Startups are always strapped for cash, especially when it comes to marketing. Budgets tend to lean towards product development, testing, and verification. However, marketing should not start at launch time. Much of the foundations of a solid digital marketing plan can be built with free tools and will cost less than the time of the employee or agency that puts them into place.
Here are the building blocks for a successful digital marketing plan.
Knowing Your Buyer
Deep customer profiles, or what marketing automation company HubSpot calls “buyer personas,” are the first building block of digital marketing. A buyer persona is not a demographic category. It is a detailed description of your target audience. Demographic information is included–age, job title, income, family status, etc. But you also need to know more. What do these people care about? What is important to them at work and in their personal lives? Who are they trying to please at work? What stresses do they experience? What kind of food and restaurants do they frequent? How and where do they socialize? Who or what do they trust? All of this information is critical for success with the next building block of digital marketing: SEO. HubSpot has free material you can use to develop buyer personas.
The second building block of digital marketing is search engine optimization. Optimizing your web pages and other online publishings for search is also foundational. Some 90 percent of buyers research online, doing 60 percent of their browsing before they decide to contact a company. Getting found and making a buyer’s short list is all about good SEO. Knowing your customer profile will help you develop keywords beyond the obvious ones for your industry. Most web building platforms (WordPress, etc.) have tools and plugins that walk you through the basics of SEO–the components of your web page that search engines read and rank. You can also use Google’s Keyword Planner to measure keyword use and assess the competitiveness around the search terms you want to rank for.
Content is king, if you haven’t heard yet, and represents the third building block of digital marketing. It is increasingly important to make sure that your content and your keywords are in sync, as search engines now carefully measure whether users “like” the content they get when they click on a link. Creating content that answers your buyers’ questions, helps them solve a problem, or educates them about your industry is far more likely to attract traffic than exaggerated, promotional content. People go online to solve problems, not to get sold. Your content should be designed to engage searchers in the problem-solving process, offering valuable information. The more carefully it is targeted to your customer profile, the more you will attract your ideal customer.
The fourth building block of digital marketing is creating calls to action for lead generation. Digital lead generation involves building landing pages with forms that allow people to sign up to receive more information. Usually, you need to offer something valuable in exchange for someone’s contact information–a blog or newsletter subscription, a white paper, e-book, how-to guide, or another piece of premium content. It is ideal to have multiple offers aimed to attract people at different stages in the buying process. An industry overview, for example, for someone who is just beginning to gather information; and a detailed comparison of competing solutions for people that are about to make a purchase. Most web platforms have form-builders or plugins that can be used to create forms for landing pages that allow you to start building a contact database.
Email is building block number five. As you grow your contact database, you want to keep in touch with your contacts on a regular basis. Email remains the best way to do this. No one likes spam, so don’t send it. Do send valuable information and offers. Marketing website Mail Munch found that 60 percent of marketers find email outperforms social networking. Develop a calendar and schedule of email messages–offers, news, and other information that will be valuable to your target audience. Consistency and quality are key to email marketing success. Free versions of tools like MailChimp and Constant Contact are good places to start. They also offer good advice about how to create emails that people will want to open. You can also use email to start building a social following.
Ok, these are the five building blocks of low-cost digital marketing for startups. You can do them all with internal resources and free tools, at least to start. By far the most important thing to consider is that success requires quality content, consistently published, designed to engage and assist your ideal customers. This is typically not quick and easy. Doing it regularly and doing it well will take time and you may wish to hire more resources or outsource efforts to an experienced agency.