In the first article in this series, I discussed how to create a marketing strategy for promoting your startup as well as how marketing activities should determine marketing channels. In the next few articles, we will go through each activity–starting with writing–and discuss cadence, format, and channels, which will give you the remaining details that you need to execute your marketing strategy. The main driver that determines which activities will likely be most effective for your startup depends on the characteristics of your ideal customer as well as the capabilities of your team. Similarly, which channels are most likely to reach your target audience hinges on where they hang out and get their information.
Write short-form posts
The principal aim in writing short posts is to participate in discourse with your customers and to build your visibility, which usually translates to amassing followers. The most common incantation of this activity is tweeting although there are other channels that can be equally, if not more, effective than Twitter. Some of the most popular channels for writing short-form posts include:
- Twitter (hourly)
- LinkedIn (daily)
- LinkedIn groups (weekly)
- Facebook (daily)
- Facebook groups (weekly)
- Reddit and subreddits (daily)
- Hacker News (daily)
The chief challenge in making writing short-form posts an effective tactic is that everyone is doing it because it is easy. This creates a lot of noise above which your own discourse must rise and do so in a way that conveys your marketing message while staying authentic and personable. The greater the noise, the more frequent your posts must be to get noticed. Next to each channel in the above list, I have added an approximate cadence that needs to be maintained to build visibility over time.
On a channel like Twitter, one must post nearly hourly to break through the noise. At the same time, it’s quite challenging to come up with eight to sixteen authentic and personable tweets that are also on-brand and promote your marketing message. Finally, as mentioned above, choosing the most effective channel depends mostly on where your target customers hang out. If you are targeting hardcore quilters, LinkedIn or Hacker News are unlikely to be the right channels for reaching your customers.
Write long-form posts and articles
One of the best ways to build your startup’s brand is by providing useful information to your customers, and long-form posts and articles are often the best media for doing so. Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing is among the seminal books written about inbound marketing, and I highly recommend that you read it. In short, the idea is that by sharing useful information and advice with your customers, you are also building trust and authority in your area of expertise, so if those customers ever need a solution like the one you have built, they will come to your company first.
As an example, let’s imagine that you have built an app that helps dog owners find dog walkers. While it’s true that your product is specifically about walking your canine friend, your goal is to reach dog owners, and they have many questions and challenges that you can address in a series of long articles. For example, you or someone on your team with relevant expertise can write a whole series about training your dog focusing on one area per article–e.g. training your dog to stay. It’s reasonable to assume that with time, dog owners will find your writing and appreciate the tips that your startup has shared. And when it’s time to find a new dog walker, your startup is likely to be at the top of the list of sources to investigate.
The main challenge with writing long articles is that it takes a lot of time and effort to compose ones that truly stand out while being quite difficult to reach a large audience from the start. It can be very disheartening when you have spent eight hours writing a masterpiece of an article, you post it on your blog or Medium, and hardly anyone reads it let alone votes it up or shares your brilliant work. There are a few best practices to keep in mind that will help your writing find a big, engaged audience.
Cadence is a very important factor in determining how successful this tactic will be. If you post one article per month on your company blog, you can almost bet that your readership will be miniscule. Instead, the goal is to write at least one informative and well-written article per week, but the gold standard is writing one article per day, or as close as you can get to that frequency.
The difficulty is, of course, both coming up with a new topic and actually writing a solid article each day. There are two ways to help make the process easier and more effective. First, keep a document with possible article topics open on your computer at all times, and note down any new ideas that come to mind as soon as inspiration hits you. Second, try to keep your articles to a manageable length; three to four-minute reads are typically ideal. Another hack is drawing inspiration from other sources such as the index of a book on your topic or other related blogs or publications. Readers appreciate multiple perspectives on topics, so you might as well voice yours.
The most effective way to reach a large audience with your writing is to piggy-back on another blog or publication’s reach by becoming a guest or contributing author, and the way to do this is building up to big publications slowly and methodically. First, try to get a good number of readers on a few of the articles that you publish on your own. As a very rough rule-of-thumb, get a half dozen articles with at least a thousand views. Then approach a medium-sized blog or publication about writing a guest post for them. Going back to the dog walking app, for example, you might reach out to a blog about dogs like The Superdog Blog, which has a large following but perhaps not as in-demand as The Bark Magazine.
Once you have a few guest articles on medium-sized publications, reach out to large ones and convey to them your track record. Finally, after you have published a few guest posts on large publications, see if you can become a contributing author. The channels at each point are going to be determined by who is your ideal customer and what she likely reads. Build up to this point take a long time, but it will likely be worth it given the exposure that you can get for your startup.
Those of you that listen to the Beta Boom Startup Basics podcast know that my favorite example of growing a startup organically and on a shoe-string budget is the story for The Missouri Star Quilt Company. The story was conveyed to me by a founder of one of our portfolio companies who knows the founders. The Missouri Star Quilt Company was founded by Alan Doan who brought on his best friend, David Mifsud. They started with a small brick-and-mortar quilting supply store in Hamilton, Missouri–population 1,787, and David focused on the e-commerce side of the business. Fast forward seven years, and their small quilting company is awarded the National Small Business of the Year and is the undisputed quilting supplier in the world. How did they do it?
Working with a shoe-string budget, Alan and David apparently spent night and day answering questions on quilting forums. It took A LOT of answers, but over a few years, their profile among the quilting community grew to colossal stature and their business ballooned as well. Missouri Star Quilt Company now employs over 400 people and has revenues in the tens of millions of dollars not to mention that their cult following is so strong that over 10,000 visitors come to Hamilton, Missouri by the bus load!
As I wrote above, giving your customers valuable information, gaining their trust, and becoming a focal point in their community can be a hugely powerful tactic for growing your startup, and what better way to add value than to help people find answers to their questions? The biggest challenge is finding the right channel, but that comes with understanding where your customers hang out. For the Missouri Star Quilt Company, their efforts focused on quilting forums. Here are a few possible channels to get you started:
- LinkedIn groups
- Facebook groups
- Subject-specific forums (yes, they still exist and are relevant)
- Stack Exchange
- Yahoo Answers
Once again, the key is consistency. If you answer one or two questions a month, you likely won’t be going anywhere fast. Aim for at least one answer per day as a very rough target.
Tomorrow, I will cover two more activities around creating valuable content that will help your startup build credibility and engage your customers.