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86 Common Sense Marketing Ideas for Startups

When starting a business, marketing is (or should be) the business owner’s biggest priority. Yet many startups have no clue about marketing.  With that in mind,  I thought who better to learn what works in marketing than from those who have gone before? I reached out to established business owners across all industries to see what marketing ideas would come up.  I got so  many incredible tips; I decided to use them all! Of course they may or may not all apply to your business, but there are some great ideas and some common themes.  Add yours to the list in the comments!

86 common sense marketing tips for startups.

From Chris Yoko of Yoko Co – Interactive Marketing

1.      Be engaging and responsive – whether in person, on the phone or through social media, enable customers and fans to talk about you by talking to them.

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2.      Use video! Explain your product or service, how it works, why it’s useful. You can illustrate elements text just can’t convey.

3.      Show proof. Even if you have to give it away a time or two, get some information that proves it works and is worth it!

From Kristin Marquet of Marquet Media, LLC

4.      Have a marketing plan - I don’t care if it’s on paper or in your head, just make sure you have a marketing plan!

5.      Don’t max out your credit cards on advertising.

6.      Hire a copywriter who understands your audience.

From Mark Huggans of AffordableHealthcare.US (Click-Shop-Insure.com)

7. Your marketing must indicate you can solve a problem.

8. Craft your message based on existing customer feedback or comments.

9. Old but true, have a call to action, press their buttons so the prospect will react.

From Brandon Spalding of Hirschler Fleischer, P.C.

10.  Always be truthful. Your investors, once outside the close friends and family stage, will do due diligence on your company and trust is a major component of early stage investment. Be realistic in your valuation, financial projections and time horizons and be prepared to defend each of them. Prepare a best case, expected case and worst case set of financial projections for your investors that you believe to be conservative in each case. Once trust is lost, it can’t be regained so don’t tell your investors just what you think they want to hear. This will also help keep you away from securities laws problems.

11.  Nail the business plan. Truly understand all of the relevant facets and players in your target market and how you are different or better than your potential competition. You must also have a clear and articulable method of monetizing your business. A great idea, without more, is not going to attract investors once your business is outside the close friends and family stage.

12.  Preserve your equity. You may need to go through a number of investment rounds before your business reaches profitability and each round will dilute your original ownership. Accordingly, be mindful of not offering up too much of your ownership to investors early in the life of the company. In addition, consider phantom equity plans to incentivize and reward early employees and advisors to also help you maintain as much control of your company as possible.

From Andrea Bailiff-Gush of HoneyApps, Inc.

13.  Test every marketing channel to see if it will work for your business. After a specified period of time, if the marketing channel doesn’t result in more website traffic or conversions for your business, stop using it. Don’t assume a marketing channel is or isn’t a good fit for your business until you have tried it.

14.  Define a list of metrics your startup will track on a specified basis. Your business will use these metrics to measure your success as a business and find out where you’re succeeding and where you’re falling behind.

15.  Stay current on startup marketing trends. Startups are agile, as there are lower barriers to making changes, therefore startups can start and stop marketing activities very quickly. Startups should use this to their advantage by staying current on what other startups learned while marketing their business and try some of their suggested tactics. You might just discover an easy and successful way to reach prospects. Use Quora, blogs (The KISSmetrics blog is a great one), and Twitter to stay current.

From Lindsay Durfee of Cookerly Public Relations

16.  Don’t market for the sake of marketing. Before launching a marketing campaign, you must know why you want publicity in the first place. Your marketing goal should be intrinsically linked to your business goals. Are you seeking to drive sales? To build your reputation? To raise awareness of an issue and motivate people to action? Define these goals first.

17.  Consider your options. Somewhere between hiring a PR or marketing agency and going it alone, there are accelerators out there that work with tech entrepreneurs to launch and build successful companies. One example is our client, the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC). Many of ATDC’s members are able to use ATDC’s communication and media channels for an extra visibility boost.

18.  Know your resources. Your team was assembled from some very talented professionals. Do you have strong writers on staff? A videographer? A former journalist? Look within to find resources you may not know you have-and to see where you may need to supplement. Additionally, your team is most likely the most passionate about your company, and you can use that to your advantage when connecting with journalists or drafting marketing documents.

From Adam Rodnitzky of Favo.rs

19.  Always be credible - don’t make claims to the public that you can’t back up in reality with your startup

20.  Find your unique angle – the world won’t care if they’ve heard your message dozens of times already from other startups

21.  Be available – When nobody recognizes your startup, you’re the only thing that will let people know that it is legit. Respond to users, bloggers, and the media whenever they reach out to you so they know there is a face behind the app.

From Louisa Gehring of Semper Finest Care Packages

22.  Don’t underestimate the power of social media: it’s (mostly) free, and can result in word-of-mouth marketing and viral buzz

23.  Don’t place ads that aren’t trackable: money is always tight with startups, so you can’t afford to pay $ for an ad if you don’t know if it’s successful. Create separate landing pages for each ad placed (particularly with print ads) so you can see how effective it is.

24.  Don’t lie about your age: if you’re just starting out, having impeccable service and a great product will speak for you. Don’t market yourself older/more established than you are, or you will suffer when clients find out.

From Albe Zakes  of TerraCycle

25.  Now is the time for PR: Editorial consideration is easiest to get when a story is fresh. If you are in the startup phase, that describes your story. Pitch any and all media outlets covering any relevant topics. Using PR can help you save those precious startup dollars. Then you can switch to more traditional marketing as you are more established and have additional revenue coming in. Now is the time to get it for free.

26.  Don’t overlook the blogosphere – From ‘Green Blogs’ to ‘BizBlogs’ to ‘Mommy Blogs’ these online assets need interesting content and you should have an interesting story for them. Blogs many seem small and far to common, but they can quickly go viral and make for great social media messaging and cross-promo opportunities with the blogger themselves. Start building your blog and social networks now and they will be a powerful tool for you later.

27.  Use Industry Associations and Consumer Groups – These third party affiliations can help you establish your brand and reputation, create PR opportunities and cross-promotional value on Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes these groups are looking for membership fees, but they are often willing to help startups in their industries now, in return for future considerations (think Alum associations). Even if you can’t talk your way around the fees, they are still a whole lot cheaper than most advertising options.

28.   Get your Guerrilla On - Guerrilla tactics might seem passé at this point and certainly their peak has passed. But they are still a great low-cost of getting your brand out into the public eye and driving good PR. Just be sure it doesn’t back fire and create negative media or wrongly portray your brand.

From Sarah Sypniewski of Bark Pet Photography

29.  Design a beautiful and professional-looking website–and keep it updated.

30.  Get your social media presence established immediately–and post often.

31.  Build in-person relationships with already-established partners and entrepreneurs in your field and related fields. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are ahead of you in the game so they can be role models. Plus, you never know who they will introduce you to down the line!

From Mike Scanlin of Born To Sell

32.  Don’t overpromise and under deliver. Only market features you currently have, not ones you will have in 3 months.

33.  Don’t publicly slam your competitors. Focus on your positives, not their negatives.

34.   Don’t overspend on unproven marketing tactics. Do a small test with everything, measure results, and only do more if it’s profitable.

From Shel Horowitz of Green And Profitable

35.  Keep your marketing expenses low by using partnership marketing, expertise marketing, and publicity

36.  Understand what makes you special and different–why people would want to buy from you instead of someone else

37.   Marketing is not about your slogan, logo, colors, etc. It’s about your relationships and the customer/prospect’s *perception* of your firm.

From Marisa Brayman of Stadri Emblems

38. Be willing to spend money to make money.

39. Utilize all the free tools you can find.

40. Don’t forget the power of word-of-mouth.

From Victor Kwegyir of Vike Invest (UK) Ltd.

41. Identify your target market.

42.  Establish what marketing category you want to establish yourself in. That is, whether you want to become a market category leader, challenger, follower, or niche player?

43.   Communicate the benefits of what your business offers to your target market.

From Drew Stevens Ph.D. of Stevens Consulting Group

44.  Strategy is vital to success. Over 94 percent of business owners use tactical things that get them nowhere; having a marketing strategy is vital to the success of business.

45.  The business must be built as a brand much like you shop for products and services. This requires building awareness and community.

46.  Marketing - At the beginning, middle and end of the day you are in the marketing business and it must be consistently and relentlessly applied to all you do.

From Ciara Pressler of Pressler Collaborative

47.  Start with the most desirable crowd. Don’t try to market to everyone at once.

48.  Don’t position yourself as “the new ___” - if another site is already doing it well, don’t compete. Show what’s different about you.

49.   Don’t skimp on branding. A successful business becomes iconic, and your logo, colors, and verbiage are a huge part of driving that.

From Carole Holden of Gelmtree Advertising Consulting

50.  Determine who your ideal customer/client is.

51.  Figure out where to find them.

52. Speak their language.

From Sean Star of Media Star Marketing

53.  Develop your positioning strategy: who you are targeting, the size of the market, and how you are creating a divergence that is unique and beneficial
to the current market.

54.  Develop your identity concept: logo, colors, and printed and web marketing materials layout (business cards, brochures, banners, website, email
signature, etc.)

55.   Develop an advertising, social media and public relations strategy for the first 12 months (you will update this throughout the year).

From Shannon Mouton of Topaz Consulting

56.  Get business cards that are easy to read, with all of your contact information and utilize the back. It’s space going to waste.

57.  Tell everyone you know family, friends, former co-workers and folks in your bowling league. If you don’t tell them, how will they know?

58.   Get a new, professional sounding email address. “Drinking Buddy” and “PinkSwan” are fine personal email account usernames. You’re in business, you want to be taken seriously and you want to get paid for your products and services.

From John Parker of Guy Parker’s BBQ Sauce and Marinade

59.  A small business must understand their market- who are their customers, whether wholesale or retail.

60.  Find every advantage possible that your product or service has, and then explore non conventional paths to take.

61.  Never ever mislead your audience. You must lead your customers by the hand, but in the right direction.

From Lisa Manyon of Write On ~ Creative Writing Services, LLC

62.  Defy the norm and use the new marketing model for success. Instead of creating marketing messages based on the antiquated model of “Problem.  Agitate. Solve.” use the “Challenge. Solution. Invitation.” Formula.

63.  Challenge: Know your ideal clients have challenges. Acknowledge them. Understand them. Don’t dwell on them or try to “agitate” or exaggerate the situation.

64.  Solution: Offer a genuine solution to eliminate or alleviate the challenge. Come from a place of service first. Build relationships with
your solution.

65.  Invitation: Avoid hard sell tactics at all cost. Instead extend a friendly invitation to take the next step and move towards the solution.
This is also considered your “call to action”. It’s extended in a way thatbuilds relationships and treats people as people, not numbers.

From Tom Gullen of Scirra Ltd

66.  Honesty and integrity, these go a long way in every aspect of business including marketing successes. Sounds cheesy but it’s totally true

67.  Play to your strengths, white hat SEO is best for startup businesses for long term success.

68. When ‘cold’ emailing reporters, keep the email concise as possible.

From Katie Hughes, PhD of Dance Yourself Fit LLC

69.   Know who is going to buy your product and get your ads there (ex. If they go to a conference, then you sponsor the conference; if they all pay attention to Facebook, pay for highly targeted Facebook ads). If there are “connectors” in your target market, spend your money getting your message to them first. It helps to be or have been a part of the market you are selling to so you know about their habits.

70.  Make sure the selling points are truly from the point of view of the customer (not just how awesome your product is but what the customer is going to get as a result of using it) – know WHY they should pay attention to you versus your competition.

71.  Make your company and your ads look professional and reliable (not like you’re a start up) using good designs/photographs and credibility indicators.

From Elena Barbera of Worthy Words Writing

72.  Market every day. So many startups (especially solo entrepreneurs) get so caught up in a whirlwind of trivial tasks that they don’t spend time every day bringing in new business. If you reached 10, 20, or 100 new people every day, you’d get business. But if you’re spending too much time organizing your files or setting up your QuickBooks, you’re keeping yourself busy, but not earning.

73.  Only target your niche. This bears repeating, so here goes: Only target your niche. Don¹t try to get everyone as a customer. Unless you’re the electric company, everyone doesn¹t want your products and services. So don’t spend time and money marketing custom skateboard wheels to Florida retirees.  Market to the Warped Tour crowd and you¹ll be off to a much better start.

74.  Don’t expect social media to do it all for your business right in the beginning. It’s no secret that social media can have a HUGE impact on business. But in the beginning, it’s all about planting seeds and then watering them so they grow. The harvest doesn’t come until the fall. So putting all your eggs into that one basket won’t get you quick returns.

From Joy Gendusa of PostcardMania

75. Understand and isolate your target market.

76.  Find out what their buttons are – what will make them respond – using surveys.

77.  Formulate your message based on the buttons and pound the same message home over and over again to that audience using several marketing
channels.

From Travis Robertson of The Don’t Settle Group

78.  Don’t try to outspend the more-established competition. You don’t have their budgets (yet!).

79.  Don’t forget the phone. Everyone is focused on social and email marketing. The phone will often get you straight to a decision maker. I’ve made a lot of money by picking up the phone.

80.  Don’t be an inch deep and a mile wide. People spread their marketing efforts to wide. Rather than making great use of a few strategies, they chase every shiny, new tactic and then give up when “it doesn’t work” after only a marginal attempt.
From Michael Pesochinsky of GovernmentAuctions.org

81.  The more you plug your business the less you market it. Let your product or service speak for itself. It will testify to the solidarity of your brand. If you just keep saying you are great then no one will listen.

82.  The best kind of marketing is word-of-mouth. This is an old adage that still applies in this digital age. If your brand generates a buzz then it would spread like wildfire among people who can use it.

83.  Any publicity is not good publicity. Bad press could severely hurt a startup. For example if you develop an app that is untested and has glitches right off the bat and release it without marking it BETA – its bad reviews will diminish its potential for adaptation into virtual non existence.

From Jocelyn Saurini of Red Blue Voice

84.  “Set Goals. Track Progress.” Just because your business is new and your goals are modest, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set tangible goals and track against them. Even if the goal is only one new conversion per month, good marketing happens within a system. Set up that system from the start. It will keep you on track and help you with rule number three.

85.  “Think Small. ” The reason for creating a startup is because you think big, but when it comes to marketing you need to think in small, manageable steps. It would be great if your startup were immediately featured on Mashable or in the New York Times. However, if that’s where you put your energy you’re shooting at stars. Sure, you may hit a star, but the odds are against you. Think in terms of small gradual steps like content creation, social media, and networking. The results will be slower, but you’ll be working with proven methods to increase and grow awareness rather than hoping for a big hit that may not come (and may not give you long-term results even if it does).

86. “Don’t Get Distracted. Stay the Course.” When it’s your startup, it’s easy to panic and start to “throw things at the wall” if your initial marketing strategy doesn’t work. After all, you have a lot riding on this. But if your marketing strategy was well thought out, you need to give it time to develop. Yes, be nimble and ready to adjust to things that you learn about your market and product, but don’t start changing the strategy out of panic or without a clear roadmap.

Want to get more inexpensive and practical small business marketing ideas, grab a free e-book called “Build Buzz for Your Biz, 23 Creative and Inexpensive Marketing Strategies That Will Get You Noticed” at http://23kazoos.com.

Wendy Kenney the Founder of 23 Kazoos, a Marketing and Public Relations firm in Phoenix, Arizona, that is relentless about results.  She is the bestselling author of How to Build Buzz for Your Business available on Amazon.com, and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Newsday.

About the Author: Wendy Kenney

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