Top 5 Marketing Strategies for Tech Startups

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Tech entrepreneurs today face both tough challenges and exciting opportunities alike. Global economic turmoil is forcing us to scale our startups faster than ever before, with less resource and even more moving parts - but, to cite some of the unicorns (and now household names) born out of the last recession: Airbnb, Uber, Pinterest, and WhatsApp are all shining beacons of hope that your business will be next in line - defined by the actions you take today.

So what are the most effective marketing strategies to get your business from scrappy startup mode to sophisticated scale-up?

From award-winning agency CEO, Stephanie Melodia, here are the top five that should be at the top of your list:

1. Customer obsession (yes, get obsessed!)

2. Laser focus (heard of the North Star Metric?)

3. Stay scrappy - quick wins & guerrilla marketing

4. Allow a margin for experimentation

5. Don't neglect brand-building

Let's dive in:

1. Get #OBSESSED by your customers

If the business is at least a year or so along its exciting journey, you'll have a good idea of exactly who your ideal customer really is. It's important to bear this in mind before we dive into listening to our target audience, because not all feedback is weighted equally. You can't (and shouldn't) make everyone happy all of the time - particularly at a lean startup where resources are thin. Identifying, defining, and prioritising your ideal client profile or ideal customer avatar is the key first step here.

Once we know this, it's time to get obsessed.

We all know demographic profiling which uses basics like age, gender, location, income level, etc. But deep-diving on your customer psychographics and user behaviour is what will help take your startup to the next level. This entails going deeper on their psyche, desires, fears, motivations, etc. And the best way to find out all of this? Speak - and LISTEN - to them!

If you're able to conduct qualitative market research with focus groups or 1:1 interviews, actively listen to words they use, see if there are any emerging patterns, subtext, or emotion to what they have to say. The listening can also be done digitally en masse too, using social media tools like Social Baker, Sprout Social, Pulsar, or BrandWatch.

The customer always knows more than you do, so pay attention.

2. Employ laser focus

Lean startups entering their next stage of growth are the masters of doing more with less. (A concept also known as "ephemeralisation.")

One way of keeping busy teams everyone focused is to agree on a single, North Star Metric. Coined by Sean Ellis, this is a simple and actionable way to align all your teams (not just marketing).

For the aforementioned traveltech unicorn, Airbnb, their North Start Metric is 'Number of Nights Booked.' For workplace comms app, Slack, it's 'Daily Active Users.' And for top blogging site, Medium, it's 'Number of Minutes Read.'

These are company-wide examples of singular metrics that sales, ops, product, and indeed marketing can all work towards.

3. Stay scrappy 

Yes, the garage has turned into a co-working space, the bean bags are being swapped for meeting rooms, and maybe there's a shirt in the mix with all the hoodies. The once-scrappy-startup is getting a little more sophisticated - which is GREAT.

But during these turbulent times (ugh, I hate that I just typed that), don't shy away from employing a bit of that entrepreneurial spirit by testing out some eye-catching guerrilla tactics or aiming for small but quick wins.

4. Allow a margin for experimentation

Whilst your marketing budget is surely being cut, ensure you still leave even a tiny percentage for experimenting. A good rule of thumb is to allocate 10% of your overall marketing budget to experimentation - whether it's on testing a new channel, trying out a new activity, or collaborating with an influencer you've never worked with before.

An element of tolerance that's within your risk profile allows you to continue to discover

Of course the exact plan will be shaped by the specific company's situation; if you're a larger business, this might mean you have a small pot of cash to carry out some light-touch brand activations. For smaller startups, simply adhering to your initial strategy, honouring your brand guidelines, and consistently executing with clarity is key. (In fact, that also goes for the larger brands too!)

An element of tolerance that's within your risk profile allows you to continue to discover - because what once worked for your marketing doesn't always mean it will work today or tomorrow (and there's actually less chance of that being true in today's tumultuous landscape).

By continuing to experiment, you set yourself up for longer-term success.

5. Balance your long-term brand-building

Last but not least, DO NOT neglect your longer-term brand-building.

When times are tough, it's completely understandable to default to survival mode and revert to the "acquisition-is-oxygen" mindset. We get it. In fact, reports have shown that while overall marketing budgets have been cut by an average of 18%, the proportionate amount dedicated to paid media (or direct response / performance marketing) shoots up by 20%.

What you neglect now will become obvious in the years to come. Those who can afford to continue advertising and building their brand will see increased market share as they are the first to mind for audiences when they are ready to buy. Use this time to build trust with your customers and drive advocacy through consistent marketing and excellent user experience.

The exact right mix of long-term and short-term thinking will, of course, differ from brand to brand. But if you can maintain some level of activity that's focused on both acquisition AND retention/brand building, you'll be in a much better position when things do eventually return to (somewhat) normal.

There you have it - the five most effective marketing strategies for ambitious tech startups. As we all continue to navigate these uncharted waters, remember to keep your head up and stay positive - we'll get through this together!


Named in the UK’s Top 20 Most Influential Female Founders by Startups Magazine, Stephanie Melodia is a self-made entrepreneur, Founder & CEO of award-winning agency Bloom, public speaker and podcast host. With work featured in the likes of The Independent, Sifted, and Forbes, Bloom’s clients have been named in the UK’s Top Startups - testament to the quality of the agency’s work. Stephanie lives in London with her partner, and sometimes visits her family in the Canaries.

                                                    Learn more about Stephanie's speaking availability and fees!

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