Importance and Advantages of Marketing for Startups in the Early Stage

Paper Boat, known for its fruit-based traditional drinks is a startup famous for tugging at the heartstrings while tightening the purse strings for its marketing strategy. The company’s low-cost, high-impact approach seems to have worked for the brand’s growth as it is presently valued at $200 million and ranks among the top five players in the ready-to-drink (RTD) juices category. Right from its inception, the brand focused on digital marketing versus celebrity endorsements as a cost-effective way to build a connect with its customers. The company’s simple, nostalgia-evoking storytelling technique on Instagram helped it achieve a 15-point lift in brand awareness.

Chaayos, a leader in the freshly brewed tea café segment in India is another interesting example of a promising startup’s frugal approach to marketing and brand communication. Aware of its price conscious chai consumers, the company has leveraged the power of digital media platforms from its initial days. From email marketing to creating compelling content on social media, Chaayos has grown its customer base in a highly effective manner. Today, the brand considers Instagram and Facebook as critical platforms to engage with its followers and frequently comes up with creative campaigns as promotional activities.

However, not all startups can hope to make it sans a powerful marketing plan. Young companies must carve out a niche and start growing their audience from the moment they step on the startup treadmill.

How not to break the bank

Here’s the good news: startups do not require significant up-front investment to get noticed. What they need is an effective low-cost marketing strategy that will help the company build its brand, reach out to its target audience and grow business. Savvy startups understand that marketing efforts begin even before a product is launched. Ideally, a company should have key insights into its target audience before rolling out its marketing strategy.

In the era of guerrilla marketing strategies — or new age marketing tactics — startups should attempt to drive rapid, affordable customer acquisition. Let’s examine growth hacks that are helping early-stage startups reach their growth target — at minimum spends:

Word of mouth: Nothing can be simpler than referrals from colleagues and friends, right? This is what the founder of Slack (valued at $10 billion), the immensely popular enterprise collaboration tool, understood early in his startup journey. When it was launched in 2014, Slack’s initial thrust happened through an explosive network of referrals that brought in its first customers. From 8,000 people who first signed up to use Slack to its now 10 million users, and growing, Slack has shown how cost-effective word-of-mouth marketing can make startups achieve Unicorn status!

Closer home, Hyderabad-based Desi Teatime Pvt Ltd, known among its customer base as the ‘common man’s tea’ struck gold when brisk word-of-mouth marketing helped the brand become an established name in even Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities such as Indore and Kurukshetra.

Content marketing: Quality content helps startups generate value among customers. Most importantly, this does always require significant capital investment. Take the case of how Netflix redefined content marketing. The streaming company created original storytelling content by leveraging social media channels and its own platform. Bypassing traditional promotional channels, Netflix reached its customers through the ubiquitous mobile phone. Its mantra of delivering quality content through customer-oriented marketing campaigns turned it into a behemoth that boasts of around 150 million subscribers.

Email marketing: It has to be among the most cost-effective marketing strategies for startups. However, unlike in the Y2K era, when email newsletters were a novelty, today’s startups should be wary about bombarding customers with promotional emails. Marketing emails from early-stage startups must get the messaging and presentation just right to grab eyeballs. Uber seems to have perfected this technique as its marketing emails showcase a clean and uncluttered design packed with key information to drive customer acquisition.

Social media/digital marketing: Free social media and digital tools that can help startups achieve analytics-driven success. For example, Oyo Rooms recently spent advertising dollars on various catchy campaigns launched across social media platforms. Furniture seller, Pepperfry has also strategically leveraged digital platforms to grow its business and find new customers. Then there are other enterprising startups like beBee that have extracted the best out of Twitter to grow their audience base from zero to a whopping eleven million within the first year-and-a-half of its launch.

Influencer marketing: A growing breed of people in the startup ecosystem, influencers are helping startups reach the right audience and lend credibility to products. They are trusted individuals who plug products at the behest of brands. Though usually not paid, they receive free samples of products from the companies who approach them. Influencers are particularly in demand in the beauty and fashion industries. While not celebrities — they are mostly bloggers and seasoned professionals from various industries — their voice of approval carries weight on social media. For example, PayTM used lifestyle and travel bloggers to promote railway booking on its app and website. Also, premium fashion brand Craftsvilla reached out to India’s top women influencers to promote the concept that fashion is ‘beyond all labels’. According to a recent report, influencer marketing is estimated to reach between $5 billion and $10 billion by 2022.

Video-sharing social networking: The power of effective storytelling through video cannot be stressed enough. Tik-Tok, the Chinese short video application, has caught the imagination of marketers and consumer brands alike. Its unique format of creating integrated content using audio, video and music has helped startups reach out to micro-influencers in regional markets.

Also, Dunzo and OkCredit are just some of the startups that are leveraging YouTube for their marketing efforts. Such marketing channels are lighter on the pocket than Google and Facebook.

Online advertising on Google and Facebook and other social media: Facebook, Google AdWords and Instagram offer low-cost advertising options to startups. Using analytical tools like Google analytics, these organisations create online ad campaigns, monitor conversion rates and strategise business decisions. For instance, lifestyle startup Chumbak, enhanced its online presence through smart utilisation of Google AdWords.

SEO/SEM: The right keywords will go a long way in connecting with the right target audience. SEO and SEM marketing are low cost and unfussy marketing tactics deployed by startups. For example, in the hospitality industry, Trivago focuses on SEO and SEM (Search Engine Maximisation) strategies to improve its visibility on metasearch sites.

Costly lessons

Young startups must do a reality check when it comes to planning their marketing campaign. These organisations must gauge the requirement for sustained marketing to drive organic growth. Also, while being profitable is important for any startup, organisations must think beyond merely selling. Today’s informed customers seek authenticity and accessibility from brands and like to remain engaged with a brand’s growth. For example, Swiggy got 1.5 lakh DMs (direct messages) in ten days through its interactive Instagram campaign. Similarly, online travel company Cleartrip doubled Instagram engagement by sparking a conversation among users on their personal travel stories.

Startups should not be afraid to take risks, make mistakes and fail along the way to optimising their marketing strategy. Eventually, they will find an approach that works for them.

However, sometimes in the attempt to get noticed, startups don’t play their marketing cards right. Many organisations are compelled to fold shop early in the game due to ill-planned marketing spends. Either these businesses overlook marketing strategy or they splurge on advertising without demonstrating desired results.

Most importantly, startups should avoid blindly aping their competitors. Organisations must align their marketing strategy to suit business needs and track marketing vision. When a customer is unhappy, a startup has clearly failed to deliver. Further, since one size rarely fits all, startups must experiment and pivot to create new revenue opportunities. Who knows, the next customer might just be a ‘like’ or ‘tweet’ away. Startups in the early stage need to act fast to market their business — or else, risk failing without being noticed.

— Sameer Chhabra, Senior Director — Business Management & Marketing, T-Hub

This article was originally published in Inc42 on 7.04.2020, with the title Importance And Advantages Of Marketing For Startups In The Early Stage.

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