Startup founders often think that their biggest challenge is to develop an amazing product that everyone wants. However, once they finish developing it, they learn:
- Just because their product solves a major problem doesn’t mean the rest of the world knows the problem exists.
- Even if there are people who are aware of this problem, they might not be looking for a solution.
Does this mean you need to give up on your product? Not at all.
However, making an amazing product is not enough. You need to educate your target audience that (a) they have a critical problem that needs to be solved, and (b) your product is the best way to solve their problem.
Consider this: When the first cell phones were invented, most people were doing just fine using land lines to communicate. It took years to explain the WHY for cell phones.
Penetrating the market with a new product
Corporations spend millions of dollars on marketing a new product, even though most of their target audience is already aware of their brand and trusts them. Startups on the other hand, usually start with a budget that is as little as $250 a month. These initial dollars are many times spent on social media tools like HootSuite, commun.it and Linkedin premium accounts, as well as website optimization and business analytics tools such as Optimizly, MixPanel and SEOMoz.
With an initial investment, a startup may hire a marketing manager and develop basic marketing materials such as a video or attend a conference or two. However, this is not nearly enough to drive brand awareness or sales, let alone compete with companies who are established in the marketplace for years. Therefore, entrepreneurs need to think differently – and act differently – than big companies.
Top marketers provide insights from their personal experience
Recently I interviewed colleagues who are marketing managers at top startups that are experienced in taking new products to market on a tight budget.
Here are the top 5 tips they shared:
Tip 1: It’s never too early to reach out to the media
Dvir Reznik, Director of Marketing at JustAd, says that founders need to reach out to bloggers and reporters covering their niche as early as possible. “Even if all you have is a 1 slide presentation explaining your product, start building the relationship. Don’t expect them to write about you just yet. Ask for their feedback and build the relationship from there, so that when you launch your product you will already have a personal connection with them.” Collect these contacts in an organized list and reach out to local publications in your target country. If one of the founders attends a conference or a meeting in a city or country you are targeting, go over your list and try to set up meetings over coffee with bloggers and journalists.
A good example, says Reznik, is the Israeli music startup Serendip who started reaching out to media very early. By the time they were ready for press coverage they already had an impressive list of reporters and bloggers they had been in touch with. When they attended a conference in Austin they met these contacts in person, and received huge press coverage even though they were not presenting at the conference.
- Find the relevant bloggers and reporters in your niche. Klout is a great tool to discover 1st and 2nd tier influencers.
- Use twitter and Linkedin to reach out to them. Send a personal note asking for their feedback or advice. You’d be surprised how many would be happy to help out.
- Have the CEO or one of the founders reach out – create the personal relationship.
- Don’t expect them to write about you, focus on the relationship.
- Have a press page on your website, or at least a good “About Us” page where they can easily find all the information they need.
- Adjust your story to each publication to make it relevant for their audience.
Tip 2: Turn your users into advocates
Daria Shualy, VP Branding & Positioning at daPulse – a simple online solution for communication and collaboration in fast growing startups – shares her experience: Like most startups, they were working with a limited budget and so they decided to turn to their users for help. “Our users are constantly using us for their internal communications, so we put a pop-up on their timeline offering a reward for relevant leads. However, this was a failure, and we got almost no useful leads.”
“What we learned is that we were targeting ALL users, when we needed to focus on our champions who are the people most invested in daPulse and also most benefiting from it. This type of person is also our potential customer.”
They made it easy for them to help by interviewing them for their testimonials, and by inviting them to be speakers in a series of MeetUps, where they could share their experiences. This was a huge success and in 3 months daPulse grew their paying customer base 6 times.
- Pinpoint the champions among your users and reduce the barrier to share their experiences and benefits of using your product.
- Target potential users who can learn from the experiences of your champions.
- Distribute your champions’ testimonials to potential users.
Tip 3: Use Inbound marketing to become an industry leader
Itay Drory, who is the Director of Online Marketing at Conduit Mobile, said his top marketing tip for startups with a small budget is to focus on inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing focuses on becoming an industry leader in order to increase customer acquisition. While you may have already set up a blog, Facebook page, YouTube channel and other social networks, now it is the time to use them for customer acquisition.
The key to inbound marketing is to engage potential clients by providing answers to their problems.
Itay shares an example from his experience: “In a B2B software company that I worked with, we produced a white paper by conducting industry research for potential clients. Choosing the topic was tricky, as it needed to provide value that would motivate our clients towards a buying decision. Once we collected the data the real fight for readers’ attention began. We created an infographic and a blog post that was used to introduce the white paper. The infographic did the trick on the social networks (with the help of a small paid promotion) and got users to read the blog post. The topic was popular so the blog post also received organic search traffic. Post readers were then encouraged to receive the complimentary white paper by email – and this is how we built a segmented and relevant mailing list with very little money spent. In the long run, using this tactic, we managed to position ourselves as industry leaders”.
- Don’t collect likes, strive to engage your audience.
- Produce content that gives value to your potential clients and use it as a marketing tool to collect their email addresses. Email marketing is still the strongest marketing channel in regards to conversion rates.
- Increase influence – Consistent inbound marketing will position your brand as an industry leader.
Tip 4: Don’t spend a penny before you get your analytics right
PPC platforms like Google Adwords or Facebook can be an efficient way to expedite your go-to-market, even with a small budget, says Elad Bleistein, CEO of PandaPepper, a mobile-first marketing agency (and former Marketing Director of Fiverr). However, PPC campaigns are also an excellent way to learn about your market and your product’s conversion funnel.
In order to gain these benefits your analytics need to be in order. Google Analytics offers many robust abilities for free while Kissmetrics and Mixpanel offer advanced capabilities at a reasonable price point. Choosing the right tool is a negligible decision compared to how to use it (more on how to choose the right tool for your company).
In the case of one of PandaPepper’s clients, Elad and his team noticed that even though many people downloaded the app, only few actively used it. With the proper usage of analytics, they identified the exact point where user activity stopped, and understood it was due to a confusing user experience. Once they improved their UX they were able to increase their overall conversion rate to active users by 50%. Only then it made sense to scale up the PPC budget.
- Use analytics tools properly to measure performance.
- Start with a very small budget and analyze user activity.
- Optimize your funnel according to your analysis. Once you are happy with the performance scale up the budget as much as possible.
Tip 5: Go social, but not without a strategy
Hilla Ovil Brenner, Founder and CEO of KeyDownload and an active leader in the Israeli startup scene, says that startups must create an intelligent and realistic social networking strategy. The key investment would be in a growth hacker who specializes in minimum budget marketing or a social networking expert who knows how to interact and engage with the target audience. Ultimately both are positioned to increase your exposure. Find one that knows your niche and build the foundation of your strategy together with them. Make sure that whatever strategy you build you are equipped to continue on your own.
While social networking requires a lot of work, with only time to invest (and no money), this is the best way to start getting exposure for a new brand or product. Hilla suggests thoroughly researching the target audience online – find out where they are, what they like to talk about, their lingo, main influencers, etc. Decide on your voice and which topics will become an expert in, and choose one social network to focus on. While you can work on more than one social network, in the beginning you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. Choose the social network where your audience spends most of their time, and begin by building a community and starting a conversation. Every social network has its own rules, so you’ll need to learn on the go. There is a lot of free information and case studies online , and you can also find companies in your niche that are doing it right and learn from them.
- Research the social environment of your target audience.
- Find a growth hacking expert to get you started.
- Focus on the one most relevant social network.
- Position yourself as an expert by focusing on specific topics relevant to your niche.