Creating a marketing plan for your startup or SME: step-by-step guide

Marketing - Getting Started: Part 1

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Use this guide to build the right marketing plan with a limited budget.

For startups, marketing is easy to think of as a problem for the future, particularly when time and cash flow are limited. But there are ways to build your brand and attract customers without diverting too much resource.

Use this guide as a sense check of where you are with your marketing and which areas may need some more attention. Follow the links for more information as well as advice from other founders.

Step 1: Understand your audience and markets

Identify your target market

You may understand what makes your business great, but if you don’t have a clear target audience in mind, your brand could fall flat. Get your team around a table and discuss some broad assumptions about your customer base. Narrow your focus using data and market research. Don’t be afraid to reach out to real people using surveys, focus groups or interviews. 

Discover what they care about

Think like your clientele and understand their problems. Customer Journey Mapping can help clarify the major hurdles in your customer’s lives, their needs and wants, and any pain points that might prompt them to use your business. You might also: 

  • Check out competitors’ approach to solving customers’ problems 
  • Search relevant social media feeds and subreddits  
  • Use Google Analytics to understand what people are searching for and the language they use 

Develop customer personas

A customer persona (or buyer persona) is a fictitious character that embodies the traits of a segment of your audience. Customer personas are based on research and data from within your business. By humanising your target market, it’s possible to gain a deeper understanding of the people you’re hoping to engage with.

The process of assembling a customer persona is part art, part science. Combine quantitative and qualitative research to flesh out each persona’s motivations, triggers, concerns and behaviours, including where they can be found and connected with. 

Richard Cassidy, CCO at SaaS startup Dayshape, explains how to identify and target growth markets in this short video. Watch guide here.

Step 2: Define your brand

A common misstep among startups is to focus on product and leave brand development until the last minute. Yet research shows that a strong brand can help startups overcome their greatest challenge — competition. 

Brand is more than logo and letterhead. Understanding your purpose, culture, goals and responsibilities is all part of defining a brand. With that knowledge you can find an identity and way of communicating that expresses what your business is all about.

A strong brand will help you to build a personality that customers recognise and can build investor confidence.

Discover practical steps to developing a brand for your startup. Read guide here.

Step 3: Create a social media marketing strategy

Social media is a cost-effective marketing tool that can increase brand awareness and boost lead generation for your startup. 

More than half of the world's population (53%) uses social media with an average daily usage of 2 hours and 25 minutes, according to a recent report from Global WebIndex. In the UK 93% of adults between the ages of 25 to 34 have a social media profile. 

Founders of B2B startups may think that social is not relevant to their business – but effective communication through channels such as LinkedIn can be a great way to position your business, build your network and find partners, talent or investors.

Social media can also be a great way of connecting with customers and getting feedback as you develop your offer. If you’ve already put the work in to understand your audience, you should have a good idea of how to connect with them on social. 

Set goals for your social activity to manage resource and measure effectiveness. If you want to build followers you’ll need to commit to regular, valuable posts, but you don’t need to be across every social channel. Experiment, stay focused – and if something is working then double down.

For more on how to create a successful social media strategy for your startup, read our step-by-step guide here.

Step 4: Maximise your SEO

Once your startup has gone to market it is vital that it can be found. Search engine optimisation (SEO) involves ensuring your site works from a technical perspective, and also that its content is considered valuable by Google and others. Technical SEO includes things like site maps, tagging and load times. When it comes to the content, quality usually prevails – and while they are no quick fixes, there are techniques to boost your search rankings. 

SEO is often a lengthy and ongoing process. Building SEO into your planning and content creation is much more efficient than retro fitting.

Discover ways to drive traffic with SEO as well as pay per click (PPC). Read guide here.

Step 5: Create content marketing that delivers

Sharing valuable content such as blog posts, videos and whitepapers is a great way to attract an audience, build trust and educate potential customers. It’s also one of the ways to develop relationships with existing customers.

Consider your company’s core mission and use this as a guiding light to develop a strategy that fits your brand, business goals and vision. Your content marketing strategy is a plan that should demonstrate who you are, your value and your expertise.

Read our step-by-step guide explaining how to use content marketing to find new customers and increase value here. Read guide here.

This video shares a smart way to maximise your content marketing impact with minimum cost by sharing what you already have rather than creating new materials. Watch guide here.

Step 6: Use video to tell your story

Startups often need to find ways to explain their products and services and video can be an effective tool. Telling stories via video can bring your business and offer to life, while product walkthroughs are neat ways to demonstrate features and benefits in just a few minutes.

Creating video can be costly and time consuming – and a poorly produced video can damage the brand. Planning is key to ensure resource is used wisely and your videos hit the mark.

Take a quick tour of different approaches to using video to see which could work best for your startup. Watch guide here.

Step 7: Experiment with advocate marketing 

Advocate marketing involves encouraging customers and other stakeholders to reference or praise your company to their networks. In many ways it’s the earliest form of marketing, based on reputation and word of mouth. 

For startups with limited budgets it can be a way to spread the word with little or no budget – though successful advocate marketing strategies take time and thought to identify and motivate the people who can fly the flag for your business.

By contrast, influencer marketing involves paying individuals to promote your product to their network, often on social media. It’s primarily a B2C technique and while it can be effective, it is under increasing scrutiny by regulators and has been met with scepticism from consumers too. 

Check out our guide on how to use advocate marketing effectively. Read guide here.

Step 8: Measure, manage and evolve

Measuring the effectiveness of your different marketing tactics is vital. Understand the timescales within which you should be seeing results, then keep iterating and pivoting as you collect engagement and ROI data and insight.

Master your marketing with more advice and information:

  • Part 2: Define and refine your brand.
  • Part 3: Improve your marketing with customer personas.
  • Part 4: Use social media to promote your startup.
  • Part 5: Get started on SEO and paid marketing.
  • Part 6: Find the right video approach to meet your needs.
  • Part 7: Use content marketing to build your business.
  • Part 8: Improve your reach with advocate marketing.
  • Part 9: Create content efficiently with this marketing hack: founder to founder video.
  • Part 10: How to market your business on a limited budget: founder to founder video.
  • Part 11: Discover how to find and target your market: founder to founder video.
  • Part 12: Use these marketing techniques to boost your ROI: founder to founder video.


Global Web Index Social Media Report, 2021

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