Startups in general fail pretty miserably at one thing – marketing
Looking from the outside in, most successful startups really take off because of great technology, timing and/or word of mouth. They almost always succeed in spite of their marketing efforts.
From over-the-top launch parties to the infamous 2000 Super Bowl, which featured a staggering 22 dot-com ads, startups tend to fall flat when it comes to getting the word out about themselves.
In light of this, I would recommend that startups avoid traditional marketing altogether.
A startup in the early phase shouldn’t bother with advertising for two reasons. First, it’s expensive. Second, it doesn’t scale well. After all, startups face two key challenges. They must stay afloat long enough to reach critical mass, and then effectively handle that growth once it comes. The only kind of marketing that complements these unique challenges is content marketing.
I recently argued that a great content strategy can be built and maintained on any budget. People tend to think of Coke and Red Bull when they imagine successful content and dismiss it as unaffordable, but this is certainly not the case.
But this isn’t just a matter of saving money. The key benefit of content marketing in the context of startups is that it increases leverage and scales incredibly well. Startups typically aren’t just looking for the cheapest options — they’re looking for the most efficient options.
Content marketing both stirs up growth and scales seamlessly with the business as it takes off. The snowball metaphor is appropriate here: As long as your initial efforts are sticky and you roll in the right direction, you will gain momentum quickly.
Whereas typical advertising is generally aimed at winning over the early and late majority quickly, more in-depth content can be geared towards speaking to the innovators and early-adopters that will likely propel your business into long-term growth.
In addition, building out a strong online community and following is not a one-and-done deal like more traditional forms of advertising. Great content can pull people in to your circle of influence and allow your promotional efforts to build off themselves and scale exponentially.
Many in the startup community love to point to growth-hacking as a key to success, and content marketing is very amenable to the growth-hacking mindset. Whether it’s leveraging your non-marketing insights to build out content, repurposing content for different mediums or leveraging your network via syndication, content marketing will afford you the opportunity to dramatically scale your efforts if you’re willing to put in the work.
Content marketing is also ideal for an organization that is poised for massive growth. Many startups (most notably the ones that fail) tend to look at marketing as a means to an end. Pets.com pays for a flashy Super Bowl ad in order to make more revenue. They pay for the ad, and in 30 seconds their investment is just a memory. However, content makes great marketing an end in itself, and allows you to incorporate all the good will marketing can bring into the heart of your organization.
Take the social scheduling tool Buffer as an ideal example. Buffer in many ways was a typical startup. It began with a key insight, relied heavily on a great product and customer service and got some funding early on. What Buffer did differently, though (and what contributed to its overwhelming success), was to realize that its content marketing could not only help it grow, but could actually come to define and add value to the organization as a whole.
As Buffer scaled, they not only added more features to their core product, but they also doubled down on their content strategy. They used insights gleaned from the tool to create fascinating and informative posts and courted industry insiders to add credibility to their name on their blog.
Every dollar they invested in their content not only spread the word about their product, but actually added tangible value to their ancillary brand as a digital marketing authority. The craziest part is that, while the figures aren’t readily available, my gut tells me that all of this good will that was generated through content marketing for Buffer probably cost less than one 30-second Super Bowl spot.
Mr. Honigman is a marketing consultant, freelance writer and professional speaker.
Originally published on wsj.com