Digital Marketing 101: How to Grow Your Startup

Startups often fail because of poor marketing. In fact, CB Insights found that in 14% of startup failures, poor marketing was to blame. How can you, the startup founder, avoid this potential pitfall and leverage digital marketing to share your brand and accelerate growth?

Devise a Strategy

Before answering the "how" of digital marketing, entrepreneurs should ask who they are marketing to and why this audience might need their product or service. As CEO of Startup Professionals Martin Zwilling points out, digital marketing is "all about selling solutions (not technology) to real customers who have real needs and problems they want to be solved." By identifying who your customers are and how you will solve their problems, you'll be well on your way to marketing success.

Where to Start

For your strategy to succeed, it's important to find multiple means of effectively reaching potential and existing customers. Social media is an effective way to do this, given that a wide range of users can be reached at little to no cost. Creating and effectively sharing content that is unique and shareable is paramount.

The good news is that with the right content, you needn't make a significant investment in social media to reach a large audience. For instance, the app startup Mailbox posted a single one-minute video on social media to pique interest in their app. They then set up an online waiting list to restrict access to the app and let social media buzz do the rest. Within six weeks, Mailbox had over one million users signed up for their service.

However, as changes in social media are signaling a shift towards pay-to-play models, marketing investment is increasingly becoming indispensable to making full use of Facebook and Twitter for marketing.

Useful Tools:

  • Various content-creation companies can help you create compelling content. Scripted connects companies with vetted writers at competitive rates, and TapInfluence allows companies to tap into the audiences of digital influencers.
  • There is a range of free and paid tools to manage social media marketing. Some of the best among them are Sprout Social, which offers a management dashboard that gathers data for many social media platforms, and Nanigans, which is geared towards Facebook advertising. Facebook and Twitter offer their own portals as well.

Turning Views, Likes and Retweets into Revenue

Attracting interest is only one-half of the battle -- you also need to influence potential customers' decision-making processes in order to convert leads into sales and interest into upward growth for your startup. One possibility is to pursue conversion rate optimization (CRO), or "the art and science of getting people to act once they arrive on your website."

CRO involves techniques, such as A/B split testing, which seeks to analyze how various decisions made by a business can affect digital conversion rates. Such testing asks questions like "Does a green or red button lead to more sales per site visitor?" Such questions can be particularly useful for e-commerce startups, where cart abandonment rates can be as high as 68%.

Unfortunately, hiring a CRO professional may be prohibitively expensive for the average startup. But companies of any size can still take advantage of CRO principles. All entrepreneurs can informally pursue CRO by considering how they want customers to interact with their digital brand -- thinking about customer experience allows entrepreneurs to establish a stronger inbound purchase funnel that compels customers to make purchases.

Useful Tools for CRO:

  • MailChimp facilitates email marketing, an essential part of do-it-yourself CRO.
  • Optimizely provides digital testing in order to improve customer experience.
  • Mixpanel lets you measure what customers do on mobile and on the web by reporting actions, rather than page views.
  • Quarloo gives you a glimpse into why users are doing certain things on your website. 
  • Crazyegg provides a heat map of your website to show how users are clicking and scrolling. 
  • Unbounce provides a way to create and A/B test your landing page to boost conversions. 
  • Olark allows you to talk to customers and figure out why they are leaving your website. 
  • Adobe Target makes it easy to personalize experiences on your site and to segment audiences. 

By Seth Berk, Chief Marketing Officer at Dreamit