Ask the Expert: Scrappy Marketing for Consumer Startups

Alliance News, Ask the Expert |

This Ask the Expert was originally run in the Union Leader on October 30, 2022

Author: Jennifer Joyce, President, SpotOn Fence

How to market on a shoestring budget to get traction

You have a product. Now you need sales. But how do you do that when you have little to no marketing budget? Like everything you have probably done to get your startup going, you must be scrappy.

Marketing Channels: An Overview

There are many ways to reach customers, otherwise known as Marketing Channels. Different marketing channels have different amounts of reach. Reach is how many people see the marketing. You can think about channels in 3 distinct buckets:

  1. Owned – something like your website or your Facebook page that you own completely and have total control over. Marketing there is free. However, early on your owned channels may have little to no reach. 
  2. Earned – things like press hits or partnerships where the reach is generally free, but you have earned it either by how interesting your story is, the quality of your content, or bartering something like a partnership
  3. Paid – channels where you pay to advertise 

To minimize spending, you should focus on the first 2. If you do have a little bit of budget, you can test a few channels in #3, starting with ones where you pay for performance.

Content Marketing

The foundation of most scrappy marketing plans is content. The great news is that content can be free if your founding team can generate it. 

The most important thing about content is that it needs to be useful, unique, and as close to your business as possible. Tips for brainstorming:

  • Think about your target customer. What do they care about? What questions do they have? Do you have anything unique to say about these topics? 
  • Research your industry for areas of confusion or where there are gaps in information. Create content around this.
  • Figure out which keyword terms people are searching most related to your industry. Do you have something unique to say for those topics?

Get Other People to Do Your Marketing

You have probably heard of influencer marketing. It’s when people like Kim Kardashian post about a new mascara and suddenly thousands buy that mascara. If you know a Kardashian, go for it! 

If you don’t know a Kardashian, there are lots of other people who can help you out for free.

Are any of your family or friends good target customers? Tell them about your product, ask for the purchase. Ask them to post about their experience on their social media. 

Find people on social media that might be good target customers based on their lifestyle. Try to find people with followers between 1K-5K because they have some reach but they are not so big that they command a big fee. Most at this size will do it just to try your product. Authentically engage with their content, like & comment on their posts. Ask them if they would try your new product and give feedback. Many will post about it without being asked. If they don’t post, ask them.

Earn Your Marketing

Do you have a good story to tell? Is your product a huge leap in innovation? Is there something unique, about your founding story? If you have a good hook, then PR could be a good fit for you. 

I recommend using a PR expert, but you can do it yourself with perseverance and time. It’s a lot like fundraising. 

First, get your hook together. What is unique about your story? Develop your journalist contact list. Find the journalists that write about topics related to your hook. Engage with their Twitter & comment on their online articles. Once you understand what they cover, reach out to them via direct message or email. 

These hooks can be used to create unique content for another brand with a lot more reach than you. Your target customer loves X shoes. You are an expert at Korean cooking. Korean culture is trendy right now. You offer to write a blog post for the X shoes’ blog. They include it in their email newsletter. Suddenly you have reach to thousands of target customers.

Grow Owned Channels

At an early stage, your owned channels do not have any reach. These channels, however, will be extremely valuable if you can grow them. Work on this even before you launch your product. For social media, it’s important to focus only on 1 or 2 channels where your target customer spends time. If you try to do it all, you will fail. Also just reusing content that works well on one channel, will not work on another channel. Facebook is a very different experience than TikTok. 

For email, put an email pop-up on your website. You will have to give a small discount or something of value to entice customers to give you their email address.

GREAT content is what builds social media followers. The content needs to be entertaining or valuable in some way. Try to make your brand’s social media channel ‘known for something’. Make it the go-to place for X. I worked for a high-end beauty brand, and they made their social known for beautiful bathtubs. The social channel became a top place to get ideas for remodeling your bathroom. People who are seeking to have luxurious bathrooms are also the people using higher end beauty products. 

Giveaways are a great hack for growing your email list & your social media followers. Find bigger brands your target customer loves. Offer to organize the entire giveaway, create the creative, send the prizes to the winners. As the smaller brand, if you do all the work some big brands might bite. The requirements are that all participating brands contribute a free product & agree to share the giveaway with their customers in their email newsletter and on social media. To enter, customers provide their email or follow you on social. You will get thousands of new emails and followers. 

Valuable content can attract emails too. For example, my company had a pet first aid guide that people wanted so much they were willing to give us their email address for access. Is there something you can offer in exchange for an email?

Test Pay for Performance Marketing Channels

If you have a small budget, affiliate marketing is a great marketing channel to test because you only pay if you make a sale. The way it works is that a publisher markets your brand or puts it in a top 10 list and if any customers purchase from their links, you pay the publisher a fee. These days most of the websites that review products or rank the best products are in affiliate programs. Through the affiliate platform, you can find target websites and contact them. You can also search the top keywords for your industry. See who ranks for those keywords. Contact the sites and ask them if they want to join your affiliate program or if they will add you brand to the content on their site. For my current dog GPS fence company, this is our top performing channel. All the sites that review our industry are affiliates.

These are just a few of the scrappy ways you can market your brand when you have little to no marketing budget.

What are your favorite scrappy tactics?