8 Startup Marketing Ideas That Actually Work [+ Examples]
Are you new to the startup game, and even newer to the content marketing game?
With all the work that goes into starting a business, there’s little time to think about marketing strategies that prove successful and are feasible for a startup’s teams to execute.
If you find yourself in this boat, don’t panic. You probably know the tools that are helpful for startup marketers to use when strategizing — a CMS, social media accounts, and graphic design software, for instance.
Now, what you need to know is how to use these tools, and similar methods, to create campaigns that align with your business goals. You may have seen other startups’ glowing marketing techniques and found yourself wondering how to create a winning strategy.
For that, we’ve got you covered. To get a sense of how a marketing strategy can produce success for your startup, we’re going to lay out some ideas. These ideas are from startups, and will help you visualize how a successful strategy can be helpful for your own marketing goals.
Here, let’s explore startup marketing ideas and strategies you can use to increase brand awareness, leads, and customers for your startup business.
Startup Marketing Ideas
Other than starting an email list, using online software, and taking high-quality images, what else can you do to market your startup? Below are some examples.
If you’re struggling to come up with new marketing ideas, maybe you can put a new spin on one that works for your campaign goals. Like some of the companies mentioned, you can use tools you already have at your disposal to execute a winning campaign.
1. Use paid ads to build a community.
Starburst Data is a B2B that helps companies understand their website analytics. They use a search query engine that organizes data, so customers can interpret large amounts of data quickly. This startup uses ads on LinkedIn to connect with its audience, like this one promoting their software:
A content marketer for a company like Starburst has a good chance of finding its target audience on LinkedIn, since it’s a platform for professional networking. Part of this marketing campaign involves using LinkedIn Ads to build community and provide helpful information.
A similar B2B startup strategy could involve making use of a social media platform’s paid ads offerings to cater to your audience. Alternatively, you can upload offers for free and use hashtags to get them seen by more prospective customers, like #B2BMarketing, or #MarTech.
2. Try social media to connect with customers.
Social media marketing doesn’t have to include spending money — it can be used to grow your audience and connect with existing members. Take Paperless Parts, for example, a manufacturing company with a stellar Facebook page:
It’s free to create a Facebook Business page and optimize it so leads and customers can find it. The Paperless Parts feed begins with recommendations and reviews from happy customers, showing that the business has a dedicated customer userbase. After that, the business posts videos that go behind-the-scenes of the manufacturing process, and also post reminders for webinars and other website content.
A social media page for a startup that showcases customers provides helpful content and encourages audience participation is a free strategy to expand reach, bring clicks to your website, and show credibility in the industry.
3. Crowdfunding marketing, which can generate press.
Are you thinking about starting a crowdfunding campaign? If you do, you could earn great press from publications, expanding your campaign’s reach. Take NeighborSchools, for example, which is a child care startup. NeighborSchools offers unique daycares from licensed and experienced professionals.
When the minds behind NeighborSchools began to seek funding to scale up their service, they turned to crowdfunding to seek out people who believed in the service and were able to invest. This tactic earned the company $3.5 million in seed funding, and the success caught the eye of major publications.
Even if you have just a few customers, you can use your crowdfunding campaign as a marketing tactic to get more people interested in your business.
4. Host a virtual meetup instead of a conference.
Mabl is a Boston-based SaaS provider for machine learning test automation. It makes the lives of developers who have to test their solutions way easier. To build a larger community, Mabl hosted a virtual meetup with industry experts.
The meetup’s speakers educated its attendees about software testing. This idea is a cool, low-cost way to expand your professional network and provide valuable content for customers without hosting a conference.
5. Use user-generated content to tell your story.
Startups don’t usually have the revenue to produce big-budget social media campaigns. For travel agency Hopjump, their marketing team found that the best way to tell their story is on Instagram. The business page is filled with clients enjoying their destination vacations, booked using the service:
Customers who post their amazing travel pictures on Instagram can tag Hopjump for a chance to be featured on the page, and this also increases exposure for the startup. Satisfied customers can share their experiences with more of Hopjump’s target audience.
A marketing campaign that includes user-generated content is an easy, free way to work in testimonials. You can use your social media channels to execute the campaign and include hashtags for the chance to appear in more feeds.
When thinking about campaign ideas, you might not have to look that far. You might be able to turn some of the tools you already have at your disposal to boost your campaign messages. Is there a webinar you can host about a topic, or a content offer you think will resonate particularly well with your LinkedIn audience?
6. Create SEO-optimized content to attract high-intent visitors.
SEO is another free, cost-effective strategy startup marketers can use to spread word about their business.
But here’s the caveat: of all the strategies mentioned, this one takes the longest.
That’s not to say it’s incredibly time-consuming — it’s not, but it is a continuous job. The more you optimize your website, the better it’ll perform, which, in turn, will generate more leads for your company.
We have to let you know that at this point, SEO won’t net you leads or opportunities immediately, but it will lay the foundation for consistent success in the months and years to come.
The idea behind SEO is that you optimize your web pages (and content) for keyword terms you know prospects use to find products or services like yours.
Better yet, you identify long-tail keyword terms with low to medium competition and high search volume that are relevant to your product or service, and use those instead.
You main service pages will, of course, be competing with other businesses in your space on many similar terms, but you can use the content you create to link to these pages, bolstering their SEO value over time and increasing their ranking on SERP results pages.
Updating and optimizing your website will ensure it continues to grow and attract interested prospects for the long-term, so it’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss.
7. Implement a referral program.
Referral-based marketing has become the hype over the last few years as people increasingly look at product/service reviews, testimonials, and case studies to validate their purchase decisions.
The aim behind this particular startup marketing idea is to leverage those who have already bought your product/service and ask them to advocate on your behalf — whether that’s through a review, testimonial, or case study.
This kind of content is invaluable because it shows and tells your potential customers that you have solved for others like them in the past. To increase the chances of your customers doing this for you, offer them discounts or free product trials.
Additionally, you might consider giving away free keys, trials, or versions of your product to specific people. For example, a good way to gain press coverage and build brand awareness is to let tech journalists try your offering for free. They can then write a review and distribute it to the relevant online publications and link back to your website.
Lastly, make sure that you feature these reviews prominently on your website. They help build trust and authenticity, both of which are key to making sales in today’s digital-first world.
8. Offer a free or trial version of your product.
One of the best ways to get your startup out there is to offer some kind of version of your product/service for free — and it’s worked for a lot of businesses already.
Canva, Dropbox, Zapier, HubSpot — all of these high-profile tech companies offer some kind of free/trial version of their product or service to let people try before they buy (or upgrade). As people use them and realize just how great these products are, they feel compelled to buy the full, “unlimited” version for all the bells and whistles. Great, right?
But along with getting people to use your product — and inherently talking about how good it is as a result — it’s all about lowering the customer’s costs of acquisition. What a lot of businesses do with a freemium model is offer current trial users a discount on the full price of the software. This is significantly more appealing than paying the full price and can potentially convert more leads into paying customers very, very quickly.
Also, for those who don’t convert to paying customers with this offer, it enables you to understand what features or parts of your service are lacking. You can ask for feedback, make the necessary changes, and then roll them out to see who bites on the full product offering.
For maximum effect, cross-reference what you offer against the main issues your buyer personas have in relation to technology like yours. Consider adding features to your product/service to address these problems (where possible). Maybe produce a roadmap and show people what they’ll be getting. Transparency is a great way to increase users!
Lastly, bear in mind that this approach does come with the risk that people might not want to upgrade to the full version. That said, be as clear as you can with what users can get from the full version and highlight how valuable it can be for them. Keep your coolest features under wraps!
Startup Marketing Strategy
Next, let’s explore various strategies (and some tips and tricks) that enable startup owners and their teams to successfully market their products and services without breaking the bank.
These strategies are designed to lay the foundation for future success, ensuring ongoing interest even after paid campaigns finish.
Take a look at these five steps you might consider implementing to create a successful, well-rounded startup marketing strategy.
1. Use SMART goals to focus on business-critical goals upfront.
- Increase organic traffic to our website by 50% by 2021
- Create 10 new sales focused blogs by September 2020
The purpose of SMART goals is to set businesses up for success. They provide a sense of direction and help to organize efforts.
And, while SMART goals are invaluable for any organization, they’re particularly beneficial for start-ups.
In most start-ups, employees have to wear several hats (often due to budget constraints or lack of resources). The founder, for instance, might be responsible for strategy, product development, and even PR, while the chief technology officer (CTO) might be involved in the design of the website, marketing, and social media. There’s just so much to do!
Of course, for all start-ups, the principal focus is product development (and always will be until the “release” stage) … but what about all the other elements that help sustain the business’ growth?
It’s here where SMART goals can really help. Instead of trying to do everything at once, focus on the most business-critical goals, put everything you have behind them, and tackle things in a strategic way. For instance, rather than spreading your time across several initiatives (some of which may not be important right now), focus on three or four that will lay a foundation for your activities or support your current efforts.
If you’re launching with a new product, for instance, focus on the development but also set goals like:
- Create 10 new blogs to build awareness of the product by X date
- Publish 2 new web pages to promote the new product by X date
- Secure 5 placements in online media using digital PR by X date
These are just some examples, but they can undoubtedly help raise the profile of your business without costing much — the only real expenditure is time. Instead of spreading your capabilities across several initiatives, try focusing on those that will support what you’re doing right now.
The key to sustained growth is consistency and focus, and SMART goals enable you to do just that.
2. Create detailed documents to distinguish who your target buyers are.
SMART goals give your marketing efforts direction and focus, sure, but who are you marketing to?
For your start-up’s marketing efforts to bring in tangible results, those efforts need to be tailored to your ideal target audience.
Now you’ll probably have a good understanding of who it is you want to do business with, but have you articulated that to the rest of your team or — at the very least — put together a document detailing who your buyer personas are?
It’s here where buyer personas come in handy. Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers. They’re based on market research, current data, existing customers, and a few educated assumptions. Buyer personas help you to understand the drivers, business challenges, and needs of those to whom you want to market.
It’s also important to note that buyer personas are not real people, but archetypes of them.
Now that we’ve briefly covered what buyer personas are, you might be wondering — Okay, but what makes them so valuable to my start-up? Simply put, buyer personas allow you to refine your marketing and segment your audience(s).
You want and need quick wins during the product development and release stages, so why waste time (and money) casting the widest net possible when you can hone in on those most likely to buy from you?
Your buyer personas will provide you with a good idea of who these people are. Use that information to build marketing and PR campaigns that focus on the right people, at the right time and place of their buyer’s journey.
3. Have clear, compelling messaging.
If you’ve ever seen a Ronseal advertisement, you’re likely already familiar with the following phrase: “It does what it says on the tin.”
In an age of slick, big-budget marketing campaigns and buzzwords, it falls to you to keep your messages clear and concise.
People don’t want platitudes or jargon. They want to understand what it is your product does, and how it can help them solve their business challenges. In fact – and this may sound harsh – it’s not even about your business, it’s about how you can help your potential customers.
With this in mind, any content that your start-up creates (and this applies to all businesses of any size) needs to be created with the end user in mind. It needs to be simple, informative, and compelling.
4. Create a content marketing strategy to generate leads.
Content marketing is all about producing high-quality content that answers questions your prospects and customers have, and nurturing them to a point of purchase.
For instance, blogs are great for increasing your website’s organic traffic and awareness of your brand. Each blog should be optimized for a long-tail keyword term, as this will help to drive targeted traffic (i.e. people definitely interested in what you have to say) to your website. It’s a really easy way to increase your startup’s digital footprint and start building its name.
The content you create also helps to generate leads and demonstrate your expertise. You could, for instance, produce informative ebooks and gate them behind landing pages on your website. Visitors can then download your ebooks in exchange for their details.
With this approach, you know that those that do download your ebooks are interested in hearing from you. The ebooks you create will be particularly useful for targeting “early adopters”, i.e. those that want to be on the cutting-edge when it comes to new technology/software.
Over time, as more and more content is created, your website becomes a repository for information. Providing it’s all optimized for the right terms, the right people will find it time and time again.
5. Implement a digital PR strategy to increase buzz around your brand.
Now if you want to get the most out of everything you do — particularly from a content creation perspective — why not amplify it with digital PR?
Digital PR effectively takes everything good about traditional PR: press coverage, events, outreach, thought leadership content — and does the same for the online space. Suddenly, the assets you’ve created for your marketing activity can be retrofitted to suit PR purposes.
In fact, digital PR goes one step further: the agency you work with will do their utmost to earn backlinks (editors and publications are notoriously difficult when it comes to keeping links in content) back to your website. Subsequently, those reading your content via online publications can actually find your business, and the content itself is already optimized for search because you’ve done it already.
All-in-all, digital PR will help to increase your startup’s visibility both online and offline, helping you to get featured in key trade media relating to what you do and cause a positive stir in your industry.
The Best Strategies Use a Combination of Ideas and Tactics
If you want to get the best possible results when it comes to marketing, you need to focus on what works.
While there are loads of different ways to achieve your goals, you should always focus on the most high-impact and cost-effective, and as a startup owner — I’m willing to bet you already know how important that is.
The best strategies use a combination of what we’ve mentioned above and then analyze the performance of them to determine which ones require more or less investment. No matter what you do, remember that your marketing activities are only as good as your goals and targeting. Good luck!