The Definitive Guide to Marketing for Startups


I will show you how to create a marketing strategy for your Start-up business.

What to expect from this article:

  • How to define your audience
  • How to target your local market
  • How to set the marketing KPIs
  • How to research the competition
  • What are the best channels for your Start-up business
  • I will talk about paid search, organic search, content marketing, social media marketing, and how to track the performance.
  • You will see how I put together the digital channels to have the best media mix so that all channels contribute to the overall online growth.
  • I will then set the yearly marketing budget and our expectations from the first year of running our marketing plan.

 

Contents:

  1. Why is it Important to Have a Startup Marketing Plan
  2. How to Define your Target Audience/Customer Segments
  3. How to Track the Performance KPIs
  4. Generating Leads (first KPI)
  5. What are the Conversion Steps (second KPI)
  6. More KPIs To Monitor
  7. Keeping Track of your Competition
  8. What are the Sources of Traffic (Channels)
  9. Paid Advertising
  10. The ROI of the Paid Channel
  11. Spending on Paid Advertising
  12. The Organic/Natural Channel (SEO)
  13. What are the Important SEO Metrics
  14. Starting with the Technical SEO Audit
  15. Content Marketing Touches More Traffic Channels
  16. What are the Metrics that show Content Engagement
  17. Social Media Marketing and Performance
  18. The Power of Video Marketing
  19. Measuring the Performance of our Marketing Plan
  20. Setting the Marketing Budget
  21. Scheduling Outreach Campaigns with a Marketing Roadmap
  22. What is the cost of each Digital Marketing Channel
  23. What is the Expected Growth
  24. Marketing Plan for Startups: Part 1 (Video)
  25. Marketing Plan for Startups: Part 2 (Video)

Let’s start as we have a lot to discuss.

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1. Why is it Important to Have a Startup Marketing Plan

I am using a real digital marketing plan created for a Start-up company based somewhere in Germany. It is my policy never to disclose the names of my clients.

They are providing mobile marketing insights to mobile application developers, marketing agencies, and medium to large corporations owning mobile apps.

They offer segmented audiences for mobile apps, app market data, and app stats.

The scope of this marketing plan is to plant the first seeds for their online growth and start augmenting their customer base.

An integrated marketing plan could work in this direction so let’s see how we can get to that.

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2. How to Define your Target Audience/Customer Segments

I always like to start with the audience research. So we need here to identify our target audiences or customers segments so we can approach them with our business message.

Since this business is in the mobile industry, their potential customers could be application developers, marketing agencies, and medium to large corporations that release mobile applications.

So we have customer segments with different interests, and we need the best approach.
About the target markets, I suggest they start with the North American and European countries as the advanced markets show business potential.

startup

There are a lot of applications developed and released in the two regions, plus the number of agencies marketing apps, so it makes sense.

More insights from my research suggest that their website visitors are mostly college-educated with an equal split between the sexes, and visiting from their workplace.

Based on those insights we can arrange the outreach in certain hours of the day, aligned to their education level and the networks they join. That is only an example of what we can do.

We always need to decide about our marketing actions based on what makes sense for the business. We should always base our decisions on the available data and not our emotions or beliefs.

So it makes sense to research their audience and then outreach to customers in places and through the channels that I will show next.

We need to know what are the particular characteristics of our clients, their needs, and the places they are living online. Only then we can find them, offer them our best creatives, and spend our marketing budget efficiently.

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3. How to Track the Performance KPIs

I am now passing to the marketing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). We need to define our KPIs before starting the campaigns and measure their performance based on those metrics. We need to make sure we track everything, so we are not exhausting our budget into ineffective actions.

The first KPI is the lead generation and the first touch of visitors with the business properties, website, video property, etc.

By generating leads, we know that a percentage of them will convert by interacting with the site. To put it simply, we need targeted traffic with the audience properties we discussed earlier, that will drop on the business landing pages.

When you generate traffic, you need to know what is the contribution or performance of each traffic channel so then you can work exclusively with the channels that deliver the best results.

The second KPI which I will name as First Conversion are the registrations to the free trial service. Offering this free trial for prospects that would like to test the service is a good way to attract visitors and generate more leads.

A segment of the registered to the free trial users can switch to the paid service, which is the business goal and our Second Conversion step. Only the paid service will generate revenue, so the order of actions makes sense.

Find the audience, offer them a free trial for a reasonable duration, say one month or 14 days, during which you can persuade them to join as customers with a paid account. If the users like the service they will convert into customers.

So we have two conversion steps here. These two conversions on the website can be inserted as Goals in their analytics package to measure how they do.

Then we have another KPI which is hard to measure, but I still like it as for me this is the most important KPI. Brand awareness is a Top of the Funnel (TOF) activity and tops up our marketing results.

Think of the big firms, when you see them online you recognize them on the spot. Get more visibility for the brand name. Make the business famous within its market.

So the ultimate goal for a marketer is doing this business so popular that people go search for it directly on their browser or click an ad instantly because they know or have heard or read about it.

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4. Generating Leads (first KPI)

I have done enough research to know more about this Start-up business, and I have prepared some screens. So let’s start seeing one by one the KPIs.

KPI #1: We have Lead Generation.

It all begins here. What I have found is that currently, most of the traffic is coming from desktop devices.

lead generation

Now Google has announced some important changes within 2017.

They plan to shift their focus from desktop to mobile devices. They will release a new mobile index leaving the desktop index as we know it, not maintained. It will impact all search traffic regardless of the business size or industry.

So it makes sense preparing for the mobile devices and increasing their traffic potential from mobile devices. Currently, they do not have that, so they need to adjust.

I do not have enough space here to talk more about the changes. Maybe in a future post, I will explain more. It will suffice to say that we need to prepare each marketing action as if the desktop devices were not here.

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5. What are the Conversion Steps (second KPI)

Let’s take a look at the other KPIs.

KPI #2: We have the Registrations to the free trial, our first confession step.

Currently, they are receiving around 600 registrations per month, about twenty registrations per day. Since they are in the market for more than two years, I would say that this metric is flat and they need to increase it.

conversion steps

KPI #3: Keep in mind that from the total of registrations only a small percent will switch to a paid account (second conversion).

How do they there?

Currently, they have only ten subscribers per month. That is a Conversion Rate of 1,7 percent. Talking with revenue terms, if they price their paid service at 49 dollars, the monthly paid plans leave them with 490 dollars gross profit.

A lower income cannot sustain the business as they have developers who built and maintain the services, administrative, marketing costs, etc. That is why they need to grow their customer base.

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6. More KPIs to Monitor

Now let’s see what the other KPIs are.

KPI #4: One could be the customers transitioning between paid packages. They have some pricing options, so tracking what the customers prefer and the reason behind upgrading or downgrading is also important.

For example, if groups of users start downgrading all of the sudden it could be a pricing issue. Downgrading is the first step to leaving the service.

KPI #5: Another KPI could be the Interactive Visits.

Those are the visits where we see some action commonly associated with our most important conversions, registrations, and paid accounts.

interactive visits

There could be more actions that we would like to monitor, for example when they fill in a form, or sign-up to the newsletter, click an action button, etc.

KPI #6: Another valuable KPI for the business is the Customer Retention. Companies need to keep their customers; I do too, so I plan medium to long-term with a client because I want to augment my customer base. They do the same.

Remember if customers leave they never return, and will probably join one of your competitors. So, it is best to keep the clients satisfied with premium services and excellent support.

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7. Keeping Track of your Competition

It is critical to know what your competitors are doing so I have prepared here some stats from my competition research. They are not advanced, just to give you some first insights.

competition insights

The first line below the table header colored with orange is hiding the client, and you can see how many visits they currently receive. They are trending very low compared to their competition, and that explains the low registration and paid account metrics. If you do not get enough traffic (leads), you cannot compete, right?

Regardless of their low traffic volumes, it is a fact that they show some quality metrics as in the case of pages per visit (almost five pages), time spent on site (above two minutes). So visitors are interested, and they look to read more about the service. That is good.

Now looking at the competitor right below them, the comparison is leaving them behind. It is a good example of the competition they will face and what market share their competitors take. Plus, it shows how successful their marketing is, and they can target to reaching those guys.

Watch carefully. Those guys get four times the traffic of their competition, they show low Bounce Rate (33%), and visitors browse the site for at least six minutes. That means they must be offering engaging content and they have grown their brand name sufficiently.

If you also check the other two competitors that receive 50K and above visits, they do not do so well in the other metrics as they are losing visitors.

To summarize, this marketing plan should provide the client with more traffic, so the Bounce Rate keeps small, and visitors convert one way or the other.

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8. What are the Sources of Traffic (Channels)

In our next step, a first goal can be to increase their traffic and reduce the Bounce Rate by 15-20 percent. Then they need to grow their traffic sources.

Currently, the search channel delivers less than half of their 7K monthly traffic and social is at 27%. It should be the opposite happening, and it means that they have no traffic from paid and organic search.

traffic channels

The social channels do not deliver high amounts of traffic, and the direct channel is all about brand awareness. But it is a start-up so nobody knows them and we will check how they do on social channels, where things are not well either.

This table verifies the previous data where we saw little traffic and other low metrics. The big opportunity here is to get more traffic from search. I estimate that both search channels could scale quickly from 48% to 70-80% and when their performance consolidates they could generate thousands of leads. But they miss that opportunity now, hence the 7K visitors per month.

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9. Paid Advertising

Let’s now check the status of paid search. Here are some facts.

  • More than half of the trillions of searches in 2016 run on mobile devices, so it makes sense to shift the marketing actions towards mobile. Remember, not everybody in the niche will be ready for the mobile shift.
  • Google is pushing for the change, and they have released the so-called ‘Responsive Mobile Display Ads,’ they now support the Native Google Ad Inventory, introduced the Expanded Text Ads, sitelinks, etc.
  • All ads pass through a quality check thus all search marketers need to optimize their ad copies to meet the quality criteria.
  • Ad optimization entails also rationalizing the spending, so the budget suffices for the entire duration of the campaign.
  • Another thing is that Google decided to trim the right sidebar ads. If you recall, depending on the search query and the niche, they could show up to 10 ads on the right sidebar. For months now the feature is gone.
  • There only three ads showing on top of the organic results, whereas in the finance niche we can see up to four. Imagine how fierce is the competition with more than 8-10 spots gone. It means higher bids, more revenue for Google, less to none placements. The ad marketers struggle to make their clients stand out.

Regarding the quality criteria of the page content, I will briefly say that the target landing page must offer the best content also optimized for mobile devices. This way they can get more conversions out of their paid advertising.

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10. The ROI of the Paid Channel

Now, I have prepared a chart so you can see that most of the traffic is coming from the US which is also a point of concern for a German startup.

paid traffic

They should have also placed some campaigns in Germany; it is surprising that they have not.

Still, their paid traffic chart shows that it is growing, but if you take the actual numbers, they are getting no significant traffic. Bottom line their paid advertising efforts are inefficient.

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11. Spending on Paid Advertising

Next screen shows the evolution of spending, so again here we see it growing MoM but not much with an event happening in October (note the gap). Either they have exhausted their budget or stopped for some reason the paid campaign.

paid budget

To sum it up, I would suggest them to prepare ad copies with the best messaging, optimize their bidding, monitor the status of competition, and show resilience for optimum performance to avoid incidents like the one in October.

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12. The Organic/Natural Channel (SEO)

About the organic search or Search Engine Optimization (SEO), my understanding is so that it can be way cheaper than paid search but over-deliver compared to its cost. So SEO is cost-efficient, an affordable marketing action that requires more time to deliver results but can exceed in efficiency all other online channels and can be evergreen.

In this chart, you can see SEO represented with the blue line, and paid search with the orange one. It is a good way to spot any issues for both search channels.

organic traffic

I see a problem with organic search. We have gone through the paid channel in the previous sections, so here we see the organic search trending flat MoM during the two years 2015-16, starting from July we see a significant and suspicious drop.

The drop is an indication of some website issue. It can be technical or content-related.

Now at the bottom of the chart, you see a series of colored G’s. With the G letter, we have each Google update placed in time. So four G’s densely happening one after the other and with every Google refresh the site reacts either rising or dropping its traffic.

The fluctuation is not big, but it is indicative that is impacting the website. If you add that the decline started after the Google update in May, we can assume that a Google penalty has probably hit the site and it needs investigation and fixing.

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13. What are the Important SEO Metrics

Then we can see some quality SEO metrics and check how the competition is trending. With orange is the audited website and following its competitors.

seo metrics

The competition number one has a domain authority of 76, and that tells us that we are looking at a very strong domain. This domain and the one before the last show very high authority and will be strong competitors to outrank in the search.

There is another group around 30 to 50 with the website I audit traffic between them showing a value of 34. Their metrics are satisfactory as it is a relatively new domain and I do not see any issues for the time.

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14. Starting with the Technical SEO Audit

To summarize how they can start with SEO here is a table showing some initial actions to optimize the website.

technical seo audit

They can start with a technical audit like this one to make sure they have a solid foundation for growth. Addressing indexation concerns, response errors, duplicate content, website speed, and other stuff it will take two to four weeks.

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15. Content Marketing Touches More Traffic Channels

I intentionally left the content marketing for the end as I consider it an essential step towards populating the business message and driving leads.

Content marketing belongs to the top of the funnel (TOF) activities so not all referrals can be measured. Besides that, it is 100% necessary to run content marketing campaigns.

I understand that a business needs to present some data to justify the spending both internally and to its shareholders. So measuring the content marketing can be done via inserting tracking pixels into the content grouped by a campaign, by attributing the referrals to each marketing action, by monitoring the content shares, etc.

When the start-up looks into building a content marketing campaign we need a high-level view of the channels involved and what will be the impact on the other channels not used by a particular campaign.

If they run, for example, a YouTube campaign, they need to know that channels like the direct, the organic, and maybe the paid search will benefit from it. But they will not be able to measure the campaign attribution to those channels because its impact develops in time and visitors may come later to the business website when the cookie duration is over. That is why I classify content marketing into the TOF activities.

Now to plan an online campaign, I will reiterate that it all starts with understanding the customers, segmenting them to shaping a customized approach, taking into account the insights of the market, and then offering them content in different formats and platforms.

content marketing

They may want to write a press release, record a video, prepare a podcast or organize a webinar. Those are four types of content that can have the same topic but different format and publishing platform.

Remember that with each content piece they are looking to offer a solution or provide new knowledge or fulfill a need.

If they prepare content just for the sake of marketing, it will be inefficient. If the message sounds too promotional, their content will not differ from the related industry news. The startup needs to stand out from the crowd to succeed and to keep the readers/viewers engaged with the business message and the new brand.

Their content might also need localization into other languages so that they will need a separate budget for the translations.

Common content types are blog posts, press releases, videos, infographics, data maps and visualizations, calculators, social network postings, photos, webinars, polls, contests, educational or technical documents, etc.

The active content can be published on their properties, their website or external properties controlled by them, or distributed to other platforms by them or third parties.

The intent is as said earlier, to make their content readers/viewers interact with it either by doing an action they expect from them i.e. fill in a form, call the company number, visit the location, or share the content with their peers. If they take content marketing as a valuable tool to outreach and amplify their efforts, they will find the best way to do it.

Content is the best way to stay in touch with the German customers without contacting them directly.

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16. What are the Metrics that show Content Engagement

Let’s see how they are doing on social networks with their audience engagement. In the table, we find the second column the client website and the other three on the right its competitors.

content engagement metrics

Regarding the tweets there maybe an issue with the metrics, looking at Facebook likes the biggest competitor shows 11K. The same happens with its other metrics.

So, there is no coincidence that this opponent is so high all over our metrics. The competitor is strong again in social marketing.

That is also an opportunity for the start-up to copy the best practices and grow in areas where the other competitors show weak metrics.

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17. Social Media Marketing and Performance

In the social media channels there enough posting from the competition. Some are working with Facebook posts and relevant content to their solutions, one is publishing an article about how they succeeded in ranking number one on the App Store.

Besides the content that the start-up uploads on the website explaining their services, it also makes sense to reach the customers in other places with targeted content. Do they do that?

If we look at their social media postings, we find no engagement nor followers. I have researched their social accounts, and it seems that they are left without maintenance.

social media marketing

Their Twitter account dating since 2011, has only 59 tweets and a few followers. On Facebook, they have only one post, and their Linkedin business account offers no updates.

There is no need to talk about targeted content here so what the point of having accounts on social networks is?

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18. The Power of Video Marketing

I would like to elaborate about the last channel I have included in the marketing plan. I firmly believe in the power of video marketing, and YouTube offers a great resource to do something great.

They could run a True-View YouTube campaign and get a lot of views, completed views, and clicks with relatively low costs.

youtube marketing

About the content they can offer, it could be a promotional video or a how-to video informing on how to use more efficiently their paid service and get maximum results out of it.

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19. Measuring the Performance of our Marketing Plan

And now we need to talk briefly about the tracking tactics and the analytics. It is essential to track what we are doing and how we spend our budget.

Primary intervals to measure the growth can be Month-over-Month and Year-over-Year intervals.

Essential KPIs are:

  • Customer Acquisition (NC)
  • Customer Retention
  • Interactive Visits
  • Registrations
  • Registrations to Paid Accounts
  • Cost per Registration (CPR)

More KPIs to add Bounce Rate, Page Views, Device Types, Referrals, and others.

We measure the KPIs with the Last-click or Last-touch methodology.

We can have Google analytics as the statistics package, it is a good option and offers a free version. So we can set up targets and goals to monitor all conversion steps.

We should also connect Google Analytics with our paid campaigns running in Google Adwords. More opportunities we can find if we connect Google webmaster console to Google Analytics.

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20. Setting the Marketing Budget

And finally, it all comes down to how much money we need so speaking of the budget in 2017 a right mix will provide them the results they need for a start-up business.

A comprehensive marketing approach will elevate their lead generation and will introduce the company to its audiences.

Here are briefly some methods they can try and measure how successful they are:

  • Mobile Marketing
  • Affiliate Marketing
  • Paid Advertising (SEA)
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO
  • Retargeting
  • Landing Page Optimization
  • Social Media Advertising
  • YouTube Marketing
  • Webinars

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21. Scheduling Outreach Campaigns with a Marketing Roadmap

There are ideas but the channels referenced will suffice. We need to build a roadmap and a content calendar to help to execute the marketing plan.

So we start with an audience research within the first month, and then next month we optimize the landing pages, and within 60 days we can launch our marketing campaigns. Within the first 90 days, the proposed roadmap will start delivering leads.

marketing roadmap

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22. What is the cost of each Digital Marketing Channel

And here are the costs included in this marketing plan for our German Start-up.
Since they are planning to spend 200K a year, it is 50K per quarter. I take five main channels and work with them.

digital marketing budget

So we are looking for 120K to spend in Paid Search with 14K new customers and a $8.57 Cost per Registration (first conversion step).

Then we have organic search expected to deliver more customers with less spending and so on.

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25. What is the Expected Growth

The final screen shows the expectations from this marketing plan to complete the business case for approval by the management.

So we project a 200K spending for 12 months with a conversion rate of 1.67%. We can expect that we get 47K registrations to the free-trial and around 800 paid accounts.

expected growth

Calculating with an average of 49 dollars per month for a paid account we have 39K gross revenue per month. That is 470K per year, so the marketing plan will probably justify the spending for the first year.

This way they could start on the right foot when they hit the market with their service.

I hope you liked the plan and let me know your questions in the comments.
If you like my posts, please subscribe to my updates.

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About Ted Politidis

★ Search Marketer w/ a Masters Degree & 10 yrs in Digital Marketing ★ Have managed 6-digit Marketing Budgets ★ Google Certified Partner in: Mobile Sites; AdWords; Analytics; Mobile Ads; Video Ads; Display Ads; Shopping Ads; Digital Sales ★ Certified SEO by the University of California, Davis ★ Startup Mentor.

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