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How to Create a Marketing Plan for Startups

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Staff writer

Establish a solid framework for your startup by following these 13 marketing tips.

Creating a killer marketing plan doesn't have to cost a lot of money. All it requires is your time, effort and creativity. These ideas will get you started. Why break the bank for your marketing needs when you can brainstorm your way to a killer marketing plan? The best marketing ideas can be simple and inexpensive, but they don't come out of the blue. They require an out-of-the-box, innovative thought process. Always remember that building your brand is a perpetual process, so get into the right mindset from day one. Here are 13 marketing tips that can help you establish a solid framework.

1. Define your end goal.

Just as it is practically impossible to embark on a road trip without knowing your destination, you have to define your marketing and business goals before you can achieve them.

Do you relate with your target market on social media? How do you plan to increase your number of followers? How do you plan to generate traffic for your website? Reaching out to leads or prospects and converting them into customers requires a well-defined approach with specific objectives.

What goals do you hope to accomplish over the next six months? Two years? Five years? When you have an end goal, you can use key metrics to gauge the success or failure of your marketing strategy.

2. Determine your target market.

What can you possibly achieve without identifying whom you are selling to? No matter how great of a marketing plan, product, or service you have, customers are crucial to the success of your small business. But who are these customers?

You must define your target customer so you can structure your marketing strategy to meet their needs. But how can you determine your target audience? Here are three ideas to get you started:

  1. Identify the basic demographics of your target prospects, such as their gender, age, and location.
  2. Learn how to relate to your audience by analyzing their personalities and/or shopping behaviors.
  3. Establish your brand's message following your research.

These suggestions will help you hone your specific audience and determine their needs so your product or service satisfies them.

3. Conduct keyword research.

An important part of any digital marketing strategy is keyword research. You need to determine the keywords that best define your business, and which keywords your target audience will be searching to find you online. These keywords are essential to your startup marketing strategy and will be used among various platforms, such as your website, blogs, social media networks and advertisements.

TipTip: Look for keywords that have high traffic and low competition.

4. Develop KPIs and metrics.

The only way to know if your marketing campaign is a success is by determining your key performance indicators and core metrics. If you start recording baseline metrics right away, you will have something to compare future growth or decline against.

Make sure your metrics and KPIs are specific and measurable. For example, don't just say you want to grow your social media following – make this specific and measurable by saying you want to gain 1,000 new followers every month. Instead of simply saying you want to build an email list, you might say you want an average email click-through rate (CTR) of 4%.

The exact metrics that determine your success will be unique to your business, but you need to establish them early on and continue to measure against them. As your business grows and becomes more successful, you may want to reevaluate which KPIs and metrics make the most sense.

5. Establish a marketing budget.

Before you can develop a marketing strategy, you need to determine how much money you can realistically dedicate to it. Since you're in the startup phase, there's a good chance that your budget is slim, so you will need to use it wisely. Once you've determined how much money you have for marketing, you need to divide it up based on which strategies are going to be most valuable to your business.

For example, if your target market is a younger demographic that only interacts with your product on social media, you might want to allot a significant chunk of your budget to your social media campaigns. If you notice 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? The average startup spends roughly 11% of revenue on marketing.

6. Create a website and/or blog.

An online presence is important for nearly every business. Although it can depend on your target market and your industry, you will probably want to set up a company website and blog. These can be valuable tools to establish your startup as a credible organization. Depending on your budget and skill set, you can build and manage these on your own, or you can hire professionals to develop them for you.

Simply creating these webpages is not enough, though. You need someone to continually update them and produce fresh content. If you have a blog, create a consistent posting schedule that works for your audience, and only push out valuable content. [Read all our reviews of the best website builders and design services.]

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 channel serves different personalities and audiences, and those audiences engage with each channel differently. Therefore, it's up to you to determine what works best for your startup.

  • Facebook: This is the powerhouse of social media. You'll likely find all audience types on this platform. But you are not in business for everyone, so you must determine where on the platform you can find your targets and reach out to them.

  • Instagram: This is a great tool for native advertisement purposes. Since the algorithm is optimized for valuable content, you'll likely gain a natural following of your target audience if you provide quality content.

  • Twitter: Twitter is another top-notch social media channel. However, consistency is paramount if you want to gain and maintain a significant audience. The ultimate goal should be to provide content that is relevant to your audience.

It's best to evaluate and test each channel. For a small amount of money, you can invest in a sponsored campaign – and rest assured you will achieve results sooner rather than later.

8. Cultivate relationships with influencers.

Influencers can be just as important as your customers. These are the people your target audience listens to, such as hosts of YouTube channels or radio and TV personalities.

Call potential influencers, send them emails, and offer them free products or services. One mention from these high-profile individuals can raise brand awareness and propel your business startup from nothing to a credible and legitimate force. Be sure to find the right influencers to target for partnerships so you can get the biggest ROI from a campaign.

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

Emotion often outsells logic in advertisting. Emotions factor heavily into buying decisions for consumers, not just facts and information.

So, how can a business connect with its target audience through emotional content?

  • Happiness: Positive posts that create an atmosphere of smiling, laughing and generally happy customers can increase user engagement. Coca-Cola is an example of a brand that has leveraged emotional content to reach consumers. Its ads feature photos of happy people and taglines such as "open happiness" and "taste the feeling."

  • Fear/surprise: 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 to effect a change. PSAs often employ fear tactics to prevent cigarette smoking and drunk driving, for example. Use caution with this strategy to avoid upsetting consumers and turning them off of your brand. 

  • Anger: Although anger is a negative emotion, it can spur people to action. You certainly want to create ads that prompt your target audience to ask important questions, and sometimes anger is a necessary part of this. Again, though, aim for this reaction sparingly and responsibly.

10. Build a referral network.

Word-of-mouth advertising is one of the most powerful forms of marketing, especially for small businesses. Since people make purchases based on trust and credibility, you can take advantage of their network 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, communicate openly and often with customers undergoing a transaction with you.

The second step is to ask for feedback. Transparency is an important quality, especially for startups – even if something goes wrong. Asking for feedback is a great way to learn the personalities of your clients and how satisfied they were. You can then use their feedback to build on your service for the future. 

11. Maintain a consistent brand and message.

You might think that consistency and discipline in messaging are important only for the biggest enterprises, but the importance of consistency in the brand and message of startups cannot be overstated. While your startup will undergo minor changes over time, consistency in your actual brand image and communication is key, as it instills customers' confidence in your service and credibility.

12. Measure your results.

The only way to gauge success or failure is by consistently measuring the results of your marketing strategy over time. How is your audience interacting 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? 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), whereas other metrics can be measured weekly or monthly (such as new vs. returning visitors, CTRs, and cost per acquisition).

After measuring your results, don't be afraid 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 important qualities for any business, but teamwork kicks it up a notch. To develop an effective marketing plan, you need the right team. Whether you hire full-time employees or a professional marketing team on a contract basis, consider these factors:

  • Identify the roles you need to fill to achieve your end 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 for members of your team.

Since resources are limited for startups, these suggestions may prove challenging, so you can try alternatives. For instance, is your partner a social media expert? Do you have an intern who is a coding whiz? Use the resources available to gradually expand your team.

Mark Sands contributed to the writing and research in this article.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
business.com Staff
Skye Schooley is a staff writer at business.com and Business News Daily, where she has written more than 200 articles on B2B-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and business technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products that help business owners launch and grow their business, Skye writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.