You don’t need stacks of cash for marketing

GUERRILLA marketing techniques used to be the only option for cash-strapped startups. Indeed, tales of startup business owners donning fancy dress, handing out flyers and doing stunts are not uncommon.

Thankfully, the internet has changed the game a bit. The guerrilla spirit is still required, but nowhere near as much as a healthy dose of tech know-how and bucketload of ideas.

Don’t panic though, you don’t need Titanic budgets to sink into digital marketing. The beauty of it is that so much can be done with the right attitude and a lot of creative thinking.

Digital agencies do this for a living. They take dull company websites, come up with brilliant marketing campaigns and then make sure that this leads to the business’s financial gain.

We asked them for their top tips to help those fearless entrepreneurs going it alone.

1 Register everything. It’s better to have ownership of your name on all possible platforms including YouTube, Twitter, Foursquare and Flickr than realise later that someone has already taken it. It will also help enormously with search engine optimisation – Google will notice.

2 Blog. Set up a blog. Even when you’re in the planning stages. Despite what you may think, people are always interested in what others in their industry are up to. By being open, witty, and defining your character early on you can win a lot of support. From the setting up of a new office to the winning of your first client, it all makes interesting content. We pretty much started our whole agency with a blog.

3 PR Yourself. Just because you can’t afford a fancy public relations team doesn’t mean you can’t get your name in the press. With a bit of research and some concise writing, it’s not too hard to get your news in the hands of relevant journalists. Don’t make it sound like an advert though. Keep it interesting, factual and include quotes with character.

4 Keep things simple. Make it clear what you offer. Make sure you know your core message and have all your promotional material reflect this in a simple manner. You can be as creative and innovative as you like in the way you present things but if people don’t understand what you do, you’ve failed.

5 Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s tempting to say yes to every opportunity that may come your way in the early days but it’s much better to do a few things well than lots of things averagely. Think carefully when you advertise, be sure you’re set up to deal with the interest you generate.

1 Make customer service your primary focus. Even for established businesses, customer service is the most valuable marketing channel there is. Make sure your business is great at getting back to people. Be transparent about issues that you’re facing when it affects them, ask for opinions and take their feedback on board. Basically, be great at turning a little niggle into something great. It doesn’t take much to win the hearts and minds of people who are having a less than perfect experience of your product. Just listening to them and then making it up to them will build a fan base.

2 You are your message. You are, without question, incredibly interesting. Bootstrapping your way through the startup years of a business is big and scary and most people will never, ever do it. Do everything you can to share your story. Having a human representative of your startup will naturally earn affinity with people. Do talks, share what you’ve learned. Be open about the ups and downs of your experience and host events. Get yourself out there. The mantra: “You are your message” is as important internally as it is externally. Treat your staff with respect and be transparent about your story and they will be your greatest advocates.

3 Make the most of being in beta. In reality, all digital businesses are always in the “beta” testing phase – or they should be. The luxury of being a digital business is the ability to continuously gauge the success of your product and shape it accordingly. Your early community of users will be fans for life if you show them that they’re directly influencing the service or product they’re receiving. Also, be strategic about your beta periods and play with the viral nature of closed beta invites. Remember that scarcity breeds desire: make few invites available and wrap their release in messaging that keeps your growing community interested. Spotify’s marketing was done for them through people sharing invites with each other.

4 Be brave. Big budgets often make marketing quite staid. Small cash-strapped businesses have to do things with real oomph. Use free social tools to create hype around your passion points. Be controversial and you’ll get column inches of newspaper copy that you’d never be able to afford.

5 Use your free media. People often talk about owned and earned media (owned media are things like your website and earned media is the conversation you might generate on social platforms). But the most significant of all is your free media. Free media is every single touch-point a customer has with your business. Make the most of this by considering how you might add touches of surprise and delight to a person’s experience of your business. For example, Jetblue airlines used hold music to share their brand’s spirit when they launched. The message said: “don’t think of it as being on hold, think of it as being held.”

Building a brand doesn’t mean advertising. Your brand is simply what people think of you, and every time they encounter you it is an opportunity to shape their impression.

1 Be bold and explain what you do with stunning simplicity. Remember you don’t need to appeal to everybody. You just need to find a “significant niche” of customers and build a product that they love. Start-ups by definition are doing something new. One of their first marketing tasks is to make it 100 per cent clear to people what this “something new” is. Straplines need to be explanatory first, inspirational second, and always in that order.

2 Challenge the status quo in your category. Work out what the big players are protecting, or where they’re currently being lazy or ineffective, and disrupt it. You can afford to, they can’t.

3 Have a very clear purpose. Make sure that everybody in your business shares this same, clear purpose. It could be positive (for example, Google wants to “organise the world’s information”) or negative (in Nike’s early days, they apparently wanted to “Crush Reebok”), but it must be strong, consistent and felt throughout the whole organisation. A startup’s most valuable resource is its people. They are the make or break element, so choose wisely early on, educate and then look after them – they are your very first advocates.

4 Don’t spend months polishing your product. Get a prototype version out there as soon as you can. If the idea has potential, your early adopters will enjoy helping you make it better. This will be an ongoing process. It will help you establish an online community of supporters. Make sure you continually give this community stuff to help them spread the word, and then reward your community for helping out. In time, also make sure you develop relationships with your top community members so they can help build your community and manage it on your behalf. One tip that will help with this is to always brand your propositions by making them memorable and distinctive. For example, everyone else calls pay-as-you-go bundles “bundles,” so O2-backed start-up Giffgaff called them “goodybags” because their core proposition (a people-powered phone network that rewards users for recommending the service to their friends and peers) is built around the concept of sharing. What implies sharing more than the cleverly selected term “goodybags”?

5 Make your social media profiles are worth following. Word of mouth is the best marketing (and all you can afford as a startup). Your business idea needs to be interesting enough that people want to talk to each other about it, so remember that social media profiles are only worth having if they’re entertaining for followers. And they’re not going to be entertaining if the only thing they’re about is your brand. Do interesting stuff that continues to build you a community, and make sure your branded content is relevant and humorously about adjoining topics. Betfair Poker’s “off the wall” style (@Betfairpoker) is a great example of this, as is Opta Sports stat-obsessed Twitter profile (@Optajoe). Once you have a strategy in place for the look and feel of your social media presence, make sure everybody in your startup is blogging, on Facebook and tweeting. Social media is a free way to reach new people, and people love seeing inside companies and seeing the passion.