Many challenges loom large for founders of early stage startups, not the least of which is establishing a team, building an MVP, and securing initial funding to launch.
At the core of every startup’s success, in addition to an attractive product, is the design and execution of an effective marketing strategy. Done right, it will help validate your startup’s business model and begin building demand, essentially starting you down the path toward accelerated growth in annual recurring revenue (ARR).
Below are some observations our team has made over the past few years on how to build marketing momentum at your early stage startup.
Plan for growth
Sure, it may go without saying, but marketing traction starts with a strategy. To borrow a well-used saying, startups ‘don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.’ A plan for growth doesn’t have to be overly elaborate, either. Make sure you hit some essential items like a budget, primary activities, measurable objectives (KPIs), competitive analysis, initial target customer interviews + target market description, and basic branding.
For many startups, their pitch deck can satisfy some of the key elements of a marketing plan. It all depends on how far down the line you are in your search for funding support versus your initial MVP build.
Know your ideal customer
In addition to identifying your market/product fit, understanding your ideal customer (company and actual buyers at the company) is integral to developing your brand identity and persona. It will also guide your core messaging strategy and lead to discovering the most effective ways in which you can find and communicate with them.
A follow-on to knowing your ideal customer is creating buyer personas that flesh them out with as much detail as is helpful. Your buyer persona is a way to bring that perfect customer to life and relate to their needs on a deeper level. Start by understanding the demographics of the buyer persona in question; you may have multiple buyer personas. Consider the following attributes: gender, race (to the extent it’s practical), age, title or level of role in an ideal target company, number of years of experience, etc. You should see these demographics in the kinds of website visitors and early adopters engaging with your startup. If you aren’t, it’s time to go back to the drawing board based on more relevant data.
It’s also essential to define your buyer persona’s pain points, needs, and wants. Don’t forget to assign a name and even find a representative picture to make the buyer persona real. This will help remind you why you are offering your startup product to them!
Have an MVP website
As an early stage startup, you often won’t have the luxury of investing in a world-class website that perfectly matches your ultimate vision for the company’s branding. That doesn’t mean you should be satisfied with a poorly designed website.
For most early stage startups, the most accessible and affordable way to build a functional and branded website is to use a pre-built theme and set it up on WordPress. There are tons of themes to choose from and plenty of WordPress professionals, both on the front and back end, who can help you set it up and run it without spending a small fortune.
At the end of the day, you need a functional website that is easy to set up and maintain, looks modern and aligns with the basics of your brand identity. You also need to work with your inside marketing guru (or outside consultant/agency) to ensure the messaging and layout on the website achieve maximized engagement and lead conversion.
You might have a fantastic product, but you’ll see high bounce rates instead of customer conversions if you can’t efficiently relate its value and create effective call-to-actions.
Content marketing is foundational
Website content is one thing, and the stuff of content marketing is another. Successful startups must do a capable job at both. Without good content, you won’t attract and engage visitors to your website.
Content marketing refers to developing content that customers, prospects, and visitors will find valuable no matter where they are in the sales funnel or cus[tomer lifecycle. Great content supports every aspect of your startup’s marketing program, from your SEO strategy and blog to case studies and white papers. Without great content, your website won’t be “sticky” and will undoubtedly see higher-than-average bounce rates rather than greater engagement and conversions.
For more insight, check out this article on content marketing trends for startups at Swyft.
Leverage social media
Not every early stage startup needs a presence on Tik Tok, especially B2B tech startups with a business audience in mind. Nevertheless, social media plays a vital role in establishing marketing momentum for your startup. Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Meta (formerly Facebook – anybody loving the new name, by the way?) will help you reach a wider audience, share important company updates, and generally engage with a much larger audience than you can on your own.
Don’t limit yourself to leveraging your startup’s social media profile. If you aren’t putting your founder(s) and any other key stakeholders out in front, you are missing out on opportunities to rapidly expand your reach, influence, and followers.
Test out paid ads
One way to rapidly test your messages, keyword strategy, and audience assumptions is to run paid ad campaigns on Google. Not every early stage startup has a surplus of funds to pour into paid advertising, so be sure to balance this approach with your other marketing efforts – it’s another reason to have a budget to go with your initial marketing plan.
Paid ads give you relatively strong lead attribution indicators – i.e., your lead comes from clicks on your paid ads – so it’s worth investigating to drive early product interest and establish revenue model validation.
For a deep dive on paid ads, check out this how-to guide from HubSpot.
While we consider search engine optimization (SEO) a mid-to-long-term strategy (i.e., it’s hard to get immediate results compared to paid ads and PR), it’s still one of the most effective ways to help drive traffic and, depending upon how well your website CTAs work, new lead acquisition. Initiating your SEO approach earlier than later will set you up for accelerated lead gen as your startup continues to scale.
There is a ton of literature about how SEO can help your startup get found by ranking high for relevant keywords (check this one out from MOZ), so we won’t go into that here. Suffice it to say that implementing an effective SEO strategy is one of the best and most affordable ways to drive a continuous flow of inbound traffic to your website and offerings.
Contrary to some people’s opinions, email marketing is alive and well. It’s still one of the most effective ways to drive traffic to a website and build interest in a new startup offering. Even better, there are plenty of affordable email marketing solutions that won’t kill a startup’s marketing budget the way some marketing automation solutions will.
For startups with more financial resources at their disposal (for instance, following a large seed or Series A round), opting for marketing automation is a worthwhile investment. Marketing automation can provide more insight into visitor behavior, dynamic call-to-action and contact capture capabilities, social media management, lead scoring, automated email workflows, etc.
Using Google Analytics provides a wealth of data to analyze and gain insights into a startup’s website visitor behavior. The challenge is knowing what analytics to pay attention to, how to draw the correct conclusions, and what to do with the information at hand from a content creation perspective.
Unsure how to wield your Google Analytics to leverage your marketing strategies? Fear not, we wrote an article about using Google Analytics to check if your B2B tech marketing strategy is working.
Don’t neglect PR
Lastly, we would be remiss not to call out the importance of a PR strategy as a contributor to early stage startup growth. While PR may not be an option for pre-seed startups, given the associated cost of hiring a tech PR agency, you make a move when your startup gets close to securing any capital funding. PR agencies, especially those specializing in working with startups, can help you leverage the exciting news about your upcoming capital raise to create industry buzz that reaches a far wider audience than if you try to share the news yourself.
The key is to start early enough in the fundraising process, not after it goes live. An experienced startup tech PR agency will also know many ways to help you spread brand awareness, keep your startup in the news, improve your search engine rankings with valuable backlinks, and even help with sales-friendly content.
For more insight on how PR can help add marketing momentum, check a few of our articles:
How early should you start doing PR for your startup?
How a tech PR agency can positively impact the sales funnel of a B2B tech startup
What PR should startups run between funding announcements?
Why tech marketers should care about PR