29 Experts Share Marketing Tips for Early-Stage Startups - .TECH
early-stage startups

29 Experts Share Marketing Tips for Early-Stage Startups

Most early-stage startups, such as yourself, have only one goal – to sell your product or service and share your mind-bending idea with the world to spread awareness about what you do.

Startup marketing, if done right, can do wonders for your startup and catapult it to a become the next ‘big thing’. If done wrong, however, it can severely impact your brand building and promotional activities.

As a new business, having the expertise and financial backing for making bold marketing decisions may seem a bit of a stretch. Which is why, we’ve requested 28 experts to share valuable marketing tips for young, energetic, and new startups like yourself.

1. Test the MVP

All startups are born out of an idea that a product or service is needed. However, the harsh reality is that not all products and services are truly needed. In order to prove that your idea is a viable business, you must test it out with a Minimally Viable Product (MVP).

Naturally, your MVP doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to get into the hands of customers so that you can establish if your business is needed.

Whether it’s a huge success or a grand failure, you must be willing to make adjustments and improve your business. These adjustments are critical because the results of your initial test don’t mean that they’ll be repeated with additional customers.

If you are continuing to see growth after making your adjustments then you are headed in the right direction. Nonetheless, growth doesn’t guarantee success unless you are able to do it efficiently.

To find the long-term success you must be able to grow efficiently, that is, acquire customers at the lowest cost possible. The downfall of most early-stage startups comes down to running out of money, so to prevent this your startup must either secure funding or turn a profit.

Unicorns aside, if the costs to acquire customers are heavily outweighing the revenue then you’re going to have a hard time securing VC funds and you could find your bank account hitting zero sooner rather than later.

Travis Sevilla is the Marketing Manager for GoShare, an on-demand moving and delivery startup.

2. Don’t be an Uber of this or the Netflix of that

Marketing and PR for early-stage startups are not easy. There’s a tendency to couch the product or service in terms of existing ones — the Uber for this or the Netflix of that. That’s usually a mistake.

To stand out, your company has to solve a unique problem or do something in a new way. So don’t use what exists to describe what you’re bringing to market. Not only is it cliche, but it’s also unlikely to be accurate. Create your own words and tell your own story.

The twin challenge is that many (not all) technology reporters have limited views of what technology is — stopping and starting with what Elon Musk said or the new iPhone release. And educating reporters is possible but time-consuming and challenging.

It’s best, therefore, to start with what they already know. Explain challenges they face personally or relate your company to big news items of the day. Find an easy-to-understand or already familiar problem that you’re solving and start there.

The more you have to explain, the less likely you are to win good news coverage. Marketing and messaging that works will take reporters and editors (and your target audiences) to new places while starting on familiar ground.

Tech is also complicated and nuanced. So don’t skimp on developing relationships with reporters and writers. Put the time in.

Rome was not built in a day and good press isn’t either – especially if it’s new or complex. Embrace the slow burn but be clear about your key targets and be relentless.

If what you’re doing is good, and you can tell a compelling story about it, you will get the press to cover it. Be proud, patient and persistent. It works.

Derek Newton is a PR professional and messaging expert in NYC. I represent select technology companies such as KULR Technology.

3. You don’t need Marketo, Salesforce, or whatever the new shiny MarTech toy is at this point.

Keep it simple. Learn fast. That should be your marketing priority as an early stage startup. You are going to read a lot of marketing think pieces about what to do and what not to do, but there are no silver bullets.

There is no guaranteed playbook for success. You have to embrace the unknown and optimize for learning as much as possible as quickly as possible until you find what works for your startup.

That means to avoid any prohibitive marketing expenses: anything that has a high upfront cost or a long contractual agreement. You don’t need Marketo, Salesforce, or whatever the new shiny MarTech toy is at this point.

Set up a simple foundation for data and performance management: Google Analytics with a defined UTM taxonomy applied to all links you put out into the market and an off-the-shelf email service provider with a basic CRM capability is enough to get going.

Don’t waste time customizing reports or tweaking the default settings.

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At this point, you need just enough to know what is working and what isn’t working. Take the time to define a few KPIs, no more than 5-10, that you can easily track on an ongoing basis and use as a north star to determine if what you are doing is moving you toward your goal or not.

In order to learn, you need to get in front of your target customers and use a hypothesis-based approach for all marketing activities.

Any feedback that you get from a target customer is a blessing; take the time to get as much of this feedback as possible so you can start refining what you are doing to be as customer-centric as possible as soon as possible.

And ensure that every marketing activity you engage in has an explicit goal identified up front and a way to measure progress against that goal.

This is not the time to nurture sacred cows. Try out different approaches, measure how they do, after sufficient time, cut the losers and invest in the winners. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Avoid an overly complex go-to-marketing strategy or set up that requires a lot of time to manage that could better be spent doing and learning.

Make sure everything you are doing has a purpose and is being measured against that purpose. Keep it simple. Learn fast.

Orlando O Neill is the Associate Director at Fjuri, a marketing strategy consulting firm. He leads Fjuri’s acquisition and engagement strategy capability, including, qualitative and quantitative research, email, paid content, and affiliate marketing.  Prior to Fjuri, Orlando was the Marketing Director at Ministry of Supply, Management and Strategy Consultant at the Boston Consulting Group, and Software and Hardware Engineer at IBM. He holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and is a three US patent holder.

4. Stay scrappy

Build relationships and develop a deep understanding of your customer as early as possible. The feedback you get from customers early on during the product development process can save you huge amounts of time and money marketing your product down the road.

When gathering feedback, stay scrappy and use as many free and low-cost tools as possible.

By seeking out existing conversations and asking open-ended questions using tools like Facebook groups, your LinkedIn network, and Google Forms, you’ll not only gain insights into the pain points of your customers but you’ll also get a better understanding of the way they talk about the problem your product solves.

When you’re ready to bring your product to market, you can mimic your customer’s tone and voice in your social media posts and website copy.

You can also use these tools to get feedback on potential brand colours, fonts, and logos, ensuring that your branding resonates with your target audience. We like to say, “Validate early and often.”

In order to provide the best chance of your product’s success and in order to save you money, it is always better to test assumptions early on, before the expense of software development has begun.

Mallory Whitfield is Director of Marketing at LookFar, a New Orleans-based software development studio that works with tech startups. She is also the host of the Badass Creatives podcast, and she has spoken extensively on digital marketing topics at events that include New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, VenturePOP, and more.

5. Shut the web browser tabs with articles on ‘advice given by “successful” entrepreneurs’

This is going to be tough, but I’m going to need you to peel yourself away from your computer screen today. I know, I know, I too often find myself trapped in a web of “how-to” articles and lists of advice given by “successful” entrepreneurs.

Before I even realize what is going on I have 20 new tabs of content open that I HAVE to read, thing happens every week! It’s easy to do; bringing a product or service to market is extremely tough and it’s easy to fall into a paralysis by analysis if the process is unfamiliar to you.

Today I want you to try something new. I want to you close your MacBook and talk to your potential customers. Yes, face to face…

Find a select group of people that represent your ideal client and ask them if you can pick their brain over lunch. The insight that you’ll get while conversing over a $20 ratatouille will be worth its weight in gold once you start spending marketing dollars.

Ask questions that tell you where your target audience hangs out, physically and digitally, personally and professionally. What tabs of “must read” content do you they have open on their computer? Who do they follow on Instagram?

What events are they excited to attend? You get the idea, the questions will change based on your particular product, industry and target market, but the strategy remains the same.

Find potential customers, crawl inside their frontal cortex and take look around. This will guide every other marketing decision you have to make.

Brandon Wright is a Marketer at ThoughtLab, a creative digital agency that focusses on helping startups reach their full potential. In addition to his work as a digital marketer, Bradon is a fan of motorcycles, microbrews, and has a religious connection to chairs. He eats nothing with a face but faces anything trying to eat him.

6. Don’t say ‘we’ll think about this later’ to SEO

Unfortunately, SEO takes time, and it can take months before you even start to see results. The sooner that this becomes a priority, the quicker you’ll be able to take advantage of increased organic leads.

Leads from this source are arguably the most important, as these are people who are actively searching for a solution to their problem – a solution which you should be able to provide.

Of course, it’s daunting to conduct keyword research and discover how competitive a term is, especially when you’re not even on the list. But dedicate yourself to ranking for these terms, and you’d be surprised at how effective this strategy can be.

This is definitely a long-term approach, which takes a lot of work. You need to make sure you’re consistently publishing valuable, high-quality content (not just on your own website, but on relevant publications in your industry, too), to get on Google’s radar, but the payoff is well worth the investment.

Not only will you benefit from a constant stream of targeted traffic, but you’ll also establish yourself as an authority in your industry – a key priority for new businesses looking to dominate their market.

A helpful tip to start seeing an ROI from your SEO efforts at a time where budget may be tight and priorities need to be clearly set is to consider long-tail keywords.

These are longer, more specific keywords, and while they’ll have a lower search volume, they’ll also be less competitive, and users searching for such terms are more likely to be ready to purchase.

5 Essentials for Crafting a Winning Marketing Strategy for Tech Startups

When it comes to startup marketing, most tech startups are dumbfounded. This is primarily because there are so many elements that are needed to craft and implement a sharp and winning marketing strategy. However, it doesn’t need to be all that complicated and tedious.

In terms of the actual content you’re writing, using your chosen keywords is important, but don’t go overboard. Stuffing your keywords into your copy hasn’t worked for years, and the focus should be on making sure every piece of content you create is useful to users.

And while your content should never be too promotional, you should use every post as an opportunity to direct visitors to your website further down your sales funnel.

Use a solid call to action to drive conversions, because, without them, it doesn’t matter how sexy your website looks, or how much traffic you have coming to your site: you’ll find yourself struggling to stay afloat.

Hannah Whitehouse is the content marketing manager at Bouncezap, a lead generation tool used by businesses to skyrocket their conversion rate. Hannah’s worked in digital marketing for 4 years and enjoys staying up to date with the latest trends in content marketing and SEO.

7. Don’t invest in growth too early

While this may sound like strange advice, it’s the mistake I most often see early-stage startups make. Bringing a new tech product to market is hard, and it’s a natural tendency for companies to want to really step on the customer acquisition gas as soon as their minimum viable product is complete.

Oftentimes there are investor expectations or simply a team that’s been working for little or no pay for quite some time that add to this sense of urgency.

What happens when you invest in growth too early is often marketing dollars are simply burned inefficiently, or you begin to acquire customers before you truly know how to make them successful with your product.

When this occurs, all too often you see high churn rates which create a tailwind which is difficult to overcome and impedes growth.

Before you decide to invest in growth, do whatever it takes to make a small number of early customers successful. Your strategies and means of making customers successful with your product don’t need to be efficient and don’t need to scale; the import thing is that you find a recipe to make customers wildly successful with your product.

If you can do this for 3 customers, you can do it for 10 or 100.

Once you’ve found your recipe for success, focus on figuring out how to cost-effectively scaled and deliver your customer success process. Only once you’ve done this are you ready to truly invest in growth. Mark Roberge, former CRO of Hubspot, refers to this framework as…

  • Customer Success
  • Unit Economics
  • Then Growth

Geoff Roberts is the co-founder of a tech start-up, Outseta, as well as Founder of www.saasgrowthstrategy.com, a small consultancy that helps early-stage tech companies with go-to-market strategy. Geoff previously led marketing at Buildium, where he scaled the company to $15mm in revenue while acquiring 10,000+ new customers.

8. Let your customers tell your story

In most cases, your technology was developed to solve a problem, and specifically your perception of the problem. Tip: focus through the lens of an actual or potential customer.

The key to developing a strong marketing strategy in the early stage is to develop your value propositions based on actual customer needs – where theory meets practice.

Being a good marketer is being a good listener, despite the notion to push out your own messaging and content based on what you think is right. Avoid, “this is what we do and you should want it.”

Letting your customers tell their story is what will attract new customers. The more you focus on actual buyer personas, real customer journeys, and true customer outcomes, the more credible you will become in the marketplace.

But what if you are trying to build a customer base and don’t have the first story to tell? It’s not uncommon to invite a potential customer to benefit from your offerings without selling them.

Call it a focus group, or a marketing test, or a pilot program, but allowing access to a launch partner can help develop the story you need to tell. Learn from their experience to shape your messaging and ask for permission to tell their case study so you can explain to your market how they too can benefit from what you have to offer.

Tom De Santes is the Director of Marketing at Avant-garde Health. Tom has spent the past decade marketing new start-up technologies to enterprise innovators. His passion is to help progressive organizations achieve continuous improvement through education and analytics. Having earned national awards from NCMPR and ACHE, his work has been recognized for its blend of creative impact and data-driven results. Previously, Tom helped build critical mass for ConnectEDU’s education management solution and APS’ healthcare learning and analytics platform. Tom graduated from Stonehill College with a BA in Communications and earned an MEd from Eastern Nazarene College.

9. Use data to create marketing assets

Early stages are best spent proving your value to a particular client type. Once you can get enough data to prove that whatever your doing is worthwhile, use that data and create marketing material from it.

Case Studies, Infographics and many other forms of creativity can be made from the data. If you don’t get the proof first though, you won’t have the value propositions you will need based on personal experience.

Using your value propositions you can hit customer pain points and other relatable information and how your solution will help fix that.

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Content repurposing, in my opinion, is one of the most effective tactics in content marketing. You save tons of time and resources in the ideation process because the idea already exists; you just need to convert it into a different format.

You will also want to be able to really identify your client persona, as they will be the people you will target once you start to scale things up. Learn the things they need to hear and what is going to make them want to spend.

Use those words in your outreach campaigns, landing pages and everything else you create.

Curtis Boyd is CEO/Founder of Future Solutions Media, he enjoys helping people look better online.

10. Embed features into your product that makes it easier to share with others.

In the early days, product and marketing overlap very heavily.

For a business-to-business (B2B) company, that may be an efficient way to onboard the first user and then an easy way for them to invite others to join that account.

For a business-to-consumer (B2C) company, that may be having a built-in referral or share feature. Think of Dropbox in the early days and they incentivized people with extra storage, for free, by completing the onboarding process and inviting more people to Dropbox.

Go-to-market is much harder than you imagine. I recommend entrepreneurs double the time it takes to get a semblance of scale or revenue.

The other takeaway is that you have to “do things that don’t scale” to quote Paul Graham. The founder HAS to be the first salesperson and has to spend a part of each day doing outreach.

Safa Mahzari is Founder & CEO of Alluxo, a project management software that your whole team will love. He also advises a number of early-stage tech companies. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

11. Create an industry narrative

By creating an industry narrative focused on a new category, a startup can shift conversations with important industry analysts and media away from “features and functions” and upward, toward industry mega-trends and true market leadership. For early-stage startups, this approach can provide the credibility it needs while it secures new customers.

Most early-stage startups do not speak at the industry level, so defining a new category space also differentiates the company from competitors large and small. It also helps align the company toward a common, higher purpose.

Guy Murrel is principal of Catapult, a strategic narrative communications agency. He is the author of A Practical Guide to Strategic Narrative Marketing and works to help companies define and own market categories as a business strategy.

12. Use Reddit to identify cohorts

My key advice to early-stage startups is to speak to a small group of people before making the drumbeat about themselves. These companies should invest their resources and energy on the early adopters of their product/service.

These are the people/companies who will understand your vision, would be ready to take the risk and won’t get distraught with initial challenges. Usually, they work in cohorts.

Reddit is a good place to identify these cohorts and their behavior. Don’t use it as a sales channel, but more as a research channel to understand your target audience better.

Once you have understood their behavior and preferences, then it is easy to devise Marketing Strategies. It will be a laborious process in the beginning, but getting this part right would mean tremendous growth opportunities.

Charu Babbar is the co-founder of ProductivitySpot with more than ten years of experience in marketing.

13. Telesales and cold-calling are still relevant

In the world of technology, there is a huge focus on digital marketing. Unfortunately, what many early-stage startups don’t understand is that digital marketing may not be the best way to reach their audience.

This is particularly true in B2B transactions. You can try to reach a business through digital marketing but you are better off calling someone.

Telesales, and particularly cold calling have a negative stigma but it can be very effective. As a result, I often advise executives to look at their universe of lead sources and look for ways to create human contact with them.

For instance, are there industry trade shows you can attend? It is not unusual to pay $100 per lead at a trade show for a B2B transaction. You can pay a lot more than that through PPC and other digital campaigns.

Additionally, the human contact helps you propagate your company image with key influencers, create a long-term connection with a future client, and get to find out critical information about them through dialogue.

Themos Pentakalos is the President of Drive Meta, Inc. Having spent 26 years in technology, and having bought and sold multiple software companies as an executive, he has ventured into the consulting world. He works with software company executives helping them with growth strategies, including optimizing sales, marketing, and operations, as well as raising private equity funding.

14. Build connections with tech influencers

Getting the right kind of exposure on your startup can be a tricky task especially if you don’t have any previous marketing experience. But thanks to the internet, anyway can pick up the right skills and increase their company’s exposure in just a few days.

When it comes to early-stage startups, building relationships with influencers is crucial. Think of it like this: they have a popular website with thousands of tech visitors and you have a new service/product that needs customers. Put the two together and it’s a match made in heaven.

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Building a successful name for your startup is not a function of ‘by chance’. It takes a lot of discomforts, uneasiness, and creativity to start with an idea and build it every day. Every entrepreneur’s journey is riddled with startup lessons unique to their struggles and challenges.

Building a relationship with tech influencers takes nothing more than an email, tweet, mention or guest post. Just getting yourself on their radar is what you’re trying to achieve.

My advice would be to write guest posts for top tech influencers to show them how your new product/service works and why they should care.

Another route is to produce some amazing content yourself based on your industry that has never been done before. This can be anything from a mega list, a collection of statistics, a step by step tutorial or answering an interesting question.

With this unique content on your site, you can reach out to people in your industry asking for a mention or link. If the content is amazing then there’s a good that they will. This means great exposure for your company and a nice influx of traffic.

Neil Andrew is the marketing manager for PPC Protect, a startup that helps clients combat click fraud and fraudulent clicks on paid ads.. Having been at the company since its formation, Neil manages the company’s overall marketing strategy and digital marketing.

15. SEO > Everything

Like any business, early-stage startups need to ensure they have all the marketing fundamentals in place. Often the focus can be on the big PR launch or on climbing the App Store charts while forgetting about other areas such as SEO, email marketing and social media advertising.

Having a website that is properly optimized will enable you to create a consistent stream of customers who are looking for the solution you provide but aren’t aware of your business.

Facebook & Instagram advertising is also beneficial to most startups as the ability to create lookalike audiences enables smart advertising decision much sooner than using your own data alone.

You can use the Facebook Ads manager to split test copywriting and design styles, and then apply these insights throughout your website and company branding.

It also provides a way to target your tribe specifically through demographic and interest segmentation – reducing waste from marketing budgets and increasing your conversion rate.

Emma Tomlinson is the Founder & Digital Strategist of co-haute, a new international marketing agency providing creative growth solutions to brands and businesses.

16. Think of your Account Based Marketing Funnels

ABM funnels are a hyper-effective way to market your tech business. Define your most important customer groups by title, industry, or any other narrow segment.

Then make content for their specific decision-making process. Where are they searching for answers to their problems? What would interest this particular group about your solution?

Go deep, think of their specific challenges and how you play a part in solving them. At the end of your funnel you should incorporate some personal outreach, an email or phone call does wonder for conversions.

At Badger, we design our funnels around the Awareness, Education, Evaluation, Retention framework. A lead who finds your site by searching for content that makes them aware of how to solve their problem still needs to be educated on the fact that you’re capable of solving it before they’ll invest time with you.

The top of a conversion funnel should focus on your market’s biggest problems and drive them to educational resources positioning you as an industry expert.

This gives you an advantage when your prospect reaches the next stage of the decision-making process, evaluating the right solution to buy. Retaining your customers successfully involves a mixture of enabling them with the right training material and providing top-notch customer service.

If you’re missing any of those elements you might notice leaks in your funnel. Account-based marketing funnels target very specific market segments, helping you cut past the noise of traditional marketing messaging and focus on your very best customers

The difference between an ABM funnel and a typical marketing funnel is that you’re reaching a defined group of buyers. You’ll reach the exact people who need your product, with messaging they’ll relate to.

(Account-based marketing has higher ROI than other marketing activities according to 97% of surveyed marketers.)

Tim Jernigan is the Head of Product Marketing at Badger Maps, the #1 route planner for field salespeople. He develops, implements, and executes customer-centric marketing strategy, including inbound and content marketing campaigns.

17. Guess what, content marketing works

We are no longer in the “start-up” stage, but the #1 thing we focused on in terms of marketing from the beginning, and still do to this day, is our blog. Content marketing brings us amazing traffic and helps tremendously with our SEO (which then helps us rank better organically).

An unintended added benefit is that our blog has become a great sales tool as well. We have a handful of blog posts that come in handy when a potential client asks a question – like how we stack up to a specific competitor (we have a post for that!) or why our pricing model makes more sense than other SaaS companies (we have a blog post for that too!).

In general, our blog is not “salesy” but more informative. We think about what would be interesting, helpful or a great tool for our clients and potential clients so when they search a “pain point” they find a post of ours that addresses it.

Not only does this show we “know what we’re doing” but it brings them to our front door so to speak and allows us to engage with them.

You can go in so many different directions with marketing and we’ve done it all. The blog is the one thing that has really remained consistent for us over the past 5+ years and has brought us great results.

Samantha Avneri is the Marketing Director at Regpack, an online registration, payment processing and data gathering application with powerful business logic, statistics, and reporting.

18. Find your ‘sticky’ consumer cohorts

When launching your go-to-market campaign your initial strategy should focus on testing, learning, and finding “sticky” consumer cohorts. Start broad with your initial audience and keyword targeting for paid social and paid search campaigns.

Collect significant sample sets of data and turn off underperforming audiences and demographics while allocating more of your campaign budget towards what’s hitting your key performance metrics so that you can maximize returns and minimize your acquisition costs of a new customer.

Your strategy can consist of exchanging valuable content for email addresses or other contact information, such as phone number, address, etc. so that you have prospect collateral and can continue to engage your audience and stay top of mind.

It’s helpful to also moderate discussions in community forums, such as Reddit and Quora to engage new users at little-to-no cost and speak to prospective customers first-hand to address inquiries in real-time.

Lastly, develop incentives and referral programs for brand evangelists who will share your brand story and communicate the benefit of your product, service, or general offering to their peers. Then use organic social media pages and email campaigns to re-engage and drive recurring revenues.

Jeeyan Rostam has been featured in Forbes, as the Director of Media Buying at Hawke Media. Hawke Media was named #110 of the fastest growing companies in the 2017 Inc. 5000 list. Jeeyan acts as an outsourced CMO for companies like Alibaba, Verizon Wireless, TRX, Red Bull and many more.

67 Business Owners Share Entrepreneurial Advice to their Younger Self

Every entrepreneur, newbie or serial, can use valuable entrepreneurial advice when it comes to running their business or learning from other’s mistakes. Towards this, we spoke with 67 business owners, professionals, and entrepreneurs and requested them to share one key piece of entrepreneurial advice to their younger self. Read on!

19. Do what it takes to become memorable

I discovered early on that in a very saturated startup space, it’s crucial to make a splash. Creative marketing quickly became my forte.

Not only has it paid off tremendously, but it’s also been loads of fun. I’ve managed to land myself in The New York Times, The Washington Post, TechCrunch, Fast Company, Inc., Shark Tank, Forbes and many many more publications all over the world.

One of my favorite stories was from Dublin’s Web Summit when over 800 startups were exhibiting (90% of them were men) and I decided to stand out by wearing Angel Wings throughout the conference (I have a dating business).

When I was checking out of my hotel, I looked down at Judy Dench on the cover of the Irish Times and there I was right next to her (me on my laptop with my Angel Wings— inside there was another 1/4 page picture mentioning my business)….. Ireland knew about Cheekd.com.

Having said that, sometimes it just doesn’t hurt to “ask.” I’ve ended up on the news many times by just calling up the news channels and asking them if they’d be interested in featuring my business.

It’s sometimes that simple. I would say the most crucial thing in getting Media Coverage is a subtle yet persistent approach.

Lori Cheek is an architect turned entrepreneur. She is the Founder and CEO of Cheekd, a mobile dating app that makes missed connections obsolete. Lori, a Shark Tank Veteran, was recently listed as “The Digital Dating Disruptor” and “One of the Top 10 CEOs to Watch.” A University of Kentucky Architectural Graduate, Lori is no longer building structures.  She’s now building relationships.

20. Go on a listening tour

I started a global marketing and branding firm 16 years ago. My marketing advice is to go on a Listening Tour! Politicians do it all the time and it is great for business too.

Make a list of the movers & shakers, people you admire, and prospects, ask a few smart open-ended questions then sit back and take notice. They will be more than happy to tell you what is on their mind.

If you listen to what they share with you, there will be plenty of opportunities to help them. I did it when business slowed and picked up several new clients but you can do it anytime.

It is a great way to connect and a lot of fun too. Start listening with no strings attached, you’ll be amazed at what you find.

It does not cost much, for the price of a few coffees and meals you will get an earful. I had no idea what to expect and got a lot of new work as a result.

I did my listening tour the old fashioned way by sending out emails & picking up the phone, then brought a pad & pen, asked a few open-ended questions then shut up and started taking notes.

Thought Leadership is also a great way for tech startups to build their brand, increase visibility more broadly, raise their profile and attract more customers.

Activities like having key people (CEO, CMO) speaking at a conference, writing articles, building the following on social media all contribute to increasing awareness with potential customers and building credibility with a larger community.

Before trying to start your own blog or newsletter, try contributing regularly to existing well-trafficked blogs in your industry or newsletters of like-minded organizations reaching the same target audience as you.

Make sure you put your URL or contact info on it so they can find you and follow up. When your articles or talks become available online, make sure to send them out via social media to all your friends, followers and contacts.

Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder & CEO of global marketing firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA.  Their clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non-profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School.  She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.

21. Get your core messaging right

I work with a lot of early-stage startups, and I think that one thing that most struggle with pretty consistently is core messaging. They may have a great offering, they’re seeing competitors closing deals when they aren’t. Or they’re getting approached by customers–just not the right ones.

A lot of this has to do with messaging–the linchpin of all marketing content. If they don’t have it, they’re likely not offering a clear, consistent message to customers, partners, investors, and the media.

A solid messaging framework ensures that everyone in the organization is talking about the company in the same way, all the time. Hearing a consistent, clear message over and over helps the audience understand–and give them the tools to talk about it among themselves as well and become yet another advocate for the business.

The bottom line: What you say about your business, and how you’re saying it, can help you cut through the competitive noise and build an engaged, passionate customer base that gets you, wants you, and will stick around.

Anita Williams Weinberg is the Principal & Creative Director of VerbStudios in Seattle, WA. Her background includes marketing management, content strategy, copy development, and project management. She also has more hands-on experience than you can shake a stick at. But please don’t shake a stick at her. verbstudios.net

22. Marketing does not mean Facebook ads, networking events and attending conferences.

The vast number of early-stage startups and companies we mentor believe they just need to focus on engineering and development first, then bring marketing on after they have a MVP ready to go.

Even at that point, most believe marketing can be accomplished with Facebook ads, networking events and attending conferences.

The result is the too often an eventual pivot because the product pricing is wrong, the problem the product was created to fix isn’t a real-world problem. At the end of the day, the market isn’t there and software needs to be jammed into another solution in an attempt to save the work and remaining budget.

Marketing needs to be a foundational aspect of the product strategy, as important as the engineering and development work.

Hard questions need to be answered:

1) does the product solve a real-world problem?

2) does the product provide viable and worthy differentiators?

3) has the pricing model been strategically vetted?

4) does the Serviceable Obtainable Market provide a feasible market size?

The final aspect of marketing that start-ups need to get a solid understanding is around brand awareness.

Market intelligence tells us that Top of Mind companies (those that spring to mind immediately) win business 85% of the time, those under the Unaided Awareness banner (if you think a few more minutes these companies come to mind) win only 10% of the time and Aided Awareness companies only win by extreme price breaks.

Successful companies will build from brand awareness to thought leadership to third-party credibility. This is a major part of a business and requires sufficient budget and time.

It’s more than a logo and tagline with Facebook ads. If you don’t have a budget for marketing, readjust and rethink before you have to pivot. While saying you pivoted has become a somewhat acceptable thing to say, it still really means you failed and wasted a large amount of money.

Prepare, research and plan with marketing in mind and you can keep more money and generate real revenue much faster.

Nicolia L. Wiles is the founder of PRIME|PR and has more than 20 years of marketing experience in the startup tech arena. Prior to PRIME|PR, Nicolia was an SVP at Blanc and Otus.  He is also a mentor and judge for two of the world’s largest tech incubators, Founder Institute and MassChallenge.

.tech Domain: Why it’s the perfect domain extension for your tech business

The tech fraternity has grown to become a global ecosystem powered by startups, brands, students, and enthusiasts alike. Their collective unabashed passion to build a community of cutting-edge new solutions is perfectly aligned with what a .tech domain represents. As a domain dedicated to all things tech, .tech domains is transforming the internet namespace for the tech community.

23. Focus on influencer marketing, roundups, and spotlights for the best exposure

All three of these strategies are typically free of cost, giving early-stage startups a very healthy ROI. Influencer marketing works by giving your product to business owners for free so they can review it.

This places your brand instantly in front of a targeted audience which leads to brand awareness and sales. Research influencers within your niche, pitch them and many will be more than satisfied to give you a review.

Round-ups are blog posts that take the best of certain categories and list them for the convenience of their audience.

For example, a website may post the best 25 email marketing platforms. Finding roundup posts is as simple as a few Google searches. Tech startups can reach out to these websites and ask to be featured on the list or one in the future.

This is also an effective way for them to gain high-quality backlinks. Thirdly, spotlight websites including Betalist and Product Hunt are free ways to show off your product to the world.

With some luck on your side, you may be featured on the front page. Simply sign up, submit your business and you can easily experience traction.

Carmine Mastropierro is the owner of three affiliate marketing businesses, www.mastrodigital.comwww.pierroshoes.comwww.wisetechreport.com. He is also a self-published author, freelance writer and a full-time internet marketer for 6 years.

24. Partnerships are powerful

Think of it this way: if you’re a guitarist who wants to start a band, do you take drum lessons so you can play both parts, or do you go find a great drummer?

Early-stage startups should get plugged into the tech and business communities in their city, especially at events like Startup Weekends that attract entrepreneurial people.

There are lots of great marketing people who want to partner with a tech practitioner at a startup. As a business partnership is an important and ongoing relationship, it’s wise not to jump into things too quickly.

Try doing a short-term project together before making any serious commitments, and consider your personalities, too, as you’ll be spending a lot of time together in the future.

Kitty Lusby is the content manager at NeONBRAND, a Las Vegas-based company that walks the line between a tech company and a marketing agency thanks to the dynamic partnership between CEO Kurt Wankier and founder-turned-CTO Kenny Eliason.

25. Touch your customer’s soul

Unexpected, exceptional customer service should be every early-stage startups best practice to bring a smile to a customer’s face–or their pets faces–to thank them for their business.

After brainstorming we came up with an idea to tap into our customer’s soul through their pets. When a homeowner signs up for our service we gather information on if they have pets, and if so what are their names. We do this so our lawn vendors know to be careful when entering the lawn.

We decided we could use this info about our customer to send a personalized gift to our customers’ pet, addressed to them.

This really wowed our customers, we received personal thank you notes, videos of their dog chewing the bone we sent posted to FB and thank you tweets, it worked really well for the time and money we invested.

Gene Caballero is the  Co-Founder of GreenPal which has been described as Uber for lawn care.

26. There’s no ‘cookie cutter’ advice

But, keep these principles in mind:

  • Build your fan base, not your client base- As a startup, 1,000 true fans that really love what you do and will talk about it to everyone who will listen are much more valuable to you compared to 10,000 lukewarm endorsements. Most great startups scale because they find a way to go viral. It can only happen if you have loyal fans; focus on them.
  • “Nail it before you scale it” – Take time to understand what resonates with consumers, talk to your true fans, and ask how would they talk about your product. This will lead you to the best messaging that would cut through the clutter.
  • Ask for referrals, and make it easy and rewarding to recommend your product or simply “brag” about you on social media.
  • Influencers – one of the best ways to use social media is through connecting with influencers in your space and building a genuine connection.
  • PR really matters – I do not mean issuing boring press releases, nor do I necessarily recommend a heavy hitting PR firm with an expensive price tag. Establish meaningful relationships with the business press that covers your area, understand how they are looking to serve their audiences, and be genuinely helpful. Good things will happen.
  • Email might seem boring to some but it is still one of the most effective ways to connect with consumers
  • Blog, vlog, go on social media, use your voice – As a founder, you know exactly why you have started your company, what makes it worth your while to wake up every day and give it your all. So, tell the world about it. One of the examples I really love right now is Kelly Ernst at Redenim.

Remember that as a startup founder you have many advantages over big players: you are passionate, innovative, nimble, and authentic. Do not be afraid to use these weapons in your marketing conquests.

Dr. Oksana Malysheva is an investor, entrepreneur and business executive based in Austin, TX. She is the Managing Partner/CEO of Sputnik ATX, an accelerator that funds maker-founders with ideas to create positive change. Dr. Malysheva previously held top strategic roles at McKinsey and Motorola. She has her PhD in Physics from the University of Pennsylvania.

27. Be willing to outsource

When it comes to marketing for early-stage startups, one of the most important things I can suggest to startup founders and entrepreneurs is to not be afraid to hand off the smaller tasks.

In marketing, sometimes there is a lot of tedious and repetitive work to be done, especially when it comes to content and SEO. It’s common for founders to get caught up in trying to manage every bit of their company, with tasks like outreach, data mining, keyword searches, etc., consider hiring a freelancer.

One of the best things about sites like Upwork, Fiverr, and other freelancer platforms is that founders can hand off the smaller tasks for almost a fraction of the price. Whether it be for short-term tasks or a longer work contract, there’s almost always someone available to help for so much less.

A few caveats though: Be prepared to explicitly communicate the tasks and processes that need to be followed, be prepared to work with someone in a different time zone, and understand that work produced may not be 100% of what you wanted.

While you may have to spend some time hiring, the 2 hours you take, will save you the 15 hours of manual work that you might have had to do yourself. From experience, the majority of freelancers are communicative, flexible, and willing to follow directions to the best of their abilities.

Free up more of your time for the important tasks and don’t be afraid to give freelancers a shot.

Paula Taas is the Marketing Manager at Ashley Chloe, Inc., parent company of AshleyChloe, offering beautiful technology for the modern lifestyle, and Rowkin, true wireless headphones at an affordable price point. Her past work includes marketing for Chegg, and content manager for startup launch program, The Founder Institute. Paula holds a B.A. in Communications from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

28. Customer reviews are crucial

One of the best tactics for advertising is including customer reviews in your marketing strategy. And best of all, it’s free! As a startup, it’s imperative to build your brand reputation as quickly as possible.

Research states over 70% of consumers read online customer reviews before making a purchase. The same goes for B2B. When I am evaluating vendors, one of the first things I do is visit their website to look for a list of customers reviews. If I can’t find either, I’m going to look for another vendor/supplier.

Many consumers trust online reviews just as much as a word of mouth recommendation. Also, product/company review will help your organic search performance.

Keep this in mind: each new review increases the amount of exclusive content your site offers. This will help by creating unique content which will increase your chances of getting your web pages ranked.

As you are growing your customer base, I would recommend an incentive, discount coupon etc, for a review on your website. Those reviews will more than pay for themselves once you establish an online presence.

If you have an app, I highly recommend is leveraging reviews from the app store. In most cases, reviews in the app store are trusted because the person isn’t being paid for the review.

Kayla Bolien is Senior Manager, Demand Generation at inReality, an in-store retail analytics software. She is a forward-thinking marketing professional with over a decade of experience consisting of development & management of global B2B marketing programs to promote products and services in the technology sector. She has an extensive experience interfacing with sales on industry trends, targeted publications, trade shows, and tactics to increase company revenue.

29. Build Relationships

When first starting your company, it’s easy to be a recluse. You’re covered in work and you’re afraid to inspire your competitor too early, especially one with resources.

This approach of building walls, however, is usually counterproductive. Instead, you should go out and work on building strategic relationships. This can even be with companies in the same space as you.

While the digital landscape has changed the way business is done, most of the foundation of business growth lies in good old fashioned relationship building, often referred to as business development. You should strategically identify key players in your industry that create mutual benefit for both parties. 

Sometimes competitors may not be as competitive as you think. For instance, if there is an activity that your competitor is much more efficient in than you are, and if it’s too costly for you, you can refer those clients to your competitor. This way, when the tables are turned, and there are things you do better, they will outsource those clients to you.

Creating a network of business relationships with the services you use will enable your competitors and companies to become the channels that grow your company at a faster pace. This outbids most marketing tactics out there.  

Jimmy Rodriguez is the COO & Co-founder of 3dcart, an eCommerce platform for startups. As an e-commerce authority, he’s focused on helping internet retailers succeed online by developing strategies, actionable plans and customer experiences that grow and improve performance.

What is your most valuable learning as startup marketer? Share with us in the comments below!

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