Marketing will make or break your startup. There’s no middle ground here. If no one knows who you are, no one will buy your products. In a digital age where marketing falls more and more into the hands of business owners instead of advertising agencies, how should startups spend their marketing money?
First, make sure you actually have marketing money. Too many startups fail because they don’t allocate enough budget for branding. This is a fatal mistake. Be realistic about your budget. If you can only spend $500 a month, you won’t be doing television commercials, but you could drive a great social media campaign. Alternatively, if you have $10,000 a month to spend, you could develop a television and radio presence. Your budget will be the first thing that determines how you create and market your brand.
Thanks to the prevalence of technology, your message can reach more people than ever for less cash. Here are a few ways you can get your brand out there and market effectively.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is important for fledgling businesses, though in many cases, the owners have no idea why. SEO is a new industry, designed specifically to capitalize on the shared search terms Internet users favor. Suppose you run an air conditioning service company in Dallas. Ideally, you’d want your website to be on the first page of Google search results if someone searches for “Dallas air conditioning repair.” Being top of the list drives additional searches and will lead to a gradual increase in business.
SEO is highly effective if managed by someone who knows what he or she is doing. Google Adwords, SEO optimization, and ROI calculations let you boost your business on your terms all for only a couple hundred dollars per month. While SEO is a great way to expand your online presence, it’s not an overnight miracle. Effective SEO can take almost six months to start showing great increases. So it works best when combined with another marketing strategy.
Again, another great way to increase your footprint with very little work on your part. Social media accounts are free to create and give you a great deal of ways to approach your potential customers. For example, if you want to test a new product idea, you can survey your Facebook audience for their approval. Social media also lets you drum up buzz for upcoming products and events and even allows you to reach customers who have never even heard of your business.
That reach will cost you a little. Facebook has a program called boosting, which lets you pay a small amount to “boost” your status updates and places them in the ads on other users’ pages. This gets your brand and updates out to people who would never know to search for you. But keep in mind, Adblocker is also becoming popular since not many users want to sift through ads on YouTube or Facebook. So if you’re paying to boost your page and are not seeing significant results, consider switching strategies.
There are many apps that help boost your education about marketing. Most recently, Google just created an app called Primer, which gives business owners five-minute lessons on topics in marketing and branding. Other apps like Nimble let you manage your entire contact list from one program. Educating yourself about marketing options lets you choose which approach is best for your business.
Emails are cheap. Emails are effective. Emails can be forwarded infinitely, giving your message unexpected reach. There are several programs that let you design emails that look more professional than a simple Word document. Movable Ink allows you to create emails with dynamic content, meaning your customers may find the emails more interesting.
Emails and social media are appealing to customers because they personalize a brand. Small businesses can especially benefit from this because it helps to counter their larger, wealthier competition.
Even in a digital age, direct mail still has a place in the marketing world. However, you are looking at production, print, and postage costs, so keep that in mind when building your marketing platform. Direct mail also requires a little more work upfront. Addresses have to be purchased from database companies. If you’re looking to specify your audience, like HHI $150,000, Females age 35-49, then these companies can sort that list for you so each letter goes to a home that matches those criteria. Once your letter is designed, it has to be printed, envelopes stuffed, and postage affixed. One direct mail campaign can start at $2,000 easy; and it requires several repeated printings before your piece is noticed.
You may send upward of 20,000 letters and get only 100 responses. Pound for pound, this is more expensive and less effective than social media and email leads. So consider your product—if you’re selling $5,000 fitness programs, then direct mail could be for you. If your product costs $30, then start with something cheaper, because it will take more work to make up the cost.
Radio / TV
These are going to be your most expensive options, and they can also hurt or help your business the most. Think about the cheesiest commercials you’ve seen. Remember bad car dealership advertisements? A single shot commercial of an overly enthusiastic salesman is not likely to drive business to your door.
The production cost of a TV commercial or radio spot is the highest, so your campaign needs to be well planned. You might think your script is hilarious, but take the time to run it past some other people just to get feedback. If a commercial succeeds, it does so spectacularly. But if it fails, at best, you’re out of several thousand dollars. At worst, your bad commercial goes viral and your brand is irrevocably changed.
You also have to keep in mind how much extra traffic your company can handle. If you’re overly ambitious with your campaign and pull in a 20 percent increase in orders, you need to make sure you can fill those in a timely fashion. Otherwise, angry customers will leave bad reviews online, giving you more ground to make up in your next campaign.
A good rule of thumb is that cheaper options like email, social media, and SEO will get you a lot of interest, but few sales compared to television and radio, where the leads will be fewer, but more likely to purchase. Consider your short-term needs and your long-term goals when planning your marketing budget. With careful consideration, you can maximize your profits by picking the marketing that works best for you.