Startup marketing plan and budget strategy
What does it take to resource a startup marketing function for cost efficient rapid growth?
My 2010 white paper on Marketing Project Management introduces a 6-part marketing cycle which can easily be applied to the needs of a startup:
Consider the marketing requirements for a new software startup of 5 or so people…
Gaining competitor and customer insight for both marketing and product development is time consuming at best.
The greatest requirement for startup research is diligently listening to the market and carefully organising the findings into cost efficient research projects based on clearly identified assumptions to test.
Minimal budget can be applied to research via split testing of marketing messages using PPC campaigns and A/B landing pages. I have found £300 – £500 per month allows regular test cycles on PPC (Google Adwords and LinkedIn Ads for B2B. Facebook Ads for B2C).
Important areas of research that require no budget include: keyword research via Google Adwords Keyword Tool… industry influencers (analysts, bloggers, etc) can be identified by simple blog and industry website searches… even marketing message testing can be done via social media discussion with potential early adopters or subject matter experts.
The nature of a startup is to learn how to create demand via product positioning and channel selection/optimisation. Thus, research for startup is time intensive but beyond internal resourcing it can be done budget light.
Following any element of research, development can progress on the startups market presence including:
- Social profiles
- Lead generation and opportunity development processes
- Marketing content generation
- Email campaign planning
- PR/influencer networking
The basic investment here is for a robust website built appropriately for the target audience. WordPress is a recommended platform given its versatility and high level of optimisation. Themes can be bought for less than £100 with additional bespoke development being cost effective via international outsourcing.
Speaking of which, outsourcing sites such as odesk.com and elance.com are excellent sources to find support. Picking reliable and proficient outsourcers comes with experience. Odesk.com has a feature of screen-recording your providers desktop while they are working on your project so you can validate time spent for billing.
Key digital channels for startups with low budget may include SEO, email, social media and PR.
Search Engine Optimisation
SEO requires 3 components:
- On-site optimisation based on the website architecture. WordPress plus certain free plugins along with diligent keyword research can take care of this bit with zero budget.
- Content creation if resource exists for regular writing or a low cost external agency or outsourcer can be employed to regularly generate the optimised content required for high Google search rankings. (Content marketing is becoming increasingly essential in today’s marketplace, as IBM’s Big Data demonstrates).
- Backlinks from other sites, which in-part will happen naturally via solid social media and PR activity, will happen much faster by allocating budget to backlink services such as All Links On Tap although this too needs careful management by someone with solid SEO experience to ensure it performs.
Email marketing is a core component of traffic generation for most SMBs, particularly startups and can be done as a point solution using services such as Aweber or combined with CRM services such as Capsule CRM (there are many solutions on the market and should be carefully researched for best fit).
List rental is also a low cost fast option of acquiring contactable data. This must be done with utmost respect of the contacts particularly in a small market and should be done via a highly personal one-to-one approach rather than creative email templates. (see ‘Email Copy Sample 2’ on the Email Copywriter page for a test at an Ad Agency with my copy outperforming the creative brand template by 510%).
The function of social media is to leverage content in multiple venues while both networking and drawing people to subscribe to updates, whether via the social platforms themselves (Facebook follows, Twitter follows, Google+ follows, LinkedIn connections and follows, etc). Social media sites are not just publishing forums, they are networking and engagement forums and hence can be done with minimal budget but the process is highly time intensive.
Professional branded social profiles can be had for several hundred pounds using outsourcers, while the real investments for social media are:
- The time required to engage with the right audience wherever they hang out online.
- Budget used for re-purposed content generation (design and writing, including video production)
Video can be produced at minimal budget via PowerPoint presentations with audio narration recorded by video screen capture (ScreenFlow for $99 is recommended for Mac), or as Skype video calls recorded with ECAMM’s $19 plugin with minimal editing and uploaded to YouTube of Vimeo for hosting and then embedded on the company’s main site and the link shared in campaigns.
Quality video equipment sufficient for a startup costs no more than one-off £1,000 including camera, microphone and video editing software (Adobe Premiere Elements at £120 is a good starting point, as is iMovie on the Mac). Video editing can easily consume hours of time so is best done at a lean startup by outsourcing to a low cost provider.
Writing the odd press release is unlikely to get solid PR traction. Detailed and regular releases can be developed in conjunction with an experienced PR writer that knows the market space and has the right journalist connections to achieve good media coverage. This requires budget. Social Media News Releases are the most effective approach to online PR, which are sent with rich-media attachments such as photos, audio, and video.
A press kit is vital for a startup, and while not necessarily expensive and not an ongoing cost, it will get much better reception by journalists if done with the help of an experienced PR writer.
Performance Marketing channels such as PPC and affiliate networks may be suitable depending on conversion rates to sales and product range. With front-end sales that cover acquisition costs for top line growth, subsequent sales of bigger ticket items to the new customer base can provide larger revenue as well as the bottom line growth cost efficiently via email marketing.
Traffic can flow like a garden hose or a fire hose depending on audience reach and the quality of lead generation collateral.
Effective marketing, particularly business-to-business, depends on relevant and valuable content. IBM’s big data website is a prime example of thought leadership content creation.
Regardless of the product itself or a beautifully designed website architecture, if the content is poor or insufficient in volume or variety, traffic strategies will be hampered and lead generation much slower than it could be.
Subject matter experts in the business can develop much of the content if they have time. Content creation agencies can support that development via interviews for then writing or editing into blogs, white papers, special reports. Video interviews can be edited for punchy but insightful video content.
Webinars are also a low cost way of providing product demos or delivering best practice insight or thought leadership. www.anymeeting.com has a $18 p/m option for up to 25 attendees per webinar including recording and polling.
Amateur marketers (including many company Directors I’ve worked with since 1996) often have a jaded view of copywriting, seeing it as a side-task, rather than a core aspect of strong marketing.
Unfortunately, this results from the ‘creative, general advertising, brand agency’ mentality compared with the ‘direct response’ approach as so well expressed by renowned advertising man David Ogilvy in this short video.
A copywriter or manager with direct response copywriting background with practical experience of split testing, can be the secret sauce for combining UX, customer journey insight, collateral development, and advertising campaign copy elements.
For help with the copywriter selection process, see my 2009 white paper ‘Exposing the link between your marketing success and your copywriter selection process‘.
Performance monitor is vital and should include Google Analytics which is free along with services such as Hootsuite at just £8 (for social monitor). Email platforms will have their own reporting suite too. It takes time to properly monitor performance results and feedback actionable intelligence for further marketing tests. Google Content Experiments (available free inside Google Analytics) allows multi-variate split testing.
The 6 stages outlined above cycle back into a new Preparation stage. The key for any startup is to experiment regularly and readily, with low cost tests for rapid learning and development.
Budget strategy for startup marketing
Truly these are low cost options for a minimalist startup budget.
The debate is what level of commitment to make at each stage of growth.
Providing sound startup principles are adhered to such as those presented by The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, marketing budget can be applied vigorously based on performance with regular market tests that meet milestone objectives on the road to developing robust sales pipeline.
Where particular tactics are seen as driving high and relevant traffic and lead generation, further investment can be made at that time to strengthen each particular opportunity pipeline.
Is this a one man job?
Perhaps for a startup constrained by funds, yes this marketing approach can and has been done by one person. The more experience that person has the better, as each component not only requires practical understanding through experience, but the ability to put all of the pieces together in the right order to avoid waste and multi-tasking delays.
If the goal is rapid growth, then one person managing the process with budget applied to various external service providers means that tomorrow’s business growth can be achieved today. It depends on timescales required or wanted by the investors.
An enthusiastic less experienced operational manager may facilitate the type of growth in 3 to 7 years that an experienced strategic manager can achieve via an allocated budget in 1 to 3 years.