How to Develop a Startup Marketing Strategy and Make It Work
Starting a startup isn't easy in itself, but promoting it is generally tougher than it seems. How do you get people to find out about your startup or product? How do you grow visibility and raise brand awareness? And are there successful tactics worth taking for a spin?
When done right, startup marketing can bring back lots of fruitful results. But it's continuous, challenging, and effort-intensive work. Let's find out more about how to build a marketing strategy that will be in line with your business goals and help you win clients.
What Is a Marketing Strategy for Startups?
Put simply, a strategy for startup marketing is a comprehensive action plan outlining the ways you'll promote your business, brand, product, and services to the target market. An effective strategy includes actionable startup growth strategies and tactics that help you spread the word about your company, build brand awareness, acquire buyers, sell the product, and stand out from competitors to survive in a competitive business landscape.
What are the major components of a marketing strategy? Naming the fundamentals, it includes the target audience, your value proposition, branding and messaging, the channels for promotion, the customer acquisition strategy, a specific budget, and indicators to measure performance and evaluate success.
Why Should You Create a Marketing Plan for Startups?
Mentioning the major reasons why you should have a marketing strategy for a startup business and a concise plan, it should be noted that creating excitement and engaging potential clients is a lot tougher than it may seem.
Brand awareness is hard to achieve when everyone wants to be in the limelight, and your startup lacks recognition. So, a plan may help you focus marketing efforts, build credibility, increase visibility, and establish a positive reputation, promoting the product and attracting those clients that have the biggest chance of being interested in your offering.
A clear marketing plan ensures consistency across various teams and aspects. It can help align not only product development but sales efforts, too. Since startup marketing is a complex and all-encompassing unit, it is in tune with different teams and their initiatives. As such, it helps define the core value your product or service offers.
A concise and documented plan can also aid you when making strategic business decisions, including how to differentiate your product or offering from the competitors. Marketers fall back on research and pay attention to trends, monitoring the market dynamics and what the competitors are up to. Therefore, a marketing plan can provide you with the needed guidance on where to allocate resources, which goals to focus on, and how to maximize return on investment (ROI).
In general, marketing is a crucial piece of the puzzle contributing to the overall startup success. After all, neglected or ineffective marketing is one of the common reasons leading ventures to close down and fail.
15 Steps to Get Started With Startup Marketing
Although a lot of the things marketers do is behind the scenes, it takes a lot of work. Some of these things intertwine with the overall business plan and product development. As a rule, the end goal of any great marketing initiative is acquiring customers. So, if you're not sure how to create a marketing strategy for a startup that'll work, we'll go over the major steps and must-knows.
Step 1: Pinpoint Your Target Audience
Who are you marketing activities aimed at? First things first, identify who your target buyers or users are to focus your efforts. It is crucial to correctly define the specific customer segments that you'll be targeting before planning your startup company marketing. Otherwise, you risk pouring money and time into activities that will completely miss the mark.
This implies making detailed profiles of your ideal customers, also known as buyer personas. Oftentimes, this is done during the discovery phase. Here's what you should investigate, research, and note when making these partially fictional archetypes:
- separate customer demographics;
- their age, job, income, etc.;
- client preferences and interests;
- their pain points and challenges;
- their needs and desires.
Step 2: Conduct Market Research
Your startup business marketing strategy will be more of a rose-colored glasses fantasy without conducting proper market research. You have to dig deep in order to understand how to position yourself on the market and whether there are enough people interested in your offering in the first place.
To ensure demand, you have to gain insights into the current industry state and be updated on them. Here's what you need to find out about the market to help you with major startup marketing decisions:
- Who are the biggest players?
- What are the latest trends? Are there any emerging ones?
- What are the latest market dynamics in your niche?
- Are there any visible changes in consumer behavior?
- Did any disruptive technologies emerge recently that could impact your industry?
- Are there areas or gaps you can take advantage of?
Basically, it all goes down to finding product-market fit. And an overview of the market lets you highlight your own unique benefits.
Step 3: Spend Time on Competitor Analysis
Then, review the solutions or services that are already out there, noting how your possible competitors are marketing their products. If the team has previously done such research during the proof of concept stage, apply it and fill in the blanks from a marketing perspective.
Here's what you have to do:
- Compile a list of your potential competitors, both direct (that have similar products competing for the same customers) and indirect (that have a different offering but for the same target market).
- Overview their products and offerings, and try to use them. Explore their features and pricing strategies, and read into their customer feedback to spot their strengths and gaps that you can use as leverage.
- Then, look through the channels they are using for promotion, which tactics they prefer, and what they emphasize when positioning themselves, which promotional activities they're putting effort into (e.g., advertising, social media presence, content marketing, etc.). You can get a lot of this information simply by doing Google searches and browsing through social media platforms and business or startup directories.
- Make sure to log your competitor analysis findings, at least in a simple spreadsheet. When you've gathered enough data, evaluate your competitors' weaknesses and strong sides, as an option through SWOT analysis. This will help you figure out why people choose (or don't choose) this competitor over the others, identify possible threats, and adopt an altered version of the strategies that seem to work for others for your own startup marketing initiatives.
- Don't forget that this isn't a one-time task. It is wise to keep an eye on the competitors, monitoring their activities from time to time.
Nonetheless, it is crucial to point out that simply copying someone else's marketing strategy won't do you good. It is among the startup mistakes that you'd definitely want to avoid if you aim for success. You can peek at the tactics and test them out, but the final combination that will work for your business will be unique.
Step 4: Define the Value Proposition
With all that research done, you can better allocate opportunities to differentiate your product from the rest of the market. A compelling and clean-cut value proposition should:
- capture the essence of the product's unique value;
- articulate why and how you stand out from the competitors;
- be customer-centric and resonate with the target audience (demonstrate that you are aware of their pain points and have a solution that'll address them and add value to their lives);
- communicate your brand positioning and where you stand on the market (e.g., you have a SaaS solution for accountants or Texas residents);
- generate interest, help attract customers, and gain the desired market share.
Here's what you should do in order to develop your value proposition.
- Try to describe which main problem your product solves.
- What is your competitive advantage (what sets you apart from the others, which innovative features or unique services you offer, is there something you do better than the others like convenience in use / exceptional customer service / unrivaled pricing / superior quality / etc., which outcomes customers should expect)?
- Which gains does the solution bring the users (why should they choose you)?
- What do you want people to associate your brand or product with?
- What do you want people to remember?
It's never easy. However, the value proposition is an essential part of startup digital marketing, and it has to hit the happy middle ground between your customer's emotional and rational needs. By catering to their desires, you can appeal to the emotional sides while at the same time providing enough logic behind why your solution is worth a shot. The latter could be done by using specific numbers, facts, or testimonials as backup.
Actually, although this extra point is at the crossroads of your startup's sales strategy, offering a part of your product as a freemium or a free trial is also a commonly applied promotion strategy. People get to test your product first-hand, see what it's about, and then make a decision regarding whether they're ready to pay for the extended functionality.
Step 5: Outline Tangible Goals and Be Prepared to Iterate
Your startup marketing plan won't be complete if you don't set achievable goals. Determine what you want to accomplish with your marketing as well as your short- and long-term objectives. Usually, this has a lot to do with your OKRs and KPIs for specific teams and the company as a whole.
Importantly, these goals have to be tangible, preferably measurable, timed, and directly linked to the marketing activities you plan to execute. This will help your startup prioritize, stay focused, and keep the team organized.
For example, if you're only at a very early stage (for example, in the process of building an MVP that hasn't been released yet), then one of your goals for the marketing team could be collecting a certain number of contacts for the waitlist. To achieve this, the team would need to put together a landing page and establish an online presence to create hype or make buzz about the upcoming product or MVP launch. In this case, the tasks, goals, deadlines, and deliverables are clear. This was just a single example, as the specific set of goals will vary from project to project and depends on an array of factors.
On another note, keep in mind that startup marketing is also about hypothesis testing. Because no one can tell you that a specific strategy will work 100%, you have to run tests and be flexible enough to iterate your plans. Therefore, marketers often turn to A/B testing and other means like studying screen recordings, heatmaps, click maps, among others.
It also makes sense to set time ranges for running a specific campaign, initiative, or for reaching a given goal, as you'll need time to assess whether a strategy is working or not. Usually, the minimum is two weeks, yet some activities require much longer time frames to gather enough data to reach a decision without making conclusions based on only preliminary parameters.
Step 6: Set Up a Website or Landing Page, Choose Your Channels
How are you going to reach your target audience? You'll need a website or at least a landing page, as it's one of the vitals of digital marketing for startups. At this point, you'll have to start planning what to include and how to best portray the startup or product.
Likewise, how are you going to get people to browse your website or land on your landing page? You'll need other channels to establish your online presence. Shortlist the channels you believe are effective and worth making an appearance on, and mark how much attention or time you think each should be given.
For instance, social media channels are perfect for connecting with people, growing a loyal following, and sharing the latest updates. Some startups even use channels like X (previously known as Twitter) to share their entire journey by openly posting the story of the company's formation step-by-step, known as building in public.
Step 7: Decide on Brand Assets and Messaging
As you begin working on the website and landing page and plan to make accounts on relevant social media channels and other platforms, it is time to give startup branding some thought. You need to handle such branding assets as:
- making a logo;
- picking the style, fonts, and colors;
- coming up with a slogan and one-liner to introduce yourself with a short phrase that briefly portrays the value proposition and how you stand out;
- thinking through the calls to action (e.g., convincing users to click the sign-up button and leave their contact details).
Your voice and messaging are no less important for a strong brand identity. Make sure to tailor your messaging so that it's aligned with your company's values and resonates with the target audience. Also, ensure consistency (i.e., that the voice is the same on all the channels you're using).
Mind that the wording you're using has to click with your target audience to achieve effective communication. For instance, if you're working on tech startup marketing, it might not be worth using too much jargon or, on the contrary, being too technical, as you may end up alienating or confusing your audience. Hence, simple and compelling language with emphasis on how you're solving the target audience's problem is considered a best practice.
Step 8: Expand Your Online Presence
As we've mentioned, getting exposure is crucial for startup marketing, so once you're done with the website or landing page, continue by filling out information on the other channels you've previously listed. If you haven't done so already, set up accounts on various social media and relevant platforms to expand your digital presence. Fill out key business profile information like:
- your startup's name;
- a short description reflecting your value proposition;
- contact details;
- importantly, don't forget to link back to your website or landing page.
Giving you a few examples of where to create accounts apart from popular social media channels like LinkedIn, you can choose niche-specific startup groups like GoodFirms or Clutch and make use of Google My Business.
Step 9: Create Valuable Blog Content and Mind SEO
Investing time in great content, including the blog, is among the popular marketing strategies for startups. Running a niche-oriented blog lets you:
- share knowledge or valuable findings that your target audience cares about;
- answer questions the customers are interested in;
- makes it possible to showcase yourself as an expert in the field;
- build up your reputation;
- grow credibility.
And, notably, if the content is of high quality and SEO-optimized, it lets your content grow its ranking as it appears in the search results and generate leads organically. Search-optimized content implies conducting keyword research to find relevant keywords, search terms, and topics the target audience is looking for (tools like ahrefs or Semrush can be handy for this).
How do you drive organic search traffic? Use the research findings to make a content plan for the blog or other pages of the website (such as the pages describing your services). Indicate which topics you will cover, which keywords each page should contain, and the publishing schedule you'll do your best to follow consistently.
Such content has to have a proper structure, include relevant links, be informative, well-researched, appealing to the eye, engaging, and, ideally, shareable. Don't forget to go over your created content after some time to review and update it so it stays relevant. In an ideal case, your blog will become the go-to place for your target audience to regularly get interesting information.
But as the amount of content grows, it might make sense to have a separate person on the marketing team responsible for SEO. And maybe more people to produce content, too, especially if you're planning on expanding the content plan, posting long reads on other platforms, guest blogging, and so on.
Step 10: Act on Your Social Media Plan and Use Other Content Types
It doesn't only go down to blog articles, as there are plenty of other startup marketing strategies dealing with various content forms.
One of them includes utilizing the social media channels you chose and doing so on a regular basis. Here are a few tips:
- You can promote your content by distributing the blog posts you've published on social media channels. This will enhance visibility and bring you priceless clicks and page visits (and the best part is that these backlinks are basically free). So, enrich your social media plan and share links to valuable pages, publications, white papers, and articles.
- It is reasonable to adapt the content to the selected platform. For example, you may use LinkedIn for professionally oriented content, X (a.k.a Twitter) for short messages, and Instagram or TikTok for casual content. The relevant set will differ from startup to startup (for instance, some small businesses use Instagram as a means to sell physical products).
- Engage with the audience by replying to comments, responding to feedback, and being active. This gives a personal touch, makes your brand more down to earth, and fosters the creation of a network or community.
The same goes for making email campaigns. This is an important customer touchpoint that marketing specialists shouldn't neglect, especially if your database of user contacts and sign-ups is growing.
- You can work on regular send-outs, digests, and newsletters, sharing the hottest deals, company updates, latest news, links to fresh articles you've written, or other valuable information.
- What else can you share? If you have real numbers, case studies, or social proof to share, do so. This includes customer feedback quotes, testimonials, or even short recordings of video interviews.
- In fact, user-generated content is very powerful leverage, so if you have photos or other content your customers created and don't mind you sharing, make sure to make the most of it.
Any other types of content? Sure. If you have the time and budget to spare, you can make video tutorials and podcasts for startup marketing purposes.
Step 11: Select the Metrics
Your marketing initiatives won't have the expected value if you can't measure their effectiveness. This is why you have to choose the appropriate metrics for measuring performance, as this is essential for strong digital marketing for startups. You'll also need to get acquainted with tools like Google Analytics along with Mixpanel or Amplitude for tracking performance.
The specific marketing metrics and key performance indicators to keep an eye on can be different for various teams, however, some common ones include:
- organic website traffic;
- page views, time spent on page, bounce rate;
- open rates and click-through rates;
- user engagement rate (including reach, number of likes, shares, or followers);
- the conversion rate;
- cost per lead;
- social media reach.
Collecting this data and observing the dynamics helps you see the big picture of which tactics are working best.
Step 12: Implement a Referral Program
Besides, think about referral programs or perks for your customers when working on your startup marketing. Fostering loyalty and the customer lifetime value (CLV) metric is incredibly important. So you can offer your early adopters some sweeteners, exclusive discounts, freebies, or other benefits for spreading the word about your product or recommending it to their friends or contacts.
Make sure these incentives are a good deal and really bring value to serve as a motivation for existing clients to take action. Plus, don't overcomplicate the participation terms (it's best to keep things simple). Then, let people know you have such a program by utilizing your chosen channels. And lastly, you'll need a tracking system to help you monitor that you received these leads or customers as a result of a referral.
It might cost you a bit from the outset, but the tactic usually brings a return on investment. As such, it can:
- encourage your customers to become returning clients;
- boost brand awareness;
- influence such metrics as customer acquisition cost and customer lifetime value;
- ultimately help you increase sales and acquire more customers.
Hence, word-of-mouth should definitely not be underestimated, regardless of which of the stages of startup development your business is in.
On a related note, maybe an influencer or industry expert would be interested in free access to your tool in exchange for a mention? Influencer marketing can also be used by startups, as the masses often give an ear to the recommendations of the thought leaders they follow.
Step 13: Consider Running Paid Ads
Driving traffic, obtaining brand visibility, and getting leads organically via search engine optimization and other tactics is a more cost-effective option, yet it's one that takes lots of time. An alternative is investing in pay-per-click advertising (PPC) if you need short-term or fast results.
In essence, you also research keywords, draft catchy ads with compelling copy, and target specific keywords, demographics, or other parameters so that ads are shown to relevant audiences. Such campaigns can bring back practically immediate results, but they aren't free. You need to set a budget to get your ads displayed online (be it on Google Ads, Instagram Ads, LinkedIn Ads, or others).
Monitoring ad campaigns is also essential to improve ad relevance, reduce ad spend, and adjust the bids accordingly. The same goes for measuring PPC campaign effectiveness by tracking conversions and other metrics, as it guides you toward optimizing the advertisements and getting more for your buck.
Step 14: Think About Offline Promotion Tactics
Even though the online world is generally predominant, offline channels can be an effective part of marketing for tech startups, too. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to invest in print materials and flyers or branded merchandise (though you can).
As such, networking and attending industry-specific events can be a good start. Establishing personal connections can be very meaningful if you'll possibly meet a future client, investor, or partner. For example, some SaaS companies participate in tech conferences and trade shows, where they distribute promotional materials, demonstrate their product to potential buyers, or even find people who may provide funding after an investor pitch. It could be a working marketing strategy for tech startups to consider.
Such get-togethers are perfect for making new connections, meeting like-minded individuals, sharing knowledge, and finding out more about the industry news. Note, though, that participation in some events comes at a price, especially if you plan on putting up your own stand in the space.
Step 15: Measure the Outcomes of Your Input Effort and Make Tweaks
Once you have the plan in action, you need to evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. Spending time on startup analytics is crucial, as you need to look into feedback and the numbers in your data reports to gain knowledge on the results, return on investment, what was effective and what wasn't.
Such findings have to be recorded in a knowledge base so you don't stumble upon the same cases again or save time and resources in the future. Plus, they'll serve as a basis for your decision-making, help you refine your marketing strategy, and make necessary adjustments. As we mentioned earlier, you never know what will work or not. So, you have to test your ideas, track the results, assess them, make adjustments to the marketing plan, and repeat.
Marketing Budget for Startups
Now that we've overviewed the commonly used startup marketing strategies, let's talk about the numbers. As you see, there's a lot to handle, and things can get expensive if you don't stick to a budget.
A startup budget is generally limited, too, so it is likely that you'll have to start small with your expenses on marketing activities. Even if you have a large marketing budget to set aside, it's still wise to spend your resources intelligently. But how much money do you need?
The only true answer is it depends on your financial and human resources. Other factors influencing the required budget include what you're planning to spend money on, and here are just a few to prove the point:
- Are you hiring marketers in-house for your startup team structure (issuing salaries, taxes, time off, etc.) or outsourcing the work? Which roles do you need (a SEO specialist, PPC specialist, content marketer, etc.)?
- Do you need the input of a designer for marketing activities?
- Where are these specialists from? How experienced are they? Will they work full-time?
- Are you planning to run paid ad campaigns? If yes, at which scale?
- Are you planning to shoot videos or host webinars?
- Are you paying influencer marketers?
- Are you going to attend an industry event or put up a stand at an international tech conference?
- On another note, how fast you want things done can also influence the costs.
It's the same as finalizing a wedding budget: the scale goes from simple to chic. But to give you a few rough estimates, the budget for marketing for startups can, on average, fall anywhere from $5,000 USD or more per month.
How can you cut costs? If you have budget constraints, as a start, shortlist the things you can do on your own or with available tools online. Maybe you could choose a color palette or create a logo using MVP tools instead of hiring separate specialists to do it?
Plus, instead of trying to tackle all strategies at once, pinpointing your top priorities can save your marketing budget. There are low-cost activities and low-hanging fruit you can take care of basically at no cost (like setting up accounts on various platforms and directories or choosing SEO-optimized organic content over paid ads). Essentially, great things take time, so you'll have to choose what matters at the moment and what can be done later. Therefore, outline your goals and stick to the plan.
Likewise, it is worth checking out which companies offer startup discounts. If your company is eligible for it, you can cut costs on marketing tools, subscriptions, and other essentials.
Final Say on Marketing for Startups
Although all roads can possibly lead to Rome, the one you take when you decide on your startup marketing is your own unique path, made up of a combination of strategies and tactics that work for you and cater to the needs of your specific target audience.
It's up to you how exactly you'll reach your target market, which channels you choose, at which pace and scale you promote the company, and using which budget. As long as you're ready to test and iterate, learn, measure, and improve, you'll be well on your way to promoting the business, brand, and product.
And if you need a tech partner to help bring your product to life, feel free to turn to Upsilon. We provide MVP development services for early-stage startups and are eagerly ready to share our expertise in building products that can scale. Many of our clients had successful exists, so don't be shy to reach out.