Marketing refers to activities a company undertakes to promote the buying or selling of a product or service. Multinational corporations and startups of all scales need some degree of marketing at different stages of their development. However, it is especially crucial for founders of startups to constantly keep an eye on the budget while building your brand from the ground up. Therefore, I would like to share how founders and marketing teams in startups can execute marketing efforts effectively and efficiently, even with the thinnest financial resources.
These are some of the common questions that founders or marketing leads of startups have:
- With ever-evolving technology, should I embark on marketing activities on all channels and platforms?
- At this stage of my venture, should I change my marketing strategy as compared to earlier stages?
- Should I bring in more marketing talent, or outsource to an agency?
There are myriad factors when it comes to answering those questions. I do not recommend hiring a marketing agency, especially for any startup that is in its early stage. This is because approximately 15–30% of the marketing budget will be used for agency fees, and your marketing campaigns’ optimization will usually only kick in after a significant period of time (but on a positive note, you need not perform the optimization yourself). Therefore, while marketing agencies will definitely add value in the mid- to long-term, it may not be the most suitable option for startups that have a thin marketing budget. Internally, you should identify and focus on strategic areas that give a better bang for your buck by approaching and utilizing different channels and platforms on your own.
Be laser-focused on your target audience
Identifying and aiming at your target audience—this is usually the first rule in any marketing publication. However, this “rule” is exceptionally important if you are a startup that has minimal marketing resources. There is no point in wasting any resources like time or money, and achieving efficiency is key! Do not make the mistake of trying to target “everyone.” Instead, identify potential consumers that have existing needs where their conversion to customers will be seamless when you communicate your value. Ultimately, that can only be done if you know your audience well, and the ways to do that well include but are not limited to having a solid customer relationship management system that synergizes marketing and sales, cultivating strong data driven decision-making culture supported by technology, and being emphatic toward your target audience.
Be “picky” or “choosy” on channels and platforms
Even though it is necessary to do A/B testing to identify the campaigns that draw the strongest responses from your target audience, do not run too many campaigns on too many channels simultaneously. Focus on just one or two effective channels and marketing messages. Most importantly, aim to achieve the defined conversion performance.
There is a real temptation to embark on every social media platform—they are “free” to use, so why not? But to optimize the performance of marketing efforts, the magic number is to embark on no more than three platforms. Do your due diligence, and choose and focus your marketing activities on the platforms that your target audience is on and represent a higher priority for you.
As social media platforms evolve, it is easier to achieve organic awareness as you and your company can strategically “tag” and therefore tap relevant networks to promote your brand and message. As similar, lookalike entities on social platforms are usually connected in an intricate web of networks, developing content that leverages these platforms’ preferred algorithms can bring about tremendous performance, even if you have minimal marketing resources.
Don’t neglect branding
Branding is often disregarded and considered an unimportant practice by startups. On the contrary, branding allows you to introduce your company by expressing who you are, your brand purpose, and therefore presenting the perfect chance to showcase a “personality” that your target audience and stakeholders can relate to and support. Even with minimal marketing resources, your company can establish itself with a series of well planned brand guidelines and aids, which will help set yourself apart from the competition, including against bigger and more established incumbents.
When your brand has a “personality,” your target audience is more likely to feel a connection with you, in turn increasing the chance that they will do business with you. It enables you to appear more trustworthy and promotes feelings of reliability and goodwill. Do remember that for the most important metric—sales—the products and services that sell are more often than not from brands that consumers can recall, relate to, and trust most easily.
Earned Media and public relations
Earned media functions like a bridge between your brand and your target audience. It helps you make your communications heard and build thought leadership for your brand in the industry. Unlike most ways of marketing, you do not have complete control over what is written about you. It is dependent in a small way on the relationship that you share with journalists and editors from media publications. More significantly, the way your target audience reacts to earned media is very different from their engagement with your ads. Positive earned media brings about tremendous credibility that no other marketing means can yield.
Earned media may sound like something that is daunting or even scary due to the lack of control, but it is something that you can definitely develop yourself, and it is not necessary to employ a public relations agency to execute this strategy on your behalf, especially if you have minimal marketing resources. Even before there is a story to pitch, start to build and develop relationships with journalists and editors, especially those who are covering stories in your sector or industry. Introduce yourself and your company far in advance, so that journalists will have the confidence and comfort to pick up your stories in time to come. When you know that you have a story for the media, use informal chat platforms to give a heads up to your media contacts before officially sending it to them via email with the important media instructions, such as embargoes. As startups, do note that a healthy accumulation of positive earned media is important when it comes to investing and fundraising.
It is true that most startups have to operate in a lean way, but you should not be lean for the sake of being lean. Startups should not be afraid to take risks and make mistakes along the way to optimize their marketing strategy—eventually, you will find an approach that works for your company. Startups must experiment and pivot agilely to create new revenue opportunities. Who knows, your next customer might just be a “like” or tweet away.
Darren Thang is a marketing manager based in Singapore. He acts as the regional lead for B Capital’s marketing efforts in Asia. Darren joined B Capital from OrangeTee & Tie, where he was leading the marketing communications department and the digital transformation team. Additionally, Darren also spent a part of his career working for Phillip Capital Group, managing the marketing communications department across more than 16 countries. He earned a Bachelors in Business Management (BBM) from the Singapore Management University.
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