Top 20 Marketing & Customer Acquisition Strategies for Startups

Here’s a quick overview of the marketing strategies you should have on your hit list:

• Search Engine Optimization – Make sure your websites and apps are optimized for search engines. Hiring an expert isn’t cheap, but it can pay dividends over the life of your company. A good example of this is LinkedIn. When LinkedIn was just beginning, all of its profiles were private. This limited people’s ability to find other people, especially when searching on Google. As soon as LinkedIn made the profiles public and optimized them for search engines, organic traffic took off.

• Search Engine Marketing – This is where you buy ads on search engines, like Google and Baidu. The reason it works so well is that when people search, they aren’t just typing in keywords, they are letting you know their intent. What they’re searching for is what they want, and if you offer it to them, you can acquire customers that convert. It’s easy to get started on search engine marketing, but it’s hard to master. It’s worth the investment to bring on an experienced consultant to help you set up your initial ad campaign.

• Hyperlocal Marketing – This is how Halo Top, RXBAR, and many other startups began acquiring customers. If you can target customers going to specific stores where your product is available, it can create a big impact, driving sales and allowing you to systematically expand distribution.

• Content Marketing – Think of your app or website as the content. This is what OkCupid, the popular dating site, did in the early days to gain traction and differentiate themselves from all the other online matchmakers. They created humorous self-quizzes and personality tests, including the four-variable Myers-Briggs style match test called SparkMatch. This drove their early customer acquisition and engagement, transforming OkCupid into one of the top dating sites online.

• Inbound Marketing – Create original content, such as videos, articles, and podcasts, that appeal to your customers, and they will come to you. A good example is Bentley University, which wanted to recruit students for its MBA program. It created an informative articled called 12 MBA Interview Questions You’ll Be Asked. This article wound up getting thousands of visits per month and ranked #2 on Google for the keyword phrase.

• Niche Blogs – It’s good to go where your users are. Targeting the right blogs can yield big results. Go to them with a story. Don’t try to sell your products. Provide useful information. Offer compelling stats and data. Focus on a trend they’re already covering. And don’t forget to ask what the editor needs most, so you can deliver it.

• PR – Nothing beats a solid public relations strategy.

• Guerrilla Marketing – This can be hit or miss, but when it hits, it can work wonders for your brand.

• Click-Through Marketing – You need to know all about click-through rates (CTR), cost per click (CPC), cost per acquisition (CPA), cost of goods (COG), and lifetime value (LTV).

• Video Ads – These are valuable, especially when you are building a brand.

• Display Ads – Test multiple ads and see which performs and which doesn’t. Images with smiling faces work exceptionally well. Make sure to have a call to action on every ad. Limit your initial ad spend to $2k or less. Once something works, run with it!

• Email Lists – Email marketing is highly effective, especially when you do it right. Personalize your emails. Write catchy subject lines. Create useful content that informs. Have a call to action in each email. Set up automatic email drips. And use analytics to optimize campaigns.

• Retargeting – When you visit a website and suddenly you see ads for that site popping up all over the place, that’s retargeting. It can be annoying and even creepy, but it works.

• Business Development – Strategic deals where both parties benefit by sharing costs, talent, relationships, distribution channels, marketing, and other resources are a great way for startups to get to the next level.

• Affiliate Programs – This is when you get other people to sell your products and share revenue with them. Get on one of the leading platforms, like LinkShare, ClickBank, or CommissionJunction, or approach potential partners directly.

• Cold Calling – Calling people out of the blue and asking them to buy your product is old school, but it still works–especially when you’re just getting started.

• Customer Service as Marketing – The online shoe retailer, Zappos, is famous for focusing on customer service. Its belief was that if it provided exceptional customer service, word-of-mouth would drive sales, and it did. The startup wound up being acquired by Amazon for $1.2 billion dollars. Slack, a messaging platform for enterprises, put customer service at the core of its marketing strategy. The startup made a point of personally responding to every piece of feedback within 24 hours, whether it came by email, Twitter, a support ticket, or through their app. A couple years after launching, Stewart Butterfield, the CEO of Slack, said, “If you put that all together, we probably get 8,000 Zendesk help tickets and 10,000 tweets per month, and we respond to all of them.” In those first couple years, Slack grew from a minnow into a whale, thanks in large part to incredible customer service and good word of mouth. Its valuation today is estimated at upwards of $5 billion.

• Viral Marketing – Getting customers to share your product is the holy grail of marketing. Startups like Zynga, the social game company, made it all the way to an IPO on this model.

• New Platforms – Whenever a new platform launches, getting there early can make all the difference. The first apps on the iPhone sold like hotcakes, even if they were half baked. Early apps on Salesforce often made money, even when they were far from great. If you’re there at the start, the field is wide open. You can grow with the platform and keep one step ahead of the competition.

• Trade Shows & Conferences – Having a presence at the big shows can put a dent in your wallet, but sometimes there’s no substitute. You have to go where your customers are.

• Events – Hosting your own events can be cheaper and more effective. The audience may be smaller, but you’re the star of the show. Get on Meetup, Eventbrite, Bizzabo, and other platforms.

• Public Speaking – Giving a keynote or participating in a panel at a prestigious event can raise your visibility and open up doors. It’s especially valuable if you’re talking to your target customers.

• Cross Promotions – This is a fantastic way to build your brand and expand distribution at little or no cost. Reach out to everyone in your industry and offer to promote their events, products, and activities if they return the favor. Make sure it’s a win-win proposition. For this to work, it helps to have a dedicated place on your website where you talk about your partners, as well as a regular newsletter and promotional channels, like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The eyeballs you can offer, the more you can ask in return.

• Traditional Advertising – Traditional billboards, fliers, posters, and other offline channels can have an oversized impact when used strategically. Duck Duck Go, an alternative search engine that promotes privacy, wanted to steal customers away from Google. So, what did they do? They put up a giant billboard in Silicon Valley, right near the Google campus, that said, “Google tracks you. We don’t. Search better at” and it worked. It caught the attention of the media, and traffic soared.

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