Six Great Marketing Hacks For Startups on a Shoestring Budget

 

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Startups are built around the idea of a product, with entire teams focused on crafting the perfect app experience. But once a product is built and ready for an audience, or if it needs enough traction to secure a round of funding, what should happen next?  The era of “build it and they will come” is over –  to spread the word about the product and harness an audience, marketing is key. Venture capitalists usually look for functional products that customers are already using and a plan to continue growing before investing. Whether your goal is to bootstrap or to raise venture capital for your startup, you won’t get anywhere if you can’t both build it and sell it.

In order to secure funding, startups are required to boast a substantial customer base and in order to be able to acquire customers, marketing is essential. But the good news is that marketing is not all about expensive marketing automation tools and hiring digital marketing specialists. Not only is social media marketing a boon for startups, there are a few more hacks to market the frugal way!

Let’s get started with some of the ways to get the word out about a startup product:

1. A picture is worth a thousand words

Pictures tell a story that are otherwise difficult to articulate.  When it comes to customer engagement, Instagram rules. People sharing the same interest connect through hashtags. Using catchy feel-good hashtags that are associated with the product give a boost to the promotion. For example, if promoting the launch of a toothpaste a peppy hashtag like #Riseandshine will win the toothpaste company many followers as it strikes a chord. Posting often and relevant images — not just about the product but images of related events, products and emotions — will keep the customer engaged and interested. Posting on Instagram does not of course involve money.

French photo printing company Cheerz lets customers easily print their mobile phone pictures from Instagram or Facebook in formats such as Posters, or Magnets. Cheerz use creative and feel good campaigns on Instagram targeting holiday seasons or festivities, to promote their product to print personal images meanwhile inspiring and offering inspiration about home decor with the pictures involved.

Engaging with customers to make them feel part of the product is a sure shot way to win some accolades and loyalty. Starbucks has implemented customer engagement on Instagram by resharing images posted by its fans, earning them goodwill. Here’s an example of Starbucks reaching out to an Instagram user, asking permission to use a great shot of its classic red holiday mug next to a Christmas tree as its Facebook cover image.

A big brand like Mercedes Benz has also turned to Instagram to attract potential customers through a brilliant Instagram campaign to promote the GLA sports utility vehicle by letting the targeted segment of consumers customise and design their new car. The Instagram campaign #gla_build_your_own allows the customers to create their own version of their coveted new car by choosing colour, wheels and roofs. The campaign resulted in increasing the site visits and brand awareness, manifold.

  1. Social Media Marketing

Facebook and twitter are powerful mediums of marketing. Getting customers engaged is the key, by replying to their comments and retweeting. It is, however, imperative to analyze traffic generated by Facebook and twitter to get to know the audience that is interested in the product.

Creating Facebook ads using Ads Manager to target the right audience using parameters to define the appropriate age, demographics, interests and behaviors is quite a low cost marketing gimmick. Facebook also provides an easy way to retarget customers who have abandoned shopping carts or have shown an interest in a product but have not taken the leap to purchase, this post elaborates the steps involved in retargeting customers.

Facebook for Businesses provides many easy to use features for marketing, at pretty low costs. Facebook marketing enables startups to target the right audience by creating custom audiences and boosting posts to increase outreach, geo targeting by promoting products using location based marketing and Facebook also provides insights to be able to measure campaign effectiveness. Here are some great success stories that have been able to create brand awareness and generate revenue using Facebook marketing.

Youtube video advertising is again a great way to spread the word about your product at low costs and it includes features like targeting through customer segmentation and analytics to measure and analyze the traffic..

Analyzing Facebook and Twitter data generates great insights about consumer demographics and sentiments. In order to analyze Facebook and Twitter, open source code like R and Python are freely available on the internet, which when connected to Facebook and Twitter APIs can extract and analyze data regarding customer names, age, geographic location, number of likes, shares , comments, popular hashtags associated with the tweets. One does not have to be an ace programmer to be able to connect to these APIs using R and Python, there are numerous blogs and websites, stating step by step code snippets to connect to Facebook and Twitter APIs to extract and analyze data. Here is an example of steps to connect, fetch data from Facebook and analyze it.

Not only can the Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter APIs be used to generate online customer behavior and help target the befitting audience, the APIs can also be used to conduct competitive analysis by analyzing hashtags that are associated with a competitor’s products.

Social media management product Hootsuite offers a free version to manage up to 3 social networks from a single easy-to-use interface. Basic Analytics, Reports and basic scheduling capabilities that make the life easier for a marketeer, at no cost. Hootsuite also makes it easier to use influencer marketing to promote products by tracking online conversations for hashtags or keywords to spot influencers. Influencers could be buyers themselves but could also very well be bloggers or writers with social influence. When influencers express an interest in a product the outreach is impactful.

3. Utilising trial versions of marketing tools

Trial versions of most marketing tools, are available free of cost for customers, for a limited period. This is not a long term arrangement but while the startup is struggling to get itself noticed, at the same time trying to keep the costs low, it is a blessing. Marketing tools like Marketo, Hubspot, Adobe, Tableau all have trial versions of their tools that can be downloaded for free for a period of 15-30 days, not to forget the free version of Google Analytics. Utilizing the trial version tools also serve as an opportunity to evaluate marketing tools available in the market, that are most suited for the job at hand.

Webhose provides access to data from several sources such as news sites, social sites, blogs and from several different technical platforms with quick integration capabilities, requisites that expedite the new age data driven marketer’s job. Webhose comes with a free trial period which can be utilised to analyze multichannel data sources.

4. Free Market Survey tools

Launching a new product entails verifying that a potential market for the product exists. And if similar products already exist in the market, then it is worth checking information used to identify potential customer segments, opportunities and problems faced to further optimize marketing efforts. Free market survey products such as SurveyMonkey help startups to gather consumer insights and feedback  to optimize their product.

San Francisco based Happy Goat Caramel gained insights about which factors of their product mattered most to their customers by using information gathered through SurveyMonkey. The feedback gathered also helped Happy Goat make strategic decisions about their product and pricing in order to accomplish their growth aspirations.

Market research data that can be fetched from web crawlers or market research companies helps companies gather information about marketing campaigns designed by their competitors. Data regarding the competitor’s ad spend, methods used, SEO techniques can be helpful in creating ad copy optimization.

While working for a media giant, I was involved in a marketing effort where the aim was to increase the market share for the company in regards to online advertising. We gathered data about the big buyers and their ad spend behavior for example if they invested mostly in mobile advertising or print, the kind of advertising – native or branded video, if the method used for ad buying was programmatic or through media agencies, from Market Research companies. This information about customer ad spend gave us an edge over the competitors by being able to target the big spenders in a much more personalised manner through marketing campaigns, thereby increasing the share of wallet. This example can be used for any business case, using market research data to figure out ways to have an edge over competitors marketing strategy can yield only good results.

Data regarding consumer behaviour, preferences, trends, interesting segments are gathered by market research companies, which are usually available, on purchase. But a few government agencies, websites and nonprofit organizations make their market research data open to the general public, enabling SWOT analysis (analysis of Strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for a business) saving startups, on meagre budgets, additional expenses.

5. Crowdsourcing content and outreach

Improbable as it may seem but it is very much happening. Startups can engage customers by running contests for the wittiest hashtag and then getting the winner featured on their social media channels. Who does not like fame? Similarly, startup organizations can conduct surveys on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to gain insights about the general opinion about the product. As far as advertising is concerned, customers would feel empowered and a part of the product development journey if they contribute to social media advertising. Considering the toothpaste launching company as an example, starting a campaign by asking customers to post pictures that they can associate with #riseandshine will not only drive more web traffic and create brand awareness, but also contribute to great brand storytelling.

Chaordix Crowd Intelligence process and platform facilitates hundreds of thousands of high-value customer submissions, comments from social media platforms to gather feedback on new products, services and marketing campaigns. Chaordix’s small-business-centric Pro plan costs only $99 per month.

This marketing gig by Unilever to promote Magnum ice creams by letting customers design their own ice creams was a huge hit with customers posting images on social media with a hashtag #magnumstockholm, acting as brand ambassadors.

When it comes to crowdsourcing content marketing – there are numerous talented bloggers and writers that wish for nothing more than a platform to showcase their writing skills, liasoning with such skillful writers to roll out great content on the sites is a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Refuga, a travelpreneur site has a team of crowdsourced writers spread across the globe, writing content for them, not only to showcase their writing to a worldwide audience of entrepreneurs but also winning a free trip per year for adequate amount of high quality articles in return. It is a mutually beneficial collaboration and has worked out well for me, personally.

  1. Marketing swag

To create brand familiarity, giving away branded merchandise at events or as contest prizes or as an incentive is a great idea. But again, it does not necessarily imply a huge cost. Surely there exist startup companies that have tote bags, personalised mugs or USB sticks as their products. Collaborating with such companies to co-sponsor advertising and promote brand awareness, while sharing costs, is a wise thing to do.

New Relic is a SaaS (Software as a Service) application performance management that provides comprehensive, real time visibility into web and mobile applications. New Relic uses marketing swag in the form of their Data Nerd t-shirt which acts as a motivator for their buyers to try the software and deploy it. And of course the subsequent tweets and Instagram images of the t shirts only add to the website traffic volume and brand awareness.

There could be countless other ways to market products on a shoestring that I will add to the list as and when I get brainwaves. Please feel free to share your ideas, views or tips about marketing on a limited budget.

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Data driving the content

NamnlösContent marketing has been a marketing approach where relevant and valuable content is used to entice customers. The better the content, more the customer engagement. But what if the companies are distributing content which is irrelevant to their customer base or targeting the wrong audience? The answer ofcourse is the most cliched word in modern times – data!

To get relevant, creative and engaging content out there to a targeted audience, strategic omni channel content marketing needs to be in place. It is imperative to optimize, analyze and curate content according to the brand image and customer demands. It is also equally important to hear the customer opinion in popular social media platforms, to be able to produce content that engages customers.

Optimizing content starts with analyzing content and the consumers of the content. There are innumerable web analytics tools that analyze web traffic. For example Xiti, Optimizely, Clicky, Google Analytics, Marketo and Hubspot to name a few, that can be used to reveal the content that attracts most influx. However, statistical programming languages like R and python are also widely used by data scientists to conduct advanced analytics. To be able to analyz how the content fairs in social media, data regarding the content outreach has to be organized by analyzing the number of likes, shares and comments. Both Twitter and Facebook provide APIs which can be used to extract valuable data to optimize content. For example, by analyzing the frequently used words associated with a particular brand, the sentiment associated with the brand can be determined. Competitive analysis can be carried out by comparing the sentiments associated with brands. Publishing houses are resorting to data journalism to put together related articles in the form of compelling story-telling. Data regarding the articles that attract most traffic at a given point of time is used by publishing houses to manipulate and push the most popular content in real time. Check how The Guardian uses data to narate associated and popular stories on its datablog.

The importance of using data is very significant in increasing the online traffic, however, nothing beats highly creative and engaging content

Growth Hacker’s Marketing

growth_hackingMarketing is being disrupted and no more run by only traditional non-technical marketeers. Marketing is supported by a wide range of – call it reporting, dashboarding, marketing analytics, marketing automation processes. Moreover, the startup scene is very exciting and a hot bed for innovation. Most startups spring into action sans a huge funding. The startups will have to grow exponentially, boasting a substantial customer base to be able to entice investors. Enter the growth hacker – with a single minded goal, growth!

Typically, the UX team designs the UX strategy, the product team develops the product, the coder codes in order to deliver the product and the marketeer tries selling the product. But with the new age disruptive marketing, the UX team, product team, code development team and the marketing team will have to work very closely, trying and testing every trick in the book to elevate growth. A growth hacker is a bit of all the above.

A growth hacker is more of a full stack employee armed with Swiss knife like multiple skill sets, analytical abilities being top rated. Growth hacking is primarily a focus within the startups, the budget being a constraint, lesser number of employees expected to contribute more. But with time, enterprise companies will adapt to growth hacking means of increasing revenue generation. Growth hacking is based on data, analyzing data to improve the business processes, to sell more, to convert more, to gain new customers and retain existing customers. Growth hacking does not entail data reporting only for the purpose of data visualization, it uses data to derive at hypotheses and reasoning to better understand and improve internet marketing.

So what’s growth hacking all about? Growth hacking is about

  • Improving user experince by A/B testing to reduce bounce rate
  • Content Marketing
  • Designing, implementing and analyzing sales funnel to reduce drop rates
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Channelizing all it takes to increase conversion rate
  • Using analytics to track click stream data about consumer’s online behavior
  • Analyzing past online or shopping behavior to be able to predict consumer’s probable behavior at the next visit
  • Social Media marketing – paramount for startups on shoe string budgets. Using Facebook, Twitter APIs to analyze the demographics of consumers sharing and liking the products, consumer opinion in social media and competitor analysis
  • Being able to analyze consumers that are likely to churn and the reasons behind, which can be addressed. Analyzing the response data from campaigns targeted at reducing churn, to measure campaign effectiveness.
  • Improving omnichannel advertising and using analytics to analyze data to conclude the channel that yields most and finding potential market opportunities

From the above list, growth, data and analytics are evidently the point of convergence for growth hacking. Growth hackers have to be inherently curious, tenacious, analytical and above all innovative. Growth hacking is an an art, not just number crunching or coding. It is the ability to see beyond code, to be able to analyze the implications of new features or every change in any part of the business processes that drive growth.

As Sean Ellis says, a “growth hacker’s true compass is north.

Free Wi-Fi a boom for retailers?

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Image courtesy http://www.curtincollege.edu.au/blog/

With the number of smart phone users on the rise every minute,consumers having more choices than ever, businesses have got to get innovative in order to attract new and retain existing customers. On a recent trip abroad, where I had my data roaming turned off, I realised the importance of retailers offering free Wi-Fi! This got me thinking about the ways in which free Wi-Fi could boost sales and increase customer engagement.

  • Free Wi-Fi sure drives traffic! Consumers would throng to retail outlets offering Wi-Fi availability. spend more time in stores,  which could lead to conversion. On the contrary offering no Wi-Fi could drive traffic away.
  • Having access to internet is a way to quickly check products on offer in the store, finding online discount coupons that can be encashed at the store, try out products in the store but order similar products (in variations) online thereby reducing bounce rate and comparing prices online. All of this leads to an overall better consumer experience and boosts customer retention.
  • Consumers act as brand ambassadors on social media liking, sharing and checking in at the retail outlets. The number of check-ins at a particular store speaks about it’s popularity, the same applies to consumers sharing and complimenting products on offer in the stores, on facebook, twitter and instagram. Consumer referrals are a great way of attracting more traffic to both the online and the physical stores.

The crux however lies in the easy and quick connectivity. If the retailers boast about free Wi-Fi but have a cumbersome process connecting to the hotspot then this could actually backfire.

A great mobile reception and easy connectivity to Wi-Fi – happy customers & better sales!

Marketer’s guide to Private Marketplace

PMP (private marketplace) is basically a way of buying inventory via programmatic. In other words, audience buying by an automated process where the advertiser gets value due to reachability, top-drawer service or premium placement.  Audience buying is determined by analyzing behavioral data, location data and device data which aids in targeting a specific group of audience. A private marketplace is an invite only exchange that allows publishers to whitelist specific advertisers based on mutual interests, reserve an inventory for them at relatively high valuation.

If premium is defined as well targeted, less crowded inventory, premium programmatic is a means of automating much of the ad exchange process, allowing advertisers to purchase impressions in real time (RTB, real time bidding) while maintaining the high cost and edge of premium inventory.

Factors that make PMP advatageous are

  •  PMPs can offer less competition for the advertisers as the inventory is usually open for premium clientele
  •  Helps reaching out to a targeted audience
  • Targeted ads lead to higher conversions even if the CPM is high in some cases. It is however, essential to understand the pricing models – CPC, CPA, CPL etc. that maybe more appropriate in certain cases, based on the campaign type

To establish the automated buy/sell process in real time, a unique Deal ID takes care of the required correspondence between publisher and advertiser in order to replace the traditional IO (insertion order). The deal id allows an advertiser to recognize the seller/publisher and the accompaying pre-decided agreements that come with it and vice versa, in a real time automated exchange. The moment a user visits a site,the publisher sends a bid request to the ad exchange, after having determined the user’s location, online behaviour, previous browsing history and device. The advertisers bid on impressions and the highest bidder wins the impression. The deal id is the parameter being sent into bid requests and recieved from the bidders, which is then sent ahead to the DSP (Demand side platform). Deal IDs are very important from a measurement point of view, both for publishers and advertisers to measure the effectivenesss of inventories, campaigns, impressions and conversions.

Thus, the rise of PMP has lead to the media planners taking on more of an analyst role, analyzing data to find the source of traffic, understanding the ad tech eco system and geting innovative with the latest tools and products like native advertising, content sponsorship and targeted audience buying. Ultimately private marketplaces work the same way as traditional open exchanges, both requiring to evolve with time and technology!