When you’ve created a great product or service, you need to tell the world about it.
But with so many ways to get the word out and competitors chasing you, what’s the best marketing strategy to invest in without spending a fortune?
During our recent Sifted Talks, we asked our panel how founders should build a brand with little money. Our experts were:
- Alice de Courcy, CMO of the sales acceleration platform Cogism
- Shira Feuer, CMO of high-end beauty brand Trinny London
- Tricia Miller, Vice President, EMEA Marketing of Twilio Customer Engagement Platform
- Gareth Nettleton, vice president of marketing at Austrian crypto platform Bitpanda
Here’s what we learned.
1/ Start from the first day… or the second?
It’s never too early — or too late — to think about building your brand. But Miller said it’s something founders should really think about from day one.
She said startups need to start by thinking about what they stand for and what experience they want to create for their customers. Every early decision – from the products they create to the marketing copy – contributes to their brand, even if they don’t consciously try to.
But, Nettleton said, startups needed to prove they could retain a customer before they started investing in marketing. He said founders shouldn’t spend a lot of money until they feel their product fits the market and is secure.
“At the very beginning, the brand is the product… Whether you’re building a product or writing marketing titles, you reflect the brand. You need to understand that you are building a brand from day one. You don’t need to invest in deep teams immediately, a brand is something you build as you start to scale, but don’t take too long” — Gareth Nettleton, Bitpanda
2/ Spending time not money
When starting out, most businesses have a limited budget to spend on marketing. But, said de Courcy, adversity breeds innovation; startups should take advantage of their small size to experiment with marketing strategies.
It’s a bit like throwing spaghetti against the wall; Miller said you have to try a lot of things to find what works for you and your brand. And while testing all the different experimental channels and platforms (have you heard of TikTok?) saves money, it takes time.
Nettleton agreed and said there were no quick wins in building a brand. Founders need to ask themselves what their product does and who it is for, and then pursue those customers.
“What are the non-scalable things that can give you an unfair competitive advantage? When it looks like you’re David versus Goliath but you have first mover advantage, you’re more agile, you can get things done faster. Identify these things and activities” —Alice de Courcy, Cogism
3/ Focus on the community
Nettleton said that when he worked for fitness app Strava, they never spent money on big campaigns. Instead, they relied on the community growth of people telling their friends about it. Miller said Twillo took a similar approach and focused on developers.
Nettleton pointed out that most tech giants have grown using a community growth model. He said founders should think about what parts of the product are best for users when their friends are also users. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising and founders should make it easy for people to tell their friends about their product.
“When you don’t have a lot of money, you need to know where your tribe is…and get those referrals because in the beginning, especially if there’s a community aspect to your offering, that can be more valuable than trying to figure out how to get people on Google’s paid search” — Tricia Miller, Twillo
4/ Don’t forget the PR
At Strava, Nettleton said PR is one of the best marketing tools. The platform generated a lot of data and information, which they were then able to turn into stories and wait for the press to bite. It was an effective tactic to use when entering new markets.
But Miller added that hiring a PR firm doesn’t mean people will care about your story. You need to make sure that what you want to share is newsworthy and that the PR team can translate what’s happening in your business into everything that’s happening in the world.
De Courcy said when considering an outside PR firm, it’s important to remember that you’re paying for the relationships. Founders need to make sure the person they’re working with has the right contacts to fit into your business.
Feuer said in the past that she’s worked with tech founders who didn’t understand the value of PR because they couldn’t measure it like SEO. But public relations is an invaluable tool when you’re trying to scale without a lot of money.
“There needs to be some level of intuition, belief and understanding of consumer behavior and it’s not just the detailed metrics that you can measure every time. That can be hard to accept, but if you want to start to build a brand early, you have to keep that in mind.” – Shira Feuer, Trinny London
5/ Get your content right
Creating content, like blog posts or videos, can be a great way to win and retain customers on a budget.
Feuer said founders need to think about the purpose of content and measure it. For Trinny London, for example, she creates a lot of content for entertainment, for people to engage with and share with their friends. There’s no point in creating content for the sake of it – according to Feuer, it should add value and achieve goals.
De Courcy said you need to make it easier to consume and share content, and in particular to remember that PDF formats don’t work efficiently and users shouldn’t have to fill out forms before watching videos.
Nettleton said Bitpanda uses content to acquire customers, but it needs to be paired with an SEO strategy.
“You have to start with the scientific side. What are people looking for? What questions do we think we can help people answer? Then you build your content from the skeleton of a great SEO strategy…content that you think is relevant and should be created, may not have that demand” – Nettleton
Do you like it and want more? You can watch the full subdued discussions here: