In their book, “Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers,” authors Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares interviewed more than 40 founders about the tactics they used to gain traction online and offline.
Defining traction as the sign that your business is taking off, the resounding advice offered in the book was that traction is everything when it means getting a startup to the next stage and turning it into an established business.
These 18 tips involve the top online channels, platforms, and tactics that can get your startup the traction it needs:
Related Article: Online Marketing Basics for Start-Ups
1. Grow Your User Base with Viral Marketing
This is a highly effective way to add users—by having your existing users do the work for you—of sharing what you have to offer with others. Many companies that are now successful used this tactic, including Airbnb, PayPal, Dropbox, Uber, Snapchat and Pinterest.
These users are highly aware of those that would find your product or service beneficial for solving a problem they may have, maybe even more so than you would, so it makes sense to let friends tell friends, family tell family, and others tell others who need your product or services and who will in turn tell their list or group.
2. Get the Message to the Media with Public Relations Tactics
Although it may seem like a traditional offline tactic, online public relations works because it more effectively targets those reporters and bloggers that are interested in what you have to offer.
The online platforms for disseminating press releases about your startup and offerings also allows you to reach a larger audience in a shorter time, saving you resources while still working toward building valuable media relationships that can share your message in various outlets.
3. Advertise Directly to Customers through Search Engine (and Experience) Marketing to Help Them Find You
If your potential customer base is already looking for what you are offering but do not realize you exist, it makes sense to be able to display an ad in their search results so they can see you are there, that you have a website where they can buy what they need.
Google AdWords is still proving that they offer a significant return for your SEM investment.
4. Get Noticed with Social Ads on Social Networks
While it may not seem that people are on social networks to look at ads, they do notice them and can be influenced to click on that ad to take them directly to what you are offering. The social networks, such as Facebook, have used the available data to position social ads on certain member pages that align with their interests and search histories.
Make sure you are mobile ready. Startups that are now successful that have used this tactic include Zynga.
5. Develop a Targeted Search Engine Optimization Strategy to Push Your Website to the Top of Search Listings
In order to grow your user base, you need to appear as close as possible to the top of search engine results for a potential customer’s search. The more you do this, the more likely you are to find the right customer and continue converting consumers who are looking for what you provide to get that traction.
Companies like Searchmetrics are focused on providing you with expertise in this area. I use them to help develop titles.
6. Create Relevant and Have-to-Have Content Marketing
You can build traction by being helpful to the audience you are trying to get. That means supplying them with solid advice, action plans, data and information, and solutions rather than just trying to sell them something. That means feeding your audience satisfying content that they can digest and use to fuel their lives. Relevant and personally helpful advice has to be continually delivered because the audience gets and stays hungry if you give them something that tastes really good.
There are considerable content marketing tools available to help you facilitate this marketing solution.
Related Article: Walking the Walk: Content Marketing Do's & Don'ts
7. Don’t Assume Email Marketing No Longer Works
Surprisingly, this traction channel produces a lot for startups in terms of ROI, including successful companies that were once startups like Groupon, Fab, and Zappos. Email marketing delivers quick and relevant information to an audience that does not want to be disturbed. If they are interested, they will let you know, if not, they won't. Period.
Email is a somewhat non-intrusive way to get in front of the customer since they are most likely in their email boxes every day looking for something they actually want to read. Many companies are available to help you with email, including MailChimp, iContact and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
It's also a big factor that helps you compete with large businesses.
8. Use Social Media to Reach Your Audience
Traction is about building relationships, and, to form those relationships, you have to go to your audience, which is now primarily on social media, especially if you are focused on consumers. Even B2B relationships are often now formed on professional social networks. Once you find them on social networks like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram and more.
Then you need to start a conversation, offering topics and information, listening when they respond and then responding by asking questions or acknowledging their input. We need connection and your audience will stay with you this way and then more will come.
9. Use Blogs to Inform and Engage
Blogs continue to be popular for their ability to provide concentrated information in bite-sized pieces that are easy to digest for the reader. You can easily build a following with your blog if you focus on information that they get excited about it because it helps them solve a problem. They may even want to share your blog with others.
Blogging software like Blogger and WordPress offer a user-friendly way to get up and running with an engaging blog.
10. Attract Attention with Video
People are accustomed to seeing film presentations more so than reading, so a short video piece that you can use across all channels is an effective tool.
These sound bytes or short vids will most likely get shared with others, returning to that viral tactic and producing greater traction. Look to companies like Kaltura, ViMP, and Limelight to help you create, manage, and launch video content that gets you traction.
11. Leverage the Power of Affiliate Marketing
This is an incremental way to build traction but it all counts toward the big picture. It’s a performance-based system for getting the leads and awareness you need to get your startup’s name out there among your target audience.
AffiliateTraction, Amazon Associates and Clickbooth are just some of the companies that you can partner with to build an affiliate marketing program.
12. Continue to Build a Following with Advocate Marketing
Similar to viral marketing, advocate marketing has emerged, which leverages the voice of your existing customer to attract a wider base and get that traction you are seeking. This includes everything from having them write reviews, build buzz and share information about your company in exchange for rewards.
Look to companies like Influitive, Zuberance and GYK Antler.
13. Keep Your Website Fresh
Don’t let your website flounder and die a sorry death by never refreshing or revamping it. If you do, this will give the impression to your existing customers that you are just as dead behind the scenes of that website.
Instead, use your main marketing tool in new ways with different graphics and content as well as new landing pages to remind your audience that you are there, and you know how to stay current, pivot and refresh.
Related Article: Design It Yourself: Website Platforms To Make You Shine
14. Join Forums and Communities
By joining forums and communities in your industry that attract your target audience, you are actively involving yourself in the current conversations related to what you are doing and making. Those persons in these communities and forums will see that you are contributing your knowledge, that you are giving back, and that you are concerned enough to take the time out to be involved in these discussions.
You can search for these online groups by your industry, business segment or related problems tied to that industry.
15. Put Your Brain to Work with Thought Leadership
While it may seem early in the game to use this as a tactic to get traction, today’s media likes to hear from entrepreneurs and those in the trenches who are trying to create the next big thing.
Reporters are also always looking for industry information and story angles, so you can help make their job easier. By providing quotes for articles or serving as a guest contributor, you can get noticed and grab attention for your business. It just requires gathering research on the reporters that cover your space and follow through to let them know you are there to provide information when they need it.
For example, my friend Deepak Upadhyaya from Kalptree Energy has established himself as a thought in an industry that seems un-sexy by speak conferences and contact every reporter in his industry to offer help with topics they may be having. This has established him as a thought leader in the space and helped countless people.
16. Create a Pipeline of Campaigns
Traction comes from action, so when it comes to creating online ad campaigns, you want to make sure you have a pipeline of different campaigns that address a different aspect of a problem or issue that your audience is concerned about. By rotating these online ad campaigns, you will attract different audience members while also reminding your entire audience that you are busy and active.
Many prospects are attracted to companies that seem to be continually advertising because it keeps the products and services at the top of their mind plus this constant activity is equated to a certain level of success.
17. Host Online Meetings
In returning to the notion that the most traction comes from helping your prospects and customers, many may enjoy the fact that you are offering a way to interact in real-time through an online meeting.
Here, they can ask questions and provide their opinion while you offer them personal time and gather intelligence on what it is that they want or how they need help from you. You can also offer a Hangout or a video Skype call to certain prospects to solidify your relationship with them. Companies like Meeting Burner, AnyMeeting and ClickMeeting provide you with a robust platform to host webinars and video conferencing.
18. Measure Continually with Analytics
You will not know you are getting traction if you are not continually measuring how these tactics are performing and doing, and to see how far you’ve dug your heels into your market.
Whether it is access to Big Data that drives your understanding of your audience or it involves metrics that let you know how your strategies are doing and where your efforts may need to be tweaked, analytics are just as important when it comes to traction as the customer-facing efforts. There are literally hundreds of these companies now working to help provide you with the data you need, so it may take some time to find the right partner for your startup and budget but it will be worth it to activate this tip for traction.
The final tip is to get involved in as many of these online channels, platforms and tactics as possible because your competition is already participating in many of them. Once you start to see results or feedback, then you will know which traction system or plan will work the best for you and you can drill down with those that are working for you while you continue to test out campaigns, content, and contact with the other as more and more resources become available.