Digital advertising channels have multiplied exponentially over the past few years, so startups looking to quickly grow awareness and generate leads have more options at their disposal than ever before.

This scenario can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have more opportunities available and won’t be shoehorned into a marketing channel that’s a poor fit. On the other, too many options can create choice paralysis, and you even risk spreading yourself too thin.

By defining your target market and pursuing them where they are most likely to be found, you can make smart choices for your marketing strategy and maximize your budget. I’ll also cover the respective strengths and weaknesses of the big channels at-a-glance to make your decision even easier.

Start by Knowing Your Customer

There is never going to be a 100% hard-and-fast answer to the question, “Which marketing channels should my startup use?” Every startup has a unique audience. The unique situation each startup finds themselves in can also affect the optimal choice to make. If you’re bootstrapping your business, chances are you’re going to want to make every penny go as far as possible.

To determine what your unique and ideal startup advertising strategy might be, start with your customers. True, you may not have many — if any — customers right now, but you have a solid idea of who your customers are. Otherwise, you would not have created your business in the first place.

Start by asking questions about your company and translating them into motivational traits for your audience:

  1. What are our core services? → Who would be the most excited about these services?
  2. Why should this person choose us over another guy? → What are they looking for that only we can provide?
  3. What type of person would genuinely love our services? → What are their goals, pain points, and what relatable key services/product features would interest them?
  4. How does our ideal audience look online for answers to their pain points or their goals? → If they are deliberately searching for options, where would they go? Also, if they happen to see an offering that catches their eye, where are they most likely to see it?

The answers to these questions can help you determine a buyer persona. Crafting buyer personas puts you in the shoes of your customers to ensure that you are speaking to their interests, not your company’s interests.

Big brands spend a great amount of money researching their customer base in order to define and refine buyer personas, but you likely won’t have that luxury. You can still make headway, however, by answering the questions above and looking to competitors.

Define Your Marketing Goals

The channel you decide to use should also correspond to your intended goals. Organic social media marketing may work well for awareness campaigns but generate low purchase conversions.

Possible goals include:

  • Lead generation
  • Growing brand awareness
  • Nurturing aware leads towards a purchase decision
  • Converting browsers into an end-of-funnel purchase

Options for Digital Advertising Channels

Once you have completed a buyer persona profile for your ideal customer and defined your goals, then you can start to weigh the merits of each digital advertising channel and how it could work within the persona’s preferences.

Options for digital marketing include:

  • Content marketing
  • SEO (search engine optimization)
  • Social media marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Influencer marketing

Now, let’s briefly go over the strengths of each channel and why certain startup types might want to use it.

Content Marketing

STRENGTHS

  • Can be low-cost or no-cost
  • Helps you nurture leads, and gives them information about what you actually do
  • Can help you become a thought leader or go-to resource when done properly

WEAKNESSES

  • No guaranteed impressions without cross-promotion on other channels
  • Wide range of industry engagement rates; can be fairly low unless you have a paid or organic way to funnel leads to your content

WORKS BEST FOR

  • Startups with more complex or unfamiliar concepts; content can help explain what a product does and why someone would need it
  • Brands needing to differentiate in competitive or commoditized markets
  • Everyone should have some form of content on their site; increases odds of SEO ranking and provides answers to basic client questions

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

  • Content can include low time investments, like blog posts, or time-intensive things, like webinars, videos, ebooks and more
  • Start off with 5-10 blog posts that explain your core service areas or important concepts in your field; these can serve as assets when building relationships

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

STRENGTHS

  • Low-cost way to obtain leads through search engines
  • Ranking high in search brings in leads; 30% engagement for pages that rank first, 12% to those who rank second, near-zero for those not on the first search engine results page (SERP)
  • Maximizes the value of existing web page and content assets

WEAKNESSES

  • Can take a long time for efforts to result in high rankings in competitive fields
  • No guaranteed impressions compared to paid advertising

WORKS BEST FOR

  • All startups to ensure they follow basic SEO practices for their website
  • Startups with a high search volume, such as “email automation”
  • Startups with harder-to-define products; optimize for intent-based searches, like “how to calculate car loan payments” for a car dealer-oriented app

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

  • Bare minimum SEO should be table stakes for every company
  • Use search referral volume to determine potential gains

Social Media Marketing

STRENGTHS

  • Having a social media presence serves as a secondary website for your brand
  • Building a social page can enhance SEO and capture in-platform searches
  • Paid social ads can have laser-precision targeting parameters to help you find the perfect audience, (e.g., LinkedIn lets you target by job title and rank)
  • Being able to tag specific users and drive post engagement can quickly grow your reach

WEAKNESSES

  • Diminishing returns for organic engagement, especially at first
  • 45% of people have never made a purchase after seeing a paid social ad

WORKS BEST FOR

  • All startups; create social media profile on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn at minimum and post at least once a week to maintain a presence
  • Any startup with a personality-rich brand can use organic social to grow an audience
  • Targeted ads to generate awareness within high-value audiences

Email Marketing

STRENGTHS

  • Another low-cost option with high ROI potential (sometimes 3,800%!)
  • Good for keeping leads constantly in your funnel at all stages
  • Helps with retention and nurturing
  • Can increase brand affinity through meaningful 1:1 conversations

WEAKNESSES

  • Email marketing practically requires an automation system; luckily, most services are at low or no cost for startups

WORKS BEST FOR

  • Startups looking to nurture captured leads
  • Startups where retention is critical, such as SaaS products

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

  • Email marketing depends entirely on the strength of your subject lines, templates, and overall brand voice; write emails you would want to read, not immediately trash!

Influencer Marketing

STRENGTHS

  • Can cause your audience to multiply incredibly rapidly
  • Instills trust (e.g., “60% of YouTube subscribers say they would follow advice on what to buy from their favorite YouTube creator over a traditional celebrity”)
  • Often flexible budgeting; some influencers may even talk about your product if you just offer them freebies

WEAKNESSES

  • Often difficult to choose best-fit influencer by reputation and audience
  • Some influencers may not make brand-safe statements, tarnishing a startup by association
  • Influencers with large audiences have started to charge up to six figures for a promo

WORKS BEST FOR

  • Startups looking to differentiate their product or grow awareness
  • Startups with a niche/enthusiast audience

Know Your Customer and Your Goals, and the Right Digital Advertising Channels Will Come to You

Once your brand defines your ideal buyer persona and its individual goals, the channels to use will fit together like pieces of a puzzle. All brands should have a bare minimum level of:

  • Website content to read
  • Social media profile
  • Email strategy
  • SEO best practice use

However, those that want to invest further in these channels or those explored above can reap huge returns if they fit their strategy to their ultimate goals.

Also, remember that no one gets everything right at first! Start small, experiment and build up your efforts based on what works and what doesn’t.

In just four short years, Slack has amassed over 5M daily active users and 1.5M paid accounts. To most of its users, the team-based messaging app is a lot more than a way to connect with colleagues—it’s a culture—stemming largely from the disruptive nature of the software startup itself.

While most office software takes advantage of muted colors and robotic copy to help users fall asleep at the desk, Slack feels playful, taking advantage of a blissfully simply interface, vibrant colors, and lots of emojis to make the digital office feel a little more like a giant group chat.

One of Slack’s most useful aspects is its long list of integrations, apps, and chatbots. Similar to the early days of the App Store, developers have made it possible to do almost anything right from Slack. From daily web traffic reports to team-wide polls, Slack’s most popular apps have you covered.

Browsing the long list of apps for Slack can be daunting—here’s a list of a few Slackbots and integrations that’ll help you stay organized and streamline the way your team collaborates.

Google Docs

When it comes to cloud-based team collaboration across documents and files, Google has always been the industry standard. If your team works digitally, it’s likely you’re already using a few of Google’s products.

Google Docs makes it easy to share documents and collaborate on projects. Sign up is free, and there’s no limit to the number of documents you can create or share.

The Slack integration makes it even easier to share documents with your team. Simply copy and paste the URL into any channel or chat and your document will be shared according to your document’s sharing preferences.

In a sense, Slack+Google Drive almost completely eliminates the need for communication and document sharing over email. It takes fewer clicks, and having the added benefit of threaded messages makes it easier to keep track of the conversation.

Trello

In a nutshell, Trello helps teams organize projects by taking advantage of vertical lists and movable cards. You can also assign cards, add due dates, and subdivide cards into multiple checklists. Most of Trello’s features are free to you and your team forever (including both Slack apps), and upgrading to Gold will get you access to a whole host of Power-Ups (think apps for Trello) and extra abilities.

Trello has two separate apps for Slack, one that allows you to get notifications about your Trello boards in various Slack channels, and another that allows you to edit the content of boards, create lists, and move cards without ever having to leave Slack.

If you’re using Trello to manage ongoing projects, enabling Trello Alerts through Slack is a great way to update the entire team about a project’s details simultaneously, greatly reducing the need for sit-down meetings.

Using the Trello app within specified channels makes it easy to create and edit lists, publish cards, and assign tasks to teammates.

In a sense, you can take advantage of all of Trello’s best features without ever having to visit the app itself.

Google+ Hangouts

For distributed teams, frequent video meetings are a mainstay of solid communication. Hangouts are great, but sending links over email and scheduling digital calendar events can get hectic quickly.

The Google+ Hangouts app for Slack is simple but essential. With the /hangout command, you and everyone in the channel you’re in will get a link to the Hangout and a control panel right in the channel.

Don’t waste your time hunting through hundreds of emails for the right invitation—just type /hangout and join.

To-do bot

To-do bot is an incredibly simple task management application for Slack teams of all sizes. Slack may have its own reminder system, but it’s hard to organize large projects. To-do bot makes it easier by grouping tasks according to channel and adding a more intuitive interface.

To-do bot is currently forever free for its existing feature list, so it’s the perfect application for teams looking to add more functionality to their reminders app without losing efficiency.

Polly

For larger teams, polls are a great way to get quick insight into your business’s internal operations. From sprint planning to worker satisfaction, Polly makes it easy for teams to create native, multi-question Slack polls that garner more participation than email and web-based surveys.

Polly offers a wide range of templates, anonymity for responders, recurring/scheduled polls and surveys, and automated reminders. This bot is great for anything from weekly satisfaction surveys as well as daily stand-up meetings.

GrowthBot

This is where things start to get fun. GrowthBot is like a highly specialized version of Siri specifically for digital marketers. It can instantly tell you your daily website traffic, give you tips on email outreach, or even tell you which keywords a particular website ranks for.

Here’s a small list of the things you can have GrowthBot help you with:

  1. Company info about freshbooks.com
  2. Lookup email dharmesh@hubspot.com
  3. What keywords does buffer.com rank for?
  4. What PPC keywords is uber.com buying?
  5. What marketing software does zendesk.com use?
  6. Show me a funny cartoon
  7. Which products do you integrate with
  8. Show me a random example of what you can do

GrowthBot’s feature list is too long to summarize—if you want to know the rest, you’re just going to have to try it.

The Lay of the Land

Slack’s enormous user growth has changed the way teams interact with workplace applications. The dreary software typically associated with project planning, document collaboration, team communication, and task management has officially been revitalized by Slack’s colorful work culture.

Instant messaging is something all of us are used to, and being able to text new tasks to your project planning app brings the workplace a little closer to home.

For teams with largely distributed components, taking advantage of Slack apps is must if you expect to stay organized. But remember, don’t overdo it—too many integrations will only make collaboration more cumbersome. Sometimes a simple message really is the best way to communicate.

In a world cluttered with ads, the ones that we truly notice are few and far between. Marketing is a vital part of any business, but even more vital is first identifying who you’re actually marketing to. Taking a shotgun approach to digital marketing is simply ineffective—stunning advertising creative does nothing in the hands of people that don’t have a problem for you to solve.

Find the People That Care

You shouldn’t waste your time and effort advertising to groups of people that are inevitably going to be uninterested in your product. Better yet, building customer profiles prior to the start of your next campaign allows you to create significantly more engaging content while improving your CTR and reducing your long-term ad spend.

Detailed customer profiles are the foundation of any successful marketing campaign. In order to reach people that are relevant to your business, you need to know where to find them and how to be noticeable. It’s important to remember that from the consumer’s perspective, whatever you’re trying to sell is ultimately a solution to somebody’s problem. The first step is identifying all of the problems your product solves and placing yourself in the shoes of someone in the market for a solution.

At the most basic level, developing highly segmented customer profiles allows you to expand your effective reach without paying for larger campaigns.

While it’s hard to quantify all of the benefits customer profiles have to offer, here are a few more of the reasons getting more specific with your ad targeting can start to help your business.

1. The Ideal Customer Profile

Not all customers are created equal. Despite the fact that everyone has to buy food and eat to stay alive, an executive chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant is more likely to purchase exotic spices than a struggling college student. This is largely what the broad portrait aims to illuminate. When starting to create customer profiles, it’s important to start with the basics. You must ask yourself, “who exactly is buying my product?” The answer to this question should take into consideration the reason the customer is interested in your product in the first place, how they are going to use it, and how your product aligns with their goals.

In doing this, you create a basic roadmap to reach your ideal customer. In a guest post on Convince & Convert, Greg Ciotti (content marketing manager at Help Scout, an invisible help desk) demonstrates the differences between two of the potential customers for Help Scout’s help desk service. Ciotti details the danger of “lumping them together as ‘people who need a help desk,’” and instead suggests the importance of catering to each customer’s individual needs. Despite the common interest in your product, it is important to acknowledge why they are interested in your product.

2. Define User Priorities

After creating an ideal customer profile, it’s time to start thinking about what the goals and priorities of your customers are when using your product. Is your product oriented towards individual use? Is it better catered towards commercial/business application? Using customer profiles to answer these questions provides two big benefits. By thinking about how a customer is going to use your product, you can begin to craft an ideal marketing experience for them. The other effect of this is a framework for contextualized user feedback.

From the user priority viewpoint, it’s easy to then see what your product does well and what it doesn’t do so well. Organizing feedback through customer profiles is far more actionable than taking feedback from a massive uncategorized group. For example, PhotoShop CC is an application designed for creative professionals. That said, Adobe is probably more interested in feedback from these competent professionals than someone learning the software for the first time. Their target user is a pro who’s already in the field—and creating a customer profile can help them understand that user.

Creating customer profiles to identify user priorities is the most important step in the process. It’s the starting place for both advertising and customer feedback. Spend some time working on creating a list of priorities for each customer profile you make—it will save tons of time when you want to make changes to your product or start to advertise effectively.

3. Create Personalized Marketing Campaigns

Using customer profiles removes all of the guesswork from developing advertisement campaigns. Looking back to the ideal customer profile that you created can help you figure out where your best customers will stumble upon you. To do this, you should ask yourself: What content appeals to these customers the most? What are they doing on social media? What blogs are they reading? What are they searching for?

The answers to these questions should be used to determine the best places to advertise and assist in selecting the most effective types of creative to reach potential customers. Figure out what content your ideal customers are looking at to increase the effectiveness of your reach. Looking back to the initial portrait you created will assist you in finding these spaces.

Sometimes It’s Important to Sweat the Small Stuff

Customer profiles are extremely easy to generate, but it’s important that you don’t skip this step. By answering a few simple questions about your customers, you can quickly create a cohesive map of how to grow and simultaneously improve your business.

Begin by looking at current buyers and provide a thorough explanation of why these people have an interest in your product. Move on to determining what the priorities of these customers are when using your product—you will use this to begin finding the best places to market as well as finding ways to improve your product for your current customer base. Finally, you can use the profile you’ve created to identify the most effective marketing path and significantly increase your reach to engaged customers.