Best marketing channels for early stage startups

Something to add to Go-to-Market slide in your Pitch Deck

About 80% of first time founders I meat within our educational platform Entrytoo struggle with this particular slide. Team slide, business model slide, even cash flow and financial forecast slide, — we can help with all this. But with marketing founders have to use their own imagination and expertise to explain what channels they’re going to utilise to get their product to the market and attract as much customers as they can. The most often question we get during our mentoring sessions: what marketing channels proved to be most lucrative for early stage startups? With big corporations it’s easy: you have huge budgets and networks to run. But with early stage startups when you have to operate on a very tight (not to say, zero) marketing budget, you’d definitely want to use something with the highest benefit-cost ratio. What exactly can it be?

Well, that’s what first time founders who’ve managed to move their startups to the next stage, say.

Organic search

55% of founders say that “building a solid website and creating compelling and unique content”, is the definitive answer. They point out that in today’s competitive environment so many have entered innovation scene and have tried so many different channels with more or less decent results, but at the end of the day, creating relevant content pays dividends with the time. Website and SEO is a long run, but price efficient and definitely something that should be done nevertheless, even if your product is very niche and specific.

LinkedIn

This is a channel of choice for 45% of founders. They use this popular social network to inform customers about their new products and services. Some find perspective customers and post relevant comments under their publications (like, “hey, I like your project, and if you need this particular function to be done smoothly, here is a useful link”) — it is not exactly spamming, but more like a sales strategy. However, if you choose to use it in your marketing mix, make sure your product is actually ready for customers. I remember a month ago I myself got a comment under one of my posts in LinkedIn from a guy who launched a digital business card service (like Switchit). And it was exactly when I was looking for a service to make myself a digital business card. I followed the link, but did not even manage to sign up.

It is worth noting, that LinkedIn is a totally free marketing channel for all the founders on the early stage. As well as Twitter. No one (I mean, actually, not a single person among those we talked to) has used Twitter and LinkedIn as payed channels. Opposed to Facebook, that is used by 40% of founders as a payed service (adds).

Direct contact with users

Startups that had been smart enough to create a “pre-launch website” and collect submission forms long before their product had been launched, kept in touch with the initial user base to receive their feedback to improve the product. Those, who use this strategy in promoting their products (15%), note that eventually, first users start liking what they see more and more, they feel like being a part of “creation team” and begin advocating it to their friends.

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TikTok

Startups targeting younger audience (especially, those offering video and audio services) like to use this channel in their marketing mix. Some even manage to gain a huge user base with a zero marketing budget just creating quality viral content.

Email marketing and automation

86% of startups use email automation with different platforms (like Sendgrid, Mailchimp and others). They point out that it’s crucial to automate all stages of customers onboarding and send emails after every significant step they take. Sign up = send email. Browse some pages = send an email, showcasing products a customer has browsed. Put an item in a shopping cart = send email with a reminder. Automated email workflows should be programmed to be sent out on weekly and monthly basis, think most of the founders.

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YouTube

This is also a totally free marketing channel used by 20% of founders. Startups shoot videos on various topics but they definitely somehow revolve around services and product they offer. One of the most successful examples in utilisibg this strategy to me is Slidebean — a company offering presentation templates. It’s founder and CEO Jose Cayasso (Caya) has recorded tons of useful videos (how to write pitch decks, how to make sales presentation, how to impress investors etc.). If you google up “how to write a pitch deck” you’ll probably get one of his videos among 5 first links on Video tab. No wonder, millions of users know him and his company and use Slidebean services.

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Product Hunt

35% of US founders use Product Hunt as a starting point for their product launches. But almost all of them are non newbies. Among those who launch their first startup business this number is much smaller. And people outside US use this channel to promote their product or service extremely seldom. However, those, who do, point out that it is not very lucrative in terms of product launch. It works better with attracting new customers and receiving feedback from community.

Virality formula

As you might have noticed, free and efficient marketing channels for early stage startups mostly come to social networks. No surprise here. What is curious, though, is that virality formula for most early stage startups, no matter which social network they use, remains more or less the same.

  1. To make your message viral, point out founders, you have to create really valuable offer for your users (think of Caya from Slidebean).
  2. Valuable offer (whatever it is) presumes no costs for users (that is, giving a discount doesn’t work, you have to offer something for free, if not the product itself than a free month or free access to some features).
  3. User’s path to get this offer must be as simple as could be (1–2 clicks, if possible). If you ask user to leave his mailing address, list all his pets and specify what pizza she usually offers, it doesn’t work.
  4. Value should be easily understood. If you offer free pair of shoes, — it’s a valuable offer. If you offer a coupon to get a free pair of shoes in new shoe shop that is planned to be oped in the next season — it’s a bad offer. Good offer is a free 1 month subscription. Bad offer — free mic that will be mailed to you if you sign up for yearly subscription, free flash drive if you sigh up for quarterly subscription and a hand sanitiser if you sign up for the next month.
  5. It is also crucial to arrange customer support with a team able to answer customers questions about the offer. 24/7 is a perfect arrangement, but if you cant do it simply go for “as fast as you can”. Some founders point out that using social networks messenger services (like Facebook messenger) comes in handy here, since they allow you to pre-program replies when a team member is not around. Alternatively, you can use your own chatbots but their value for money is definitely higher than the ones used by Facebook or Twitter (if you don’t develop chatbots yourself, obviously).
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or not, founders should always be on standby when trying to make their message viral. Anyway, we leave in a physical world based on the laws of physics. And one of those laws is a law of energy conservation (total energy of an isolated system remains constant). Applied to business, it means if you can’t spend money on marketing you’ll have to spend something else. Most probably, your founder’s personal time. And sometimes, tons of it. Hopefully, it’ll pay out.

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