Starting a business is no easy task. Trust me, I know this very well from my experiences founding multiple companies.
If you are currently building a startup company, kudos to you for the effort.
There is a long and difficult road ahead of you. But if you start with the right foundation, this road can be very rewarding.
If your startup company has already launched and you don’t have a concrete marketing strategy, you’re behind. To be as effective as possible, your strategy should be created in the early stages so you’re ready to go once the company officially launches.
That said, you can’t go back in time. So don’t be alarmed. It’s not too late for you to build a strong marketing plan.
Some of you may have created a marketing strategy before your company launched. That’s great. But now that you’re in business, you are quickly realizing your strategy isn’t working the way you thought it would.
It’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Regardless of your unique scenario, I’m confident this guide can help steer you in the right direction. It can also be used as a reference for prospective startup founders in the preliminary stages of writing a business plan for your new company.
Your marketing strategy can make or break your business. It’s important you spend the time to get it right as soon as possible.
Here’s what you need to know.
Identify your target market
Before you do anything else, you need to decide to whom you are going to sell your products or services.
All too often in my consulting work, I see many new business owners who skip over this step because they believe their brands are for everyone. While I admire their ambition, that’s simply not the case.
You need to find ways to segment your target audience to help you identify the best market for your brand:
This chart is a great reference to give you ideas when it comes to getting as much information as possible about your prospective market.
You can also use generational marketing to segment your target audience.
Start broad and slowly get more specific. Depending on your brand, you may be targeting a wide range of individuals.
For example, let’s say your company sells clothing. You may sell clothes to men, women, and children of all ages. How can you narrow that down?
Maybe you’re targeting people who will wear your clothing for physical activity and fitness. You could get even more specific and target a certain sport, such as running or cycling.
Develop a customer persona for each unique type of customer.
There is a science to this strategy. One the one hand, a narrow target marketing will make it easier for you to make your brand appealing to that specific group of people.
But on the other hand, going too specific with your campaigns will alienate a large portion of the total consumer market. Tread carefully here, and do your best to find a market within the middle ground.
Conduct market research
Now that you’ve identified your target market, it’s time to start coming up with promotional strategies, right? Not so fast.
Before you work on new advertising campaigns, you need to validate your hypothesis.
Just because your brand is planning to target a certain audience doesn’t mean this group of people will automatically accept you.
You need to get out there and find out whether your target market actually wants what you’re selling.
Here’s a look at the top reasons why startup companies don’t succeed:
The number one reason why startup companies fail is because there is no market need for what they offer.
That’s why earlier I said you should be creating a marketing strategy before your startup launches. Then, you’ll be able to find out early on during the market research phase whether your venture is worth pursuing.
If your brand created a new product or service, find out how it helps improve the lives of your target market:
- interview people
- conduct focus groups
- let them try out your product
- listen to their feedback
All of these are crucial to the market research process.
Not all of you are creating something unique. You may have just made improvements to an already existing product or service.
Well, what’s your differentiation strategy? What makes it better than the competition’s product?
Figure out how your brand compares to other similar products or services already on the market. This will make it easier for you to craft a marketing strategy.
Analyze your competition
Your startup company doesn’t exist in a vacuum. As I previously alluded to, you need to be aware of your competition within this space.
In most cases, your startup company isn’t 100% unique. It’s more than likely that whatever you’re selling is similar to other products and services on the market.
That’s OK because the right marketing strategy can help you survive even with lots of competition.
Analyzing your competition is one of the most crucial parts of your marketing strategy. Start by looking at their marketing campaigns.
A simple SWOT analysis chart can be a useful tool when it comes to your competitive analysis process:
That’s because this type of chart is designed to compare your competitors to your own brand.
What is their target market?
Figure out what’s working well for them. If a marketing strategy works well for your competitors, it might work for you as well.
If you notice flaws in their marketing strategy, you can make sure to avoid those mistakes when you are creating your own.
Come up with a realistic budget
You may have all kinds of ideas for your advertising campaigns.
But you can’t blindly launch these without factoring in the cost. Unfortunately, I see too many startup companies fail because they run out of money.
Refer back to the graph I showed you earlier about why startups fail. The number two reason on that list is because they run out of cash.
Appropriate budgeting is important for all businesses. But it’s even more important for startups. That’s because when you first launch, you don’t have a steady income yet.
Consumers don’t necessarily know who you are, and you won’t have a regular clientele base.
If you are still in the early stages of writing a business plan and securing funding for your startup, make sure you accurately estimate your marketing costs.
Including your marketing budget in your business plan is an absolute must. If you put your plan in writing, it increases the chances you’ll follow through with it.
That’s why startups with a business plan grow at higher rates than those without one:
Stay within the confines of your budget at all costs. If you exceed those spending limits, it could be the downfall of your company.
Don’t worry. You don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to be successful.
There are plenty of cost-effective marketing strategies you can implement.
Create your distribution channels
We’ve got a lot accomplished so far. But we’re still not quite ready to start implementing new ad campaigns.
Before you can do that, you need to have a platform to promote on.
Start by creating a website. Everything you do should focus on driving traffic to that website and getting visitors to convert.
Create a profile on as many social media channels as possible:
You need to establish a presence on these. This is especially important if you want to market your brand within a tight budget. Sure, you can spend money on social media ads, but you don’t have to.
It’s easy to save money by doing it all yourself and trying to gain traction by producing organic content on these platforms.
You’ve also got to consider which social sites are the most important based on your target market. What platforms are they active on the most?
This data from the Pew Research Center shows the habits of different groups of people on social media:
Don’t blindly focus all your efforts on just one social platform without conducting the research first.
Yes, eventually you want to have a strong social presence on all channels. But I recommend prioritizing your early efforts on the platforms your target market uses the most.
Grow your email list
Your company needs to have an email subscriber list.
This may seem like an uphill climb at first. Your list will start from the number zero. That’s OK.
You won’t get 10,000 subscribers overnight.
But with time, patience, and effort, your list will slowly begin to grow.
Your email subscriber list will serve as one of the most important distribution channels for your startup. That’s because anyone who provides you with their email information is somewhat interested in your brand.
Even if they didn’t buy something, they were still interested enough to hear from you in the future.
Sometimes you need to offer people an incentive to sign up for your emails.
Your website should make it easy for people to sign up. Check out this example from the Knockaround website:
They offer a discount to entice website visitors to opt in to their email list.
Once someone joins your list, you need to take advantage of that communication channel. Send them promotions, new product information, and things of that nature.
Use your social media platforms to do the same.
Figure out what type of content you’ll publish
Again, this relates back to some of the earlier points in this post: identifying your target market, conducting market research, and analyzing your competitors.
What types of campaigns will speak to your audience?
These are all examples of what you can consider applying to your marketing strategy:
- video promotions
- informative guides
Just don’t bite off more than you can chew. I’d recommend starting with a few of these before implementing all of them at the same time.
Focus your efforts on producing high quality content in a couple of categories before branching off.
Research shows 73% of marketers say their top priority is to create more engaging content:
You don’t want your content to blend in with everything else’s. Your content should highlight your differentiation strategy.
Set aside time each day or week for brainstorming sessions. This can be done alone, or in groups, depending on the size of your company.
Really let some wild ideas fly in these sessions. Make sure your team isn’t afraid to speak up.
The worst case scenario is you don’t use an idea. But it never hurts to bring it to the table.
Reach out to prospective influencers
You shouldn’t be marketing your startup alone.
Working with influencers is a great way to build brand awareness.
But you need to make sure you find relevant influencers. Anyone who endorses your brand should be able to speak to your target market.
If you sell tennis equipment, hiring a brand influencer who has never played tennis probably won’t be an effective strategy.
There are plenty of online tools for finding and managing social influencers.
Take advantage of these platforms. They make it easy for you to get connected with people related to your brand.
Test and measure all your campaigns
Once you’re ready to start promoting, you need to be able to determine how effective your campaigns are.
Otherwise, you won’t be able to calculate your ROI, and your budget could be thrown out of whack. Use online tools like Google Analytics to help you measure data such as where your website traffic is coming from.
Look at your conversion rates. Measure engagement on social media.
You also need to look at analytics of your email campaigns. Look at data points such as open rates, clicks, bounces, and unsubscribes.
Make changes based on your results. For example, take a look at how segmenting your subscribers can impact your results:
Now you can re-evaluate what marketing strategies are working and which ones need to be altered or even scrapped completely.
Set benchmarks based on your results. Come up with goals to ensure you’re always striving to improve.
Don’t get discouraged
You can’t expect your startup to be a huge hit overnight.
If your ads aren’t generating the type of engagement, response, leads, and sales you were anticipating, you can’t automatically blame your marketing strategy.
Sometimes these things take time.
Your strategy may not be the issue. It’s just taking consumers a little bit longer to get familiar with your brand. But the last thing you want to do is give up.
You’ve got a plan. Stick with it.
If your budget and marketing strategy are mapped out for the next six months, don’t abandon ship after a couple of weeks.
See your plan through to the end. If things didn’t go as planned, you can try a new strategy at that time.
Coming up with a marketing strategy for your startup company can be intimidating. But there are steps you can take to help guide you in the right direction.
The first thing you need to do is identify your target market. Then, you can conduct market research and analyze your competitors.
Set a marketing budget.
Create multiple distribution channels. Decide what type of content you want to publish, and determine how it will speak to your target audience.
Come up with a list of potential brand influencers to help with promotion.
Measure your results and set benchmarks. If things don’t go as planned, don’t hit the panic button. You’ve still got time to make adjustments.
Follow these tips if you want to have an effective marketing strategy for your startup.