How to start marketing for a startup?

In a prior article, I looked at various organic methods to influence growth and become capable of measuring time and effort against rewards. That exercise intuitively helps you learn more about your customers without spending a dime on surveys (btw, surveys are an amazing tool, and marketers should use them more often).

So now we are at a crossroads in deciding on paid marketing activities for our product/service. This is a great time to look at several points of data that allow us to consider the best way to start our paid activities.

We are aiming to find the lowest risk, highest impact path to success by actively defining variables of paid advertising:

1. Geo/Market: Where do they live or frequent?

Most paid platforms allow us to execute advertising that is geographically focused, which helps us achieve a better impact for our limited dollars. Geo focussing can be done even at a granular level of as little as 1 KM. 

2. Demographics, if any: Can you define them in terms of age, gender, work titles and so on?

While your product might be applicable to everyone, the aim is to find median demographics where you find conversion to occur easily.

3. Behavioral definition: What kind of activities do they engage in in real life?

Are you able to define them further by the kind of interest they have? Let’s say that you are a business card scanning app; you may define them as networkers or, in other words, people with BD and sales titles. As you start paid marketing, Google Analytics will be able to help you further determine these factors (audience segments based on in-market behaviours).

4. Channels: Which channels do they use when they are online? Are they frequent flyers?

We have ample research indicating that SEM should be the first starting point; however, this may not be sufficient for startups, especially those with future tech defining new categories. SEM delivers an ad when there is a keyword is entered by a user, and your category might be too niche to create a significant impact (existing demand and market for products and services). One naturally will need to consider demand creation activity with a mix of push and pull methods. E.g., One may start with Facebook advertising, showcasing the functional or other benefits of the product/service, and implement SEM alongside to get maximum conversion via paid. Irrespective of demand on Search, remember to keep SEM on brand keywords running all the time.

5. Measures of success: Ultimately, how will you judge?

While ambiguity is rampant when marketing for most startups, there are 2 key questions that help with the measurement of success:

Question 1: Are you making progress: indicators based on processes?

There is ambiguity in the process of judging the progress of an advertising process. More often than not, these can still be simplified. If your paid marketing efforts are not creating prospects, then there are more ways to judge progress (non-exhaustive):

  • Am I getting more content updated to my website and is thus generating an increased density of relevant keywords associated with my website (look at your Google Web Console and Google Analytics)
  • Is my digital PR coverage getting me more backlinks, thereby increasing my domain authority and SEO traffic? Do my key representatives find it easier to make connections with prospecting customers, or are my prospects naturally more aware of my business?
  • With digital marketing, I am learning about the TA, channels, creatives, and configurations that DO NOT WORK. While judgment is on success, a disciplined marketing process will tell you exactly what’s not working and give you actionable instructions on how to do the same thing better and if you need to do it at all.

Question 2: Are you delivering progress indicators based on metrics?

Lack of ambiguity is perfect, so start by defining your success metrics way in advance of your actual start.

Cost of a new customer (CAC): How much are you willing to pay for a new customer? This usually translates as cost per lead, cost per registration, and cost per order in most cases. Several other terms include marketing qualified lead (MQL), conversation qualified lead (CQL), and so on.

Cost of marketing per MRR/ARR: SaaS business? Figure out how much money you are willing to pay to acquire that single dollar of MRR.

Several other metrics exist, and we need to be aware of whether they are severely affected by other activities. For example, cost per MRR includes the performance of your sales teams and the speed of lead qualification if you have inside sales mechanics within your business.

6. Budgeting: How much do you spend at the start?

  • For a website, review your Google Analytics and past conversion rates. Let’s say you had a total traffic of about 100 users and 1 converted.
  • For an app, look at store visits and find conversion rates from store visits to installation to registration.
  • If your paid activities can drive 100 users who are at least as equally qualified as the past traffic, you should get a conversion, right? This is usually true.

You may now consider setting up campaigns and estimating the cost of getting those 100 users onto the site. All advertising platforms have a funnel performance, i.e., an impression, a click, a site visit/store visit, which leads to success metrics. Your advertising specialist should be able to help you reach this number.

Use the empirical formula: Start with a small budget of $1000 and test the market to get cost information. We usually advise brands not to go smaller than $1k as they do not learn enough. For SaaS businesses, we suggest a decent budget of $3k to start with.

7. Who will execute your marketing campaigns?

If you just need to check paid advertising with small budget campaigns, you may use smart campaigns. Smart campaigns are usually simple methods of letting the AI send your first ad out and giving you the look and feel of paid advertising.

Consider whether you want to DIY, get some in-house support, or hire outsourced support. Again, the decision is based on the availability of skills, cost, and your commitment to these tactics. Executing advertising campaigns is not tricky. We have trained in-house teams to manage campaigns in 8 hours of training. The key to creating impact is the structure and experience that a skilled campaign manager brings. Read more here.

These factors listed should get you started.

One needs to bear in mind that digital marketing generates a ton of data. A failure today might be a success tomorrow, so keep a test, iterate, fail mindset. For example, QR code campaigns used to perform quite poorly in the past; however, the COVID-19 pandemic trained most of Singapore to use and be comfortable with QR codes.

Case studies:

  • First launch campaigns for an education start-up.
  • Choosing mid-funnel metrics for an eCommerce startup.

Are you looking for a specialist to help you define this path? Whether you are running your campaigns in-house, yourself, or via an agency, feel free to get in touch for a consultation. Ultimately, we realize that with maturity in growth, our clients will require different strategies.