By Sara Ost of Smartify
There’s you…and there’s your (gigantic) competition. You work hard, but…your competition (let’s call them The Bigs) has 100 of you. In their marketing department alone. Getting from shoestring to Fortune 500—from garage to billionaire—isn’t for the faint of heart. There’s no formula, no magic bullet, and no proven path.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some practical tips to make the journey a little more interesting. At Smartify, we work with “The Bigs” every day. Let’s take a look at a few of their secrets of marketing success.
1. The first secret of million (or billion) dollar marketing is…
There is no secret.
Yes, the Bigs are staffed like the Roman army. And they’ve got enough cash to fill the Grand Canyon. But that’s not why they’re cleaning up on social, getting their customers to come back, crushing it on ecommerce or blasting emails to millions.
Major brands are using technology to their advantage. Data-driven automation is a technology every startup marketer needs to understand.
These often surprisingly inexpensive tools turns what used to be hard—building buzz for a brand, finding that elusive market-product fit—into something that, while not easy, is eminently more achievable with data-driven tools. There are many choices for even more purposes, and The Bigs use automation for everything from web analysis to mobile advertising. They also use it for the oldest trick in the marketer’s playbook: the promotion.
That ad that keeps showing up all over the web because you clicked on it one time? It may seem magical (or annoying, depending on the subject of the ad), but in reality, it’s a little thing called marketing automation.
A startup marketer can’t typically afford the tens of thousands per month it can take to run meaningful outbound marketing programs or compete on SEM with big AdWords buys. But every startup marketer, no matter how tight their budget, can benefit from a bevy of marketing automation technologies. Think Mailchimp for email, which lets you segment and integrates nicely into Salesforce (which has affordable entry point licenses). Think Google Analytics, where you can set up tracking of ecommerce conversions and monitor SEO success for landing pages. Think Adroll retargeting, to stay present in your prospect’s mind. Every incremental gain counts, and—especially in the early days—can make the difference, so don’t discount your data. Many of these services are free to start, so what are you waiting for? Develop the systems to support success now.
2. The Redheaded stepchild of the marketing mix.
I mentioned promotions as the oldest trick in the marketer’s playbook. Promotions are a really interesting space to work in, because the shift in how they work and what results they deliver is one of the more profound (and unheralded) examples of how technology is transforming marketing. If you haven’t run a promotion, I can’t blame you. Promotions are sort of the “ugh factor” in the marketer’s mix. They’re expensive, labor-intensive, tactical instead of strategic, they attract the wrong customers…the list goes on. Major ugh. Unloved, but necessary—now there’s a situation begging for some love. And this was all there really was to say about promotions until marketing automation technology came along.
Now, promotions are one of the very best secrets in the marketer’s toolbox. Automated promotions are affordable. They look good. Okay, that’s the nuts and bolts.
But beyond mechanics, digital promotions can do some pretty remarkable things, like grow your social audience, build an email list of interested participants, and reveal insights about your customer segments (including whether or not the segments you think you’re reaching are even the right ones). While social data isn’t the only important source of customer data for your business strategy, it’s vital that you don’t overlook ways to reach and understand your current and future customers where they are online.
3. Content is king. Relevant content is a billionaire.
When starting out, the cold reality is that some marketing tools and programs will simply be out of reach. But not content. Don’t believe that you can’t afford good content. You can—even if it’s one thoughtfully constructed blog post a week from you or one of your staff, it will make a difference.
You don’t have to produce whitepapers, ebooks, and guides, or run webinars and a daily blog with top notch thought leadership content. No one would say that quantity isn’t important in digital marketing—it is. (Witness the insane pace of today’s publishers, who in a few short years have gone from producing 10 pieces per day to 30, 40 or more.) But you’re not a publisher, and the odds are likely that in your particular space, even your best competitors aren’t publishing with the fury of the Huffington Post. Focus on quality, and I do mean focus. And don’t be afraid to put a little heart into it. (Note: heart doesn’t mean “Why won’t anyone buy my product!?!?” Candor is great; getting frustrated with your imagined reader-customer, not so much.)
The idea in the early days is to use content marketing as a low-cost means to connect authentically with the early influencers and customers evangelists whom you will build relationships with for years to come. It only takes a handful.
A few key things to remember:
– Be consistent. If you publish a blog post once a week, you publish a blog post once a week. A good rule of thumb is that for every 1,000 readers (potential customers or partners), only 1 will engage (share, tweet, comment, buy, whatever). That doesn’t mean those other 999 aren’t digesting what you’re saying. They are. This is brand building, so treat it like such. Be consistent.
– Choose your channels wisely. You can’t possibly be on every network. If you’re a B2B, don’t worry so much about Facebook. If you’re a retailer, Pinterest and Instagram are your friend, but you don’t need to focus on LinkedIn. You get the idea. I recommend focusing heavily on 2 networks, and maybe test the waters on 2 more, but lightly. For instance, at Smartify, we are extremely engaged on Twitter, with some pertinent activity on LinkedIn. We’re having fun with Pinterest and Slideshare, but that’s it. You’ll find that even the biggest startups are careful to constrain the number of channels they’re active on. The “be everywhere” dictum is absolutely important for startup founders and marketers (indeed, it’s way more critical for growing brands than the Bigs), but that’s more about networking authentically, putting in the time at events and conferences, and showing genuine engagement in your community or niche.
4. Good startup marketing is motivating.
Always have an incentive. It’s called the “call to action” for a reason, but it’s unbelievably easy to forget inclusion of the all-important incentive. Even the most seasoned marketers are guilty of it. Great marketing should feel simple and clear to your customer. Think about the marketing messages of the world’s biggest brands and most successful startups—whether it’s McDonald’s or Coca-Cola or Facebook, the brand statement, value proposition, and call to action are just a few words. Focused. Clear. Concise. As startups, it’s easy to get caught up in competitive analysis, which results in startups thinking they don’t have competition (uh huh) or obsessing about their competition. The end result tends to be overwrought, verbose marketing communications. Put more bluntly, it’s the “10 pounds in a 5 pound sack” problem. Too much will muddle the message and fail to motivate your prospect. And your #1 goal is to motivate.
5. A picture is worth a thousand words. And maybe a thousand customers.
It doesn’t have to be “sexy” (please). It doesn’t have to be a grumpy tot glaring from the rim of a bathtub. But wherever, whenever you can, include visuals! At Smartify, for instance, I wanted to boost our email open rates, which were hovering consistently in the mid-20% range (nothing to sneeze at, but hey, I’m a perfectionist). We happen to work with HubSpot, and they recommended—well, actually, exhorted would be more like it—that our content team start using images at the top of every email instead of our logo and branding. Boom. Open rates well over 30%. We now use engaging, professional, just-slightly-unexpected-and-interesting images whenever possible. Go on, try it out.
And good luck!
Sara Ost is Director of Marketing for Smartify, an official sponsor of sfAMA’s August 19th event, “Startup Marketing: From Garage to Billionaire.”
Excerpted from the original How To Market Like a Fortune 500 on a Startup Budget.