Start up your Startup Marketing Part 3: The Fun Stuff

Welcome back! Its week three of our startup marketing guide and it’s finally time for “The Fun Stuff.” Over the last two weeks, we’ve inundated you, our dutiful readers, with walls of technical jargon and abstruse facts but it’s finally time we pony up. If you’ve been following along then you should have a pretty good idea of what we're talking about this week: it’s “The Promotional Mix.” This is going to be another long one so let’s jump right in.

The traditional promotional mix, as it was first conceived, consisted of Advertising, Public Relations, Sales Promotion, Direct Marketing, and Personal Selling. However these categories were defined before the internet, and, as it has been known to do, digital communication makes the lines between these categories a bit fuzzy.

Take for instance AI chatbots like the one Burberry used during London's fashion week. Ostensibly it's a “person,” selling you high fashion clothes right at your “doorstep.” Sounds like personal selling. But it’s also a direct message, “spammed” to thousands of customers, which are hallmarks of direct marketing. So it’s both? Neither? Something new?

There’s also content Marketing which, depending on who you ask, may or may not be apart of the promotional mix. For the purposes of this blog, that’s what we’re calling it. What we're trying to say is: it’s complicated. That's why we’re here to give your startup the tools and the vocabulary to make the most out of this mix-up.


Unless you’ve already read our blog on the subject, you may not have been previously aware that advertising is actually a distinct category within marketing and not, as it typically used in conversation, synonymous with marketing. Advertising is any paid promotion of products or services through mass media channels. These channels include but are not limited to print, television, radio, and web. Advertising is distinct from the other promotional methodologies because of its capacity - or rather its propensity - for storytelling. It is the OG infotainment.

Startups looking to differentiate themselves from similar competitors in an established market could use advertising to most effectively articulate their unique selling point. However, startups with a shoestring budget might not be able to afford most mass media channels. If you need to get the most bang for your buck, look no farther than social media advertising. Most in-app tools allow for very nuanced target audience selection and budgeting. Typically they also come equipped with intuitive design tools which make them very friendly for the “two guys in a garage” sort of startup. As a creative agency with a fondness for storytelling, advertising is where Kapowza shines.

Public Relations

Public relations is your startup marketing wingman. The most effective way to get free publicity – the best kind of PR – is to simply do something interesting. For the truly innovative startup, one that not only creates a new solution but a whole new industry, you might think the PR manages itself. However, there’s not a whole industry of public relations managers for nothing. Talking to the press is like talking to the police, you never want to do it alone. If you can afford to pay someone to do it for you, you should.

That said, if you are going at it alone, we recommend keeping an eye on HARO, a powerful tool for connecting you with journalists and reporters looking for interesting stories to cover. Another helpful hint we heard from some of our friends and experts in public relations: when you do get free press, use paid ads on your audience's favorite social media platform to give it a bit of a signal boost.

Sales Promotion

This one is pretty self-explanatory but it's rarely if ever considered marketing by anyone who isn’t actually in marketing. A sale is any exclusive offer not included in the standard product or service; traditional examples of this are coupons, rebates, and discounts. More recently though startups have used unique sales tactics as a part of a larger growth hacking strategy to rapidly improve product availability and increase demand. Dropbox’s referral incentives updated an old sales strategy for the 21st century and increased their signups by 60%. Giving users a little more of your product or service in exchange for their endorsement is a quick and easy way to convert customers into advocates.

Another addition to the ol’ “everything old is new again” adage, is the content offer. This is the web version of your supermarket's free samples. While content offers are typically created in the context of inbound marketing, any promotion of the offer itself is sales. The difficulty with the “freemium” model of business will always be converting free users into paid users. Some principles to keep in mind, know your free content limits, promote your premium offer, set conversion goals, and last but not least, keep innovating.

Direct Marketing & Personal Selling

We’re covering the last two traditional promotional methods together for two reasons: there are very few techniques that appeal to startups and as mentioned earlier, the line between the two is not as clear as it once was. Turn of the century direct marketing could have been summed up in two words: junk mail; the most popular form of direct marketing today is still often considered junk mail by most spam filters. If you have a newsletter, and you should, just make sure you have a reliable list of emails and tools in place to cull it regularly.

Originally devised as customer service tools, SMS, MMS, and messenger app bots are now advanced enough to have organic conversations with customers. Bots can be powerful lead conversion tools, but just like junk mail, savvy consumers can spot spam a mile away.

Last but not least, the traveling salesmen. Reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated. Certainly, Kirby still has the market cornered on the whole door-to-door market, but there’s another sort of personal selling you’re probably a lot more familiar with. Steve Jobs pretty much single-handedly elevated the sales presentation to an art form. Your investor's pitch is hopefully just the first of many sales presentations you’ll give as you continue to grow and establish your startup as a thought leader in the marketplace of ideas.** If you’re fortunate enough to have (or be) a charismatic and thoughtful CEO, this one’s a no-brainer.

Inbound Marketing

Simply put, the content marketing process provides gated information in exchange for consumer data. To use a rather cynical metaphor, it’s the cheese in the mousetrap. The intent is to create, publish, and distribute information target consumers can easily search for, find, and engage with. The standard suite of content includes blogs, instructional guides, infographics, and podcasts, which brands publish on their site and distribute through social media.

Your site is your content hub but it obviously will serve as more than window dressing for your blog. A complete startup website should have at a minimum, who you are, who you work for, the work you do, a contact page, and an on brand 404 page. Search engine optimization, or in layman's terms, adding metadata and keywords to your content, is a vital part of this methodology. SEO is how consumers find content on your site, and not someone else's. Somewhere on the vhen diagram between invasive and innovative, businesses have started using consumer data collected on their site as their content by sharing our information on social media.

When selecting social media networks only establish accounts where your intended audience is already engaged. If your customers don’t use Facebook then its a waste of time and energy to maintain one. Planning what you share on social media in advance is a core part of content marketing and it’s an effective tool for driving sales from social media. After “create meaningful content” the second best thing any startup can do is “join the conversation.” Use hashtags, they’re SEO for social networks and studies show more really is better.

Whew okay, we’ll admit that was a lot, and yet there’s still enough we haven't said to write 6 more blogs. We would guarantee we would but it sounds more like a threat than a promise.

If you’re wondering “whatever will I do?” now the startup marketing series is over, never fear! We’ll be back again next week with a surprise Part 4: The Interview where we talk to our friend and startup marketing superstar Heather Fields.

**While you'll need to be the judge of what your startup is ready for or not, SXSW is a great place to connect with possible investors, collaborators, and users for your new product or service. The whole Interactive conference is perfect for startups and features a tradeshow, tons of insightful sessions, and speaker events. Our friends at Startup League are running a contest now that will offer one lucky Startup a free Interactive Pass (a value of $1,325), for more information on how to enter or on the great benefits available to Startup League members, click here.