The Ultimate Online Marketing Strategy for Your Startup
The challenge: Marketing your startup in a saturated environment
As a startup founder, marketing your startup online can be exciting: It’s your chance to get your product in front of the people who need it most. Yet, while the “build-it-and-they-will-come” mentality is scoffed at, too many startup founders the world over do exactly that -- put all their time and money into creating a great product, then sit back and wait for people to find it.
In reality, it’s no wonder founders hesitate a bit when it comes to spreading the word: Today’s information landscape has proved to make startup marketing more and more difficult as news cycles, social feeds, and search arenas become increasingly saturated.
Fret not, fellow founder. While this isn’t the time to kick those heels up and recline -- because yes, the environment is noisy -- we’ve got you covered when it comes to standing out.
But first thing’s first: We need to agree that startup marketing is not a one-and-done task to cross off your mile-long to-do list. Not only does it deserve a prominent spot on your to-do list -- it deserves its own list; a list that is constantly evolving.
In this guide, we’re going to talk about the shifts occurring in startup marketing before diving headfist into a high-level overview of 52 different strategies and tactics startup founders like yourself can explore. The ultimate goal? Getting your stellar product in front of the people who need it, when they need it most.
If you’re feeling discouraged with what you’ve tried so far -- or you haven’t quite known where to start, at all -- you’re in the right place.
Part I: Don’t just make announcements. Create news.
“Breaking through the noise is very difficult when well-entrenched companies have the resources to dominate traditional channels.”
Correct. Which means a few things:
- Startups need to find and/or create the resources. Whether that means hiring top talent or attracting funding, no great startup founder ever made it happen alone.
- Startups need to think differently. It’s this relative lack of resources that led to growth hacking -- rapid experimentation across channels to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business -- in the first place, and it’s the relative lack of resources that leads to innovation.
Of course, you can’t innovate without the basics. But before you go relying on that funding announcement that previously might’ve landed you a spot on Product Hunt or TechCrunch, consider this: What worked as recently as two years ago can easily get lost now.
Translation: Even for the tactics startups previously relied on, innovation is required.
Take the funding announcement, for example. Previously viewed as a rite of passage, the traditional press release announcing your first, or latest, round of funding no longer creates the splash it used to.
Maybe that’s because VCs will “throw money at people who’ve failed 99 times if they think they can squeeze a dime out of the latest idea” (an optimistic view from one of our favorite startup consultants, Kara Swisher, at 2016’s StartupFest), detracting from the weight funding holds.
Maybe it’s because until the money’s in the bank, that funding isn’t actually guaranteed -- as PVP Live found out when it “won” funding in 2015, but saw its investors bow out just a few days before the announcement.
But finally -- and this is the big one -- maybe it’s because funding no longer translates to success the way it used to. And for that reason, it doesn’t attract media attention like it used to.
The thing that traditional announcements and tactics forgets is this: In the SaaS world, getting -- and retaining -- users is the ultimate measure of startup marketing success.
It’s your user base that will generate stories. It’s your user base that will bring in referrals. And it’s the success of your user base that determines the success of your startup -- which is the story you want to be telling.
With that, let’s dive into 52 facets of your ultimate startup marketing plan that’ll have you attracting, retaining, and referring users on the regular.
Part II: 52 ways to market your startup
This might seem simple, but it bears repeating: Every great marketing organization needs a strategy. Strategy is the foundation upon which tactics are layered.
At Onboardly, we know that marketing isn’t one-size-fits-all when it comes to startups. We also know that one single tactic isn’t going to be the grand slam you need.
That’s why we’re so firmly behind our strategy of demand marketing: the combination and intersections of public relations, social media, and content marketing.
A robust startup marketing plan is focused, yes -- but it’s not focused on just one area of demand marketing. That’s why it’s essential to know just what’s included in every bucket (content marketing, social media, and public relations) and at every intersection (social relations, thought leadership, and message amplification).
That makes for a long list of tactics -- 52, to be exact. And a list of 52 tactics requires an instruction booklet. Why? Because it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Here’s how we want you to use this list:
- Be picky: Evaluate each tactic in context of how it can help your startup attract and retain users.
- Prioritize: Start with a blend of tactics that has the potential to have the most impact. This is not a recipe meant to be followed in full; this is meant to be a repository of tactics that you can pull from to create your own ultimate startup marketing plan.
- Make it your own: This is a high-level overview of most of these tactics. Each and every one of them deserves an in-depth tutorial -- which, for many, you’ll find in the additional resources section. Once you’ve decided where to start, jump into the additional info on each of your selected tactics, and make it relevant to your brand and business.
Take a deep breath, get your favorite note-taking mechanism ready, and dig in. Enjoy it -- because as soon as we’re through here, it’s time to get to work.
To start: The basics of startup marketing (Tactics 1-9)
Goals: Create product/service demand, qualify and nurture leads, align sales and marketing, focus on KPIs, measure and optimize results
These pillars lay the groundwork for every solid startup marketing strategy.
1. Create a useful, relevant product with staying power.
“Nothing works better than just improving your product.” - Joel Spolsky, CEO of Stack Overflow + creator of Trello
There are a million and one quotes about the importance of a great product, and they’re all warranted. Without a great product behind it, great marketing is not only a waste of time; it will actually hurt your startup. (Great marketing brings great users; a poor user experience drives them away for good.)
When asked about the absolute best thing a startup could do to get the attention of tech media, Kara Swisher (founder of Recode) said this: “Have a great product -- one that’s delightful, useful, and has staying power. That’s pretty much it. Having a great product is really the point.”
But even more important than getting the attention of tech media? A great product will get the attention of your customers -- and that’s what’s going to make the difference in attracting and retaining users.
Founder of Clarity.fm and Flowtown Dan Martell gives a few pieces of advice on how to create a product people will love:
- Talk to customers. Not just your best friend and your brother -- find people that have the problem you’re looking to solve. Ask tough questions and be willing to accept critical feedback. Now’s the time for it.
- Build a clickable prototype. Clickable prototypes can be built for free -- minus the labor hours, of course -- using software like Balsamiq, Apple’s Keynote, Proto.io, Solidify App, and more.
- Pre-sell to customers. Don’t just project estimates for sales -- go out and get them before you ever build. Let the people who need your product put their money where their mouths are. Geordie Wardman saw his first venture -- a daily deals site -- fail, but was able to fund his second idea, WaveReview, entirely from presales.
Product is where your marketing both starts and ends. If your efforts haven’t been working and you’re having trouble nailing down why, look first to your product. If you’ve already got a great product, you’ve made your life approximately 100x easier when it comes to marketing.
More on creating a great product:
- From 0 to $1B - Slack's Founder Shares Their Epic Launch Strategy, First Round Review
- Creating Successful SaaS Products, Ryan Angilly, Ramen
2. Identify your product’s market.
I’ve written about this before on the Kissmetrics blog, where I quipped, “It’s easy for startup founders to believe the whole world will love their products. After all, founders eat, sleep and breathe their products. The reality is that only a small portion of the population is interested in your product. If you try to market your startup to everyone, you waste both time and money.”
That was in 2012; basically eons ago in Internet time. Yet it’s still true, and will always be.
Your product can be stellar, but if you can’t find product-market fit, it won’t fly. A term attributed most to Marc Andreeson, product-market fit is that sweet spot where you find a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.
Now, let’s define good. When identifying a segment of the overall market that will be a good target, consider these factors:
- Market size: Who your market includes, and where they’re located. Regional tech executives? NYC-based millennials? Dig as far as you can into this to estimate how many potential customers are in your target market.
- Market wealth: Does this market have the money to spend on your product? Is this a need or a want?
- Market competition: How saturated is the market, and who is dominating? What gaps are left to be filled?
- Differentiation: What makes your product different enough from the competition to stand out in this market?
If you’re out to please everyone with your product, you’re more likely to please no one.
More on finding product-market fit:
- The Startup Guide to Finding & Measuring Product/Market Fit, Josh Pigford, baremetrics
- Product/Market Fit: What it really means, How to Measure it, and Where to find it, Eric Jorgenson
3. Build your keyword library.
While link-stuffing and invisible text are blackhat SEO strategies of the past (thank the Google gods), keywords are still supremely important when it comes to your overall brand, and later, your content strategy.
With your audience in mind, brainstorm a list of keywords that apply to your target market. Here’s how to start:
- Build a seed list. This is a no-holds-barred brainstorm of phrases, from one-word “head” keywords to three- to five-word “long-tail” keywords. They should describe your brand, the solution your customer is searching for, and the problem you solve. Aim for a list of 20-25 terms organized into themes or categories.
- Whittle that list down. Now’s the time to get picky -- which keywords hold the most klout for your audience? From your brainstorm, you should be able to narrow down to:
- A core keyword list -- three to five keywords that summarize what your startup does (Onboardly’s: customer acquisition, content marketing and startup PR)
- Secondary keywords -- 8-10 keywords that expand on your core keywords (Onboardly’s: corporate blogging, blogging best practices, email marketing how to)
- Get some help. This is a good time to check out tools like Google’s Keyword Planner or Moz’s Keyword Explorer to identify the keywords that will have the most impact for you: those with high search volume and low competition.
Tip: See the Facebook Ads tactic below (#26) to learn how this can help you develop keywords.
More on building your startup keyword library:
- The Startup Founder’s Guide to SEO & PPC Keyword Targeting Research, Andrew Broadbent, StartupGrind
- SEO for Startups: 5 Rules to Apply Now, Sujan Patel for Search Engine Journal
4. Set your goals and define what success looks like.
A startup’s success is entirely dependent on the people and talent behind it. And goals are important to driving that talent. We love this thought from Peter Cohan on why goals are so important to startups, from Entrepreneur.com:
“Since startups can't pay high salaries, how do they attract and retain top talent? The answer is to make talented people feel that they are working on a very challenging problem in an environment that respects their ability to solve it.”
The goals living inside your head from the time your startup was just a fleeting thought aren’t what will drive your team forward. Here’s what we suggest, instead:
- Know what success looks like. This isn’t something you can copy from the next guy. Maybe success is 250 new users per month for Startup A, while Startup B thinks success is $50,000 in monthly recurring revenue. You must know what success looks like in order to work for it.
- Work backwards and create SMART goals. Setting a goal of $500,000 in annual profit is great, but throwing lofty goals up in the air and hoping they’ll take flight on their own is wishful thinking. Start from the finish line and work your way back to create specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals.
- Make those goals known. Write your goals out. Post it in a visible place. Send it to the entire team. Get everyone on the same page -- because the team that’s working toward unified goals will always be more successful than the teams working in silos, unaware of everyone else’s paths.
More on goal-setting and defining success:
- Using the SMART Approach to Goal Setting as a Startup, Robert Cordray for Business 2 Community
- 7 Key SMART Goals To Achieve Business Success, Brian Tracy
5. Determine your KPIs and record your baseline metrics.
With goals in place, it’s important to know your key performance indicators (KPIs) and build milestones into your roadmap. Failing fast, iterating often, and celebrating small successes is much more realistic -- and efficient -- when you know your KPIs and have milestones in place.
Your KPIs are the key metrics that truly impact your goals. If you’ve set a goal to sign up 250 new users per month, one of your KPIs would be focused on sign-up conversion rates.
If your goal is to reach $50,000 in monthly recurring revenue by the end of this year, one of your KPIs would be focused on customer lifetime value.
Meanwhile, milestones are the steps along the way that will prove your progress toward those goals.
Milestones can only be measured from a starting point, though -- which is why you need to record baseline metrics from the beginning. What’s your conversion rate on user signups right now? How much MRR are you bringing in presently? You might be starting at zero on everything -- and that’s okay. Make note of that.
You’ll also want to build in industry benchmarks to compare both your goals and your milestone progress against.
Finally, set aside time on a consistent basis -- whether that’s weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly -- to record progress and measure up against those benchmarks.
More on benchmarking and baseline metrics:
- 16 Startup Metrics, Jeff Jordan, Anu Hariharan, Frank Chen, and Preethi Kasireddy for Andreessen Horowitz
- A Newbie’s Guide to Startup Benchmarking, Benjamin Hoffman via Medium
6. Make a budget -- and stick to it.
Is this really a startup marketing tactic? Of course it is. As much as we might want to pretend it doesn’t, it all comes down to money.
Even with inbound leads costing an average of 61% less than outbound leads, marketing still costs. Set a budget early in the game.
What’s most important is that you make a plan of how you’re going to divide that budget. Starting out, you might not know what’s best to get behind -- for example, after a year, it might be clear that your blog is your most powerful traffic generator, so it would make sense to allocate 40% of your budget to the content produced for it -- but right now, you’re likely grasping at straws.
That’s okay. Every startup starts somewhere. Build a plan for your budget based off the blend of tactics you choose here, knowing that your budget will likely be revised based on results.
More on startup marketing budgeting:
- 5 Smart Ways for Startups to Spend Marketing Money, Adam Fridman for Inc.com
- How to Manage Your Entire Marketing Budget, HubSpot
7. Get comfortable with growth hacking.
Back to Sean Ellis and his growth hacking philosophy. In case you missed it: Growth hacking is the rapid experimentation across channels to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business.
Is it important that you identify a list of growth-hacking specific tactics to try out in your startup marketing plan? Not quite.
“It’s a mindset not a toolkit.” – Aaron Ginn (h/t Ryan Holiday in this post on Clarity.fm)
The importance of growth hacking, really, comes from adopting the growth hacking mindset; a mindset that rapid experimentation and a focus on results is the only way to fail fast and iterate in order to make the most efficient use of your time, talent, and budget.
A now-classic example of growth hacking: At its beginning, Twitter was bringing in a lot of new users, but wasn’t successful at keeping them around. Through user observation, they found when users manually selected 5-10 accounts to follow on the first day, that user was significantly more likely to stick around. So the Twitter team, led by Josh Elman, built the “Suggested User List.”
The growth hacking mindset isn’t one of commitment; it’s one of experimentation. Had the Suggested User List not been effective in keeping users around, the team would’ve experimented with another idea.
Bonus: The growth hacking mindset also brings together various marketing and product development roles to ensure that your entire startup -- whether it’s 2, 10, or 20 people -- is working together.
- How Slack Became the Fastest Growing B2B SaaS Business (Maybe) Ever, GrowthHackers.com
- The Growth Hack Mindset: Growth Hacking for Marketing Strategy D, igital Marketing Magazine
- Growth Hacking Tactics That Every Startup Needs To Know, Ahrefs
8. Niche down where possible.
One of the first things we advised you to do was to identify your product’s market. Now, we’re going to take that one step further.
Where possible -- so, for particular campaigns, for specific launches, or overall -- niche down. That is, get even more targeted in your marketing.
Note: This will likely be 10x more possible once you’ve been in the industry for a while and have data to base your decisions off of.
When it comes to niching, start by ditching thinking around what people do, and focus on what problem your product/service solves. Then, within the demographics/psychographics you worked on previously, identify whether there’s more optimal niches by asking the following questions:
- Which of the segments that I’ve identified is largest?
- Which has money to spend in this area?
- Which is less likely to churn?
Keep this thought in mind, from Nathalie Lussier:
“Don’t try to be different just for the sake of standing out. Really think through what you can eliminate, what you can add and how you can create an offer that helps more people.”
Once you’ve identified an even more specific niche, test your marketing tactics within it to see how conversions are impacted.
More on niching down for startups:
- Dear startups: Go niche or go home - Bas Prass via Medium’s Off the Record
- Riches in the Niches: 10 Things You MUST Know About Your Audience - Pam Moore, marketingnutz
9. Be vocal.
Our final, brief foundational tactic for you, startup marketer: Be loud.
In the words of Kara Swisher: “Do NOT shut the fuck up. Obnoxiousness has done well for my career. Be articulate. Be clear. Be loud.”
As a startup founder with a product to market to people who truly need it, the worst thing you can do is cower in the corner silently hoping your product takes off. (And don't force people to sign an NDA if you have a basic prototype or idea. No one really gives a f*** about your idea, anyway.)
No matter the tactics you choose to put to use or the media you choose as channels to make it happen, one thing is for certain: You need to be vocal.
Your startup marketing toolkit: Demand marketing tactics
Demand marketing is made up of three individual categories of tactics, as well as three hybrid categories, as follows:
- Content marketing
- Social media
- Public relations
- Message amplification (content marketing + social media)
- Social relations (social media + public relations)
- Thought leadership (content marketing + public relations)
Now, while we looove building a solid foundation with the tactics above (it makes everything easier), we do get a little more giddy over the tactics that are about to follow. After all, this is the grab bag from which you can generate an endless supply of marketing ideas to design, implement, test, and iterate.
And as startup marketers, there’s nothing quite like bringing a new way of connecting with our audience to life.
Now let’s not delay this party any longer...
Content Marketing (Tactics 10-22)
Goals: Educate, increase brand awareness and loyalty, connect personally with audience, capture + convert leads, build trust
10. Blog with a purpose.
“Blogging is growing ever more popular, but that doesn’t mean that everyone knows what they’re doing.” - Neil Patel
Yup, the blogging industry has pretty much exploded -- and you better believe there are other blogs out there covering what you cover. Should that stop you? Absolutely not.
Of course, you should never blog just to blog. Building a blog with a purpose means investing time and resources. To make that time and those resources worth it, build a blog that’s a go-to resource for the customers who are experiencing the problem your product solves. Build your blog off of content based on the problems those customers have, on the questions you get asked frequently, and on the conversations you regularly have with others in the industry.
A consistent blog with your customers at the forefront will give the time spent on it purpose by:
- establishing thought leadership,
- acquiring new customers,
- improving SEO,
- generating leads and referrals,
- selling specific products,
- building your list, and
- increasing brand visibility and awareness.
More on blogging with a purpose:
- Why do Most Bloggers Fail? A Review of Flawed Blogging Practices that Knock Most People Out, Neil Patel
11. Put those search engines to work for you. (SEO)
From Gregory Ciotti: “For many startups, SEO is viewed in the same vein as Tarot cards and palm readings.”
Right you are, Greg. It’s about time startup founders change that -- because organic SEO is one of the single best things you can have working for your new startup when you’re looking for as much relevant exposure as possible.
It’s easy to get frustrated by SEO efforts for a few reasons:
- SEO results take time. Most experts recommend waiting it out at least three months before making judgments
- Hiring can be expensive. Yet it’s almost always the only way to get it done right. Beware SEO services that cost less than your quarterly oil change.
- There’s constant change. If you’re sick of hearing the phrase “new algorithm”, you’re not alone, but, fellow startup marketer: That’s most of this digital marketing landscape. And it’s why there are experts.
Now that we’ve aired our frustrations, let’s talk about why SEO is important: Because not only does Google process over 3.5 billion searches per day, making it a very active environment; but the people searching via Google are doing it intentionally. They’re not logging into Facebook and getting interrupted by your ad; they’re intentionally seeking information.
So when that prospective customer searches for the solution to their problem -- you know, that one you provide -- you want to be there.
Now’s a good time to dig out a beginner’s guide to SEO (thank you, Moz) and revisit those keywords you brainstormed during the foundational tactics. Go for understanding, not mastery.
More on SEO:
- Simple SEO Wins for Startups with One Page, One Term, Gregory Ciotti
12. Get graphic.
- Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images.
- Facebook posts with images see 2.3X more engagement than those without images.
- 60% of consumers are more likely to consider or contact a business when an image shows up in local search results
- Including a photo and a video in a press release increases views by over 45%
It’s safe to say that the old adage, “a picture is worth 1,000 words” applies here. Visually appealing content is more likely to connect with your audience, and with tools like PicMonkey and Canva, creating branded images for your startup is easier than ever.
More on creating graphics:
- How To Make The Best Blog Graphics (For Non-Designers), Puranjay Singh for CoSchedule
13. Upgrade your content.
When you’re creating content that educates, engages, and inspires, a natural byproduct is that your readers are going to want more. So, why not give it to them?
Now, content upgrades seem like yesterday’s news at this point -- but here’s what most people miss when it comes to doing it right: A content upgrade isn’t one PDF that you repurpose as an upgrade for all of your content. A true content upgrade is a resource that is specific to each blog post.
So, your post on the top three pieces of social scheduling software that features platforms like Buffer, CoSchedule, and Edgar? A high-converting content upgrade might be along the lines of “how to get started in filling your scheduling queue,” “the categories you need in your social library,” or maybe a step-by-step guide to getting started with one of them.
More on content upgrades:
- How To Boost Conversions by 785% in One Day (The Content Upgrade), Brian Dean, Backlinko
14. Build an email list, and put it to work.
Email marketing is no longer just collecting emails that you send the occasional newsletter to. It’s the single best way to engage with people who have opted in to hear from you.
Treat that VIP pass with the importance it deserves.
Email marketing can be used to not only keep a consistent touchpoint with potential customers; it can be used to enhance the user experience once they’re engaged in a free trial. Advanced marketing automations using software like HubSpot, OntraPort, and ConvertKit give your email marketing more segmentation options -- and therefore more relevance to your customers -- than ever before.
More on email marketing:
- 9 Email Marketing Wins That Take Less Than an Hour, Nathan Barry
15. Harness the power of video.
But it’s not just YouTube channels at the center of video marketing anymore. Videos integrated into landing pages can significantly impact conversions, by up to 80%. Videos used in emails lead to a 200-300% increase in click-through rates. And a video on your home page? That can increase conversions by 20%.
Video marketing isn’t just limited to filming your next commercial: Use video as a crucial piece of your content strategy by creating interview series, Q&As, and unique-to-your-startup series that encourages engagement with your audience.
More on video marketing:
- YouTube Killed the TV Star: How to Leverage Video in Content Marketing, Onboardly
16. Give your audience an explainer video.
Three words here: Dollar Shave Club.
When the men’s monthly shaving subscription startup released its “Our Blades Are F***ing Great” video in early 2012 on YouTube, it prompted 12,000 orders in a two-day span. Was it an ad? Yes -- but it was also one of the first viral examples of what would become the explainer video. (Who else nailed it? Dropbox.)
Explainer videos provide a challenge: In just a few short minutes, you need to capture the essence of your story and convince viewers why your product is the answer to their needs -- while also integrating personality and production value.
Are they worth it? We’d say so: According to Unbounce, explainer videos increase conversion rates by 20%.
More on explainer videos:
- How to Make an Epic Explainer Video For Your Startup, Moxeto
17. Go live.
Where Twitter used to feel like the most in-the-moment way to broadcast your information, live streaming has taken over in full force.
Platforms like Facebook Live, Periscope, and YouTube Live seem to have the most staying power (RIP Vine and Meerkat), which works out well for startups who’ve already built an audience on Twitter (who owns Periscope), Facebook, and YouTube.
There’s no shortage of ways to use live streaming for your startup, from behind-the-scenes updates to launch teasers and tutorials to open Q&As. One note: These streams are not meant to look professional and polished. Focus on a well-lit area and decent sound quality, and let the rest come naturally.
More on live streaming:
- 11 Creative Ways to Use Live Streaming on Snapchat, Facebook Live & More, Katherine Starr via HubSpot
18. Pop that quiz.
Does the average quiz used in content marketing get:
a.) 10 shares
b.) 100 shares
c.) 1,900 shares
If you answered ‘c’, you’re a content marketing genius!
See what we did there? All jokes aside, quizzes are one of the most shareable pieces of content you can create -- and the best part is that you likely already have the content you need to build a quiz off of. (We highly recommend basing your quizzes off of checklists or how-to’s that you’ve created.)
More on using quizzes in content marketing:
- Why Quizzes Are Content Marketing’s Secret Weapon, Stephen Walsh via BuzzSumo
19. Write a better call to action.
What is the single most important aspect of your blog post, email, webinar, or landing page? Telling the visitor exactly what to do next, and (strongly) encouraging them to do it.
- “Don’t think of a CTA as a call to action. Think of it as a call to value. An action may be “Read the blog post about button formulas” but the value would be “Convert better with these 3 button formulas.” Test the two against each other. I’d put my money on the call to value.”
- “Write button / CTA copy that completes this phrase: I want to ________________. The underlined part becomes the button copy.”
- “Never introduce work in your CTA copy. So if you’re writing a newsletter that leads to a landing page where the user will have to sign in to watch a video, don’t write a CTA in the newsletter that goes, “Sign in to watch the video.” That’s introducing work. It doesn’t matter that, in fact, they will have to sign in to watch the video; all that matters is what the end user wants. What do they want? To watch the video. So test CTA copy that reads something like “Watch the video” (and then add a few words about the value of doing so).”
More on writing a better CTA:
- How To Write A Call To Action In A Template With 6 Examples, Julie Neidlinger via CoSchedule
20. Invest in copywriting that converts.
Good copywriting isn’t just run through a spell check and looked over for grammar. Good copy is a set of words that converts.
A strong copywriter will be able to liven up your words with your startup’s unique tone, so that whether they’re reading your copy on the back of a cereal box or the front page of TechCrunch, your audience knows it’s you -- and they want to follow along.
More on conversion copywriting:
- 10 Super Smart People Talk Copywriting for Conversion, Oli Gardner via Unbounce
21. Add pre-roll advertising to your video.
The pre-roll ad: It’s a love/hate relationship, really. After all, it disrupts the viewer experience by giving them a forced commercial before the content they actually came to see.
So, take a cue from Brad Higdon of the Martin Group (the team that created Geico’s “Unskippable” pre-roll ads): "We had the research. We knew the skip rate after five seconds was 96 percent, so we collectively challenged ourselves to find a workaround. If we're going to interrupt someone on their way to watch something they actually sought out, and want to watch, we better make it worth their while."
For brands with a little creativity, putting these 5-30 seconds to work can be a game-changer.
More on pre-roll advertising:
- 3 Ways YouTube Pre-Roll Is Forcing Marketers to Rethink Video Advertising, Kavi Guppta via The Content Strategist
22. Divide + conquer.
Potential customers will never all be at the same point in your buying cycle. Let’s look at a few places they might be:
- Problem aware: They know they’re experiencing a problem
- Solution aware: They’ve discovered the solution(s) to that problem
- Product aware: They’re aware of how your product solves their problem
Then, once you’ve got them in your free trial, there are undoubtedly several stages to that.
Which is all to say this: Not all of your users are the same, and your content needs to account for that. To have the most impact, the content going to the problem aware should have a different goal than the content going to the product aware. And the only way to determine what kinds of content you’ll need to create is by segmenting those users.
More on the power of segmentation:
- How User Segmentation Really Works in Content Marketing, Neil Patel via Content Marketing Institute
Social Media Marketing (Tactics 23-29)
Goals: Create engagement, generate responses, inspire loyalty, achieve memorability, build community
23. Be present -- and active -- on social networks.
We’re going to bet you read that and instantly felt a tinge of overwhelm. We feel ya. Facebook! Pinterest! Twitter! Instagram! LinkedIn! SnapChat! Oof.
Being active on all.of.the.social.networks, all.of.the.time is nearly impossible -- unless it’s your full-time job. (It’s not.)
The remedy? Choose 1-3 social networks that make the most sense for the audience you’re looking to appeal to, and give ‘em each your A-game. For those that you aren’t going to be active on? Clean up your presence there (if it exists), and make it known where people can find you instead.
A tip: You can use different social networks to target different audiences. Case in point: While Pinterest will cater to the visual, mostly female crowd, Twitter is a great place to network with journalists and influencers in your industry.
More on being present and active on social networks:
- The Busy Founder’s Guide to Social Media Strategies for the 4 Biggest Platforms, StartupGrind
24. Make your content easy to share on social.
If you want people to share your shit (pardon our French), you better make it shareable.
It’s that simple. Start by writing with personality. Layer on applicability. Then, make it super easy to share. Content that includes Click to Tweets and pinnable graphics makes that happen by giving your readers a one-click solution for sharing it with their networks.
More on making your content shareable:
- 20 Ways to Make Your Content More Shareable, Search Engine Journal
25. Take advantage of remarketing.
Remember when you were scoping out those new golf shoes (or stilettos) on Zappos, then headed over to Facebook and saw an ad for them in your sidebar?
That’s remarketing, at its most basic. Remarketing is the perfect way to connect with your website visitors who may not have converted on their first go-around. (For reference, average documented online shopping cart abandonment comes in at 68.81% across 34 different studies. )
What you need to know is this: Remarketing has become more and more powerful over time -- embracing, and making the most of, the “creeper status” it earned early on. In fact, over 90% of marketers surveyed in a study commissioned by AdRoll said remarketing is as effective or more effective than email, search, and other display campaigns, according to HubSpot.
And, in HubSpot’s opinion, remarketing deserves a spot in your strategy: “For starters, it gives you absolutely massive reach on the Google Display Network (over 92% of sites on the web, in fact). But other remarketing networks like Facebook and Twitter give you crazy precise targeting, as well. You can reach about 84% of the people you tag, 10-18 times per month.”
More on remarketing:
- Rethinking CRO: How Remarketing Can Unlock Higher Conversion Rates, Larry Kim via HubSpot
26. Get familiar with Facebook Advertising.
If hearing the words “Power Editor” makes you cringe, it’s time to turn that frown upside down (yeah, we said it), because putting that Power Editor to use is worth it.
The “Power” truly comes from the platform’s ability to segment, and therefore test different targets against each other. Precise reporting on conversion rates lets you test until your heart is happy, and targeting different niches can teach you a lot about your audience. There is so much fine tuning to be done, it could drive a person mad -- but that’s what the Facebook experts are for.
Better understand your audience and A/B test until your conversion rate is where you want it? It’s a digital marketer’s dream.
More on Facebook Advertising:
- 16 (9 + 7) Secrets the Pros Use to Create Great Facebook Ad Designs, AdEspresso
27. Tell stories.
Social media works best when it’s used to start conversations, and what better way to start a conversation than to tell a story?
While storytelling quickly became a buzzword in the content marketing world over the last few years, it’s not a new concept by any means. Humans have been telling stories for centuries -- because it’s how we connect, communicate, and understand.
Developing stories that help users connect to your brand and product is one of the best ways to establish loyalty, and social media gives you the means to not only develop stories using several different types of media; it gives you the ability to share it far and wide.
From long-form Facebook posts to Snapchat and Instagram Stories, the long-heralded power of storytelling isn’t going away anytime soon. Cozy up and get your ‘happily ever after’ chops ready.
More on Storytelling:
The Viral Power of Storytelling in Content Marketing, William Sarto via Jeff Bullas
28. Use LinkedIn for more than your resume.
Enough sarcastic jokes about the resume site that is LinkedIn: This site knows what’s up. Not only has it become a go-to for finding top talent (and being found yourself), but it’s also become a hub for smart advertising, high-converting direct outreach (more on that in #46), learning, and -- our favorite -- publishing.
Not only has its publishing platform been around for years now, but the artist formerly known as Pulse has evolved into a simple, native publishing platform that makes writing an article and sharing it easier than your favorite Squarespace site.
Though the process for publishing has changed, the results have not. According to Kissmetrics, a few of the benefits of publishing consistent, valuable content on LinkedIn include:
- Reach: LinkedIn provides ample exposure when you publish a post
- Search: LinkedIn posts rank well in organic Google searches
- Trust: Because of the inherently professional nature of the site, its content ranks high in trust factors
More on LinkedIn publishing:
- We Analyzed the 3,000 Most Successful LinkedIn Publishing Posts, Paul Shapiro via OKDork
- How to Combine LinkedIn and Content Marketing to Generate Incredible Leads, Neil Patel
29. Test other social advertising sites.
When we think about social media advertising, it’s easy to fall down the Facebook Advertising rabbit hole and never come up for air. (Especially if you love A/B testing, as mentioned.)
Yet depending on your niche, you might find success with other social ad platforms that others aren’t using as heavily.
A few we recommend checking out:
Don’t just throw spaghetti at the wall. If you choose to go after one of these platforms, set up a focused strategy that allows you to isolate what’s working and what’s not, and give it at least three months before judging results.
More on alternative social advertising:
- How To Advertise On Reddit: My Experience & 9 Ideas for Advertising on Reddit, ShivarWeb
Public Relations (Tactics 30-34)
Goals: Inform, educate, develop public image, tell stories, share information, build influence, generate top-of-mind awareness, convince or persuade
30. Build an amazing pitch.
If you want to have the media’s attention, you need to start by learning how to attract -- and keep -- it. (Short attention spans are no joke.)
Start by building an amazing pitch, individually tailored to each journalist or media opp you have come your way. When developing your tailored pitch, ask yourself:
- Is it relevant? Consider why this journalist would care about your story. Figure out if there is a way you can relate your pitch to something the journalist is currently writing or is interested in.
- Is it brief? Journalists are busy and don’t have time to sift through a long and tedious background story. Get to the point.
- Is it newsworthy? If you want your launch to be in the news, you have to make it newsworthy. Unfortunately, your product launch isn’t inherently interesting to the journalist or general public. Find a unique and intriguing angle to frame your story based on each news source and person that you’re pitching to.
Oh -- and if you’re reaching out to journalists via email, don’t slack off on the subject headline. This is your first opportunity to grab their attention and give them a reason to keep reading.
More on building a pitch:
- Mass Success: Perfecting the Art of the Custom Pitch, Onboardly
31. Have your media kit at the ready.
Media kits have evolved from the Mad Man-esque era of printed materials, yes. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t necessary. When the media comes a’ calling, here’s the foundation of what you need to have at the ready:
- Press release and/or video pitch
- 3-4 versions of your story (ready to be customized)
- High resolution photos of your office and team
- Videos, screenshots, or images of your product
- Screenshots of your website
- Founder names and short bios
- Your startup’s logo
Don’t forget to include your full contact information. It’s always the simple things that get overlooked.
More on pulling together a stellar media kit:
- Press Pages and Media Kits: Include These 7 Items to Please Reporters, Jane Callahan via Zapier
32. Create stories.
That story thing again, eh? (See #27.) You bet. Stories aren’t just important in social media and content marketing. They’re the stuff dreams are made of when it comes to garnering PR.
So it’s uber important that you craft, learn, and share yours. Every journalist out there is going to be more interested in the story, first. Which means you need to turn ordinary news into extraordinary stories. Don’t mistake this for falsification; instead, let it inspire you to put more thought into how you share news of your latest launch, hire, or development.
A bonus: Remember that your users’ stories can be just as powerful as your own.
More on storytelling for PR:
- The Power of Storytelling in PR, Cision
33. Be the party planner.
Even in our digitally-driven world, there’s nothing that can mimic the power of a great event.
Of course, you don’t have to throw a conference of mass proportions to get PR. Instead, focus on your audience, and your goals. From lunch-and-learns to happy hours, getting your users face-to-face helps them share their own stories, connect, and feel part of something bigger.
Still want to take this online? Virtual summits and digital workshops/webinars work, too.
More on event planning for startups:
- How To Throw A Memorable Event For Your Startup, VentureApp
34. Get close with your community.
Public relations isn’t limited to the media. Every startup is based somewhere -- even if that’s in your parents’ garage. Use your physical location to your advantage by forging strong ties with the community that physically surrounds you.
While joining a Chamber or business bureau may not have the influence it once did, supporting local causes, partnering with local food purveyors, and sponsoring local teams/events can net you gains in awareness, trust, and appreciation from those around you.
More on community building:
- 5 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Enhance Local Communities, Bennat Berger via Entrepreneur.com
Message Amplification (Tactics 35-43)
The intersection of content marketing + social media
Goals: Create a point of conversation, promote content, build brand awareness, inspire loyalty
35. Lend your voice.
Consistently posting to your kickass blog is fantastic for nurturing your community and driving traffic to your website. (See #10)
What can amplify that? Guest appearances on other people’s platforms. AKA: Guest posting.
Not only does your appearance on someone else’s platform give you exposure to audiences beyond your inner circle, but it’s also a hat tip to your credibility from that person (who is already trusted by their audience).
One tip: Don’t guest post just for SEO. Yes, the inbound links help -- but only when they’re selective and warranted. #blamethespammers
More on getting started with guest posting:
- Guest-Posting on Steroids: A 4-Step Blueprint That the Top Guest Posters Use, Neil Patel via QuickSprout
36. Host webinars.
We love ConvertKit’s mantra: Teach everything you know. One way to do that? Host a webinar.
According to Neil Patel, webinars are currently producing the second largest ROI for content marketers. Some other fun stats he shares:
- While working at Kissmetrics, Neil generated approximately $1,638,000 in revenue from just 77 webinars. In his words: “And those results are good but not that unusual.”
- A survey of marketers who regularly conduct webinars found that between 20% and 40% of attendees turned into qualified leads.
The webinars that convert best tend to have the same characteristics: They offer stand-alone value; they save the sales pitch for the end; they reward live attendance with some sort of bonus or upgrade; they deliver what they said they’d deliver.
More on hosting a webinar:
- The Smart Marketer's Guide to Webinar Marketing, Georgiana Laudi via Unbounce
37. Connect with influencers.
Influencer marketing means focusing on specific individuals -- who you or your industry deem “influencers” -- rather than your target market, as a whole. The idea? These influencers will help spread the word, giving you increased exposure and, more importantly, a whole lot of street cred.
Here’s why John Hall called influencer marketing the Gold Rush in 2016 and forward: “Influencer content cannot be blocked, external influencers are being created every day, and the best way to gain customer trust is by aligning with somebody they already trust.”
Influencers are important, yes -- but we find that blending influencer marketing in with other strategies is your best bet. (We’ve never been a fan of putting all those eggs into one basket, after all.)
More on influencer marketing and targeting:
- The Definitive Guide to Influencer Targeting, Kristen Matthews via Kissmetrics
38. Put your users to work.
We’re all about making the most of the people surrounding you -- including your users.
Here’s what we mean: Take a look at your product and ask how you can empower users to share it with their friends and networks. What would entice them to send a direct email to people they think could use it?
Let’s look at an example: Dropbox was able to bring their $233-$388 cost per user acquired down to a slim fraction of that by putting its users to work. How? Upon signing up, Dropbox users were encouraged to share the service with friends. Each time one of those friends signed up for Dropbox, they’d earn extra (free) space on their account.
The result? Upon launching its referral program, Dropbox saw a total of 2.8 million invitations sent out over a 30-day period. Over the long run, Dropbox earned itself brand evangelists.
Another way to think of this? You’re building marketing right into your product. Aren’t you clever…
More on putting your users to work:
- 5 Strategies to Get Your Users to Market Your Mobile App for You, Rahul Varshneya via Entrepeneur.com
39. Get discovered on different content platforms.
How can you get your content featured alongside articles on The New York Times, CNN.com, Forbes, and other big name media outlets and blogs?
Content discovery platforms like Outbrain, Zemanta, nRelate, Taboola and more will help your content get syndicated without you having to understand the backend of exactly how it works. Still, you’ll want to pay attention to the 10 tips for maximizing ROI -- from using custom tracking URLs to writing titles to better target demographics from Audrey and Drew of Seer over at Moz.com.
A caveat: Content discovery platforms can help you drive backlinks and launch content, but it likely won’t be cheap.
More on content discovery platforms + syndication:
- The Complete Guide to Building Your Blog Audience, Chapter 8 - QuickSprout
40. Repurpose content.
You know that feeling of excitement you get when you realize that the scraps from that last meal can be used to make a delicious stew? (Is that just us?)
Content marketing can have the same effect when you realize how much more you can create from the work you’ve already put in.
We love this example of content repurposing from Ann Handley on Entrepreneur.com: “Use video you create as source material to create even more content — reimagining it in various ways to reach new audiences. For example, you could syndicate the audio portion on iTunes and transcribe the video (using Rev or CastingWords) and edit it into a Q&A text interview for your blog. That way, your single video will have a bigger footprint that reaches more people in multiple formats.”
Consider the different ways your audience likes to consume content, then look at how you can repurpose that blog post into a .mp3 recording, or how that blog series might be compiled into an epic guide.
More on content repurposing:
- 7 Simple Tips for Repurposing Your Best Content, Sujan Patel
41. Host a contest or run a challenge.
Two truths about human nature: We’re a competitive lot, who likes to win.
Why this matters for your startup: You can both challenge your audience and give them something to win while amplifying the reach of your content and message.
How? Through contests and challenges.
Both tactics can be a fantastic way to build your email list, spread a message, and encourage referrals. Contests using widgets like Gleam, Rafflecopter, or KingSumo empower your visitors to share your content for additional entries, while platforms like Instagram lend themselves well to challenges.
Offer something in return: Swag, free trials, or relevant partner prizes up the ante for participating and sharing.
More on hosting a contest and running challenges:
- How to Run Social Media Contests That Actually Increase Revenue, Dominique Jackson via SproutSocial
42. Pay to play with Google AdWords.
Your product presumably solves a problem. People search for solutions to that problem.
While SEO is the long-term strategy that’s going to bring your product up when that search occurs, you can pay to amplify your exposure in the short term with AdWords, Google’s paid advertising platform. There are both Search (the ads that show up when you Google something) as well as Display (banner ads on other publishers’ sites) options.
A 2014 study by Shop.org and Forrester Research showed 85 percent of retailers surveyed said search marketing (including paid and SEO) was the most effective customer acquisition tactic.
A tip: Having a focused/optimized campaign can help you keep costs down. If you don’t want to take the time to learn and DIY, hire an expert.
More on Google AdWords:
- From Startups to Managers: A Beginner’s Guide to Google AdWords, Digital Marketing Institute
- The Bootstrapped Startup’s Crash Course in AdWords, Iain Dooley via Copyhackers
Social Relations (Tactics 43-47)
The intersection of social media + public relations
Goals: Build relationships, research and seek opportunity, amplify news
43. Build relationships before you need them.
While public relations has a stigma of being somewhat selfish, we look at social, or human, relations as being entirely altruistic.
To sing that tune, we recommend this: Instead of waiting to engage individuals only when you need something from them, try being proactive. Start building relationships early on. Redefine ‘contacts’ as ‘friends’ and go into conversations with an inquisitive spirit.
Proactively building relationships with the media, potential partners, and prospective users will teach you an incredible amount about your story, your audience, and how your product fits into and helps improve your users’ lives.
More on proactively building relationships:
- 5 Things a Publicist Knows to Be True About Growing Your Brand, Onboardly
44. Monitor your mentions and opportunities.
Being social can be exhausting -- so we like to make it as easy as possible.
Using the power of platforms like Muck Rack and HARO (Help A Reporter Out) allow startups to monitor mentions (Muck Rack is tied directly into platforms like Twitter) and skim media queries fast. The benefit? Highlighting opportunities for you to establish a relationship with a reporter, thank an outlet that’s mentioned you, and more.
Think of these platforms as your invisible media assistant.
More on monitoring mentions:
- 18 PR Tools for Monitoring & Managing Media Relations, Jami Oetting via HubSpot
45. Empower affiliates.
According to a customer trust survey run by Neilsen, 84% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products and services – making these recommendations the highest ranked source for trustworthiness.
How can you empower your users to make these recommendations? A.) Provide a great user experience. B.) Encourage and reward referrals via an affiliate program.
There can be genuine concerns regarding transparency and authenticity with affiliate programs. Two tips for overcoming this: 1.) Provide a great user experience. (See a trend here?) 2.) Limit your affiliate program to verified users. You’re more likely to garner honest recommendations.
More on empowering affiliates:
- Tips for Managing Affiliate, Influencer, and Referral Programs Under One Roof, Ambassador
46. Be direct.
Passive aggressiveness is the evil of all open communication -- but, we’ll save that rant for another day.
For now, let’s focus on what does work: Being direct.
Direct outreach is perhaps one of the most overlooked tactics in a startup marketer’s toolbox, but it’s one of the best relationship building and networking tools out there.
Ditch the cold call formulas and approach direct outreach as a way to connect with like-minded individuals. A few tips: Be succinct. Be personal. And, as always, provide value.
More on using direct outreach:
- 15 experts on how they develop an outreach strategy, Henley Wing via Buzzsumo
Thought Leadership (Tactics 47-49)
The intersection of content marketing + public relations
Goals: Build trust and credibility, create authority, increase visibility
47. Give away your knowledge.
They started by publicly sharing their knowledge and opinions with others as often as they possibly could. And once they became those sought-after speakers? They didn’t stop.
Establishing expertise and positioning yourself as a thought leader can’t happen overnight, nor is it a one-and-done tactic. So how -- and where -- might you lend your advice and advise others? Consider forums like Quora, networks like LinkedIn Groups, and stand-alone sites like Clarity. Apply to speak at conferences. Lend your voice to your startup’s blog.
Whenever you can, join the conversation and add value.
More on establishing expertise:
- 6 Ways to Establish Yourself as an Industry Thought Leader, Pamela Vaughan via HubSpot
48. Get comfortable in front of a crowd.
If you’re of the sort that would rather walk across hot coals the length of a football field than get up and speak in front of a group, now’s the time to overcome that.
When it comes to spreading your message and articulating your vision, startup founder, you need to be in the driver’s seat. In-person speaking events and presenting at virtual opportunities like telesummits will get your name and face in front of relevant audiences who can use your knowledge and -- later on -- your product.
A bonus: Speaking on the wider stage will give you the confidence you’ll need when addressing investors and boards.
More on speaking to establish thought leadership:
- How To Become A Master Of Public Speaking, Mitch Carson via LinkedIn
49. Answer your own emails.
We’re going to keep this one super simple -- because it is. For as long as you can manage, answer your own emails. Delegate blocks of time each day to do it, and come up with a system for prioritizing if your inbox is overflowing.
But whatever you do, give the people reaching out to you the respect they deserve by being your own voice as you establish your thought leadership.
More on getting personal to establish thought leadership:
- What Makes a True Thought Leader (Think You Have It?), Onboardly
Tying it all together (Tactics 50-52)
Goals: Get feedback, test, iterate, learn
50. Create customer feedback loops
In the words of the CRO experts at ConversionXL, a feedback loop is “a system that helps companies to gather external information about their services/products, add to that their own internal hunches and insights and in the end improve the service/product they were offering in the first place.”
No matter your marketing plan, you must stay user-centric, which means keeping lines of communication with your customers open.
A simple email to ask “Why did (or didn’t) you buy?”, or “What made you refer a friend?” can help you hone your up-sale offers, collect testimonials, and -- perhaps most importantly -- know what to test and roll out next.
It’s these customer feedback loops that will make sure you’re continuously achieving the first and foremost tactic on this list: creating a useful, relevant product with staying power.
More on creating customer feedback loops:
- How to Create Customer Feedback Loops That Works on All Stages of the Funnel - Wilson Peng for YesInsights
51. Test, test, test
There is no one way to go about doing anything on this list. That’s why we cannot stress the importance of testing enough.
Test your pitches. Test your calls to action. Test your Facebook Ads. Test, test, test.
In testing, focus on collecting data from which you can identify trends and establish what’s working (and what’s not). Split test variations. (AKA A/B test.) Go back to your KPIs that you set and record your benchmarks.
When your time is valuable and your resources are limited, you want to know that you’re directing both toward the right tactics.
More on testing:
- A/B Testing Mastery: From Beginner To Pro in a Blog Post, Alex Birkett via ConversionXL
- The Beginner’s Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization via Qualaroo
52. Iterate and fine tune
“Fail fast and iterate.”
As a SaaS company, there’s no doubt you’ve heard this before. It applies to your product -- and it also applies to your marketing.
The goal of testing and measuring isn’t just to understand what’s working and what’s not -- it’s to help you build an action plan for iteration.
Nothing -- and we mean nothing -- in running a startup or your startup marketing is ever set completely in stone.
Now, where to start?
If you’ve read this whole post, we’re going to guess there are two words going through your head right about now: holy sh*t.
We wrote the post and we still think that sometimes. It all comes down to this, fellow startup marketer: The possibilities for increasing your exposure, acquiring more users, and building a startup marketing engine for continuous growth are endless.
With that, we refer back to our original instructions for using this guide:
- Be picky: Evaluate each tactic above in context of how it can help your startup attract and retain users.
- Prioritize: Start with a blend of tactics that has the potential to have the most impact. This is not a recipe meant to be followed in full; this is meant to be a repository of tactics that you can pull from to create your own ultimate startup marketing plan.
- Make it your own: Once you’ve decided where to start, jump into the additional info on each of your selected tactics, and make it relevant to your brand and business.
Experiment. Test. Iterate. But most of all, have fun. You’ve built a product that can solve problems and change lives. Remember that.
Kudos on making it this far -- I'm so glad you did. The truth is, marketing your startup takes a lot of work and time. Unless you're a unicorn, you may find it challenging to find the right blend of tactics that'll get you the media coverage you deserve. That's what we're here for at Onboardly. We help startups like yourself increase your brand awareness, gain investor interest, and otherwise see your name in shining lights. Sound appealing? That's because it is. Schedule a free call with myself, Renée Warren to start talking strategy today.