When you’re the maestro of a fresh new startup, it’s important your first foray into marketing is focused and strong, with just as much confidence as you have in your brand and your product. (By the way, that should be a lot of confidence, unless you want to go back to the drawing board.)
Marketing isn’t as easy as buying some ad space on Google, though; it requires a fair amount of plotting, quite a bit of creativity, awareness of the market you inhabit, and knowledge of the tools and methods available to you as a marketer.
Here are some of the most important approaches and practices for a startup brand’s initial marketing push.
1. Having a Bible
What’s the first step in any plan? Why it’s having a plan! In this case, what we want before we start anything else — before we contribute resources, make budgetary commitments, and make pragmatic tradeoffs — is a written plan detailing all aspects of our startup’s marketing attack, based on as much research as we can gather.
Just like the greatest television shows adhere religiously to a show bible, an infant brand must adhere to its own marketing bible. What should your marketing bible cover?
- The product’s appeal: not only what it is, but what it isn’t; what separates yours from competing products, or, to play a little dirtier, how does your great product make others look not so great? When someone asks why your product should be chosen over a likely competitor, especially if it’s a cheaper option, what will your representatives tell them?
- The audience: who is your target demographic? What is their average age, occupation, gender, language, ethnic or national background, and which media platforms will they respond to most eagerly and attentively? Which marketing voice will attract them, and which will turn them off?
- Your strategies: once you have your audience figured out, which marketing strategies do you think will net the greatest return? Which do you consider universally effective, and which can be discarded?
- Your goals: what are your marketing goals? What do you hope to achieve by making a concerted branding and advertising effort? Think about what you offer: is it an already established genus of product or service, or are you creating a market from the ground up, with all the increased awareness that will require?
- Your budget: you absolutely, without any exception, must have your spending plan written down. Every marketing expense should be accounted for. Your budgetary priorities may change, but always keep them on paper.
2. Affiliate Partnerships
The first strategy to account for in your marketing bible, especially if your product is rooted in or depends on tech and eCommerce, is affiliate partnerships. An affiliate partnership is a business agreement wherein two non-competing brands engage in cross-promotion.
These days, affiliate partnerships are mostly applied in the context of company blogs and other written content published for brand awareness and SEO purposes.
Any startup looking to make an impact on the internet, regardless of social media presence, should consider publishing an in-house blog. In the context of affiliate marketing, this blog, hosted on your startup’s website, represents capital; it can not only be used for cross-promotion efforts but it can even be monetized in situations where your site’s number of unique visitors per day turns your blog into prime, easily monetized e-real estate.
In other words, if you run a decent blog, you can trade mention for the mention, linking to a partner brand in exchange for them linking to yours. Or, you can basically sell links in your own blog like you would ad space.
A company blog is triply useful. It’s not just great for increasing your search ranking via keyword inclusion and for affiliate marketing efforts — it makes your brand look knowledgeable, current, and generally on the ball.
3. Embrace the Weird and Wild
When talking about a startup’s marketing bible, we mentioned the marketing voice. Every generation rejects the marketing language of the past in favor of a new voice that speaks directly and uniquely to them.
That’s the reason marketing, advertising, and branding have evolved so much and will continue to evolve. The most cutting-edge logo design of today is tomorrow’s cheesy dad brand, and matching the correct marketing voice to your target audience is no small part of a modern, comprehensive marketing plan.
However. In today’s unprecedented, interconnected society, where people from all walks of life and, of all ages, and of remote nationalities congregate on the same massive social networks and make use of the same media resources, one marketing voice seems to reign supreme: the weirdo one. The Joker. The Memer. The esoteric and goofy. The Twitter-conscious.
Speaking of Twitter, have you noticed old, washed-up brands experiencing a renaissance via snarky, irreverent, and unexpectedly self-aware tweets?
The Internet has, and even if someone never spent much time thinking about baked beans before, you can bet they’ll take a second look at Bush’s baked beans next time they’re grocery shopping if they’re plugged into the Twittersphere one bit. When brand awareness is your goal, acting out may be just the boost you need.
4. Trials, Sweepstakes, and Free Stuff
If you believe in your product, and you believe in your brand, then you should have enough confidence to believe in this principle: if someone tries it, they will want to buy it. That’s why so many software publishers and subscription service providers offer free trials, and why you should consider the same approach.
Product trials, sweepstakes, raffles, and straight-up giveaways are a fantastic way to drum up interest, show off your product, and build brand loyalty, and can be run as part of an email mailing list, as promoted posts on social networks like Facebook and Instagram, and can be done in person too, such as at trade fairs and community events; running giveaways and raffles in person is a great opportunity to combine an effective, traditional customer engagement technique with some grade-A representation and product presentation.
5. Branded Merch
Of course, we couldn’t talk about promotional giveaways without also talking about one of the most classic, most enduring, and most effective kinds of brand marketing: branded merchandise.
Branded merchandise refers to usable, everyday objects — a limitless variety of things, such as baseball caps, lanyards, backpacks, and bottle openers — bearing the name and logo of your up-and-coming startup.
Gareth Parkin, CEO of the UK-based GoPromotional, champions branded promotional merchandise above some of the more obvious, media-focused marketing tactics. “When you see a brand represented in real life, as part of a real object you can touch and interact with, the brand itself seems more real,” Parkin says. “Suddenly, your brand is tangible and undeniable, whether you’re holding it, writing with it, seeing it worn by someone, or just using it as a paperweight.”
Naturally, branded promotional products are the perfect complimentary gift or giveaway stock, especially if you can find the perfect piece of merch for your brand. Go back to your marketing bible; who’s your demographic, and which kinds of low-cost promo products will appeal to the most? Where do you plan to distribute them, and how? Consider the time and place.
For example, if you’re running a tent at a festival or other outdoor event, one of the best promotional items is a pair of sunglasses. If you’re distributing promo products on a university campus, think of items that students might utilize, like flash drives or portable battery bricks.