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“Marketing has always been about the same thing—who your customers are and where they are,’’ says Noah Kagan of AppSumo.

Traditional marketing tactics have become a passé. The current startup game says, “Embrace Digital.” The smartest founders consider the more conventional marketing tactics of the past as an abomination. Yet, marketing budgets continue to see relentless cutting to the extent that they’re bare bones. This means that the excess of money left is often allocated solely for product development and engineering.

In marketing, the most crucial metrics are the number of users “gained and retained” by your startup company. Often there’s little room left for the traditional advertising spends, especially since the efficacy of these are extremely difficult to measure. In today’s competitive business market, startup founders and marketers are basically forced to get scrappy and creative with their marketing tactics. In order to assist you and inspire your next marketing breakthrough, the following are 9 marketing strategies that can be used for growth and while you’ll have to test and determine which strategies work for your audience, we’ve included successful case studies for each one.

1. Host Webinars

It’s advised that you allow customers to hear your voice and engage with you to create a sense of trust in your startup business. Webinars capitalize on this beautifully. You can cross-promote your webinars on your website. Also, send live tweets before and during the webinar using a custom-made #hashtag. Make sure you post your contact information after the webinar. This opens simple, two-way communication for new leads.

Case Study: Adobe
Adobe is a big brand name, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to grow. They too must use marketing tactics to succeed. One of their most successful strategies is the webinar. Adobe has been using webinars for a long time and has been rewarded with an amazing conversion increase of 500%.

2. Use Permission Marketing

Permission marketing is a relatively new term circulating the SEO stratosphere. It was coined and developed by a serial entrepreneur, Seth Godin. You see, traditional marketing methods often revolve around the notion of attracting customers’ attention or diverting their attention away from what they’re doing. Businesses often use television advertising to cut in between TV shows and create Internet pop-ups to interfere with website viewing. According to Seth Godin, these traditional or “interruption marketing” methods have become less effective in our modern world because information is overloaded.

Hence, the idea of permission marketing was born. It’s the complete polar opposite of interruption marketing. Instead of causing interruption and annoyance to the customer with unrequested information, permission marketing tactics focus on selling goods and services to customers only when they consent. Email marketing is one of the most popular and widely used forms of permission marketing, which usually achieves the highest volume conversion rate.

Case Study: Limoges Jewelry
Limoges Jewelry has tried all kinds of marketing channels, including search engine optimization (SEO) and social media optimization (SMO). However, the company couldn’t find a channel with a great ROI. That’s when they started using re-permission marketing. This is about the same as permission marketing, except they reapproach customers and ask for their permission to provide marketing information after a extended period of time. While they faced many difficulties at first, the end results were surprisingly good with a 51% increase in revenue over just six months.

3. Engage Through Social Media

Startups often look at social media like a mundane task filled with adding product updates, creating funny posts, and following new customers. If used properly, social media is so much more though. It’s a useful pathway for you to engage with your clients and retain them for the long haul. Don’t shy away from your social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, etc. You could also consider creating fun giveaways to connect with customers on an upcoming event or special.

Case Study: Harp Boston
Harp Boston made a great example in how startups should interact with their followers through social media. They used Twitter to ask their customers about their buying experience, which worked effectively.

4. Give Influencer Marketing a Try

Influencer marketing is a specific kind of marketing that has emerged in recent years. In this approach, you identify a key figure in your niche that has influence over your startup’s potential buyers. You’ll then ask this influencer for help on a promotion. Since he or she is popular, prospective clients will listen and provide you with an easy return on your marketing tactics. Triberr is an influence marketing platform you can use to find many influencers and directly approach them for endorsement on social media.

Case Study: TopRank Online Marketing
In 2014, TopRank Online Marketing worked with the Content Marketing Institute to create an influencer content program to promote the Content Marketing World Conference. In the end, this tactic resulted in 218,971 total eBook views, 4,023 total eBook PDF downloads, and 1,040 total leads captured.

5. Focus on Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is a great way to promote your brand through blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, newsletters, whitepapers, social media, and other content marketing forms that attract customers. This is in direct contrast to the outbound marketing methods of cold-calling, mailing letters, showing TV advertisements, and handing out sales flyers. Outbound marketing has gone out of style because there’s no need to go out to grab the attention of a targeted audience. Inbound marketing will help your startup garner awareness from your prospective customers and make your company easily found online. Don’t underestimate the power of producing original, interesting content.

Case Study: Conversant Bio
Conversant Bio conducted a comprehensive inbound marketing approach with the goal of attracting qualified prospects and converting them into leads. They started with techniques like podcasts and SEO while focusing on creating great content and promoting content marketing tactics. The result was a comprehensive plan that optimized its website for inbound marketing. Using this aggressive inbound marketing strategy helped Conversant Bio achieve a 700% increase on monthly qualified leads and a whopping 3,558% greater return on investment.

6. Take CRO Seriously

I’ve seen many startups fail after forgetting about the importance of conversion rate optimzation (CRO). Even if you’re doing a great job on SEO, conversions won’t automatically occur by magic. You’ll need to build a website that’s a conversion machine so that users can find the right products or services and convert with sales. CRO is a process where you create an experience on your website or landing page to increase the percentage of visitors who ultimately become paying customers.

Case Study: Sony & Fab
Conversion rate optimization was done by Fab through A/B testing on an online retail site. Creating a simple “Add to Cart” button as a call-to-action resulted in a 49% increase in performance. Similarly, Sony performed A/B testing on one of its banner ads below. Finding the right design resulted in a 6% increase in click-through rate and a 21.3% increase in visitors reaching the shopping cart. Therefore, the original banner was banished for the better CRO.

7. Develop a Customer Referral Program

This is a rather straightforward marketing tactic that is very effective. A referral program is used when a startup business offers bonuses, additional features on a product, money back, or anything else valuable to loyal clients who brought in another buying customer.

Case Study: Dropbox
Today you’ll see that Dropbox has over 200 million users. Do you know that when it started it wasn’t even open to the public? Dropbox actually struggled for around two years to find marketing tactics to ignite their growth. They underwent a prolonged battle for a decisive growth strategy. Luckily, they finally came up with an idea that became one of the most explosive viral referral programs in the startup world. This happened when they decided to go with “customer referral program” as their innovative marketing tactic.

Dropbox invented the idea of placing a “Get free space button”, which displayed on its front page. This option offered users the rewarding opportunity to get 500 megabytes of free space when they invite a friend to sign up. This customer referral program increased sign-ups by 60% and kept it at that level for consecutive months. Dropbox now gets 35% of its customers through referrals. This example cuts to the core of referrals and provides a brilliant marketing solution for helping the startup community overcome growth problems.

8. Fight With Guerilla Marketing

Guerilla marketing is a strategy that emphasizes creativity over budget. It’s often cheap and easy to implement, especially when localized. Broadcast your Twitter handle with sidewalk chalk, or develop a campaign with street art. There’s a ton of room for creative invention here. You don’t need a big budget to be successful. Guerrilla marketing is especially designed for small businesses wishing to promote their products and services in unconventional ways. It involves high energy with a focus on imagination to grab public attention at a personalized, memorable level. Guerilla marketing can take place anywhere public like shopping centers, parks, or beaches. Perhaps try creating videos leveraging the audience’s emotions to maximize people’s attraction.

Case Study: WestJet
Studio M, a production agency from Canada, worked with WestJet to a great guerrilla marketing holiday video. It’s still so memorable and has around 41 million views on YouTube.

The concerned team basically asked people what they would like to have for Christmas just after boarding their flight. When the people arrived at their destination to claim their airport baggage, there was a horde of wrapped presents coming out out of the carousel. The passengers were stunned to receive the gifts they had wished for some hours. The video is exceptionally heartwarming, which helped perfectly execute the campaign.

9. Offer a Deal or Bonus

Everyone loves free stuff. So, offer some deals, bonuses, or specials to gain attention from your potential customers. Using social media to give away free stuff is very effective. Make your special offers visible through social media to achieve your maximum reach.

Case Study: November Bicycles
November Bicycles used social media to promote a sweepstakes event for a month. It eventually generated a 1,170% ROI and created a 488% upward boost in email subscribers.

Conclusion

To effectively market your startup’s brand, you’ll have to test marketing tactics that are high on creativity and don’t break the bank. As you could see in the case studies, companies of all shapes and sizes have pioneered great endeavors using these strategies and achieved explosive growth. Even with a nonexistent marketing budget, you can thoughtfully use unconventional marketing tactics to grow your business. While it may not be possible to copy Dropbox or WestJet, it’s definitely plausible to use the same scrappy mindset alike their founders did during their struggling start. Step outside the box with innovative thinking to transform your startup from a never-noticed obscurity into an incredibly inevitable success.

shaneb@shanebarker.com



  • Tom

    Hi Shane,

    Great lists of tips here. It was fun learning some new tactics like permission marketing in which I’ve somehow implemented before, but just didn’t know what it was called. YES, the rest of the lists are very, very effective marketing tactics to leverage your visibility. One more thing to probably add here is content marketing, which is actually indirectly touched on your article, nonetheless, it is jam-packed of rich information enough to accelerate every startups marketing strategy.

    Thanks for having this posts. Tweeting this later on. 🙂

    • Hey Tom!
      Not sure how I missed your comment. My apologizes!

      And yes content marketing is very important these days for a number of reasons.
      1. To show you are an expert in your field.
      2. It is great from an SEO perspective.