19 Marketing Channels

A core focus of your marketing strategy should be identifying the most successful marketing channels for customer acquisition. You need to identify which channels allow you to profitably attract new clients in a way that has a measurable and significant impact on your business.

Below is a list of the main marketing channels used in our workshops.

01 Targeting Blogs

“Targeting blogs prospective customers read is one of the most effective ways to get your first wave of customers. Popular startups like Codecademy, Mint, and reddit all got their start by targeting blogs.

Noah Kagan, Mint’s former director of marketing, told us how he targeted niche blogs early on, and how this strategy allowed Mint to acquire forty thousand customers before launching.” Gabriel Weinberg

Connect with relevant blogs in your industry in order to gain valuable exposure for your business and brand. These may include company blogs, industry blogs, niche news sites and content aggregation sites.

Offer to write a guest blog for their audience. Ensure you are offering value, both to the content/blog owner, and their audience.

Example Test: Contact ten niche blogs relevant to your industry and ask them to review your product, business or offer a unique piece of content for their audience. Alternatively find niche industry blogs that don’t run advertisements and ask several if you could run an advertisement on them.

02 Publicity / PR

“Publicity is the art of getting your name out there via traditional media outlets like news outlets, newspapers, magazines, and TV. We interviewed Jason Kincaid, former TechCrunch writer, about pitching media outlets, how to form relationships with reporters, and what most startups do wrong when it comes to publicity.

We also talked with Ryan Holiday, media strategist and bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, to learn how startups could leverage today’s rapidly changing media landscape to get traction.” Gabriel Weinberg

Publicity is the art of getting your name out via traditional media outlets like news outlets, newspapers, magazines, TV and blogs. This can be getting featured in an industry magazine or a primetime TV appearance.

The key is to provide something of value or interest to the audience of the reporter you are pitching to.

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about” Benjamin Franklin

Example Test: Contact five relevant local reporters about your company and offer them an exclusive on a piece of content that leverages data that only you have access to.

More on pr coverage.

03 Unconventional PR

“There are two different types of unconventional PR. You’re probably familiar with the first type: the publicity stunt. A publicity stunt is anything that is engineered to get media coverage.

The second type of unconventional PR is customer appreciation: smaller, more scalable actions (like holding contests or sending handwritten notes to customers) that both increase goodwill as well as generate press coverage. Alexis Ohanian told us some of the things he did to get people talking about reddit and Hipmunk, two startups he cofounded.” Gabriel Weinberg

Unconventional PR is anything that is engineered to get media coverage, this includes publicity stunts, customer appreciation, gifts, contests and giveaways.

Shopify, the popular e-commerce platform, is famous for their annual Build A Business competition which drives thousands of new customers to their platform every year. David Hauser, CEO of Grasshopper.com (now part of Citrix) has sent customers homemade cookies, Starbucks gift cards, books and handwritten notes. These activities have worked so well he now has 2 full-time employees whose sole responsibility is to delight customers. Chargify, the subscription billing service, go the industry events in a bull suit.

Example Test 1: Host a contest around your product. This contest could be as simple as a cash giveaway for creative product usage. Use both paid media and earned media to promote your contest.

Example Test 2: Create an infographic or video that you think could go viral with your audience. If you have a large incumbent competitor, it could be explaining how they do something poorly in some way, and at the end how you do it better.

04 Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

“Search engine marketing (SEM) refers to placing advertisments on search engines like Google and DuckDuckGo, where online marketers spend more than $100 million each day.

We interviewed Matthew Monahan of Inflection, the company behind Archives.com (before its $100 million acquisition by Ancestry.com) to learn how Archives relied primarily on SEM for its growth.” Gabriel Weinberg

Search engine marketing allows you to show text or product advertisements next to relevant search queries on search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. With these types of campaigns, the customer is actively searching for something, hence is likely to be more responsive to good offers.

Example Test: Test four ads in Bing Ads or Google AdWords. These ads should be on keywords you’re highly confident will convert into long-term customers. Try some of these keywords even if they seem relatively expensive compared with keywords you’re less confident about. You want to figure out in the best-case conversion scenario whether SEM could work.

More on Search Engine Marketing https://www.digitalelite.co.uk/paid/adwords-ppc/

05 Social & Display Advertising

“Display ads are the banner ads that you see on Web sites all over the Internet. Social ads are the ads on social sites, like those in our near your Facebook and Twitter timelines.

We brought in Nilkhil Sethi, founder of the social ad buying platform Adaptly, to talk with us about getting traction with social and display ads.” Gabriel Weinberg

Display ads are the banner ads that you see on website all over the Internet. Social ads are those seen on the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

The demographic and social information held by the latter means they can provide extremely granular ad targeting. However, you have to stand out and deliver a message that grabs someone’s attention.

Example Test: Run a Facebook ad campaign targeting two niche audiences are likely to convert well. Be as specific as possible, leveraging competitors, demographics and interests. Test with a number of different ad images.

Example Test: more focused advertising, e.g. podcast advertising

More on Social & Display Advertising https://www.digitalelite.co.uk/paid/paid-advertising/

06 Offline Advertising

“Even today, advertisers spend more on offline ads than they do on online. There are many kinds of offline ads — TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, yellow pages, billboards, and direct mail. All of these can utilized at almost any scale, from local campaigns to national ones.

Few startups use this channel, which means there’s less competition for many of these audiences. We talked with Jason Cohen, founder of WP Engine and Smart Bear Software, about the offline ads he’s used to acuqire customers.” Gabriel Weinberg

Advertisers continue to spend more on offline ads than they do on online, these ads include  TV, radio, podcasts, magazines, newspapers, yellow pages, billboards, and direct mail.

All of these can utilised at almost any scale, from local campaigns to national ones. Depending on your industry and target customer, you may find there’s less competition for many of these audiences.

Example Test: Run a few ads in local papers or (depending on your industry) advertise on a niche podcast.

More on offline advertising https://www.digitalelite.co.uk/offline-ads/offline-advertising/

07 Search Engine Optimisation

“Almost all Internet users turn to search engines for answers. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving your ranking in search engines in order to get more people to your site.

We interviewed Rand Fishkin of Moz (the market leader in SEO software) to talk about best practices for getting tractin with SEO. Patrick McKenzie, founder of Appointment Reminder, also explained to us how he uses SEO to cheaply acquire lots of highly targeted traffic.” Gabriel Weinberg

Almost all Internet users turn to search engines for answers. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving your ranking in search engines in order to get more people to your site.

This is the process of getting your website to rank higher in the search results. This is often done by creating good content that attracts customers and links.

Example Test 1: Test a “long-tail” SEO strategy through creating content-rich pages. Perhaps your product can naturally produce data for these pages, or maybe you have enough data from making and researching your product. Link to these new pages right from your home page (e.g. in the footer), as this will help with ranking. Let relevant people know about your content and see if they’ll repost it with a link back to the original source.

Example Test 2: Test a “fat-head” SEO strategy by identifying promising fat-head keywords and running search engine ads to see how effective the traffic may be. This is a very similar basic test to Search Engine Marketing itself, though the keywords may be different.

More on search engine optimisation.

08 Content Marketing

“Think back to the last few Web sites you’ve used and take a look at their blogs. In all likelihood, they’re infrequently updated and have few comments, or worse, are frequently updated and an avalanche of boring.

Compare that experience to reading a well-known company blog like those of Moz, Unbounce, or OkCupid. They write posts that receive hundreds of comments, lead to major publicity, and result in thousands of shares. This massive engagement leads to massive growth. We talked with Unbounce founder Rick Perreault and OkCupid cofounder Sam Yagan to learn how their blogs transformed their businesses.” Gabriel Weinberg

Content marketing is marketing that involves attracting customers by creating and sharing content that resonates with your target audience. This can take the form of text articles or blogs, case studies, how-to guides, question and answer articles, videos, audio, podcasts, images or photos.

“If you invest in content, it gets picked up by Google. People find it, they share it, and it refers customers almost indefinitely.”  Rick Perreault, CEO, Unbounce

Example Test 1: Start a company blog and write one blog post a week for a month. Promote your posts on Twitter and on link-sharing sites. If you see any significant audience growth and conversion, double down and commit to a few more months. Turn on comments for your posts and engage with any commenters. Try to write controversial or surprising posts, ideally using new data you’ve researched.

Example Test 2: Write a an article called “Our competitor vs Our Company” in order to attract search engine traffic looking for reviews of a competitors product. Promote your article on Twitter and on link-sharing sites.

Bidsketch have used content marketing to good affect by offering free proposal templates in exchange for email addresses.

The Intercom Product Management ebook is another great example here.

More on content marketing.

09 Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the best ways to convert prospects while retaining and monetizing existing customers. We interviewed Colin Nederkoorn, founder of email marketing startup Customer.io, to discuss how startups can get the most out of this traction channel.

Email marketing is a personal channel. Messages from your company sit next to email updates from friends and family. As such, email marketing works best when it is personalized. Email can be tailored to individual customer actions such that every email communication is relevant. Gabriel Weinberg

By collecting email addresses of prospects or customers and engaging them with interesting content or great offers, you can stay top of mind and generate additional revenue. Email marketing is one of the best ways to convert prospects while retaining and monetising existing customers.

Email marketing works best when it is personalised so ensure it is tailored to individual customer interests and actions, such that every email communication is relevant.

“Email marketing is 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined as a way to acquire new customers” McKinsey & Co

Example Test 1: Create an automated email mini-course, where you teach something relevant to your product or service in bite-sized chunks. Make a landing page for the course and drive some traffic to it. At the end of the mini-course, encourage prospective customers to further investigate your product or service via an additional download, or sales consultation. Promote the course in your company e-mail signatures.

Example Test 2: Contact ten email newsletters in your niche and advertise on at least two of them where it makes sense financially. If they don’t usually run advertisements in their emails, ask to sponsor the list for a week or month.

10 Viral Marketing

“Viral marketing consists of growing your customer base by encouraging your customers to refer other customers. We interviewed Andrew Chen, a viral marketing expert and mentor at 500 Startups, for common viral tecniques and the factors that have led to viral adoption in major startups.

In the context of startups, literally “going viral” means that every user you acquire brings in at least one other user. That new user then invites at least one other user, and so on. This creates true exponential growth. Though difficult to sustain, it’s been the driving force behind the explosive growth of consumer startups like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.”  Gabriel Weinberg

Viral marketing consists of growing your customer base by encouraging your customers to refer other customers, or getting your content, idea or story to spread. Although very difficult to get right, viral marketing can create exponential growth and has been the driving force behind the explosive growth of companies like Facebook and Dropbox.

Example Test: Build a viral loop into your product or service and measure your viral coefficient and viral cycle time. Measure which step is the weakest in your viral loop (signup percentage, number of invites, click-through percentage) and try to improve it.

More on viral marketing.

11 Engineering as Marketing

“Your team’s engineering skills can get your startup traction directly by building tools and resources that reach more people. You make useful tools like calculators, widgets, and educational microsites to get your company in front of potential customers.

These tools generate leads and expand your customer base. Companies like HubSpot, Moz, and RJMetrics have successfully used this underutilized channel for rapid growth. We asked Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot, to discuss how engineering as marketing has driven HubSpot’s growth to tens of thousands of customers through tools like its Marketing Grader.” Gabriel Weinberg

Also known as side product marketing, this is a type of content marketing that uses your team’s engineering skills to build tools and resources in order to generate new leads. Create a tool or side product that naturally leads to your product.

This may include calculators, widgets, and educational microsites that would be useful to potential customers. These tools generate leads and expand your customer base.

Two of the best examples here are the WPEngine Speed Test Tool and the Hubspot Make My Persona Tool, both of which have helped drive these companies to tens of thousands of customers.

Engineering marketing Create a product that surfaces the problem, so helps customers recognise they need you Eg Hubspot market grader

Example Test: Make a simple free tool tangentially relevant to your company; for example, a calculator of some kind that would be useful to prospective customers. Put it on its own domain and name it something that people would search for. Collect contact information in exchange for using the tool. Reach out to anyone who uses your tool with a personal email about your main product.

More on Engineering as Marketing

12 Business Development & Partnerships

Business development (BD) is the process of creating strategic relationships that benefit both your startup and your parnter. It’s like sales with one key distinction: With sales, you’re selling directly to a customer. With business development, you’re partnering to reach customers in a way that benefits both parties.

We interviewed venture capitalist Chris Fralic, whose BD efforts at Half.com were a major factor in eBay’s $350 million acquisition of the company. He covered with us how to structure deals, find strategic partners, build a business development pipeline, and approach potential partners. Gabriel Weinberg

Business development (BD) is the process of creating strategic relationships that benefit both your company and your partner.

Look for partnership opportunities with people or companies with a similar size and focus to yours. Cross-promote each others brand and up-sell each other’s products. You can reach their network to reach more customers while you offer them value through your own audience and network.

Example Test: Write down three groups of companies that could be useful to yours in terms of partnerships, such as those with complementary products. Identify some of the smaller players and reach out to two in each group in order to gauge interest.

No more info (https://www.pubexchange.com/).

13 Sales

Sales is focused primarily on creating processes to directly exchange product for dollars. Sometimes hand-holding prospects can be necessary to turn them into real customers.

We interviewed David Skok of Matrix Partners — someone who’s taken four different companies public — to get his perspective on how the best software companies are creating sustainable, scalable sales processes. This involves creating a refined sales funnel that continually generates leads, qualifies them, and converts them into paying customers. Gabriel Weinberg

Sometimes hand-holding prospects can be necessary to turn them into real customers. This involves creating a refined sales funnel that continually generates leads, qualifies them, and converts them into paying customers.

Example Test 1: Reach out cold over email to one hundred prospective customers that you think have a high likelihood of converting into real customers.

Example Test Sometimes your customers need a little encouragement, or in-depth advice to select the right product for them. This could be as simple as installing live chat on your site or in your app.

More on sales.

14 Affiliate Programs

An affiliate program is an arrangement where you pay people or companies for performaing certain actions like making a sale or getting a qualified lead. We interviewed Kristopher Jones, founder of the Pepperjam affiliate network, to learn how a startup can leverage this channel.

Companies like Amazon, Zappos, eBay, Orbitz, and Netflix use affiliate programs to drive significant portions of their revenue. In fact, affiliate programs are the core traction channel for many e-commerce stores, information products, and membership programs. Gabriel Weinberg

An affiliate program is an arrangement where you pay people or companies for performing certain actions like making a sale or getting a qualified lead. A third-party will drive traffic to your site and you pay a commission for every sale that results from this traffic.

Affiliate programs tend to work well for e-commerce stores, information products and membership programs. Companies like Amazon, Zappos, eBay, Orbitz, and Netflix use affiliate programs to drive significant portions of their revenue.

Example Test 1: Register your product at the most relevant major affiliate network. Recruit twenty affiliates from this program using a simple and attractive payout structure.

Example Test 2: Contact existing customers you think might be well connected to prospective customers and strike affiliate deals with them.

More on affiliate programs 

15 Existing Platforms

Existing platforms are Web sites, apps, or networks with huge numbers of users — sometimes in the hundreds of millions — that you can potentially leverage to get traction. Major platforms include the Apple and Android App Stores, Mozilla and Chrome browser extensions, social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, as well as newer platforms that are growing rapidly (Tumblr, Snapchat, etc.).

Focusing on existing platforms means focusing your growth efforts on one of these megaplatforms, and getting some of their hundreds of millions of users to use your product. Alex Pachikov, on the founding team of Evernote, explained how their focus on Apple’s App Store generated millions of customers. Gabriel Weinberg

Existing platforms are websites, apps, or networks with huge numbers of users — sometimes in the hundreds of millions — that you can potentially leverage to get traction.

Major platforms include the Apple and Android App Stores, Mozilla and Chrome browser extensions, social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest, as well as newer platforms that are growing rapidly (Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.).

Once you know where your potential customers hang out you can figure out a way to reach them and get more exposure for your message and brand.

Example Test 1: Identify the most relevant niche platform where your audience hangs out online. Research the best practices for promoting products on that platform and then do so with your product. Try some paid tools or advertising if available for the platform.

Example Test 2: Make a simple browser extension, if relevant for your product or service.

16 Trade Shows

Trade shows offer you the opporunity to showcase your products in person. These events are often exclusive to industry insiders, and are designed to foster interactions between vendors and their prospects.

Early on, you can use this traction channel to build interest in what you’re building. As you get more established, you can use trade shows as an opporunity to make a major announcement, sell big clients, seal a partnership, or as an integral part of your sales funnel. We interviewed Brian Riley of SureStop, an innovative bike brake startup, to learn how it sealed a partnership that led to more than twenty thousands sales from one trade show and its approach to getting traciton at each event. Gabriel Weinberg

Trade shows offer you the opportunity to showcase your products in person. These events are often exclusive to industry insiders, and are designed to foster interactions between vendors and their prospects.

Use the event to make a major announcement, sell big clients, get new partnerships, or as an integral part of your sales funnel. Note: you do not necessarily need a stand or booth to be effective.

Example Test: List all relevant events over the next year. Dig deeper on the next few months to make sure smaller events are on your list. Exhibit at the one that seems most promising.

17 Offline Events

Sponsoring or running offline events — from small meetups to large conferences — can be a primary way to get traction. We spoke with Rob Walling, founder and organizer of MicroConf, to talk about how to run a fantastic event.

Offline events give you the opporunity to engage directly with potential customers about their problems. Such events are especially important when your target customers do not respond well to online advertising and do not have a natural place to congregate online. Attracting these customers to one location or going to a place where they meet in person can be the most effective way to reach them. Gabriel Weinberg

Companies such as Oracle, Salesforce and Box put on huge conferences in order to help maintain their position as market leaders.

Example Test 1: Put together a one-day mini-conference. Pull together a few regional guest speakers to speak during the day.

Example Test 2: Email prospects and customers in a local area and ask if they would be interested in a meet-up or evening social event to meet likeminded individuals. .

18 Speaking Engagements

Public speaking can help increase the awareness of your business and establish an individual (and your business by extension) as experts in a particular field. This channel works well when there is a group of people in a room that — if you pitched them right — would move the needle for your business.

Example Test 1: Pitch a talk at a regional conference.

19 Community Building

Community building involves investing in the connections among your customers, fostering those relationships and helping them bring more people together. You can build this community on different platforms – via email, in the comments of your blog or face-to-face.

Companies like Wikipedia and Stack Exchange have grown by forming passionate communities around their products.

Example Test 1: Join three online forums where your customers already exist and engage as a useful member of the community on at least twenty threads on each over the period of a month. Include references to your product where appropriate and in your signature.

Example Test 2: Start putting together your own community using an online forum tool.

More on community building

Stuart Brameld

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