No marketing expense is too large for most enterprises. For the typical startup, any marketing expense feels like the brink of bankruptcy.
Somehow, though, your startup has to get the word out. You may have built the best product in the world, but you still have to get people to buy it. Although you could cough up $1,000 to $3,000 per month in agency retainers, your burn rate is probably already higher than you’d like it to be.
Instead, get scrappy. Who needs agencies? Anyone on your team can pen a blog post. An intern can manage your social media. And for just about anything else, you can hire a freelancer.
You may know how you’ll execute, but what should your strategy be? The following are perfect for startups with a shoestring budget:
1. Social media marketing
Sure, you can pay for ads on social media platforms, but why would you? Start by building out profiles for your startup on the platforms its target audience uses. Encourage team members to keep their work information updated — a no-cost, passive recruitment tactic — and to post about the company on occasion. Ask them to avoid promoting your company or product directly; readers can tell a sales pitch from an organic post.
Remember, though, that social media marketing can’t stand alone. Outsourced CMO Erik Huberman points out that social networkers’ next step after learning about your brand is to check your website. Will they see a “coming soon” graphic, or will they see a company they want to work at or buy from? Blog content is another important support for social media marketing — and the central component of a second startup-appropriate strategy.
2. Content marketing
Content marketing costs come in many sizes. Leaders like the Content Marketing Institute go so far as to create professional, feature-length documentaries. While you should start with blog posts, long-format content can be done more cheaply than you might expect.
Podcasting, for example, requires only a microphone, a website for hosting, a host, and a guest. Anyone with a design background and writing skills can put together a whitepaper. Instructional videos are inherently less promotional and take only a smartphone camera and basic editing tools. And because content can get the word-of-mouth ball rolling, its value is far greater than whatever site traffic it brings your way.
3. Word-of-mouth marketing
Content and social media marketing are great ways to get people talking about your startup, but they’re rarely enough by themselves: Why not become a keynote speaker? Yes, developing those relationships — not to mention public speaking skills — takes time, but why not start now? In a couple of years, you could be telling thousands of people per stage about your company.
What should you talk about? You’re an entrepreneur, aren’t you? Share your struggles and solutions. Then, think about your subject matter expertise. Whether it’s tech, finance, or marketing, you’ve only become better at it since starting a company. Beware, though, that audiences don’t like hearing about business the whole time. Keep personal stories in your back pocket for comic relief.
4. Experiential marketing
Speaking of comic relief, don’t underestimate the marketing value of a fun time. Especially if you’re a restauranteur or a hospitality startup founder, open your doors for a party, product tasting, speaking event, or meet and greet. Although you should certainly get the word out through your content and social media channels, you might need the help of an app like Surkus.
Surkus calls itself a “crowd-casting app,” but it’s really a way for users to get paid to participate. Essentially, companies that need a crowd use Surkus to attract a certain number and type of attendees. It’s commonly used by nightclubs and music venues, but any event can utilize its fan base. Just be sure your experience gives eventgoers a reason beyond the money to come back.
5. Influencer marketing
Experiences are great, but they can’t reach people who are sitting at home scrolling through their Facebook feed. If that’s a good number of your target users, invest in influencer marketing. You may not be able to afford Kylie Jenner’s $1 million-a-pop Instagram fee, but you can surely afford micro-influencers — who may be even more effective than their larger peers.
Micro-influencers have between 10,000 and 50,000 followers, but what they lack in reach they more than make up for in engagement. Because they’re relatable to the average consumer, their recommendations tend to be taken more seriously than macro-influencers. And at $50 to $500 per post, they come at a price even most startups can afford.
Marketing might seem like a waste of money, but how do you think the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world got big? Choose your marketing strategy wisely, and that bite-sized budget will go further than you think.