The Strategy

Comprehensive startup marketing strategy requires a mix of digital and real world efforts. Marketing can become extremely expensive very quickly, and without the right approach, can exhaust the resources of a young startup. Strategies will be different depending where in the product cycle the product is.

For example, if you’ve just build the MVP, marketing goals will be focused on acquisition of the first 10k users. This makes sure these users are effectively on-boarded (using the product), and that the product is giving them value. In this situation, a large spend on an Instagram campaign will likely bear little fruit, especially by comparison to cost.

However, if the product were already something that was being used by a core audience, and displaying constant growth in a few key verticals, then one could articulate an argument for an Instagram spend. For example, an Instagram spend of 50k would be forecast to yield. This is based on an understanding of the product’s growth metrics to date, 50k lifetime users. This is a potentially viable move (depending on the value of a lifetime user from the perspective of the business.) i.e. how much money is to be made per user.

A younger startup needs to think a bit more out of the box about the way it markets its product. Many founders of younger product companies naturally want to go after press, however, there are two issues with this approach.


The first is that, as a young product, there may not yet be a story around your product. Journalists write about things that people are already interacting with, celebrating, and about which word of mouth is trickling around. Press wants to discover the “next big thing” and inject awareness to an already growing product.

Then there’s the other side of the coin. What if you do get press and you haven’t already achieved a method of product growth? The typical outcome of an article in TechCrunch is a one-day traffic spike and a slow trickle back to normalcy. It can yield anywhere from a few hundred users to a few thousand, but considering the high opportunity cost (i.e. time spent) chasing down journos, efforts are better spent first building into the product itself an engine of organic growth. This is achieved by fitting the product to its core audience (first 10k users). Audience is often better reached through non-traditional marketing.



First determinations when constructing a marketing strategy for your product:

  1. TARGET AUDIENCE. Who is your product being marketed to. In pitching your product, and in onboarding your users, different types of people are best approached in slightly (or drastically) different ways in terms of access point, language, etc.
    1. Demographic. College students? VP’s of Marketing at Automotive companies? Stay at home moms? Your target is going to dictate the rest of your strategy.
    2. Socioeconomic profile. Rich? Poor? Middle-income? Young professionals? Established professionals? Middle management? Elite? Students?
    3. Psychographic profile. Are your target users plagued by non-stop FOMO?
  2. GOALS: What are the current goals for marketing? Do you want to build brand with your target audience? Do you want them to try your service? Want them to download your app and give it a go? Are you looking for a short-term or long-term investment? To make a purchase?
  3. VALUE PROVIDED BY PRODUCT: Identify your value from the perspective of your currently targeted segment. If you’re marketing for the rich kid with FOMO, “Be VIP with AppX, never miss out on the hottest party”. The value prop should have an emotional resonance with the target.


Startup Marketing Mix

Once we have our approach factors determined, the next requirement is the development of a marketing mix. This is made up of the the channels that we will use communicate with our target audience. It is important to note that certain channels are more appropriate than others for certain products.

Through hypothesis, experience, or experimentation a channel can be a poor or productive fit. An additional factor is that the product may be at a stage that makes it inappropriate for a particular channel. For example, pushing an MVP to a wide Instagram audience may not capture efficiently the core audience that would be most engaged by the product at its early stage. In such case of poor channel fit, the audience views the product as not creating much value

Channel targeting is a game of mix and match, and understanding the audience reach and product reception of each channel. Let’s start with things that everyone should be doing to begin development of an optimal marketing mix.


Low Cost – High Value Channels

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

SEO should be a complete no-brainer. It’s cheap, and there are a wealth of free tools out there to do well with it. When embarking on your SEO strategy you want to first learn what people are searching for that is relevant to you, then identify the optimal keywords for you, and build your SEO using this data. Research tools:

  1. – ugly but invaluable air app that crawls the search engine world and provides you data on marketability, keyword competition and so much more,
  2. – helps you identify search volume in relation to other keywords. It can help gage what keywords to look for.
  3. – provides detailed monthly SEO reports on your site, tells you what is and isn’t working, what to fix.
  4. – Tool to check your site content.


Cheap, anyone can do it, and can have drastic impact on your product.


Some factors like domain age are out of your hands, certain verticals can be very difficult to rank on, google changes its algorithm frequently meaning you always have keep abreast of changes.


SM (Social Media)

Social media should always be a two-prong approach. Individual outreach to people who may have influence over your target market are a great way to onboard users. This however, is time consuming and depending on the market and your overarching strategy may not help to build brand. This is where SM automation comes in, using tools like you easily set up a constant and ongoing stream of relevant content that will provide value to your target customer (user) and build your brand. Automation tools:

  1. http://hashtagifyme/hashtag – tool to identify hash tags / trens in the twitterverse.
  2. – automation tool that will provide you with a stream of relevant SM content
  3. /  – helps you set up automated stream of targeted social media posts
  4. – toolks like target grow help you follow and engage poeple who are posting relevant content to your brand. Run through this once daily.


Cheap, largely effortless, and provides high value in terms of engagement and brand building.


Upstart times can be long, and building a strong social media channel takes time.


Company Newsletters

Your own newsletters are a great way to keep your community, media, and business relations abreast of developments. Newsletters tend to lend themselves more to b2b applications, and to bringing back users that may no longer be using your app for whatever reason.


Lets you communicate with your user base in a meaningful way, bring back portion of drop off.


Limited to current user base.



Mid Cost – High Value

Product Placements

Product placements can be a great way to get fast exposure with your target audience. and by this I don’t mean having an app on the next episode of Vampire Diaries, product placements can take many forms. From digital ones, like product hunt, to highly targeted ones like college radio stations who will talk about a new app invading their campus. Placements can be a great way of building a user base relatively quickly.Areas to consider placements: Blogs, Review Sites, Radio Stations, Newsletters, Soundcloud, YouTube, podcasts.


Often very large potential markets, especially if the person managing the placement is keen on the product.


Needs a lot of leg work to get to the right people if you don’t want to spend money on promotion.


Referral Loops

A great way to get the community to work for you. Referral loops can be incentivized, think “inviting people to dropbox gives you more dropbox space” or user value generating, “if I have more friends on app, I’ll get more use out of it. The second one is a lot more difficult to achieve as the application’s value has to be communicated to the user before she will engage in any form of a referral, however a tangible reward should also be a part of the Types of referral loops: Verbal, social, email, sms


A referral loop is only as good as the value it creates for the user, but can be a very powerful tool if executed well.


Loops should be a seamless experience – the referrer needs to be kept up to date of her referrals, and depending on the strategy upstart costs for the referral program can get pricey.



High Cost – High Value

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) & Network Ads

The beauty of search engine marketing is that it can propel your product to the top of any number of targeted search results, the drawback is you can easily spend 100k/month on Google’s AdWords. That being said there are alternatives ads that can create value. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter all offer Ad display networks where you can seamlessly target your core audience

  1. InNetwork Display Ads – Depending on what you want to achieve, major social networks are a great and relatively cheap way to test your ads. Spend $1000 will let you test ads against each other and see what works and what doesn’t againt your target audience. Systematically run series of experiments and you’ll soon hit a sweet spot that will give you the metrics you’re looking for, be they conversions, website clicks, app downloads. Once you have performant ads, roll them out to more people across social networks and Google’s Ad network.
  2. Retargeting – Retargeting is when someone sees an ad for Widgets on facebook, they then navigate to Buzzfeed and see the same or similar ad for Widgets on buzzfeed. This helps in creating a visual memory of a said product and facilitates familiarity with it, increasing the person’s desire to try the product. While the Facebook Ad Network and Yahoo one may not overlap, retargeting services like AdRoll, work with these networks to track users across sites and serve those users relevant ads based on interest and previously seed advertisements.
  • – AdRoll is a great retargeting option as it integrates with al the major ad networks, facebook, google, yahoo, microsoft.


Once you know what emotional triggers in ads work well on your target audience, a large spend can have a very positive impact.


It can take 6 months to see results from PR, it’s also not cheap, at minimum 3-5k/month, and a misaligned PR strategy won’t have much positive impact on your or your brand. 



As mentioned before PR can be a very powerful tool, however it takes time, the company needs to produce news, and results are never immediate. That said, there are many paths to chose from in PR, these are the Agency route, freelance consultant, in house. However, what makes a good PR person is the number of relationships they have within your target audience’s media space, and how much they will hustle for you. An agency whose clients are Nike, and Universal Pictures, will undeniably put much less effort into your company than someone who’s just gone freelance. Be wise how you pursue PR and remember, it should always support your main marketing objectives.


A solid laid out PR strategy can have a great impact on you and your business, from positioning, to press mentions, brand building, conferences / speaking engagements, and through leadership, PR is a great way to build brand.  


It can take 6 months to see results from PR, it’s also not cheap, at minimum 3-5k/month, and a misaligned PR strategy won’t have much positive impact on your or your brand.


Guerilla Marketing

isn’t always expensive in terms of monetary expenditure, but it is always expensive in terms of time allotted to guerilla activities. While expensive, it needs to be strategically executed and measured the same way as any other activity.

  • Ambassadors – Brand or app ambassadors are great in closed communities such as campuses, clubs, closely knit topic based interests like BMX or gaming.
  • Stunts – are great for one off media blitzes, however, the brand should already be something readily recognizable, they help steer conversation and bring the brand into the limelight.


Guerilla marketing can be extremely effective in combination with other marketing activities, ambassador programs can steer thousands of new users to a product, and word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools available.


Ensuring guerilla campaigns run smoothly takes a lot ot time, diligent reporting, and a top down multi-level program if they are to be expansive.



High Cost – Variable Value Activities


Useful for on-boarding b2b clients.Online Video – Useful for the purposes of expanding reach through thought leadership in vertical markets.


Other Low Value Activities 

Website display ads

Aside from retargeting (more on these later) web banner ads are going the way of the dodo. In 2015 Ad blockers were installed on 17% of browsers and this number is growing, couple this with the tech savviness of your target audience and that number can be significantly higher.

Sponsored content

is when you have an article posted about your product in a publication. Costs vary, and the effect is relevant as it creates a backlink from a highly rated site to yours. The problem with sponsored content is that it can be expensive, and outside of an short uptick in traffic will often have the same effect as a PR article. Think up-shoot in traffic and a decrease over time.

Trade shows

Trade shows can be a bit of a tricky beast, and it is important to differentiate between trade shows and speaking engagements. Speaking engagements serve to build brand, whereas trade shows are great for b2b, specific verticals (i.e. Geographic Information Systems, Fashion, et al), but will have little impact on the growth of any social consumer application.