Early-stage growth is often difficult to obtain because many startups lack the critical resources and investment capital upon which such growth depends. As a result, companies must build and launch an outbound sales campaign to generate sales leads and get in front of potential clients at no cost. This might be in the form of email marketing, cold calling, and LinkedIn outreach to achieve their first few clients and sales revenue.
The best marketing strategies for any early-stage startup should include building a strong community around the brand.
“Many businesses make the mistake of believing that their number one goal is brand exposure, and will devote all their energy into acquiring as many new leads as possible,” said Jonathan Chan, head of marketing at Insane Growth. “While indeed important, the trouble with this approach is that increased brand exposure does not necessarily translate into increased profits or longevity.”
On the other hand, when you focus your marketing efforts on building loyalty among existing customers and increasing your level of authority with leads and prospects, you come out with a core group of fans that will happily refer others to your business, provide valuable feedback, and supply a reliable revenue stream for future products.
Here are five top strategies marketers should undertake to drive early stage growth.
1. Think “Lifetime Value”
Mark Osborne, strategic account manager at Neustar, noted that when launching new products in an established category, marketers cannot be successful if they only consider the short-term value of their transactions. Rather, they must estimate the full customer lifetime value.
“Looking at the cost per acquisition for a new customer based only on the first sale will lead to underbidding in paid search, display, and other media, and marketers will find it impossible to create profitable advertising campaigns,” he said. “This leads to marketers scratching their heads wondering how all of their competitors can justify paying the high cost for the click or impression and thinking it’s a problem with their product, price, or conversion rate.”
Instead, Osborne said, early stage companies need to account for lifetime value when looking at the ROI of their media campaigns at launch. Then they must optimize their processes to ensure they are following up and following through with those initial customers, aiming to maximize potential lifetime value.
2. Have a Strategic Plan
Daleep Chhabria, founder of Growth Forte, says that instead of being trigger happy and trying too many different things right off the bat, companies need to think and plan carefully:
“Have objectives and a strategic plan. Start by deciding what your commercial objectives and marketing objectives are, so that you can build strategies to achieve your goals,” he said. “If you don’t know where you want to go, it’s harder to figure out how to get there and your tactical actions will be off-track; a giant waste of time and money at a crucial stage of the business.”
A crucial part of this is understanding your audience.
“If you don’t know (or get to know) your audience,” Chhabria continued, “The rest of your marketing will be far less effective. Start by building a persona and as you acquire customers and gain more insight about them, update it. You can have multiple personas and your messaging should be adapted towards each. In slightly more complex businesses, e.g., B2B2C, you need to have personas for the B as well as C if your marketing and sales efforts will be trying to influence both sets.”
3. Invest in SEO
Based on his experience of seeing a small company rise quickly, Michael Anderson, marketing specialist for GeoJango Maps, believes the best strategy for driving early stage growth is to fully invest in SEO.
“Whereas advertising stops yielding results once a campaign has finished, SEO can compound and provide positive results long after any specific action has been taken,” he says. “The reason it’s important to start investing in SEO early is due to the fact that it takes some time to actually see any results. However, if done properly, a robust SEO strategy can take a relatively obscure brand and vault it into Google stardom, which often results in more website traffic and conversions.”
This can be extremely beneficial to any business regardless of whether the website focuses on eCommerce, B2B, or local services.
4. Improve Content Marketing
Stuart Cooke, an SEO specialist with Levity Digital, believes the best strategy to drive early stage growth is to focus on content marketing.
“In particular, this means using inbound marketing and guest posting together,” he said. “With inbound marketing, you can create content that provides answers to the exact questions your target audience is asking. This will establish you as a trusted source, earn natural links and shares, and raise brand awareness. Guest posting will achieve all of these things as well, but it is a more proactive approach and you can benefit from referral traffic as soon as your content is published, which can be vital for a startup.”
5. Go the Distance
The stakes can be high in early stage businesses. Chhabria noted that if you have the right objectives and a sensible and solid strategy, you should be able to optimize your tactics continuously–and go the distance.
“It can take months to get one tactic working well,” he said. “This is all about setting the expectations at the outset, and managing the process of learning and optimization as you go. If you skip either of these, you’re wasting time and money.”