This is the second installment in our marketing fundamentals for startups. In the prior installment, we talked about how to develop an MVM (minimum viable marketing) approach to work hand-in-hand with an MVP in the lean startup model.
In this installment, we begin addressing the most visible forms of marketing for a startup: the website and its social media activities. Even though the website as a marketing tool is a bit of a dinosaur in the world of digital marketing, it’s still the most effective way for B2B startups to tell the world about what they do, how to get in touch with them and, in some cases, even place orders or start a subscription-based service.
In short, a website is the lynchpin of startup marketing in that if it fails at its primary job, which is converting leads, then the startup can never truly come to fruition. Social media, on the other hand, offers a scalable way to reach prospects through a mix of organic and paid placements. Short of attending a trade show made up of a highly targeted customer base, there is simply no better way to both discover an audience and allow that audience to engage with a startup.
A website is much more than just an extension of a startup’s brand. Websites are how visitors learn about a company’s offering. For early-stage SaaS startups, the website is especially important as it is often the only sales tool in their arsenal. As such, it must capture and convert leads into customers as efficiently as possible, which explains why it’s never a bad idea to hire a professional web development firm. The key to any website is to effectively incorporate a company’s brand identity while at the same time creating a visual flow of messages and images that guides the visitor to a call-to-action (CTA), usually a free trial or demo request.
When designing and developing a website, great care should be given to the user interface (UI). A startup may have one chance — and mere seconds, at that — to educate a visitor enough that he or she will opt-in and convert through call-to-action of some kind. Great care must be taken with the UI of the website, website load time, placement of CTAs and overall site navigation. A good UI designer can be the difference between a 5% conversion rate and a 10% conversion rate. It’s well worth the investment and any website design firm should already have an experienced one on their development team.
For those startups without the funds to hire a web design firm, there are several online tools that can help design and publish a professional-looking website. WordPress continues to be the most widely-used website development platform. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of pre-designed website themes available on various marketplaces not to mention just as many plugins that can help customize the user experience of a site. Best of all, the popularity of WordPress makes it easy to find affordable developers who can customize a template in order to give it a uniquely branded look-and-feel.
Wordpress plugins can add almost any imaginable function or enhancement without the need of custom programming. Search engine optimization is a snap with a plugin like Yoast. A sliding banner plugin makes it far easier to set up multiple CTAs in the hopes of driving deeper site engagement and visitor conversions. Need more contacts for email campaigns? Opt-in Monster provides a highly customizable tool for WordPress that prompts site visitors to sign up for a newsletter. How about capturing qualified leads as part of a more sophisticated marketing campaign? Unbounce, a SaaS landing page service, integrates seamlessly into WordPress such that a visitor would never realize a landing page is actually being hosted by a third party site. Finally, any startup selling a product that is transactional in nature should consider adding a chat plugin to help visitors convert. By adding a name and picture of an employee to the chat pop-up, it can humanize the UI and help visitors get over the know-like-trust hurdle they face at the top of the sales funnel.
Our intention here is to not write exhaustively about the website. Rather, it is to draw the appropriate degree of attention to the primacy of it in a startup’s MVM strategy. It is the lynchpin of a startup’s MVP offering, where the vast majority of future customers will enter the top of the sales funnel and even reach the middle and bottom, where they’ll convert into a customer. A startup need not spend enormously on a website to make it effective; it need only invest intelligently.
As evidenced in the 7th Annual B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America survey and report run by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, social media compares favorably to the likes of email marketing, trade shows and search engine marketing when it comes to driving website traffic. In fact, 83% of all organizations surveyed in the 2017 Content Marketing report said they used social media, making it the most commonly used marketing channel on the list. In terms of paid promotions, 84% of organizations reported using social media compared to only 67% for search engine marketing (e.g., Google AdWords).
Since social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are de facto advertising platforms, the ultimate visibility of a startup is directly proportional to the amount it is able to spend on ads. Granted, there is still some room for organic growth in social media, but it has to be done in connection with ad buys. Gone are the days of brands growing a sizable following without some kind of commensurate ad spend.
For the nuts-and-bolts of running a campaign on any of the social media platforms, it pays to take an online course and carefully read a given social platform’s online instructional content. Being SaaS services themselves, the advertising capabilities of social media platforms are in a constant state of evolution as they continuously discover ways to deliver the right content to visitors. A feature that was available six months ago may no longer be supported, or it may have been enhanced dramatically such that it looks and acts differently than before.
Great care should be taken to ensure that a startup’s social media profiles are consistent with its overall brand guidelines from both a visual and messaging perspective. Any social media posts should also adhere to the brand personality to ensure brand consistency across all marketing channels. For example, a startup that put effort toward developing a unique brand voice should use it on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and any other social media channel it participates in.
Any social media strategy today should include video in the mix. That’s because the major social media platforms have begun placing increasing value on video — more time on site equates to more ad sales. It stands to reason then that a startup should develop branded video content to compete for its own share of likes, follows, and clicks. B2B startups need not try to out-entertain their B2C counterparts, but they should nonetheless look for ways to convert marketing collateral — product content, sales offers, customer testimonials — into videos that show off their brand personality, provide CTAs and help move leads lower in the sales funnel.