by Allison Conkright Engel, Dell Center for Entrepreneurs
Marketing at a new startup is, no doubt, a daunting task.
While big-name companies sit on a large budget — allowing them to advertise across multiple mediums and reinforce their message through constant exposure like Sprint’s Framily plan — you face the dilemma of limited resources.
And while brand recognition allows big companies a succinct, creative message because they can rely on viewers’ pre-existing knowledge of their brands, you are tasked with establishing who you are and why you’re valuable to customers.
So how can your small company compete with the big players who flood the market with their seemingly unlimited resources? It’s simple: strategy.
Balance as a Strategy.
Marketing at a small business is a tradeoff. With restricted funds, you have to confirm that you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck. Here are three factors to consider when planning your marketing strategy:
Time: You have to weigh your time and money. It’s like cleaning your house: You can either pay someone to do it for you or take the time to do it yourself. Prioritize your time and money to see where your business can trim the fat in both areas.
Reach: You have to balance your time and investment with the efficiency of your marketing strategy. For example, if you spend multiple days writing and polishing a blog post that only garners 25 views, you’re probably not using your time wisely.
Targeting: Is your advertising reaching your desired audience? With low-cost marketing, business owners sometimes sacrifice hyper-targeted messaging for a broader reach. Make sure proficiency isn’t costing you in the long run.
When you implement marketing initiatives that don’t measure up to these standards, you can easily waste both your limited time and resources.
For example, I often see companies offer to donate money if they receive a certain number of “likes” or retweets. While contributing to a worthy cause is admirable, the vehicle and call to action attached to this strategy are misguided. You want people to genuinely like your brand and engage with your message, and fans you gather through unrelated gimmicks won’t grow your business in the long term and could actually harm your company’s reputation.
Bargain Ideas That Work.
You don’t have to shell out a big-brand budget or rely on cheap ploys to get the most out of your marketing efforts. You simply have to allocate funds in the right places. Here are four ideas that can help you get the word out about your business on a shoestring budget:
1. Capitalize on Social Media.
This is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to market your brand if you do it right. Make sure you have a content strategy in place, and don’t post carelessly. Instead, establish your presence, interact with your community, and be active.
Virgin America is a great example of this. When it launched its Los Angeles-to-San Francisco service, I tweeted my appreciation for the in-flight entertainment, and I almost immediately received a reply. Since that interaction, I try to fly with Virgin whenever possible.
2. Attend Relevant Events.
Conferences are a great place to market yourself and your company. Look at the attendee list beforehand to identify key people you can network with. Although conferences can be pricey, networking opportunities are incredibly valuable for a young startup. Booking early and planning ahead can also help you save money on flights and hotels.
3. Create Branded Merchandise.
You may not be able to afford a billboard in Times Square, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have real estate to work with. Wearing a T-shirt with your company’s name and a memorable blurb printed on it is an instant conversation starter and an easy way for people to identify you and your team.
4. Produce Valuable Content.
Blogging, tweeting, and writing are powerful ways to spread the word about your brand. Find your medium, and create content on industry-specific topics. Don’t limit yourself to the written word, though. Visual content like an infographic is highly shareable, and it helps establish your industry voice.
One startup that does a great job of marketing on a budget is Speek. Founder Danny Boice takes every speaking opportunity he gets, building his credibility as a thought leader and allowing him to authentically promote his business. The team wears company T-shirts and gives off a fun, relaxed vibe, which makes you want to work with and evangelize them.
Speek’s exposure shows that marketing at a small company ultimately comes down to solid strategy, creativity, and hard work. And an approach like this is easy to emulate in your own startup. You don’t need a large budget or big brand recognition; you simply have to have a smart plan in place.
Allison Conkright Engel leads global marketing and operations for the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs. Prior to Dell, Allison worked for various startups, leading their Southwest expansion efforts. She has more than 15 years of experience in media and marketing and has worked for several iconic brands. Connect with Allison on Twitter.