11 Aug 2016 17:35 IST

A marketing guide for start-ups

Bootstrapped but need to have a wider reach? Here are some tools that will be handy

As founders of a start-up, it is important for entrepreneurs to get a quick sense of the market and customers, without spending months on building their product, website or e-commerce store. This article looks at these issues as well as how to use digital marketing tools to further your brand’s online presence.

Validating your product

The first most important item to cross off your check list, while establishing a start-up, is to validate your business online. While we usually recommend WordPress as the platform for most businesses, it can take anywhere between a few weeks to months to build a website.

The quickest way to start off is by creating a landing page for your app, business or store. Tools like Unbounce and Instapage allow you to develop landing pages in less than a day. They can also be a great medium to understand whether customers would like to take up your product or service. At the same time, you can start building an e-mailer list. Low-cost images can be obtained from such platforms as PhotoConcierge.

Another way the digital medium can validate a product is by getting feedback via platforms like Product Hunt, BetaList and Inbound.org; or survey tools such as Get Insights and Survey Monkey.

Tools such as GetInsights have an existing audience, so it helps in getting survey results quickly. Some participants, however, have raised concerns on the authenticity of these panels; in such cases, sending a survey (via Survey Monkey or Google Forms) through your own personal network might be worthwhile.

Reach out to your personal network for validation tests. Don’t hesitate to ask for initial feedback, as it will help shape your product.

Acquiring your first set of users

Leverage your personal network to acquire your first set of customers. Reach out and ask for referrals and test users.

LinkedIn: When leveraged properly, LinkedIn can be a great tool for this purpose. The networking site’s premium account allows in-mails to be sent to your potential customers, directly targeting relevant customers on Linkedin and Twitter, and can be beneficial in not only getting first-time users, but also in receiving valuable feedback on your product. If it’s a consumer business, sites like BetaList can help too.

Freemiums and free trials: Offering free trials to boost usage can help showcase to your customers the value your product can add. If they like it, they might want to turn into paying customers. Many Software as a Service (SAAS)-based companies have a freemium models to cater to this.

E-mail marketing: Contrary to popular belief, e-mail marketing is still very effective.

Build a database of email IDs, but not by purchasing databases — it doesn’t work. An effective way to build your own database can be by having a prominent e-mail registration pop-up appear on your landing page.

Similarly, you could use tools like SumoMe, attend networking events and create good content on your website to encourage newsletter sign-ups. E-mail marketing services such as MailChimp can be used for e-mailer marketing. The best part is that these solutions have integrations with WordPress, Unbounce and other email collection platforms.

Live chat: Adding a ‘Live Chat’ feature on your landing page, app or website can help in directly interacting with customers and building your e-mailer list. This way, you can also find out what questions customers have, before they take up your product or service.

Question-answer forums: Quora is fairly popular in India. Search for people looking for solutions where your product fits in and answer with back-links to your product page or website. It will help in the long term.

Marketing on a shoe-string budget

Start-ups do not have deep pockets for marketing activities. In the face of budget constraints, how can they build a brand and acquire customers?

Create user or Google-focused content: This will help in the discovery of your product at the right place and the right time. Long-form content writing has excellent SEO value and helps drive relevant traffic to your website. There are a bunch of other SEO tools as well, which can be of use.

Create unique and fresh content: Avoid duplicating content, as that will not get you much traction. Instead, focus on developing original content that will be interesting for your users. And don’t forget to push and promote the content among your target readership, so it is not lost among the millions of bytes in cyberspace.

Plan ahead of time: Nothing beats strategic planning. Develop a content marketing calendar with different placeholders for blog articles and social media content. This could be around relevant themes, such as Valentine’s Day or the launch of a movie — an investment and wealth management company leveraged Star Wars to showcase investment lessons that could be learnt from the movie. Be interesting, be regular.

Deciding on the ideal number of hashtags to use and getting your social media profile verified are other points you need to keep in mind while marketing online.

Save time with free tools

There is a host of tools out there that can be leveraged to help you amplify your marketing efforts. Some of the options you can explore are:

IFTTT: An abbreviation of If This, Then That, IFTTT is useful to create automated actions across a variety of platforms, from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to Gmail and Instagram. You can use it for different purposes by building your own customised recipes.

One useful application can be to create automated twitter lists in an area of your interest and track people in your domain. A sample recipe can be: when someone tweets in my area with #Offers hashtag, I add him to my list “OffersNearMe”.

Hootsuite: This can be a one-stop solution to schedule and track your social media posts. It saves you the hassle of logging into different accounts every time you want to post something on different networks. The Instagram post schedule feature was recently launched by Hootsuite, and does not have automated posts functionality. For this, Schedugram or Stribr can be a better tool to use.

BuzzSumo: This is the best-in-class tool for content research. You can track the best performing content in your industry that will help you devise a strong content marketing plan for your brand. It is also useful for tracking influencers in different domains, based on geography and interest area.

Feedly, It and Twitter Lists: These tools can be explored to track curated content — they fetch content depending on your interest areas and present it on your feed, which can then be shared on your social media channels.