How to Develop a Startup Marketing Strategy

Make a plan to boost visibility and reach your full potential.

If you run a startup, marketing your business is key to your growth—and how you’ll set yourself apart from your competition.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how to market your startup—from developing a strategy and connecting with your audience to making adjustments and measuring your success.

Step #1: Outline your strategy

No 2 startups are exactly the same, which means marketing strategies vary, too. But all successful marketing strategies include 4 key components: your goals, audience, market research, and budget. Let's break it down:

1. Set goals

In the early stages of your business, your goals might vary depending on how you define success. But for many startups, goals often fall under 1 of 2 categories: raising brand awareness and acquiring new customers. And while both categories are important in the development of your startup, it can be helpful to prioritize the goals that make the most sense for you.

  • Raise brand awareness. When starting a new business, it’s important to introduce yourself to your potential customers or clientele. You have to tell people who you are, what you do, and what sets you apart from everyone else. If you choose to prioritize brand awareness, your goals—and your marketing strategy—might revolve around getting people to recognize your brand name, logo, or products.
  • Acquire new customers. If you choose to make acquiring new customers a priority, your goals might include getting new people signed up to your platform, encouraging them to become active users of your product, or converting existing leads into paying customers. To reach these goals, you’ll need to develop a marketing strategy using effective design, copy, and calls to action that grab people’s attention and make them want to engage with your business.

2. Define your target audience

No matter the type of startup, it’s crucial for your marketing to reach the right people with the right message. As you’re developing a marketing strategy, take time to think about who your ideal audience is—or who you want your audience to be.

Here are a few questions you might ask yourself as you’re deciding which audience to target with your marketing:

  • What are you offering your potential customers?
  • What makes you unique?
  • Why would a customer choose you over your competitors?
  • If you’re B2B, would your product be more beneficial to businesses of a certain size or within a certain industry?
  • If you’re B2C, does it make sense to choose a preferred audience based on their location, demographics, or interests?

3. Find your place in the market

According to a study by CB Insights, lack of demand in the marketplace is the number one reason startups fail. Maybe the product or service being offered doesn’t solve a problem or isn’t unique enough to set itself apart from the competition. Maybe its focus is too narrow and the pool of potential customers isn’t large enough to build (and scale) a successful company. Or, maybe it just hasn’t been positioned correctly and never had the chance to reach the right people.

To give your new startup a better chance of avoiding these common pitfalls, take time to thoroughly research other products on the market and gauge interest from your potential customers. Once you’ve determined there is enough demand to sustain your business, you can start thinking about how you’ll tell your target audience about all the great stuff you have to offer.

4. Determine your budget

The marketing budget for a startup will be affected by several factors, including operational costs and revenue forecasts. But no matter how much money you’re able to set aside for marketing, it’s important to spend wisely. Think about your goals, and focus your marketing dollars on the channels that will help you achieve them. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments along the way or to try something new if a particular channel doesn’t prove fruitful.

As your business—and your budget—grows, you can always start allocating more money toward your marketing and expanding your reach to previously untapped audiences.

Small audience including person with glasses, a cat, and person with a braid.

Step #2: Reach your audience on the right channels

These 5 channels are essential components of any startup marketing strategy:

1. A website

Websites are versatile marketing tools that work around the clock to help you communicate with your audience and grow your business. Getting started is easy—Mailchimp has tools to help you build a professional (and free) website, even if you don’t have any web design experience.

If you’re not ready for a full website or you’d just like a single page encouraging visitors to take a particular action, start with a landing page. Landing pages are a great way to collect email addresses, sell an item, or provide people with a quick overview of your business, your newest products, or the services you offer. If you build a landing page in Mailchimp, you can even use your own domain name to customize your page’s URL and give it a unique, branded feel.

As you create your website, here are a few other aspects to keep in mind:

  • Get a domain name: A domain name is your online identity, so it’s important to choose a name that’s recognizable, fits your brand, and will be easy to remember. As you’re considering all the options, be sure to check the availability of each potential domain name on social media. Using the same name across each of your channels can help you establish a unified brand identity and improve your reach. After making your decision, you can buy your new domain on Mailchimp. Need some extra guidance? Read our tips for selecting the perfect domain name.
  • Set up Google ads: Google ads allow you to keep your business top-of-mind by displaying targeted ads to people who visit—and then navigate away from—your website. These ads are a powerful way to boost traffic and recapture sales from customers, no matter where they go on the web.
  • Don’t forget SEO: Search engine optimization (SEO) helps increase the visibility of (and the traffic to) your website through search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. As a startup, there are a few basic SEO elements you can incorporate into your website to improve your search ranking, like keywords, title tags, meta descriptions, internal links, and high-quality original content. For more tips, check out our 10 steps to designing a successful website. Or, if you’re interested in starting an online store, check out this article for a step-by-step of the process.

2. Email

Email marketing is an effective way to build a relationship with your audience and keep them engaged over time. Add a form to your website (or landing page) to collect email addresses from visitors, then start sharing updates about your services, content, products, and anything else that might be of interest to them.

If you decide you’d like to take things a step further, you can always ask for extra information from your new contacts, too. Requesting details—like their date of birth, interests, or location—can help you create even more personalized, relevant content.

(Note: Mailchimp makes it easy to add an embedded or pop-up form to any page of your startup’s website. And when you’re ready to start sending emails, we can help with that, too.)

3. Social media

As social media usage worldwide continues to grow, so does the importance of incorporating social channels into the marketing plan for your startup. Whether you're creating and scheduling posts across channels, posting directly, or creating ads, social media can quickly communicate with your existing fans, friends, and customers. It can also help expand your reach and encourage more people to check out your website, store, or products.

  • Facebook and Instagram ads: Facebook and Instagram each have more than a billion users worldwide, which means you’ve got a huge collection of potential customers at your fingertips. You can target specific segments of people with ads for your startup—like folks who live in a particular location or are within a certain age range. And if you’re a Mailchimp user, you can create both Facebook and Instagram ads directly from your account.
  • Twitter ads: Twitter provides several advertising options that help you raise awareness of your startup, drive people to your website, attract new followers, and more. You can target people by demographics, location, interest, or even based on other accounts they follow or keywords they use in their tweets.
  • LinkedIn ads: LinkedIn gives startups the opportunity to connect with (and promote themselves to) other like-minded professionals. They even offer the ability to focus your marketing efforts on specific collections of people, like those who work in a particular industry or have a certain job title.

4. Content marketing

Content marketing focuses on creating (and sharing) content like blog posts, articles, videos, podcasts, and infographics for your target audience. Unlike your other advertising efforts or promotional messaging, this content isn’t just about selling; it should provide relevant, valuable information people care about—and actually want to engage with.

Over time, content marketing can prove to be a cost-effective tactic that leads to big benefits for your business. Not only can it help you attract (and convert) new customers, it’s also a great way to establish yourself as a trusted source for information in your field.

5. Offline promotion

Online marketing is the main focus for many startups, but there’s still plenty of value in offline promotion. Here are a few ideas:

  • Create business cards or brochures: Physical items like business cards and brochures are a direct, convenient way to make a great first impression and tell new folks what you have to offer. Design and print professional business cards with the name of your business, your contact information, and your logo. Or, create brochures that explain what you do and what type of stuff you sell. Then, look for networking opportunities where you can hand them out to your peers and potential customers.
  • Go where your customers are: When you’re just starting out, networking plays a key role in developing relationships and getting your business off the ground. Be on the lookout for opportunities to have face-to-face interactions with people who might be interested in your goods or services. Visit trade shows or conferences, attend meet-ups for entrepreneurs in your local area, or do a bit of research and seek out one-on-one meetings with people who can help you get your business to the next level.
  • Send postcards: Postcards can help you stand out from the competition and give your audience something tangible to remember you by. They’re a fun way to introduce yourself to new contacts, announce a new release, invite folks to an upcoming event, or anything else you’d like.
  • Get people talking: Word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing tools for startups. When people hear that their co-workers, friends, or family members had a great experience with your business, products, or services, there’s a good chance they’re going to give you a try, too. Strive to create a great customer experience and exceed expectations every step of the way.
Person pouring liquid from large jug into four small cups.

Step #3: Measure the success of your startup marketing campaigns

Startups often have a limited amount of funds and resources available, so it’s important that every dollar spent leads to tangible, measurable results. Here are 3 ways to use data to inform your startup marketing campaigns.

1. Set (and track) your marketing KPIs

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are the metrics used to track the progress you’ve made toward your marketing and business goals. If your goal is to raise awareness for your brand, choose KPIs like website traffic, social shares, and new contacts to measure growth in your audience size. If, instead, your goal is to acquire more customers and make more money, measure your KPIs against daily or monthly sales and conversion rates.

2. Test, iterate, repeat

No matter what type of startup you operate, you’ll always need to listen to your audience—even if they’re only communicating with you through click-throughs, page views, and conversions found in your reports. Be ready to make adjustments when something isn’t working.

If you’re planning to include email in your startup marketing strategy, A/B testing is a great way to learn how small changes can have a big impact on your results. When you create A/B tests in Mailchimp, you can choose a single variable (subject lines, from names, send times, or content) and up to 3 variations of an email to see which one generates the most engagement from your audience. And since you’re also able to select the factor that measures your email engagement—whether it’s clicks, opens, or revenue—it’s easy to learn what adjustments will help you reach your goals faster.

3. Learn what works for your audience

With each marketing campaign you create, you learn more about your audience. And when you manage your audience in Mailchimp, it's easy to turn that information into action.

Using Mailchimp as a CRM, you can get an overview of the people you're talking to in your audience dashboard, and at the individual level in contact profiles. See how your campaigns resonate, learn more about who they are demographically, check out their interactions with your brand, and add any organization of your own.

With all of this data, you can improve your strategy based on who is in your audience and what's working for them. Let your audience drive what you do, and you'll hit those marketing KPIs in no time.