Early-stage startups face very unique challenges as they are in the process of optimising their product while simultaneously starting to build an initial user base. In addition, these startups often have limited financial and human resources and, therefore, need to allocate these in the most effective way as possible.
Of course, marketing is essential to gain traction in the market, however, it can also be very costly. This is why startups, such as Dropbox and Airbnb, looked for unconventional ways to gain traction.
Startup marketing is a highly effective, experiment and data-driven technique that focuses on testing, analysing and optimising digital marketing efforts. This technique essentially addresses the unique needs of bootstrapped startups as they look for ways to create high impact/low budget marketing campaigns. These campaigns not only consist of techniques, such as SEO/SEM, social media and content marketing but also of unique and creative approaches to marketing.
The growth hacking/startup marketing funnel
Startup marketing focuses on optimising each step of the so-called growth hacking funnel, so that customers transact as smoothly as possible between the different five stages.
Acquisition: This stage of the funnel focuses on getting new visitors to your website; creating website traffic. This can be done, for instance, through content marketing, paid advertisements and/or social media. Airbnb is known for its unique user acquisition ‘hack’ by leveraging Craigslist’s existing network.
Activation: Once you have successfully attracted new visitors to your website, the key is to ‘activate’ them – essentially, converting them from visitors to users. This can be achieved through a conversion-optimised user experience (UX) and on-boarding. Twitter, for example, does an amazing job at onboarding its new users.
Retention: The cost of acquiring new users is five times higher than the cost of retaining them, so you want to make sure you keep the customers you already have. This can be achieved by simply having an awesome product, through email marketing, gamification and loyalty programs. SweetTooth is a great tool to use to create loyalty programs.
Referral: In the referral stage, you are looking to turn current users into brand ambassadors. This can be done by incentivising users or simply having an amazing product that user want to tell the world about. Dropbox is probably one of the most well-known referral success stories out there.
Revenue: The final stage of the funnel, is probably the most important one as this is where you make money. During this stage a sale or subscription takes place, thus leading to monetisation of the relationship.
Steps to growth hack any startup
1) Understand the target audience and where they hang out:
One of the most important things that startups lack is a precise understanding of their customers. Before you even think about marketing, you should make sure that you know everything about your ideal customer. Here are some questions you should ask yourself and your customers while interviewing them:
- What are their demographics?
- Which websites and mobile apps do they use most in a day?
- How often do they access websites from their mobile and what is the breakdown of their desktop vs mobile usage?
You can achieve all this by using online survey tools like Survey Monkey and even Google forms.
However, our personal recommendation is to get out of the building and talk to customers in person as that will give you a precise idea of how they feel about the product/service you are proposing.
2) Create a process around relevant marketing channels
Once you understand your customers better, it is time to invest in the marketing channels that they use most.
For example, you figured out that your ideal customer is a busy woman who uses Facebook and Twitter often on her mobile because she doesn’t have time in between managing work and running her household chores.
Now the key here is that you should start investing in mobile ads for Facebook and engage in twitter conversations of all the women who match your criteria.
For this, you will need a precise marketing process that you can do day on day and analyse results on a weekly/monthly basis.
For example, your process could include the following:
- Launch 3 different types of product ads for a month and monitor them daily for traffic to website and signups
- Interact with 15 women on Twitter talking about what your company does and interact with their tweets in an organic fashion
- Research all the hashtags that these women use in their posts and have all your content updates created around these keywords
3) Analyse what’s working and what’s not
One of the most important components in marketing is to understand what is working and what is not. By using analytics tools like Google analytics, True Social Metrics, Mailchimp etc., you are able to understand what works for your startup and what doesn’t.
Whatever does not work out should be eliminated and whatever is working out should be done aggressively
Consider it as a product/market fit. You basically have to validate marketing strategies as soon as possible and then move forward.
For example, when I was helping a SaaS company in Singapore, we soon realised that paid ads were very costly and got almost zero sign-ups.
However, we did see that LinkedIn marketing got us enormous leads so we shifted all our efforts there.
In less than 70 days, we received more than 125 leads with leads being of the size of Walt Disney
4) Always be testing and learning
Marketing and startups always have to evolve. For continuous growth, you must understand what people think about your product and the way you reach out to them in your marketing efforts. Some of the things you should always be testing are:
- Landing pages/screens of your website and apps
- Text and captions that go along with your advertising
- Type of targeting that you use in advertising
- Difference in marketing messages delivered to people stuck in different part of the conversion funnel.
Tools for growth hacking
Acquisition: Hootsuite/Buffer, social media & Google Ads, smartly.io, Colibri.io, hello bar, sniply
Activation: balsamiq, optimizely, visual website optimizer, unbounce, mytips, tour my app, tutorialize, autosend
Retention: Mailchimp, Marketo, badgeville, sweettooth,
Referral:ReferralCandy, Pay with a tweet, Referral Saasquatch, referral rock
How are you planning to hack your startup’s growth?
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