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:
- What are our core services? → Who would be the most excited about these services?
- Why should this person choose us over another guy? → What are they looking for that only we can provide?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- 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
- Bare minimum SEO should be table stakes for every company
- Use search referral volume to determine potential gains
Social Media Marketing
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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!
- 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
- 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.