The Importance of Marketing Like a Startup (Even If You're Not)

Apr 27, 2016Blogging & Content, Marketing Strategy, SEO

With so many choices and channels, we have to approach marketing like a startup. The alternative to marketing focus is marketing chaos, and we just can’t have that, can we?


There are so many marketing channels, almost infinite technology options, and new ways to market sprouting up almost every day. Modern marketers must think like a lean startup founder or they’ll get bogged down in all the choices. Only the largest of brands with the deepest of pockets and largest of teams can afford to “dabble” in everything. The rest of us need to figure out how to market like a startup by defining what our marketing focus will be and zeroing in on being successful in those (limited) mediums.

If you’re a small to mid-sized business, you can’t afford to do everything – from a cost perspective and from a time perspective. You have to market like a startup founder, even if you’re not one. Below are my five keys to adjusting your marketing frame of mind.

1) Know your customer and meet them on their turf.

Let’s face it, chest-beating, blow horn marketing has gone the way of the dinosaur. It’s dead. As a modern marketer, you have to provide your customers with the information they demand, where they want it and on their terms. You simply won’t be able to accomplish this by marketing on every channel and medium available. My recommendation is to limit your focus to 3 to 5 channels. More than this will over-extend your teams.

2) Try to lean on “free” channels first.

Let’s face it, nothing is truly “free”, and that goes for anything in marketing as well. Free, in marketing terms, typically means that you can more easily perform most of the tasks required in-house. Take the inbound marketing example of a blog. You can have members within your organization take on content writing at a relatively low-cost (compared to other mediums), but that doesn’t make the channel free.

Your internal or external resources tasked with creating content could be doing something else for you, so at a minimum, there are opportunity costs. Free channels also tent to require an extended time investment to see returns. You likely won’t setup an Instagram account and immediately see traffic and sales. You have to keep at it – build up your presence, your audience and your brand in that channel and then you will see returns.


Regarding channel selection, here are a few tips:

  • Lean more toward channels you “own” – your website, blog, mobile application, etc. You have the most control over these channels and won’t run the risk of the game changing under your feet. In most cases, your website should be your digital marketing “hub”.
  • Choose your social media channels wisely. Consider your audience first – where are they and what do they prefer? Social media channels are usually best to provide amplification opportunities for your “owned” content. While most are “free”, even small paid spends can mean highly-targeted returns.
  • Be mindful of the content requirements for channels you choose. Can you easily produce content that your customer will respond to on the channels they prefer – your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc? If you don’t have answers to these questions, hire someone that can help you answer them.
  • Consider investment in industry events to gain exposure, find partnership opportunities, and network with movers. Event attendance and sponsorship is often an under-rated medium in today’s digital world.
Daniel Ruyter - Sitecore Marketing & Technology Pro

Sitecore Marketing Pro

I’m passionate about marketing and love the Sitecore platform and all the capabilities it provides. Learn more about me and my history with Sitecore and don’t hesitate to reach out to talk about Sitecore, digital marketing or any number of topics anytime!

3) Become an agile marketer.

In the startup world, time to market is crucial. The same goes for modern marketing – your marketing efforts should be quick to market because if you’re not first, you may as well be last in many cases. Long, drawn out efforts are costly and difficult to recover from if they don’t succeed.

Take the Build, Launch, Test, Iterate Approach

There are lessons to be learned in every success and failure of the past. Startups quickly figure out what’s working and build up successes and discard failures. Marketing teams can (and should) work in the same ways. If you’re not measuring how your efforts are performing, how can you improve? If you’re not making changes to your tactics, does that mean your marketing mix is perfect? Not likely!

Be willing and able to change directions with your efforts. An unexpected social media post may lead to a larger idea with huge potential. If you’re too stuck in a protracted strategy, you may miss opportunities along the way. Don’t be afraid to try ideas that are out in left field sometimes. They may be the ones that catch on simply because they’re different.

4) Earned media and influencers matter.

Startups understand the power of earned media and influencer marketing. Many startups often get on the map this way, in fact. Finding the right influencers or mentions via earned media can have a wildfire effect not achievable through traditional means.

Marketing through earned media and influencer marketing are often seen as more authentic and trustworthy than through other efforts. Any brand can tell you how great their products and services are, but when you’re hearing those messages from others (even if they’re paid to do so), this lends credibility. As an influencer or blogger, I won’t work with just anyone – there has to be a certain level of trust and respect there, and the vast majority of influencers work the same way. Influencer marketing is a two-way street where the brand’s reputation can also impact the influencer.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out to influencers and journalists–but do it the right way. Don’t ask for coverage. Provide value to them and let them decide how to cover your brand. Make no mistake about it, earned media isn’t “free”. It takes a lot of effort, outreach, connections and time. Don’t go out begging for coverage or you won’t get any. Provide value and acknowledge that this is a process that can ultimately benefit both the media outlet, influencer and brand in the end.

5) Eliminate negative customer service experiences.

Easier said than done, right? But it’s still true – good marketing can only go so far. You also have to have good products or services and good customer experiences. The customer’s experience is one of the biggest ways startups distinguish themselves from their competition.

The truth hurts – most companies feel they provide superior customer service, but many ultimately fall short from customer’s expectations. Understand and define the limits of your customer service best practices. You can’t please everyone, but you can build experiences that won’t leave customers disappointed.

The Story Behind the Photo

Orlando Wetlands Park - Christmas, FL

The featured image on this post was taken in a little-known wetlands area just east of Orlando, FL. Orlando Wetlands Park is a seasonal recreation area open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Orlando Wetlands Park has more than 20 miles of roads and woodland trails leading through marshes, hardwood hammocks and along scenic lakes. The most popular activities are bird-watching, nature photography, jogging and bicycling.

Orlando Wetlands Park - Christmas, FL

Are you an agile marketer?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and your experience with agile marketing and marketing like a startup. How do you accomplish what you need to do with limited budget and resources? What tips do you have for brands that struggle trying to do everything? Please leave a comment below or feel free to contact me with your thoughts.

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