- Startup founders can run the risk of investing in the wrong kinds of marketing initiatives at the wrong time.
- There are five tips for startup marketing: build awareness, generate leads, nurture prospects, enable sales, hire the right marketer.
- Marketing's success can be measured by how effectively it feeds the sales pipeline and aligns with revenue goals.
In my role, supporting startup success in New England, I connect with dozens of founders every week. On the positive side, I’m floored by the brilliance, enthusiasm and drive among founders in our startup ecosystem. On the less positive side, I hear countless horror stories about mistakes made and dollars wasted.
One of the biggest risks for founders is investing in the wrong kinds of startup marketing initiatives at the wrong time. Spending thousands on a startup marketing campaign before you’ve found the right audience, message or medium can be wasteful and even counterproductive.
If you're short on time, this quick video offers some context on why this topic matters and how you might approach your startup marketing strategy.
At SVB, we strive to support the success of the amazing founders in our portfolio. Given my own background, having run one of the top content marketing agencies in the country, I think about this goal through the lens of growth strategy. I hope to equip founders with the knowledge of how to invest their resources in marketing initiatives that will help move the needle on growth goals.
When it comes to startup marketing, there are probably as many approaches to it as there are marketers. It involves an awareness and understanding of many different disciplines within a tech startup from product development to operations to finance to customer relations. Still, one commonality is marketing’s function as a key driver of business growth. Marketing’s success can be measured by how effectively it feeds the sales pipeline and aligns with revenue goals.
With that, here are five startup marketing tips I’ve gleaned through my conversations and my own experiences with the best minds in the tech startup world.
1. Building awareness: Use online content to get to know your audience
Before even embarking on awareness campaigns, make sure you know your ideal customer profile. You’ll want to consider the answers to these questions:
- Who are they?
- What are their work goals?
- What are their pain points?
- What other products and services do they use?
- What podcasts do they listen to?
- What events do they attend?
Unless you have boatloads of money to spend, it’s not advisable to invest in awareness campaigns before knowing the answers to these questions. Offline marketing like billboards, magazine ads, and broadcast advertising are notoriously hard to pin down when it comes to measuring return on investment (ROI).
A more trackable (and potentially affordable) option is a social media campaign. You can run a paid campaign or even stay scrappy and go unpaid. Test different messages, styles, and topics to see what resonates with which audiences. Plus, social platforms generally have great tracking metrics. By paying close attention, you can double down on what’s working and pause what isn’t.
For example, I’m constantly refining my approach on LinkedIn to maximize the engagement I get from founders and CEOs. Twenty percent of the engagement I saw from a recent LinkedIn campaign on fundraising was from founders or CEOs; this tells me that my target audience might want to see more content on this topic.
Regardless of whether you share content on social, on your blog, or elsewhere, focus on being helpful.
Similarly, “how-to” content marketing can help you get to know your audience. If you’re in the video marketing space, for example, publish three different blog posts about video scripting, video production, and using video in email. Track key metrics like organic traffic, time spent on page and bounce rate. These metrics can help you better understand what your audience wants.
Regardless of whether you share content on social, on your blog, or elsewhere, focus on being helpful. No one wants a hard sell. Instead, build trust with your audience by offering them ideas and strategies that can help them reach their goals.
2. Generating leads: Offer something compelling
For startups with a well-defined marketing funnel, sales lead generation can be effective. For example, if you have a freemium model, you may find success by hosting regular online workshops and webinars. Again, you want to focus on being helpful over making a sale.
At SVB, we run a monthly fundraising workshop designed to help founders navigate this process more successfully. We invite clients as well as non-clients because we want to continue building up our reputation as more than just a bank; we are also advisors, experts and connectors. We focus on being helpful and steer clear of being salesy.
By offering something of value — such as advice, proprietary data, or access to experts — you have a compelling reason for prospective customers to attend your events. Juliette Kopecky, CMO at LinkSquares, offers her perspective on the value of helpful content:
“At LinkSquares, we produce an incredible amount of original content aimed at being genuinely helpful and insightful — whether that's interesting industry trends, new strategies to adopt, or advice from industry experts. We promote that content across channels like events, webinars, paid ads and social media to generate demand and awareness for our product and company. This helps us define ourselves as thought leaders in our space and results in a steady influx of leads for our sales team that are engaged and interested in learning more about our suite of products."
Partnering with other companies that are bigger than you (and that are strategically aligned) can help you reach your lead generation goals more quickly. When I managed lead generation at the video hosting company, Wistia, I was able to generate thousands of leads per month by partnering with HubSpot, Marketo, Zendesk and Salesforce.
3. Nurturing prospects: Provide value to build a relationship
Just as no one wants a marriage proposal on the first date, no one likes a hard sell. Winning someone over starts with focusing on building a genuine, long-term relationship.
Building and nurturing relationships with potential customers is about offering value. For example, what does your audience and user base need to know? What opportunities excite them? How can you help solve their business problems?
Pete Von Burchard, VP of Sales at Wistia, shares his take on providing value to engage users: “We have found that live webinar content has been a really powerful way to engage with users on our platform. It offers us an opportunity to put the value of our solutions within a specific context and to answer questions for folks already engaged with our product. It's a huge plus that those live events can be recorded and repurposed for future prospects and users to engage with.”
The key is to make each prospective customer the hero of your lead nurturing campaigns. If you help them reach their goals, you help increase the chances they’ll become paying customers and help you reach your goals.
4. Enabling sales: Never stop connecting
One of the best places to learn new insights and apply them to your startup marketing efforts is from your customers. The smartest founders get scrappy and iterate based on these insights. For example, you want to:
- Learn from what your customers are experiencing
- Seek feedback from pilot customers, prospects, peers, and industry experts
- Find strategic advisors who can help you refine the messaging in your sales materials
- Monitor industry trends and competitors’ marketing initiatives
As Jonah Silberg, Senior Account Manager at Vimeo, advises: “Your best reps on the ground will have a strong feel for what gaps exist in your enablement materials. A cross-functional 'voice of the customer' committee is one way to add some much-needed structure to that feedback loop. Plus, it provides a great leadership opportunity for rising stars you want to retain.”
At the same time, consider using live online events to facilitate sales. This can be especially impactful if you have a freemium model because you have a built-in group of people you can invite and then acclimate to your feature set. Silberg adds: “Beyond the engagement on the actual event, livestreamed training sessions yield content you can slice and dice in a variety of ways. Chaptering those recordings enables your customer facing teams to link right to specific, detailed answers without having to burn valuable time asking around.”
It’s also worth considering putting your sales enablement materials on your website. This can help you with SEO and can help you move site visitors further down your sales funnel faster.
Don’t over-invest in a CMO too early.
5. Hiring staff: Look for a full-stack marketer first
In the early stages of growth, you’re most likely to benefit from someone with a broad skillset. You’ll probably need to run a lot of experiments, doubling down on what works and scrapping what doesn’t, so a full-stack marketer can help you lean in on experimentation. Consider hiring a marketer who can hit the ground running — a high-octane person who can help you set strategy then follow through on it. Someone with a strong bias to action can help you move fast and pivot when necessary.
Hiring is always tricky, and if you hired the wrong person, it’s probably because you’ve hired the wrong skillset. Don’t over-invest in a CMO too early. You might also consider hiring a marketing strategy consultant to help you figure out where to invest your startup marketing dollars, as well as the specific skills you need to meet your goals.
Your marketing strategy informs product, sales, ops and success
Marketing is an engine that can drive growth, but it’s also a key source of information. It has the potential to serve as a feedback loop, surfacing insights that inform almost all aspects of the business. For example, the content your audience finds compelling might uncover some new product ideas or new ways of fostering customer success. The trick is to seek those insights widely and help ensure they’re shared consistently throughout your organization.
Here at SVB, we pride ourselves on offering not just top-flight banking services to startups but also unparalleled advice, connections and resources to help founders succeed. I wish I could arm all our amazing customers with the marketing strategies they need, but marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all effort.
If you’re a founder, especially in the New England area, and you’re embarking on your startup marketing strategy, please reach out to me on LinkedIn. I can share my insights and knowledge with you in hopes that they might help you make the best decisions possible.
Running a startup is hard. Visit our Startup Insights for more on what you need to know at different stages of your startup’s early life. And, for the latest trends in the innovation economy, check out our State of the Markets report.