How to think about your growth marketing tactics at a startup

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Kayak from above with 4 rowing people. Blue and aqua water background. Sport and moving concept. Red kayak and 8 paddles.

Marketing is hard — even at mature, highly successful companies. As with many jobs, you’re asked to do more with less and predict the unpredictable. I’ve found that developing a marketing engine at a startup is the hardest of both worlds… you’re trying to create product-market fit, find your best customers (without having lots of customers), be frugal, place a lot of bets you think may work, all while fielding questions about the lifetime value (LTV) of a customer. (Seriously, just because I can do the LTV calculation doesn’t mean it’s important right now.)

With those musings, I thought I’d share a few tactics I’ve learned from building a growth marketing engine at Vendia. While the tactics may look #basic, I highlight some of the unique ways we’ve leveraged traditional channels to grow a robust marketing machine.

2 tactics and what they mean at the startup stage

Invest in content marketing to scale your founders

Content marketing is the basis for any B2B SaaS. Why? Because content is great at building trust, educating your customer, and helping you articulate who you are and what you do.

Startups bring on their first marketer as they transition from founder-led sales to marketing or sales-led customer acquisition. Blog posts, videos, infographics, recorded webcasts, and white papers are vehicles that scale your founders’ high profile, high-octane stories. At Vendia, our co-founder, Tim Wagner, is our most prolific writer — he probably writes a white paper a month.

But wait, what about SEO and ranking on Google? Isn’t that what content marketing is really all about? I want my “free” website traffic!

In general, yes. But there are plenty of reasons to produce valuable, informative content that has nothing to do with ranking on page 1. If your customers (or leads) are frequently asking the same questions, that’s a sign to write a doc or blog about it.

Test LinkedIn Ads to get product-market fit signal

12 months into our startup journey, there were a lot of internal discussions along the lines of, “Who are we? Who do we serve best? What market can we capture?” Instead of having the loudest person in the room decide, the leadership team approached me to run some digital ads to see where we could get the most traction.

Here’s my step-by-step guide for finding product-market fit signal using LinkedIn:

Step 1: I worked with the leadership team to create a classic positioning statement:

For {{Job title}} and {{company characteristics}} who are trying to {{pain points/projects}} Vendia Share provides {{solution}}. Unlike competitors, {{insert competitors names}} Vendia is {{differentiators}}.

Step 2: I used ZoomInfo to find companies that fit the profile — or got a list of companies that use competitor technologies.

Step 3: Then, I created ads that either included the pain points or the solution with a call to action (CTA) that invited targets to download a relevant white paper directly from LinkedIn.

While it would be awesome to say, “Ta-da, positioning exercise complete!”, we all know it’s not that simple. What this did help us do was figure out what to stop considering for our positioning.

At startups, knowing what not to do is just as valuable as knowing what to do.

It’s also really helpful to test any sales plays with marketing first. Marketing tends to be more nimble than sales. You don’t have to build a 25-slide deck and train the team. It’s much cheaper and faster to launch a small LinkedIn Ad campaign to assess interest and make sure this is a group you can even target before you start glorifying sales decks!

Place a lot of bets — and give yourself some time

There are a lot of other channels and tactics to get up and running — along with nailing positioning that I don’t cover here.

It can be really overwhelming when you realize you have to post to the blog, pitch your founders to podcasts, iterate on your website, ship SWAG to an event, and keep your CRM and marketing ops in tip-top shape. …There’s a reason most marketing teams are a dozen people.

For all the other marketing motions, I recommend making a simple plan with help from outside resources.

If you can, get some contractors. l liked freelancers over agencies, but to each their own. Freelancers tend to have lower upfront costs, undesrtand that you are small, and typically tailor their strategies

Example: PR and awareness

While I’m inclined to focus on the classic mid-funnel motions (i.e., conversion to sale), at the early stage, we have seen real value in investing in top-of-funnel and awareness tactics. We picked our tactics and messaging very deliberately and strategically. Instead of hiring a large PR firm to get as much Vendia-centric press as possible, we’ve opted for a freelancer that helps us center our founders, Shruthi Rao and Tim Wagner, as leaders in the next-gen blockchain movement. We also hired a company to book Shruthi and Tim on relevant the tech, cloud, blockchain, and startup podcasts.

We see solid engagement and slight website upticks everytime our founder appears on a podcast or we are featured in the press. Just like content marketing, awareness helps scale your founders and build trust.

You have to place a lot of bets at a startup. You won’t be sure what works so you can’t go “all-in” on one particular channel/strategy/tactic. On the other hand, place smart bets and don’t be afraid to give projects time to breathe.

Want to follow our latest ‘bet”?

Check out Circles of Trust, a podcast for innovation leaders and disrupters all about data sharing. Listen on SpotifyGoogle, and Apple podcasts.

Looking for your next role in tech? Explore current opportunities at Vendia