The first part of a two-part article.
If you’re the founder of a cash-strapped startup, how can you squeeze the most value out of every penny in a marketing budget? Elaborate promotions might seem out of reach if you’re operating out of a garage. However, your business still has many options.
DMN reached out to experts and assembled a list of low-cost marketing strategies. Here’s some advice:
Remember: Sales cures all
According to Matthew Hunt, a keynote speaker on marketing and sales, startups should pick their battles and do things to drive revenue right away. Although it’s tempting to embark on big branding initiatives, startups can benefit from being clear about sales goals.
“Sometimes a new startup thinks they can do things like Coca-Cola or Nike, and they can’t,” Hunt said.
Be prepared to spend some money
Press coverage and other free or low-cost tactics can lead to sales, but startups should also be prepared to spend some money. Hunt views this as a fundamental test of the business model.
“If you can’t take a paid advertisement dollar and turn it into profit, then you don’t really have a business, because paying is always going to be around, and free is not,” Hunt said. “The free stuff always changes, and that’s where people get caught with their pants down; when they’re just focused only on getting free traffic, or gaming the system, or the algorithm, at the time.”
“Relying on word-of-mouth is tricky. It is a wonderful idea, but very rarely accomplished to the full capacity,” Donnie Bullers, marketer, Elastos, said. “There may be a period where word-of-mouth is working, but this should not be the only strategy in place.”
Study the competition
Austin Craig, head of marketing, Mainframe, said that startup owners should gather information before spending any money. They can identify variables and research competitor behavior across different platforms and channels.
“Learn from others in the space, but don’t mime them. You need to clearly establish your own identity and voice in such a noisy space,” Craig said. “That includes the content of your message, but also the style of your message, the channels that message is delivered through, and the way it’s conveyed. Find what works for you. Experiment. Be different.”
“By the time you’re actually spending money, you should have some clear projections and expectations,” Craig added. “They won’t be exactly right – maybe they’ll be dramatically off –but that’s okay to start. You need a quantified plan if you’re going to optimize.”
Get press coverage
Multiple sources said that small startups should solicit press coverage by framing a compelling corporate/founder narrative, or by staging a compelling event.
Craig’s company garnered media attention by taking cryptocurrency lingo literally.
“At Mainframe, we conducted an ‘Airdrop Tour,’ where we did literal ‘air drops,’ with physical tokens falling out of the actual sky,” Craig said. “It was easy to get people to come…who doesn’t like free stuff? It was unique enough to generate earned press from major outlets. The event was visually dynamic, so we could easily create quality media to share the experience with those who weren’t able to attend.”
“You shouldn’t shy away from taking calculated risks that could generate buzz.”
Build a core following
A bootstrapped startup may find itself in a “chicken or the egg” causality dilemma. Marketing spend may always be somewhat inefficient at the outset because you can’t perfect things without analytics, and you need to spend to get the data to analyze.
Bullers suggested some simple first steps.
“Go for the low hanging fruit,” he said. “Those who first hear about your garage-based startup will generally be friends or family, and word-of-mouth. Attract and retain these individuals by collecting information, such as email addresses. Stay engaged as the list grows, create easily-navigated landing pages to grow the list, and provide valuable content to retain members. Build this core following, and then implement marketing strategies around this group to expand the reach.”
Have any tips you want to share? Let us know in the comments below.