In the connected world, the age-old adage that ‘you have to spend money to make money’ has to be ripped up and reconsidered. Not every company has the luxury of setting aside a small fortune for advertising campaigns, but for a startup, online exposure can be a key lead driver. The modern marketing landscape necessitates a far smaller budget to get your product out there – if you have a product that people want, you don’t need to blow the budget on costly campaigns.
There are a number of customer acquisition strategies that cost little more than employee time. For startups, doing some or all of them effectively can start the business moving in the right direction, getting the word out without the dangerous outlay of a large launch campaign. 28% of marketers have reduced their advertising budget to fund more digital marketing, according to CMO Council – though many are of the opinion that the two should want to be considered separate functions. These companies may be able to afford deeper analytics, promote their content more aggressively and employ a team to work digital marketing round the clock, but these are luxuries rather than necessities. We took a look at five things you should be doing to raise awareness of your brand, whatever your budget.
1. Exploit existing groups
When Airbnb was first starting out, they leveraged Craigslist listings to find potential new targets. Knowing that Craigslist’s target market was essentially the same as theirs – those looking for something other than the conventional hotel listings – Airbnb’s founders offered users who listed properties on Airbnb the opportunity to list them on Craigslist as well. The founders then targeted those posting on Craigslist and invited them to post on Airbnb (with, at times, spam-like techniques).
The moral of the story is that, though Airbnb had no major capital, or ‘fan-base’, they managed to grow their user base by exploiting those of industry leaders. Airbnb is certainly not the only company to have used this technique, and you should consider this kind of targeted marketing. Your company needn’t spam, but check the likes of Quora, Reddit, Facebook groups, Twitter and forums to find those potentially interested in your product and conduct your marketing accordingly. This kind of targeting requires only basic research and can hugely increase your chances of conversion.
When starting out, your follower count is likely to be very low; a social media presence takes time to grow. This is where established influencers can give your brand the exposure it needs. Within every industry, there are well-followed bloggers and vloggers who control the conversation, and their reviews matter.
Building an online network should be the cornerstone of any free marketing strategy – there are few better forms of marketing than having people share your brand because they want to. Identify the key influencers in your market, reach out to them and offer free products in exchange for reviews. Alternatively, partner with them on a project. These techniques are, importantly, mutually beneficial and equate to almost free exposure.
Once an initial user base has been established, it’s time to think about how best to grow it. Word of mouth recommendations are one of the most effective forms of marketing, but are not something that can be easily cultivated. Before Dropbox was the behemoth it is today, it incentivized its users by offering 500MB of extra space for every new signup from a user invite, for example, and offering discounts for shares on social media can be a strong and, again, mutually beneficial way of spreading the word. Contests and giveaways can be similarly effective, despite being something of a digital marketing trope.
4. Guest blogging
Content marketing is one of the most important ways to promote your business. Creating engaging, quality content is a great way of growing your brand, and by no means do you need to be a literary expert to do so. Regularly posting industry specific, quality content is a must, but not all content marketing needs to be native; guest blogging for bigger sites is a great way to start when your following is perhaps limited.
Utilize those with large readerships within your target audience, and soft pitch your product in a way that enriches the reader rather than bombards them. Subtlety is key. No one wants to read a 600-word advertisement for your business, but people will be happy to engage with quality content that is in some way related to your company’s work. A subtle link to your site is often enough.
Before you have the luxury of employing a dedicated social media team – which 78% of companies now say they do, according to iScoop – it is important to be selective about which channels you are present on. Your time is important when building a new company, and it is far better to be very active on one social media than to be lacking on four.
Cross-channel social media marketing panel is effective, but be wary of using mediums that don’t suit your product. Pinterest, for example, is great for a new fashion startup, but is too visually demanding for a company selling a new piece of software (the same goes for Instagram). Similarly, B2B brands will find their product is much better suited to Twitter and LinkedIn; identify your target market, the medium in which your product is best sold and determine your social media priorities accordingly.