you have to spend your money wisely.
Consider your goals, and invest in the marketing channels to help you reach them. And don't hesitate to try something new if a particular channel doesn't work.
As your business grows, you can increase your marketing budget and expand your reach to new markets.
Identify your distribution channels
As a startup, it’s essential to identify your core marketing channels — those that help you grow quickly.
To do this, you’ll need to experiment with different channels to eliminate the low-performing ones and invest more time and money in the top-performing ones.
Here are a few channels to consider:
Websites are 24/7 marketing tools that help you communicate with your audience and grow your business. If you’re not ready for an entire website, you could always start with a single landing page.
Building a relationship with your audience through email marketing is a great way to keep them engaged over time. You can embed a form on your website (or landing page) to capture email addresses from visitors. After that, you can share updates about your products, services, content, or anything else that might interest them.
Latest figures show there are 4.65 billion social media users worldwide — around 58.7% percent of the total global population.
And as that figure continues to grow, it’s essential that social media marketing is part of your startup marketing plan. These are the benefits of doing so:
- Brand awareness. You can reach more people and encourage them to visit your website and check out your products and services.
- Direct communication. You can interact directly with your customers on social media. As there’s no barrier, you can gather customer feedback and resolve customer issues.
- Low-cost traffic. Social media is a cost-effective marketing channel for startups with a low budget.
Social media enables you to create and schedule posts across multiple platforms, reply to comments, and respond to customer inquiries as you build and scale your business.
Ads allow you to generate leads in the short term. And there are several types to choose from.
- Display ads. Best for brand awareness and retargeting.
- Social ads. Best when people are not aware of your product or service, and you want to catch their attention visually.
- Google Search ads. Best when people are already aware of your product or service and search Google to find the best-value vendor or service provider for their problem.
Unlike ads, SEO is a long-term strategy. But it will lay the foundation for continued success in the future.
In SEO, you optimize your web pages and content for search terms your prospects use to find products or services like yours. The key is to find high-intent keywords that will drive more qualified traffic to your site.
SEO is a continuous job — you’ll need to update and optimize your web pages and content to ensure you grow and attract more prospects.
PR helps to increase your startup’s visibility both online and offline. Press coverage, thought leadership content, guest posts, outreach, and events all help get your brand get noticed.
Most startups focus on digital marketing, but offline marketing and promotion are still helpful for some businesses. For example, you could:
- Create business cards or brochures: look for opportunities where you can hand them out to your potential customers.
- Go where your customers are: start networking and building relationships. Visit trade shows, conferences, and local meetups.
- Send postcards: get in touch with new contacts, announce a new product, invite people to an upcoming event, etc.
- Get people talking: create a great customer experience so that people start talking about your products or services. Referral and word-of-mouth marketing is highly effective because people trust other people’s opinions more than ads.
Create lead generating content
Content marketing focuses on creating and sharing different types of high-quality content, including blog posts, articles, infographics, ebooks, videos, and podcasts. Unlike other promotional marketing efforts, content marketing provides engaging, entertaining, and educational information for your target audience.
Over time, it establishes your brand as a trusted source of information and helps you attract and convert new customers. For example, you could create an ebook that visitors download in exchange for their email addresses. You can then follow up on these leads with a targeted email campaign.
Create and track success metrics
Whatever startup marketing campaign you run, it’s essential to measure the results. You need to know that you’re getting a return on your efforts with a limited budget.
1. Track your marketing KPIs
Use KPIs (key performance indicators) to track your progress toward your marketing and business goals.
- If your goal is to raise brand awareness, choose a KPI like website traffic, social shares, or new contacts to measure audience growth.
- If your goal is to acquire more customers and generate more revenue, choose a KPI like click-through rate (CTR) or customer acquisition cost (CAC).
2. Test, rinse, repeat
Whatever type of marketing you’re running, you need to continually test what’s working and what isn’t. If something isn’t working, be prepared to make changes and test again.
For example, you could run A/B split testing to see which email subject line gets the highest open rate or which ad copy generates the best results.
3. Discover what works for your audience
The more you track and measure your metrics, the more you’ll discover what works best for your ideal target audience. Use all the data to improve your marketing strategy and maximize your budget.
7 time-tested startup marketing ideas
Once you've developed your startup marketing strategy, it's time to put it into action. Check out these time-tested startup ideas for how to market a startup:
Offer a free trial
One of the best startup marketing tactics is to offer a free trial. High-profile SaaS companies like Dropbox, Canva, and Zapier provide a free trial or a “freemium” version of their product. Once customers use the product, it’s easier to upgrade them to the paid version.
Use co-marketing partnerships
Co-marketing allows startups to partner with another complementary brand to share audiences and resources and execute a cost-effective marketing campaign. Instead of starting from scratch, startups can save money and reach a new relevant audience without consuming their marketing budget.
When choosing your partner, make sure:
- They complement you — you definitely don’t want a competitor.
- They are similar in size — neither too big nor too small to work with.
- They have a significant audience — check email subscribers and social followers.
Engage in communities and forums
You can often find your ideal customers in online communities and forums, such as a Subreddit or Facebook group. The idea here is not to start selling. Instead, you want to build relationships by engaging with other members, answering questions, and sharing insights.
Develop a referral or affiliate program
You can use a referral or affiliate program to get other people — typically those who’ve used your product successfully — to promote your product or service. In exchange, an affiliate receives a commission on any sales they generate while a referrer gets some reward, like a discount on your product or service.
Either way, both options are a great way to get your product or service in front of a larger audience.
Use video to tell your story
Video is one of the most cost-effective startup marketing tools. You can use different videos to tell your story, from product explainer videos to live streams and video interviews.
For example, Dollar Shave Club spent less than $5,000 on their startup video that garnered more than 25 million views and 12,000 new orders within 48 hours of launch.
Partner or integrate with other products
Sometimes it makes sense to partner or integrate with other related products. For example, Slack makes its platform more appealing by integrating with many different products, including Google Drive, Giphy, Trello, Simple Poll, Notion, and Salesforce.
Give out free products
Running a giveaway is still a valid startup marketing tactic. Or, if you want to take it to the next level, you could run a contest. The bottom line is that your brand gets more attention. You can use tools like Vyper and Rafflecopter to facilitate the giveaway.
If you want your new business to succeed, you need to embrace startup marketing.
Follow these steps to develop your startup marketing strategy:
- Focus on SMART goals.
- Develop your ideal customer profiles (ICPs)
- Identify your product-market fit
- Craft a unique value proposition
- Set a marketing budget
- Identify your distribution channels
- Create lead generating content
- Create and track success metrics
Aside from marketing, startup success depends on having personal connections and networking.
Learn more about how we connect startups with the resources, partnerships, and communities that help them launch, grow, and scale their businesses.