How to create a marketing strategy for a startup

Hannah Brice Written by
Hannah Brice

Please note: This is a guide on how to build a marketing STRATEGY for a startup; not a guide on the types of tactics you can try. For that, check out our comprehensive list of the best types of marketing for startups.

When you’re building a startup business, there is ENORMOUS pressure to “do” marketing quickly. And why not? Who’s going to invest in you or buy from you if you don’t have a solid presence on social media, countless pieces of coverage in the media and a page 1 google ranking, right?

While these measures are important for establishing credibility, they take A LONG TIME to achieve. Plus there’s a lot more to think about than just page 1 or lots of press coverage.

To do it properly, you need to know how to create a marketing strategy for a startup and surround yourself with a great team to make it happen.

But first…

Why can’t I just get SEO experts to get me on page 1 of google?

Sure, it’s easy to find an SEO agency who’ll take your money and get you on page 1 of google in a few weeks or months. But it’s risky. It should take time and effort as my article on getting backlinks the right way will explain. So, if anyone says they can do it quickly and cheaply, they’re likely to be breaking rules. You have been warned.

Just recently, I discovered that one of my competitors is doing so well for backlinks because they’ve got lots of hidden pages stuffed with keywords related to sex toys and viagra. NOT what a marketing agency sells. I doubt they’re even aware of this issue. Is that what you want for your company?

Plus the other thing to factor in is what will you be ranking for. This is why a strategy is important. You want to be appearing on Google’s page 1 for the search queries most commonly made by your target audience that relate to your business. Otherwise you’re not going to be driving the correct traffic to your site.

So, for Upmarketry, the best keywords are “startup marketing agency” and “marketing agency for startups”.

And we’re up there. YAY!

We don’t rank well for “marketing agency” but that’s never going to happen and not niche enough for us either. And we could rank very easily for “startup marketing agency reading” but then that’s too small an area for us.

By setting a marketing strategy first, you’ll know exactly what SEO support you need and be able to brief them appropriately.

Why can’t I just hire a PR agency to get me lots of coverage in my first month?

Quite simply, because your brief will be too vague. And your story will be weak. I’ve had several calls with prospects who just want press coverage because it’ll look good to investors. They’re unclear about what budget to allocate and have yet to define their business story. In each case, I’ve recommended pressing pause to think about the bigger picture and the overall message they’re trying to make. Then we’ve been able to look at whether PR is indeed the right route to go down.

I’m certain other agencies wouldn’t have been so kind.

It’s hard to get press coverage for a new business. Unless they’re doing something life-changing like curing cancer or they’re owned by a celebrity, or they’re willing to do or say something shocking or controversial, journalists have better things to write about.

Again, by having a marketing strategy set up first, you can establish your brand story and then build a PR plan off of that and I guarantee you’ll get better results.

Why can’t I just get a social media expert to get me lots of followers and produce lots of content?

You can get someone to get you lots of followers quickly. In fact there are quite a few tricks you can use to build up communities quite fast. The challenge is keeping them engaged. Because, creating lots of interesting, entertaining and insightful content for all your channels will be nearly impossible if that’s the only marketing activity you’re doing.

Without a marketing strategy that dictates what you’re trying to achieve, what you want to be known for and how you’re going to do it, your social team will be creating content without proper direction or materials and it will flop.

So have I convinced you that you need a marketing strategy? Ok here we go.

How to create a marketing strategy for a startup

Are you ready? First of all, let’s break down the difference between a strategy and a tactic.

A strategy provides a path or theme to your activity.

A tactic is a specific way of achieving a strategic goal.

So, if your goal was to lose weight, the strategy could be to eat less and the tactics could be to stop eating after 7pm each night or to use smaller portion sizes.

Clear? Ok let’s proceed with building your marketing strategy.

Step 1: Establish your brand story.

This is all about working out:
– what sets you apart from your competition
– Why your target audience should find you appealing
– Who you are

At this point, I recommend you check out Upmarketry’s brand messaging to see this in action.

It’s not a long process. It’s not even an expensive one. But that brand build will set you up for every single sales conversation, marketing communication and investor pitch you’ll have from that point onwards.

You’ll come away with some key areas to focus on and these become the topics that all your PR, social and ad content are based on.

As an example, say you’re an full service estate agency-architect-building services and interior design provider. As a result of your brand build, you present your company as a seller of homes, not properties. This message alone can help you decide what extra special sales tactics you deploy to close a sale or get countless referrals.

For example, you could include a before and after photo shoot for the new owners and food package free of charge on the day the keys are exchanged. As part of your marketing, you could produce blog posts, press articles and social media content that focus on the psychology tricks to make your property seem more homely to all and therefore more sellable.

Step 2: Think about what you’re trying to achieve

Lots of followers on facebook and a lot of press coverage are not great targets. Besides the fact that they’re not SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely), they’re not linked to your business objectives.

What do you need your business to achieve this year? What targets have been set?

Perhaps you need to achieve £500,000 in investment. Or maybe you want to become a market leader. Or you need to achieve £2m in sales.

They’re targets that we can build a marketing strategy from.

Step 3: Turn these business goals into marketing targets

Let’s take the first business goal I mentioned above. Here’s how you do it:

To achieve £500,000 in investment, you typically need:
– a product or service of substance
– a clear and compelling proposition
– a certain number of repeat customers who will publicly refer you to other people
– public endorsement of your company via quality PR coverage and industry bodies/influencers

Assuming you have the first one, and you’ve done the brand build to get the second, then your focus is on points three and four. Let’s make these SMART:

– “a certain number of repeat customers who will publicly refer you to other people” becomes 20 new customers a month, 75% of which return and 50% of which recommend at least one other”
– “public endorsement of your company via quality PR coverage and industry bodies/influencers” becomes 10 pieces of quality coverage in first six months and 3 memberships/endorsements by industry bodies or influential parties

These are targets that marketing experts can work with. The next step is working out how to achieve them.

(If you’re interested in marketing strategies for the other two examples I mentioned above, contact us and one of the team will be only too happy to talk you through it.)

Step 4: Identify your potential marketing threats and weaknesses.

A lot of people forget this stage but it’s important for your strategy.

Not to be confused with your business threats or weaknesses, what we’re looking at here are the things that could impact your marketing efforts detrimentally. This could be:
– A limited budget
– No brand awareness whatsoever (which is almost 100% likely as a startup)
– A lot of high profile competition

Step 5: The startup additional phase – what hurdle are you jumping over?

Now you have to identify what help your your target audience needs to “get” you.

If you’re an established business like McDonalds, people already know what you sell and how it all works. But, for a new startup, you’re presenting something new to the market. Either an alternative option to what is already available to solve a problem or an entirely new way of doing things.

So you’re either
Introducing them to a new way of doing things and therefore they need educating OR
Informing them that your way is better

With the former, it’s likely you’ll need your marketing strategy to focus on a niche group to be your early adopters. Get them to LOVE what you do by building a marketing plan around them and the good word will soon spread. This means your target audience is suddenly a much smaller group.

You also have to think about what drives or inspires your target audience. It could be:

  • Promotions and discounts
  • Help and ideas
  • Information and education
  • Entertainment OR
  • FOMO (fear of missing out on something)

Whichever of the above are most important to your target audience NEED to feature in your strategy.

Step 6: Now we build a strategy.

As you’ll see from all the stages above, there are A LOT of factors that go into building a strategy so I’m not going to be able to prescribe your perfect one here. What I can do here is talk you through the process to building one (and then help you finesse yours over the phone, if needed.)

Remember the brand build has helped you clarify who your target is and what interests them, how you can stand out (your differentiator), your brand promise and values and a way of talking about your company as a solver of your target audience’s problems.

The trick is to start by building a long statement of what you need to achieve and then cutting it down multiple times until you’re left with one clear approach.

So to start, you’d say your strategy is:

To deliver [objectives], [your company name] will show that it understands and can solve the problems the problems of [your target audience] which are [problems], and  communicate this in a [brand values] way while demonstrating [your company name]’s promise to [brand promise], using [where your target audience can be found] as my focus.

Example 1: Upmarketry

With Upmarketry, that would be:

To deliver one new client a month, Upmarketry will show that it understands and can solve the problems of startups which are how to market effectively and affordably to drive growth, and communicate this in a supportive, transparent and fun way while demonstrating Upmarketry’s promise to be a partner; not a provider, using LinkedIn and startup communities as my focus.

That, cut down would be:

To show startups how to market effectively and affordably to drive growth in a supportive and fun way, behaving like a partner to them, utilising networks and LinkedIn.

And again:

To show startups what it’s like to have Upmarketry as their marketing partner by providing advice, support, insight and a slice of life on LinkedIn and via networks

And finally:

To show startups a slice of life with Upmarketry as their marketing partner.

Example 2: The Property Company

For our property company example, the process could go as follows:

To deliver 20 new clients a month and referrals and industry/public endorsements, Property Company will show that it understands and can solve the problems of today’s first time home buyers (niche segment of target audience to help early adoption) which are how to invest in property so that it provides a home now as well as a large financial return in the future. This will be provided in a visually striking and informative way, in a manner that makes the user feel like the brand is a good friend, not an unfamiliar company, using national consumer media, property industry networking and referrals from affiliates as its focus.

That, cut down would be:

To show first time buyers (and the wider industry) that anyone can maximise the potential in their home (and investment) from the moment they get their keys to when they sell them again, with the right partner.

And finally:

To start a movement to make the next generation of homeowners house proud and investment savvy.

What’s next?

Once you have your strategy, everything else should be SO MUCH CLEARER and your marketing support/agency/team should know where they need to focus and what they need to do.

What you’ve done in creating a strategy is set a clear focus for what every communication you make should do. Any other focus should be ignored.

Armed with a strategy, your marketing team should be able to determine which types of marketing methods are going to be best to deliver your strategy and you’re ready to go!

But… in case you don’t have any marketing support in place yet (hi, there!), here’s how you could progress the Property Company.

We want to start a movement to make the next generation of homeowners house proud and investment savvy so we’re going to find them:

  • visiting property and estate agency comparison sites
  • reading home diy/decorating media and personal finance news
  • via home insurance companies, mortgage providers and solicitor firms
  • following relevant home styling social media feeds

This means the types of marketing we need to use are social media and social media advertising, PR and content marketing, partnerships and affiliate marketing and display advertising.

So we know who we’re reaching, where we’re reaching them, what methods we need to use and what our overall campaign message is. Now it’s time to get a marketing team to work their magic.

Good luck!