Startups have strained budgets - but that doesn't mean your marketing can't be effective.
It’s a misconception that you have to spend a ton on paid ads to get traction with a startup. While this is true if you want results right now, you can invest sweat equity into long-term strategies that pay off big without requiring a lot of spend.
If you’re growing a startup with a thin marketing budget, there are a few affordable tactics to start with. If we had to grow a startup with a limited budget, this is what we would do.
Marketing Strategies for Startups
Build Meaningful Buyer Personas
A lot of people skip this step, but you shouldn’t.
When your budget is strained, and you face stiff competition, every dime (or manhour) must be spent on something impactful. You can't waste time talking about things your ideal customers don't care about. Take the time to get to know your customers intimately.
Your buyer personas, just like anyone you know in real life, are complex. They are real people, people that complain, leave snarky comments on content that pops up in their newsfeed, make impulsive purchases off Amazon, spend their weekends binging Netflix shows, and contemplate new products or services when it actually solves a problem.
By the time you’re finished with your buyer personas, you should have a solid understanding about:
- Intrinsic desires. Intrinsic desires have to do with personal fulfillment. Identify the things that your buyer persona does because they actually enjoy them, such as spending an afternoon bird-watching or taking an art class. People with intrinsic desires are often motivated by intentional praise and positive feedback.
- Extrinsic desires. Extrinsic desires relate to achievement or avoiding conflict. For example, a marketer puts in extra hours over the weekend to avoid missing a deadline, hence not getting in trouble with their supervisor. Determine your personas fears and primary challenges to help determine extrinsic desires. People with extrinsic desires are motivated by recognition prizes and promotions.
- Motivations. Why do your personas do anything? What’s the meaning behind their behaviors? Identifying the why behind your personas actions can help unlock their motivations.
- Conflict. Know who or what your buyer persona identifies as a villain. Evaluate what holds them back, and which enemy they have to defeat to be successful.
With this information, you are equipped with the right buttons to push to compel them into action. By focusing on real struggles, their pain points, and their "wants”, you can identify the things they want and need. All of this information can inform your strategy, and you can properly address those points in your content and ads to really drive engagement.
Build a 90-Day Marketing Strategy
Why 90-days? Because it's easier to set meaningful goals and objectives in a 90-day window.
A year is a long time and you need a degree of marketing flexibility to adjust to what works as you go. We’ve found 90 days work very well.
A lot of people think a flexible strategy works best. So they plan for a year, then when they are all over the place, they call it being agile. But, making adjustments mid-strategy is not what you want to do. You need to make adjustments based on results and data. Working in 90-day windows allow you to stop, measure what’s working and what’s not working, and then adjust your marketing strategy for the next 90 days.
Your 90-Day marketing strategy should focus on one-three things:
- Building Traffic. Your website won't bring new leads, hence, new customers without traffic. If you have low traffic, increasing organic traffic month over month should be a goal.
- Generating Leads. Set specific lead generation initiatives such as building paid search and TOFU offers, developing solid TOFU offers, and running through the UX of your site. Straight organic traffic should be converting around 2% or more into leads, while targeted social or paid search should convert around 30-60%.
- Nurturing Leads. To increase lead engagement, first determine what your closing percentage should be, then benchmark your success off it. Audit your email series, create content that answers questions directly, and create additional BOFU content.
If you are just starting as a startup, low website traffic is expected. The first few 90-day strategies will allocate more hours to building traffic than nurturing leads. After all, you probably don't want to invest all your time in nurturing leads when you don't have any.
The strategy should include the assets you need to build to drive traffic and generate leads. If you are not able to pay for traffic in the beginning, you will need to put a lot of effort into content creation. Creating blogs, videos, social updates, lead magnets, are the only way to get some mileage in the very beginning.
It takes about 8-10 months for organic traffic to build, so if you have no traffic and no budget for paid ads, you may pile on a lot of blogging into your calendar to jumpstart the process.
We focus our 90-day calendar based on creating these things:
- Content. How many pieces per month depends on budget and focus. If it's on traffic, we pile up the blogs and videos.
- Lead Magnets. Lead magnets are essential to turning traffic into leads. We focus on top-of-funnel (TOFU) lead magnets in the beginning stages, then develop other funnel pieces once we're generating enough leads. You have to include building the landing pages, calls-to-action as well.
- Email Series. To nurture leads into customers, meet people where they're at, every step of the way. After mapping out your content with solid buyer research, keyword strategy, and format selection, use your findings to structure the conversion points and supporting email series that will enable prospects from one decision to the next.
Blogging, video, podcasting - it's all the same. But with content development of any kind, a good strategy is to outline all of the questions and challenges that your personas could have. In some cases, there are questions that don’t have a clear or concise answer, such as, “how much does it cost to build a house?”
In that case, create content that explains WHY you can't answer directly. By establishing a content like this, a strategy that aims to help and educate, you can capture and engage leads at all steps of the buyer journey.
Here are our favorite content marketing principles:
- Don’t pitch…. Yet. Leave the product and software pitches for BOFU content and email series, as these prospects are much more willing and equipped to make a purchasing decision.
- Collect FAQs. Don’t just compile a few questions your personas might have. Work with every department to brainstorm a giant list of questions that customers have asked.
- Optimize everything. Even if your content is a little lacking, it can still do well if it follows best practices and is optimized for search. For example, run every blog post through a SEO content checklist that includes reminders about setting alt tags, including H2 and H3 tags, etc.
We break our nurturing down to the four stages of the buyer's journey. These phases all require their own specific type of content to properly engage with prospects in an actionable way. The key to creating this content is to focus on building genuine relationships. This will naturally improve lead engagement.
Here’s the type of content we create for each stage of the buyer’s journey:
- Awareness. We create TOFU lead magnets that sign prospects up for educational emails & content.
- Interest. Middle-of-funnel content offers with educational content.
- Consideration. Bottom-of-funnel content offers with purchase intent content.
- Decision. When it’s time to close, create content and emails and content focused on closing the sale.
When a new (TOFU) lead is converted, they are enrolled in awareness-focused email series with the sole goal of getting them to convert on an "interest" offer. Leads that convert on "interest" offers are sent interest-level series with the sole goal of converting them to consideration offers. Consideration leads are nurtured towards a decision, etc.
Getting Results Without Spending Big
If you develop helpful content that is SEO optimized, you can build relationships and generate organic traffic at the same time. By doing the grunt work of promoting that content to user groups and social media, you can start building meaningful levels of traffic in a few months - even for brand new websites.
The success of your digital marketing hinges on traffic. That's why it's such a big focus.
Create, create, and create some more.
Blog till your fingers are sore. Make videos until your computer starts smoking.