The following is an excerpt from “Startup Marketing Best Practices” as found on the Hockeystiq blog. It is shared with permission from Hockeystiq. Additional insights can also be found in our Expert Sit Down.
Much like startups, traditional small businesses also need to be ROI-conscious when it comes to marketing. Small businesses tend to serve well-defined customer segments which means “pivoting” isn’t always an option.
Luckily, many startup marketing best practices can be used by organizations of all sizes, and across industries to drive sustainable growth. Below, I’ll highlight my favorite best practices with guidance on how to immediately implement some new processes.
Early-stage startups are under intense pressure to reach the growth targets that will unlock a next round of funding (or carry them into profitability). This means all marketing efforts and resources must be aimed directly at those growth targets.
If ‘paying customers’ matters most to a startup at a specific point in time, what matters the second most? Hint: It’s not top-of-funnel awareness. It’s the step immediately before revenue, which could be subscribers, qualified leads, demos, or website visitors adding items to a shopping cart.
Flipping the funnel means optimizing down-funnel campaigns first, before building out top-of-funnel campaigns. This might mean optimizing sales email sequences, landing pages, or nurture campaigns, before shifting resources up-funnel to drive awareness. In some cases, generating lots of buzz and driving customers to a website that isn’t yet optimized for conversion can actually be harmful. You’d rather a customer not know who you are yet than leave them with a bad first impression.
Thinking about the funnel top-down, also leaves decision makers with too many marketing options to choose from since every marketing avenue is in-play:
‘Should I launch a buzzy PR campaign? How about AdWords? SEO? Should we get more active on LinkedIn? Are we overlooking offline media? What about podcasts?‘
Deciding between marketing channels with a top-down view, leaves decision makers with the near-impossible task of guessing which channel might perform best, and what might happen in the future as a customer journeys down-funnel. A top-down approach also leaves too much distance between awareness and conversion.
A bottom-up approach reduces wasteful spending as you’ll have already proven out the down-funnel steps in your customer journey, so you can be sure that future customers will convert. Your marketing team can then develop and test campaigns moving up-funnel, one level at a time.
Takeaway: Make sure your down-funnel marketing programs are performing before investing in top-of-funnel awareness campaigns.
Goals define an organization’s growth aspirations.
Quantitative ‘Objectives’ and ‘Key Results’ track marketing’s ROI while also keeping teams aligned and accountable.
Your objectives and key results must be aimed at your organization’s big goal or mission, and also be quantifiable and time-bound. Using an OKR framework, set weekly and monthly benchmarks for what constitutes success.
If objectives aren’t defined, how will anyone know if, or to what degree, marketing has been successful? Once OKRs are in place, you’re ready to start building out a marketing plan.
A simple set up might look as follows:
Objective: Sell 100 pints of Cookie Dough Ice Cream over the next 30 days
Key Result 1: Get 1,000 new visitors to the cookie dough product page
Key Result 2: Get 500 views of the “How It’s Made: Cookie Dough Ice Cream” video
Key Result 3: Get 25 existing customers to add Cookie Dough Ice Cream to their next order
Key Result 4: Double last month’s total number of free Cookie Dough Ice Cream samples given away in-store from 75 to 150
You’ll also notice that objectives in the above example are quantified, and aimed at business goals. Early-stage startups should avoid vanity metrics or splashy outcomes like social posts going viral or top-tier press coverage. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with these outcomes, but if they don’t drive business results when you need them, those resources could have been better spent elsewhere.
Takeaway: Define goals and objectives to ensure every single marketing activity is aimed at improving the bottom line.
Thoughtful customer targeting will ensure that whenever possible, your marketing dollars will go towards influencing the customers who are most likely to buy. Even more importantly, smart targeting will ensure that customers who are unlikely to buy, won’t eat away at your marketing budget. For startups and small businesses, spending precious marketing dollars on the wrong targets can be devastating. Every dollar spent on the wrong targets is a dollar not spent on the right ones.
Use an Ideal Customer Profile (or ICP) framework and/or Buyer Personas to define characteristics of the organizations and buyers you’d like to target. If your organization is already generating revenue, you can start this exercise by examining the characteristics of current high-margin customers, and defining your own ideal customer profile.
Buyer Personas will give you a clearer idea about the actual human on the other end of your sales and marketing efforts. Almost all purchases are executed by a human decision-maker on the other end so understanding what types of buyers you’ll be marketing to is crucial.
Having a clear understanding of the organization, and the individual buyer, who will purchase your solution also allows you to better frame your messaging. More targeted messaging should either accelerate sales cycles or provide valuable feedback in the instance that a deal stalls or dies. Conversely, feedback from non-target customers can confuse your product, marketing, or sales strategies.
Takeaway: Define clear targets to maximize the impact of your marketing dollars.
Dino Decespedes is founder of Hockeystiq, a marketing advisory firm for small businesses. He is a marketing and brand strategist and startup industry veteran with proven experience in increasing lead volume and sales conversion rates.