The most obvious difference with marketing a product or service for a startup versus a larger company is your marketing budget. That is, you have near-zero dollars to grow your audience and build your brand. So startup marketers are often cited as being creative and resourceful in reaching customers. But what is just as critical as forming your marketing plan is your approach in executing it.
Having worked at a few startups, here are some tips on how to apply the best parts of startup culture to your marketing tactics.
Take a lean startup approach to marketing.
Lean startup methodology is often associated with product development and UX. Ship an MVP (minimum viable product), test it, experiment, learn and iterate quickly on the product features and user experience. Marketers can apply these same principles to our work.
It’s really about minimizing investment risks by validating your hypotheses through smaller experiments. You don’t have months (or money) to formulate and validate your positioning and marketing assets. You can’t hire creative agencies and run multiple rounds of creative reviews when time to market is critical and budget is lean. So, you have to learn more from less. For example, run small Google Adword buys – like $50 campaigns – as your own version of A/B testing positioning and copy. Then spend on the “winning” creative (i.e. the one that directionally performed the best).
Conduct user interviews as a part of your day-to-day operations.
Big companies tend to invest in large market research studies or conduct user interviews in preparation for a new launch, rebranding strategy, or some other significant milestone. But talking to customers every week provides you with valuable insights on how to iterate on your message, value proposition, and sometimes even your target market. In just a handful of phone interviews, you immediately hear themes in the feedback on what is and is not resonating with your customers.
Additionally, product development (PMs, engineers, designers) loves getting feedback straight from customers. Customer insights are a great weapon to motivate the team, and guide product decisions that are best for the customer. Direct quotes from your interviews always resonate with stakeholders and team members.
Treat every employee as part of your social media team.
We all know of the importance of social media in driving engagement with your audience. Large companies tend to hire a dedicated marketer or a social media freelancer to manage these channels and editorial strategy. But in a startup, every employee knows and loves your products, and is passionate about the company and its mission. You have to be, in order to get through the long hours and less pay. So it’s not only out of necessity, but also great strategy to leverage the entire company to contribute to your social media presence. Create a calendar and rotate post responsibilities across your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest channels. By giving up total control over these channels, you may lose some consistency of brand voice. But you gain authenticity and frequency of posts, which is critical to customer engagement through social media.
Take the best of startup culture – lean, fast-paced, passionate – and use them to your advantage when executing your marketing plan. What you lack in resources, you make up for in speed to market. Getting just enough data (qualitative and quantitative) to react quickly is at the heart of startup success.