Marketing Strategies for Startups That Work in 2021

There are very few things in life as easy as blowing your entire marketing budget over the course of a single week. Trust us – we’ve tried. And succeeded. 👑

But, if you’re a startup, you’re more likely to be looking to find something a bit more budget-friendly than that particular approach. And that’s perfectly fine.

Not only can you do a lot with $0 and some DIY, but you can actually start making a profit.

So, if you’re ready for lift-off, these are the marketing strategies for startups that are most likely to help you get your business off the ground in 2021.

Figure out What You Need to Do

“Getting your business off the ground.”

If you squint hard enough, the phrase makes the whole thing sound like you’re a 420-loving entrepreneur launching a rocket ship into space just for the fun of it. (You know who we’re talking about).

And the thing is, that’s what running a startup is like. It takes a ton of prep, a boatload of fuel, and there’s always a slight possibility that your spaceship is going to end up at the bottom of the Indian ocean.

But on the chance that everything does work out – well, you’ll be out of this world!

However, none of that is possible if you don’t have a clear goal in mind. Whether you’ve got a $100 or $10,000 to work with, you have to know exactly where you’re headed.

Before you start applying any of the following marketing strategies for startups think about what you want to achieve.

Is it getting the word out about your business? Do you have to start making money ASAP? Or do you have the time to build up a reputation?

Keep in mind that your marketing goals don’t have to be generalized. In fact, you’ll do much better if you set specific targets.

Perhaps you want to hit 5,000 monthly website visits by the end of 2021. Or, you might focus on conversion rates, aiming for 4.5% at the height of the shopping season in November.

But while your end goal may be to achieve impressive results, don’t make the common mistake of making it your only objective.

Instead, map out the road to success with a robust marketing dashboard. That way you’ll have a clear idea of all the stops along the way and won’t become frustrated when your 15 Instagram posts don’t instantly bring 10k followers. (Just sayin’).

Do the Research

Now that you know what you want to achieve, you might think that you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. But wait! You’re not there yet.

To actually succeed with a marketing strategy you have to do some strategizing first. And that means knowing what you’re up against.

While the “spray and pray” approach might work well enough in first-person shooter games (you know, if you’re playing against 12-year olds), it’s hardly going to bring you the results you’re after in marketing. The best thing that can happen is that you don’t waste too much money.

Before you pick the tactics that appeal to you do yourself the favor of collecting some data:

  • Who is it that you should be targeting?
  • Where does your audience hang out online?
  • What type of post do they respond to?
  • What is your competition doing?
  • Are they missing any opportunities?
  • What topics should you build your authority on?

Collecting all of this information is going to take time. But think about it this way: it’s much more resource-friendly to know who you’re targeting and how you should do it than to blindly follow trends that offer zero value to your startup.

Get Started With Content Creation

via GIPHY

Content is king.

And that means you’ve got to invest in it.

According to Nielsen, content consumption in March 2020 was up a staggering 215% compared to the same month of the previous year.

And even though people are spending a bit less time glued to their screens in 2021, this data goes to show just how much potential content marketing can offer to a startup.

Whether you decide to write blog posts, make YouTube videos, record a podcast, or start posting some of those TikToks (that all the grown-up companies are trying not to be cringe-y at) is going to be all up to you. Well, all up to your target audience, to be precise.

The important thing, however, is that you do it right.

Not sure what right means? Here are a few rules that’ll help:

  1. Optimize for SEO, but don’t do keyword stuffing.
  2. Match search intent by doing your research and providing value.
  3. Be consistent – not just with your posting schedule, but with your voice and visual branding as well.
  4. Distribute! Link to your content on forums and community sites, send out a weekly newsletter, share on Twitter, adapt for Instagram Stories. There’s so much you can do, even with a basic 700-word blog post.

Optimize (the 💩 Out of) Your Landing Pages

OK, so you’ve got the ball rolling, and you’ve published a bunch of content that’s attracting eyeballs and getting you traffic. But did you do everything there is so that it actually pays off?

You see, a landing page (no matter how pretty it looks) won’t do you any good if it doesn’t convert. That means you need to make sure you give it the best chances of fulfilling its purpose.

Want to make sales? Make that “Add to cart” button really stand out.

Looking for more potential customers? Include a lead-generation element, like this one right here: smash.vc/apply/, on the page. (See what we did there? 🤓)

Of course, to really win at the whole optimization thing and ensure your pages rank high on SERPs, you’ll also have to listen to what Google wants. According to their November 2020 announcement, that’s boosting the user experience by paying attention to:

  • Loading speed
  • Interactivity
  • Visual stability
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Safe browsing
  • HTTPS
  • No intrusive ads

Spend Some Money On Ads

When you’re a startup business leader looking for budget-friendly marketing strategies (yes, we know budget-friendly = free in most people’s minds), your initial reaction may be to delay PPC ads as much as possible.

But that’s where you’re making a mistake.

From our experience paid advertising makes for a winning way to test and improve your marketing strategies.

For example, you can bid for search phrases and track bounce rates to see whether you’re successfully meeting user intent.

Or, if you’re not sure about your site’s design or copy elements, you can use PPC to drive enough traffic to get relevant results out of your A/B tests.

You could even keep an eye on your search terms report. This way you can see whether your ads are ranking for any keywords bringing in clicks and high conversion rates, but that you still haven’t written content for.

And, the fact that you can always retarget the people who clicked on your ads and visited your landing pages is just an added bonus. After all, it often takes multiple impressions from initial contact to sale.

Have Your Customers Do Your Work

If you’re looking for foolproof marketing strategies for startups that work in 2021, why not try building customer relationships on trust?

Consider this: what will it take for consumers to see your business as trustworthy?

In addition to providing an exceptional product/service and avoiding false advertising, you might find that supporting your claims with social proof might just work well.

Collaborate with microinfluencers (yes, they’re probably a better fit for your startup than a celebrity).

Encourage existing customers to leave reviews or tag you on their social media posts.

Repost user-generated content on your profiles. Or, even better, make it a part of your website.

Show your transparent practices by including a bit of BTS on your social media channels.

Add a testimonials section to your homepage. (Just do a better job of picking what reviews to display than the guys over at Juice Market).

Predict & Adapt to Consumer Needs

One of the best things you’ve got going for you as a startup is that you’re likely to have more leeway than your well-established competition.

That is, if you don’t have a marketing strategy as of yet, you can easily do everything it takes for it to be the most advanced one in your industry.

Have we lost you? OK, let’s back up for a moment.

Digital marketing is advancing at a rapid pace. And things are likely to get even more exciting over the next couple of years. While you could spend your resources on doing what everyone else is at the moment, instead you could try to look ahead.

For example, in addition to optimizing your content for voice search, you could also start thinking about what’s coming next. Apple, for example, is developing AR glasses that’ll allow users to browse the web from right from their face. (Wait, that sounds weird). So, if you’re selling physical products, now is a good time to get those 3D images sorted.

Or, if you’re looking for things that can start bringing in profits right away, why not make use of the shopping feature in Instagram Reels?

Piggyback Off Of Someone Else’s Authority

Sure, your startup may not be making waves (yet). But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worthy of people’s attention.

And what better way to grab that attention than to get media mentions (for free)?

Those “As seen on [insert authoritative media website here]” stickers really do work, and learning how to score those backlinks takes around 10 minutes with this guide our team wrote over at Smash Digital.

Alternatively, you can set up an affiliate program that makes your brand attractive to bloggers and influencers. Or, if getting featured in The Wirecutter isn’t your thing, you can try collaborating with brands whose target audience coincides with your own.

To ensure these backlinks and referrals pay off, you’ll want to make it really easy for early adopters to choose you as their preferred brand. That means you should consider minimizing the risk associated with purchasing from your brand – whether with free trials, a freemium subscription model, or even with a generous returns policy.

Wrapping Up

The great thing (our favorite thing, to be honest) about digital marketing is that it can be mind-bogglingly effective – even on a bootstrapped budget.

But, while it offers awesome potential, it’s also easy to get lost.

That’s why you need to make sure that you’re not just doing everything out there, or even worse, wasting resources by blindly following trends. You have to think good and hard about what makes sense for your brand.

If you’re ready to do some critical thinking and put your money where it counts, you can get started right away. Just don’t forget to track your results and adjust your approach accordingly.

 

Nick

Nick

Investors in
Bootstrapped Businesses

We take minority ownership positions in “lifestyle businesses”.
We’re not VC’s, but partners for the longterm.

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