As a former CMO, I often consult with small business owners and startup founders regarding their marketing strategies. Usually these conversations start with the question, “Do I really need to invest in marketing?” It’s a valid query; startups are often short-staffed and have a laundry list of important tasks. The short answer, however? Yes!
It may seem like an extra step that takes time, funds, and focus away from your sales funnel, but a marketing strategy will help amplify your message and increase sales. However, that doesn’t mean your startup should market itself the same way a large corporation would. You don’t need millions of dollars or a large team to build an effective strategy.
Here are some marketing tips I’ve developed in my own career.
1. Determine your objective
Before I start any project, I confirm my objectives. I call them my conditions of satisfaction, i.e. a documented list of every expectation that must be met in order for me to deem the project a success. Mine have been the same for decades: make money, learn something new and have fun doing it.
For instance, I manage a business that has multiple brands under one brand. Every month I hold an operations meeting with each brand so the team and I can review whether we’re meeting the above conditions. If we’re spending $1,000 on social media advertising this month for my podcast, I want to know the reasons behind the decision. If the answer is because “that’s what we did last month,” that’s not good enough. Cut it. If the answer is “because spending $1,000 on an ad that targets entrepreneurs in the New York area will help put our message in front of potential and hopefully result in increasing our listeners,” then I’m on board.
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Whether you are working on creating a marketing plan, on-boarding a new client or starting a new project, start by defining the conditions of satisfaction and have all parties approve them. This helps keep projects on track, ensures that you’re meeting expectations, and mitigates politics.
Here are a few general questions you should ask before building a new strategy:
- Who is my target audience?
- What are the specific outcomes I'd like to achieve? For instance, increasing the company's Twitter followers by 1,000 or increasing revenue by 20%.
- What is my strategy for achieving these outcomes?
If you want to increase social media followers, there are a variety of tools such as the audience development platform, OneQube or social brand advocacy platform, Smync that can be used to find my target audience. Start by deciding whether you’ll pay for social media and advertising, or whether you’ll focus on creating engaging content in-house. A clear strategy will help you stay focused, within budget, and achieve your goal.
2. Create and document your strategy
Once you have clearly outlined your conditions of satisfaction, it’s time to spell out the steps you need to take to achieve them. Having a clearly outlined plan in place will help erase miscommunication and keep the entire team on the same page. By sharing one document, employees know their role and what they’re expected to bring to the table. It may seem simple, but in the end, it will help save you time and money. I use a Worldwide Marketing Calendar divided by months and categories that are relevant for my business. A tech startup’s list of categories might include product launches, audience acquisition, marketing, public relations, social media, advertising, and brand assets.
3. Get personal
Now that you have a goal and a plan, it’s time to think about tactics. If you want to acquire and retain loyal customers, and keep your followers engaged, personalized one-to-one marketing is no longer optional, but a requirement.
There are easy ways to make your business a little more personal. For example, I’m a loyal customer at my local steak house. Every time I go, the seating host knows my name and the waiter has my favorite scotch waiting for me. If you’re not a restaurant owner, there are still ways you can personally address your consumers. A retail owner can send exclusive discounts to their most loyal shoppers or an airline can respond via social media to stranded travelers with tips for entertaining themselves in the airport. Getting personal with consumers equates to more emotionally connected customers who will help drive word-of-mouth referrals and online reviews.
4. Remember: Content is (still) king
I’ve said this a number of times in the past and I have yet to be proven wrong: Developing quality content should be the rule, not the exception, regardless of industry. Content marketing sometimes scares startups, and for good reason: It can be time consuming when done in-house; meanwhile, if you outsource it, it can cost between $2,000-$20,000 per month. It’s important to determine what your team can manage and when you need to hire a specialist. Have a team member with graphic design experience? Keep that in-house. Need someone to write copy? Hire a copywriter.
Whenever possible, use strategies that will save you time. If you don’t have the resources, don't try and build everything from scratch. On my podcast All Business with Jeffrey Hayzlett, I sat down with Dave McCann, vice president of customer success at Constant Contact, an online marketing company, to discuss the best ways small businesses can produce quality content marketing. When done right, it contains original research, is well written and provides value to your audience. In other words, good content marketing is time consuming to produce. However, there are a few strategies that help speed up the process. Delegating the writing or research to competent team members, running regular columns that share the same basic format, and creating new content that supports or enhances existing content can save you time. For example, I do weekly video segments for my podcast. Since I have already recorded the podcast interview, the video segment doesn’t need a long script or any additional research.
It’s a perfect example of work smarter, not harder, a philosophy that should apply to all your marketing efforts.