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How to Create a Marketing Plan for Startups

Updated Nov 16, 2023

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Skye Schooley
Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations at business.com
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Creating a killer marketing plan doesn’t have to be expensive. However, it requires your time, effort and creativity. You’ll need to encourage innovative thinking among your team to generate the best ideas. 

Building your brand is a perpetual process that starts on day one. We’ll share 13 startup marketing tips and explain how your marketing plan relates to the sales funnel. 

Did You Know?Did you know

Attracting customers is just one of the biggest challenges startups must overcome. Others include finding funding, learning how to run the business alone, and achieving a positive work-life balance.

How to create a marketing plan for startups

When you’re starting a business, expenses can feel overwhelming. However, an excellent startup marketing plan doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are 13 marketing tips that can help you establish a solid framework. 

1. Define your end goal.

Just as you wouldn’t embark on a road trip without knowing your destination, you must define your marketing and business goals before you can achieve them.

To reach your target audience and successfully convert leads, you need a well-defined approach with specific objectives. When creating your startup marketing plan, you must determine your short- and long-term goals and consider how you’ll achieve them.

For example, in the shorter term (the next six months), you may want to use social media marketing to increase followers by 1,000 per month and find ways to generate website traffic. Your longer-term goals (two to five years) may include expanding, increasing sales, opening a new business location and growing your team.

When you have end goals, you can use key metrics to gauge your marketing strategy’s success or failure.

2. Determine your target market.

No matter how excellent your marketing plan, product or service, customers are crucial to your business’s success. But who are these customers?

You must identify your target audience so you can structure your marketing strategy to meet their needs. Here are three ideas to help you pinpoint your ideal customer:

  • Identify your target prospects’ essential demographics, such as their age and location.
  • Analyze your target market’s personalities and behaviors to create customer personas for informing your marketing efforts. 
  • Establish your brand’s message, following your research.

Your product or service must satisfy your target customers, and your marketing messages should convince them that your offerings are essential.

TipBottom line

Collect survey data via email, text and website forms to help build your customer personas and pinpoint your target market.

3. Conduct keyword research.

Keyword research is a crucial element of any digital marketing strategy. You must determine the keywords that best define your business and the keywords your target audience will search for online. Keywords are essential to your startup’s marketing strategy; you’ll use them on your website, blogs, social media channels and advertisements.

4. Develop KPIs and metrics.

You must determine your key performance indicators (KPIs) and core metrics to gauge your marketing campaign’s success. If you record baseline metrics early on, you’ll have a way to measure future growth or declines.

Ensure that your metrics and KPIs are specific and measurable. For example, instead of saying you want to grow your social media following, aim to gain 1,000 new followers every month. Or, instead of promising to build an email marketing list, say you want an average email click-through rate of 4 percent.

The precise metrics that determine success will be unique to your business. However, you must establish these metrics early and continually assess your results. As your business grows and becomes more successful, consider reevaluating which KPIs and metrics make the most sense.

5. Establish a marketing budget.

Before you can develop a marketing strategy, you must determine how much money you can realistically dedicate to it. If you’re in the startup phase, there’s a good chance that your budget is slim, so you’ll need to use it wisely. If you’re a small business owner, a business budget template can help you get started. Once you’ve determined how much money you have for marketing, you must divide it up based on the best marketing strategies for your business.

For example, if your target market is younger and interacts with your product only on social media, consider allotting a significant chunk of your budget to your social media campaigns. If you notice that your blog is your most powerful marketing tool, you may want to dedicate more resources to hiring expert writers.

Did You Know?Did you know

Consider conducting a marketing analysis to better understand your customers, decide on your strategies, and determine how to spend your marketing budget.

6. Create a website and a blog.

Increasing brand awareness online is crucial. While your industry and target market will help determine the extent of your online presence, a website and blog are likely excellent tools for establishing your startup as a credible organization. Depending on your budget and skill set, you can build and manage your website yourself or use one of the best website builders and design services.

But it’s not enough to create the website and blog; you or a team member must continually update them and produce fresh content. For example, your blog should have a consistent posting schedule and produce valuable content. 

7. Find the right social channels for your startup.

Many startups recognize the power of affordable social media marketing. However, only a few understand the importance of using the right channels. Each social media platform serves different personalities and audiences, who engage with each channel differently. You must determine which platforms work best for your startup.

  • Facebook: Facebook is a social media powerhouse. You’ll find disparate audience types, but you must seek out your target customers and use appropriate Facebook marketing strategies to connect with them.
  • Instagram: Instagram is an excellent marketing and advertising platform. Its algorithm is optimized for valuable content, so your strategy must include consistently helpful, high-quality Instagram posts.
  • X (formerly known as Twitter): Consistency is also paramount when you’re using this social media site as a marketing channel. The ultimate goal is to provide relevant content for your audience.

Evaluate and test various social media platforms. For example, business-to-business (B2B) companies can benefit from a LinkedIn business profile, home services companies can generate referrals from Nextdoor, and Pinterest can boost e-commerce product sales. 

Always use social platforms thoughtfully to avoid cringey brand fails that can harm your business and customer relationships. 

8. Cultivate relationships with influencers.

Influencers can be as crucial as customers. Getting influencers to market your product can build brand trust, offer social proof and boost sales. 

Evaluate influencers based on their audiences and personalities. Ensure their audience includes your target customers. Contact them to see if they’re interested in cross-promotional efforts with free products and services. An authentic, organic influencer relationship can raise brand awareness and propel your startup to a credible force. 

FYIDid you know

Watch out for influencer marketing fraud. Fake influencers often purchase followers to make their accounts look popular, deceiving businesses into unhelpful relationships.

9. Create ads that appeal to people’s emotions.

Emotionally connecting with customers builds brand intimacy. So how can a business connect with its target audience through emotional content? Consider the following emotions and how they can influence customer relationships: 

  • Happiness: Positive posts with smiling, laughing and happy customers can increase user engagement. Coca-Cola is an example of a brand that has leveraged this kind of emotional content to reach consumers. Its ads feature photos of happy people and taglines such as “open happiness” and “taste the feeling.”
  • Fear: Fear is an instinct that triggers reactions to threats and boosts our chances of survival. It creates a sense of urgency that prompts us to act or effect change. For example, public service announcements often employ fear tactics to prevent cigarette smoking and drunk driving. Use caution with this strategy to avoid upsetting and turning off consumers.
  • Anger: Although anger is a negative emotion, it can spur people to act. You may want to create ads that prompt your target audience to ask important questions, and sometimes, anger is a necessary part of this. Again, aim for this reaction sparingly and responsibly.

10. Build a referral network.

Word-of-mouth advertising is a powerful marketing strategy that helps build brand advocacy. Because people make purchases based on trust and credibility, you can take advantage of their networks to get referrals.

Getting a referral is a two-step process. First, you must deliver top-quality results to clients. In addition to offering a stellar product or service, you must communicate openly and often with customers.

The second step is to ask for feedback — both good and bad. To build customer trust, lead with transparency when you handle mistakes. Asking for feedback is a great way to learn your clients’ personalities and find out how satisfied they are. You can then use their feedback to build on your service for the future. 

11. Maintain a consistent brand and message.

Brand consistency is crucial for businesses of all sizes. Although your startup will undergo minor changes over time, consistency in your brand image and communication is vital, as it instills your credibility and customers’ confidence in your service.

12. Measure your results.

The only way to gauge success or failure is by consistently measuring your digital marketing ROI. How does your audience interact with your brand online? Do you have high conversion rates and low bounce rates? Are your Instagram posts driving more engagement than your Facebook posts are? Assess your strategy’s performance to identify areas of improvement.

How frequently you measure your results will vary by metric. You might need to check some metrics daily (such as website visits, total number of leads, and leads and visits per channel). In contrast, other metrics can be measured weekly or monthly (such as new versus returning visitors, click-through rates, and cost per acquisition).

After you measure your results, don’t hesitate to modify your marketing plan if needed. Your marketing strategy should evolve with your business. 

13. Assemble the right team.

Individual talents and skills are essential for business success. However, teamwork and employee collaboration can take your business to the next level. To develop an effective marketing plan, you need the right team. Whether you hire full-time employees or a marketing agency, consider these factors:

  • Identify the roles you need to fill to achieve your goals.
  • Determine whether you need individuals to work on a contract or full-time basis.
  • Interview each candidate for their strengths, skills and experience.
  • Conduct regular assessments of team members.
FYIDid you know

Startups have limited funds, so you may need to get creative to build your team. For example, bring on an intern who’s a budding digital marketing expert or coding whiz. Use the resources at your disposal to gradually expand your team.

How your marketing plan relates to the sales funnel

When creating your marketing plan and its associated budget, you must include marketing initiatives and strategies to address every aspect of the sales funnel. This ensures that your business has a steady stream of potential customers and that you continually nurture prospects with relevant and engaging content to encourage them to purchase. 

Here are some marketing strategies for every step of the sales funnel.

Awareness

Building awareness is at the top of the sales funnel. Potential customers likely haven’t heard of you yet, so you must do something disruptive to get their attention. This is called push marketing; it usually involves paid advertising paired with content, although it can also involve search engine optimization. 

At this stage, you must get prospects’ contact information, such as their email addresses, so you can continue to reach them for your down-funnel initiatives. For example, you could place ads on Google or Facebook and drive prospects to a landing page or website where they could enter their contact information in exchange for a free e-book.

TipBottom line

If your product or service is complex, consider creating a how-to guide in written or video form for potential customers to download or access. You can repurpose your blog content into a how-to format to save time.

Interest and evaluation

Now that your prospects know about your brand, you must feed them information over time that demonstrates the following information:

  • How your product can solve their problem
  • Why it’s a better solution than competitive or substitute products
  • Why it’s a good value

An email nurture campaign is an ideal way to give prospects this type of content consistently, either in the body of the email or with links to your blog posts, videos, case studies, infographics or webinars. 

Social media marketing is also an excellent strategy at this stage of the sales funnel because it allows you to distribute content to your followers while developing a relationship with them. 

Intent

In this stage, prospects are getting closer to purchasing. It’s time to provide information that counters their objections. During the intent phase, consider one-on-one interactions with a salesperson or customer service rep, who can answer specific questions and objections personally. 

For instance, if your product is expensive, tell customers it will last longer than competitors’ products, saving them money in the long run. Share testimonials, highlight good customer reviews, and display followers’ comments to present credible social proof to dispel objections.

This is also a good time to answer prospects’ questions via FAQ pages that proactively address common questions and concerns. For example, a B2B company could explain payment and financing terms and walk prospects through the purchase process and lead time.

Did You Know?Did you know

User-generated content is an excellent way to share social proof that builds consumer trust and attracts new customer interest.

Purchase

When a customer decides to buy your product, your work isn’t finished. You must ensure that your purchase-and-payment process is easy and smoothly executed to present a zero-friction approach to customers. Removing friction from the purchasing process will reduce abandoned purchases. 

To eliminate friction from the purchasing process, consider the following tips: 

  • Evaluate your checkout pages and ensure they work perfectly.
  • Examine your sales process to see if it can be streamlined.
  • Create post-purchase text or email notifications that thank customers and share shipping and tracking information. 
  • After successful product delivery, send emails requesting reviews and sharing any additional instructions. 
  • Set up an email series with upselling and cross-selling opportunities and customer service follow-up.
TipBottom line

Use email marketing to recover abandoned carts by offering discounts and incentives.

Loyalty

Now that a purchase is made, you have a new customer. But remember, existing customers are more valuable than new customers, so it pays to do whatever it takes (within reason) to retain them. In addition to providing excellent customer service, strengthen your customer relationships by providing valuable content, interacting via social media and offering customer loyalty programs

Devoting resources to keeping your customers engaged and happy will pay off by increasing their customer lifetime value

Jennifer Dublino contributed to this article. 

Skye Schooley
Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations at business.com
Skye Schooley is a human resources writer at business.com and Business News Daily, where she has researched and written more than 300 articles on HR-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and HR technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products and services that help business owners run a smoother human resources department, such as HR software, PEOs, HROs, employee monitoring software and time and attendance systems, Skye investigates and writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.
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