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.
- 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.
- 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.