How to Develop a Cost-Effective Marketing Plan for Startup Success

Growing a startup isn’t easy. In fact, 90% of startups will ultimately fail, and 70% of those companies will fail between years 2-5.

No matter how you look at it, marketing is essential for startups to get their products or services off the ground. And part of those marketing efforts includes a well-researched marketing plan. With it, you’ll attract and acquire new customers, build brand awareness, gain visibility, and pave the way for sustainable growth.

Writing a startup marketing plan helps companies define their target audience, set goals, and outline strategies to reach those goals to fuel growth.

But first, here’s everything you need to know about a marketing plan.

What is a Marketing Plan?

A marketing plan is a formalized plan that helps define your target audience, set clear goals, and outlines strategies to reach those goals.

Creating a startup marketing plan is an important (and essential) step for launching and growing a business, and serves as a roadmap to reach your marketing and business objectives. It also designates tasks for a specified period of time.

Generally, marketing plans can be developed for different timeframes, though the length of time varies depending on the specific needs of the business. Most plans are written in the range of 1-5 years, though startups may be on the shorter side.

Why a Startup is Different From Other Businesses

There are many differences between startups and later-stage businesses, which can affect how you approach a marketing plan.

  • Limited Resources: Compared to an established business, startups have limited resources. As a result, your marketing plan will likely include cost-effective strategies to get the greatest return on investment from a small budget.

  • Limited Brand Awareness: When marketing a startup, you build brand awareness from scratch. Your marketing plan will focus on ways to introduce the brand to your audience.

  • Going Niche: Startups often need to start with a niche market or a smaller segment of a larger market to gain traction. Your marketing plan should reflect this strategy.

  • Rapid Growth: Startups need to accelerate their growth and marketing can be a big part of that (see growth marketing). Marketing is pivotal in customer acquisition to prove your concept and attract investors. At the same time, marketing strategies may prioritize customer acquisition and lead generation.

  • Adaptability: Startups are more agile compared to established brands. In terms of marketing, this means they’re open to testing marketing channels and messages. Often, a marketing plan that’s shorter in duration can help evaluate which strategies work more quickly and effectively.

Why Startups Fail

Startups fail for a variety of reasons. Before creating your marketing plan, knowing the common pitfalls of startups can help you plan and grow your company.

Credit: Image via CB INSIGHTS

Credit: Image via CB INSIGHTS

How to Write a Killer Marketing Plan for Your Startup

Ready to get started with a marketing plan for your startup? Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate and develop a plan for your company:

Know Your Direction

Your startup’s executive summary provides an overview of your company, its mission, and the purpose of the marketing plan. Knowing the foundation and direction of your startup will help set the groundwork for a marketing plan and highlight your unique value proposition and key objectives.

Research Your Audience

Have a clear understanding of who your target audience is. Know your ideal customers’ needs, pain points, and behaviors, and how they relate to your product or service.

Marketing helps position your startup within your industry or niche, and helps craft your message to reflect this. You’ll want to hone in on a specific audience that will most likely pay for your product or service, so conducting research is key.

Set Your Goals

Determine the length of your plan and use SMART goals outlined in your marketing plan.

  • SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound goals. These should align with your overall business objectives.

  • Examples of marketing objectives include increasing brand awareness, acquiring a certain number of customers, or achieving a specific revenue target.

Determine Your Budget

The marketing budget you decide on will depend on your revenue, funding, and marketing goals. Pre-revenue startups will likely have a limited budget for marketing which can make it challenging to improve customer acquisition, which every startup needs. Your budget should be sufficient to reach the goals you set in your startup marketing plan, but also weigh heavily on no-cost and low-cost marketing strategies. 

Choose Your Marketing Strategies

Outline the strategies you’ll use to achieve your marketing objectives. These may include:

  • Content marketing

  • Digital advertising

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

  • Social media marketing

  • Email marketing

  • Influencer partnerships

  • PR and media outreach

More ideas on marketing strategies are featured later in the blog. 

Gather Feedback 

Marketing often involves direct interaction with customers, either online or in-person. Feedback from your efforts can provide valuable insights for product improvement, feature development, and enhancing the overall customer experience.

For startups, particularly early-stage, marketing can be used to gather feedback from consumers. This allows founders to make informed decisions about which strategies and messaging to use moving forward. 

Make Updates 

Test, track, and evaluate. Measure the performance of your marketing and make updates to your plan as needed. When you’re in startup mode, update your marketing plan often and review your strategy and messaging to optimize results. You’ll also want to make adjustments to your sales strategies, priorities, and channel mix. What’s working and what’s not? 

Proven Marketing Strategies for Startups 

Here are cost-effective measures you can use for your startup’s marketing plan.

  1. Develop your messaging
  2. Content marketing
  3. Social media
  4. Video marketing
  5. Build partnerships
  6. Get featured in a publication
  7. Public speaking
  8. Answer forum questions
  9. Use your personal brand
  10. Write a guest post
  11. Start a podcast
  12. Host an event
  13. Donate to a worthy cause

1. Develop Your Messaging

Your messaging is important and should reflect market positioning with your industry. People want to know how your product or service helps them solve their problem or need. Make sure  your message differentiates your startup from established competitors so you can carve out a niche within your designated industry. 

2. Content Marketing

Content is a very ROI-effective strategy to invest in. Use SEO to optimize online content, including blog articles, whitepapers, podcasts, videos and images. Find the best keywords your audience naturally uses to search for the products or services you sell, and create valuable content that your audience wants to read. Do your homework to see what that is.

3. Social Media

Social media marketing can be a great way to build up your audience and keep them engaged.

Test and promote your content on channels that make the best sense for your audience and startup. Experiment to see what works and remember to monitor what your competition is doing. You don’t need to be on every channel; start small, post consistently, and grow your audience. 

4. Video Marketing

An effective approach to demonstrate your product, solution, or service is to use video marketing. Video allows startups to communicate their mission, values, and vision, all in a visually engaging and emotionally compelling way. Short videos under two minutes work best on all social channels.

A few ideas:

  • Use video to tell your story. People are drawn to stories, so use video marketing to tell the story of your startup.

  • Produce a behind-the-scenes look or series about your startup to generate interest and build buzz.

  • Create a video highlighting the unique features and benefits that differentiates you from the competition.

5. Build Partnerships 

Partner with an aligning brand (one who shares the same audience but doesn’t compete) to increase your brand awareness. Partnerships may include collaborations with events, onsite or online promotions, webinars, podcast or book tours, learning series and more.

6. Get Featured in a Publication

Building relationships with major publications is an effective way to jumpstart your marketing. Get to know editors, bloggers, and influencers, and interact with their content on social media. When the time is right, introduce them to your company and pitch them on the products and services you offer. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Creative, Outside-the-Box Strategies for Startup Founders

Here are some strategies that startup founders and entrepreneurs can use to market their companies. 

7. Public Speaking

Founders and members of startups can speak at events as a way to boost their reach and build expertise in their field. Consider speaking at an in-person or online event about startups, or the industry your company operates in. When you’re in front of a room, people naturally assume you’re an expert. Be that expert and use this opportunity to fuel social media engagement, networking, and media outreach.

8. Answer Questions on Forums

Monitor social media sites like Facebook, Twitter/X, and LinkedIn to answer questions people have related to your product or service. Other sites like Reddit or Quora have extensive forums open to the public and provide an opportunity to hear what’s on people’s minds. You can repurpose Q + A to build content or speaking ideas – and you may just find a new competitor (or lead) in the chatter. 

9. Lean on your Personal Brand

When you develop a strong personal brand, you cultivate an online following through content and networking. Use your personal social media channels as a built-in audience to piggyback your startup. Test the waters and monitor what content is favored to glean what your audience is most interested in.

10. Write a Guest Post

Think about a guest post for either entrepreneurship sites or blogs, publications, or association newsletters. Guest posting isn’t just about promoting your startup, but providing value for a particular audience, business or organization. Being published helps to establish yourself as a trusted authority, and increases your like, know, trust, and believability factor. 

11. Start a Podcast

Launching a podcast as a startup founder can be a fantastic way to build your personal brand, connect with your target audience, and share insider information about your industry or niche. If you’re time crunched, reach out to podcast hosts to see if they’d feature you as a guest. Again, this content can be shared on social media and used as part of your media kit

12. Host an Event 

Whether it’s in a co-working space or your own office, consider hosting an in-person event. It can be informal, like a social hour for entrepreneurs and startups, or more of a formal event, like a product demonstration or Q&A session. Promote on social and create FOMO (fear of missing out). 

Charitable giving impacts the lives of others and strengthens your connection to the local community. Donating to a cause doesn’t always mean you need to make a financial donation. Instead you and your team can donate time, knowledge, or expertise to a school or organization. Promote what you’re doing on social media, and as part of a press campaign. Take photos to document your participation and use as you like, to gain media attention.

Closing Out: Marketing Plans for Startups to Grow and Scale

While startups may have a lot on their plate, marketing shouldn’t be pushed aside. Investing in the resources to research and develop a marketing plan for your startup can help your company grow and scale. Plus, it’s a detailed roadmap to follow, one that you can tweak, every step of the way.

Want more ideas for your startup? Contact Robin Samora, Boston-based marketing & PR consultant. With over 20 years of experience, she has guided entrepreneurs and founders to create and develop marketing plans to grow their startups, gain visibility, and make the money they deserve.

Get started here.

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Robin Samora

MARKETING & PR EXPERT
As a small business owner for the last 20 years, I’ve gained experience, wisdom, insight, and knowledge to help you market yourself and your brand at a fraction of the cost. My focus is to use the same PR and promotional strategies used by bigger brands, and personalize them to fit your needs and goals.

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