How to design an effective marketing strategy for a FinTech startup

If the sheer task of having to build an effective marketing strategy for your startup sounds overwhelming to you, I would like to offer some tips from my own experience to help you get started.

I do understand your position — you are a small team operating on a tight budget, and each one of you is wearing more than one hat. You cannot afford a marketing person yet, so you have gone through a ton of material online on marketing strategy, growth hacking and lead generation. You have also checked what your competition is doing, but you are still not sure what would be the best thing to do.

My opinion is that if you take a strategic approach to marketing from the beginning, you can greatly simplify the task, and reap great results as a by-product. Besides, even on a shoestring budget, there is no excuse for not doing it well nowadays with so many channels, different tools, strategies and tactics available.

On top of that, creativity is definitely the best possible competitive advantage! I strongly believe that we have all got it ‘built in’. Make use of brainstorming techniques! Feel free to explore quirky and radical ideas! Personally, I find Design Thinking very helpful. Give it a try!

How to get the most out of your marketing efforts with limited resources?

Now, since you want to get the most out of your marketing efforts with very limited resources, I suggest that you implement the following framework:

  • Target one customer segment only — but identify the one with the most urgent need!
  • Pick just one channel for distribution — but the one where the most of your potential clients cluster!
  • Select just one or two tactics — but the most appropriate ones for your purpose!
  • Then, execute really well! (Cannot stress enough how important this is!)
  • Also, use testing and metrics to measure relevant things so you can improve them or scrap them completely in case they are not working!
  • Simply, improve and repeat, or discard and try something new!

Once you figure out what works — providing that you have also fine-tuned your product, officially launched it or are about to do it — you are ready to scale your marketing, that is, add more segments, channels and/or tactics. (Hopefully, you have also managed to raise more funds in the meantime!)

At that point marketing becomes even more important, and adding a marketing person to the team would be an ideal solution because your funnel would need to be optimised for maximum conversion (e.g. landing pages, CTAs, sign up forms, content, etc.). It is essential that the actions you would like your potential clients to take are so carefully designed that they move through your funnel as quickly and as frictionlessly as possible. Your task is not just to attract your prospective clients, but also to educate them if your product is a completely new concept, activate and retain them, as well as nurture those who do not convert straight away. Hence, you will have to create a segmented database that will enable you to do personalised nurturing of your leads.

When you reach that stage, excel spread will no longer suffice. Fortunately, nowadays companies like Salesforce offer prebuilt integrated tools for CRM, marketing automation, web analytics, email system, payment system, A/B testing, etc. I checked their Products Overview page a few days ago and learned that they have also built AI technology called Einstein into their platform. Best of all is that you can pick and choose from the tools, start small and upgrade the features as your business grows. (A free trial is available!)

Here is how Mint, a personal financial management app targeted at young professionals, managed to build a large following and grow trust along with their brand in just eight months. By the way, Mint enables its users to track bank, credit card, investment, and loan balances and transactions through a single user interface, as well as create budgets and set financial goals.

Everything they did in that early stage was done for free or as cheaply as possible. The traffic was driven to their app via their personal finance blog and high-quality content. Additionally, they earned free advertising on hundreds of different blogs and social media pages by offering their users special access to their app in return for displaying a Mint badge.

I think Mint’s strategy was so effective due to the following: they identified their target audience very narrowly — a young professional crowd neglected by financial institutions; they were creating superior content; and they had well-executed landing pages. Another important success driver was their strong SEO strategy bringing in 20% of the total number of new users.

Later, Mint expanded to Facebook and Twitter, and also developed an effective PR strategy. Within two years, Mint became the place to go for everything connected to personal finance. It grew to 1.5 million users and was sold to Intuit for $170 million. And, just to mention that they did hire a marketing person as soon as it was possible.

That’s a brilliant example of a great marketing strategy coupled with great execution!

How do you decide what to go after with limited resources?

But, how do you decide what to go after with limited resources? How do you actually design the right strategy for your startup? How do you choose the most appropriate channel, select the tactics and create compelling content/messages?

Marketing is actually a matter of common sense. No matter if it’s B2B or B2C, the art is to target the right audience and to show them clearly why your value proposition is a good deal. Obviously, it is important to have a good product/service — so your customers are happy, and consequently purchase again or renew, and also turn into your advocates.

The best advice I could give to anybody in the startup world is to always think of your customers first, in whatever you do! Lots of resources can easily be wasted on building a perfect product no one wants. Therefore, your first and foremost task is to make sure that there is a product-market fit! As a startup, you can combine Design Thinking with MVP/Lean Approach, and be very successful. Both can be applied to your marketing as well.

My second best advice is to keep it simple! Your marketing messages and communication will be all that much more powerful. The better understood you are, the more persuasive you are. Clear, simple and compelling is the winning formula. Keep in mind that your audience is probably like all of us: very busy, short of time, with so many things simultaneously fighting for our attention. Here is Mint’s simple but powerful tagline: “When you’re on top of your money, life is good. We help you effortlessly manage your finances in one place.”

Deep knowledge of customers

Strategies and tactics depend on what needs to be achieved. They have to be underpinned by deep knowledge of the customers. The better you understands your customers, the easier it will be to attract, activate and retain them! I would therefore suggest that you start with defining your buyer/user personas, and their pains and gains. Here are some questions to guide you through:

Who are my customers?

Find out as much data as possible about your customers: location, age, income, education, skills, interests, motivations, goals, lifestyle, product/service expectations, how they consume/buy products/services like yours, etc. Who influences them? (Are there any other important stakeholders that need to be considered?)

Where are they?

Research what social media networks your customers are on. Do they belong to any groups/associations? Do they go to any events, etc.? How do they consume content? Do they listen to podcasts? What blogs, publications, etc. do they read?

What is the pain my product is addressing?

Articulate your customers’ pain points in detail! In other words, what are the unmet needs your product/service is satisfying?

What will they gain by using my product/service?

How is your product/service going to make their lives easier/better/more productive, or save their time, money, etc.? (What value or benefit do you create? Why would they pay for your product/service?)

I would like to explain why it is so important to define your customers’ pains and gains: when talking to them, you are not going to talk about your product features — which most startups are very passionate about — but rather about the customers’ pains you are relieving and the benefits you are bringing them. In my previous example, Mint is not talking about the tech built into their app, but about helping their clients effortlessly manage their finances in one place, thus making them feel good.

Your goals and how to achieve them

Once you have specified your target customer segment, their pains and gains, and found out where they congregate, you can start thinking about your goals and how to achieve them by asking the following questions:

What do I want to achieve?

Clearly define your goal: would you like to acquire new customers, increase conversion, reduce churn, increase engagement, grow trust, build my brand, etc.?

What is the best way to reach my customers?

Now that you are armed with the data about your customers and their behavior, plus the insights you got from that data, it will be much easier for you to decide on the most suitable channel of communication with your customers — especially since you have also specified your goal!

What is my message?

What would you like to communicate? How can you connect it to your customers’ pains and gains, or other topics of interest and relevance to them? Craft your message specifically for your audience, in the appropriate format! You have to make sure that your message is suitable for the channel you picked by looking at how people consume content in it. For instance, the same message will be structured differently even if it is meant to be consumed as a direct response ad on Facebook and Twitter. In general, any content can be repurposed as long as the format is adjusted to each specific channel.

Inbound vs. outbound

When it comes to choosing between inbound and outbound strategies, I would like to point out that there are advantages and disadvantages to both. In case you need to acquire customers quickly, you might want to go for paid ads. This is quite a common path early stage startups take. If people search for a product or service you offer, Google AdWords is a good option to get traffic straight away. On the other hand, if no one searches for your product or service, then you could take advantage of demographic segmentation on Facebook, or interest targeting on Facebook and/or Twitter. Obviously, there are many more other possibilities. These are just some of the most popular channels.

Building your own audience with inbound marketing is a real asset, but it requires time and human resources. However, inbound leads are three times cheaper and the conversion is two times higher.

One should also keep in mind that organic traffic created by inbound marketing is something that cannot be bought, and that a piece of good content can keep pulling people in via search engine for years. On the contrary, paid advertising stops bringing in prospective customers as soon as the money tap is turned off.

The combination of both inbound and outbound is also possible. Your options are not limited. This is where ‘creative marketing’ comes in. The question to ponder is: what is the best way to achieve my goal with the available resources?

It really depends!

Naturally, a lot will also depend on the type of product or service you offer. For instance, a SaaS solution for banking infrastructure will definitely require a different marketing strategy from Mint’s because there are numerous stakeholders involved who need different type of content than Mint’s customers (e.g. feature guides/whitepapers, BP guides, demo videos, case studies, ROI/pricing calculators, etc.). For SaaS businesses Customer Support is a very important marketing channel. Also, email marketing works well for them. Their customers attend industry conferences, read analyst reports, visit User Forums/Groups, they can be found on LinkedIn, etc. Another good idea when it comes to SaaS businesses is to develop a Thought Leadership marketing strategy.

Email marketing is definitely one of the things you can utilise too — the sooner you start building your own email list, the better! The reason why email marketing has the highest ROI is that the audience can be segmented and targeted with highly personalised messages.

A more sophisticated marketer

I do not doubt that with time and practice you will become a more sophisticated marketer. You will learn how to pull in more prospects and convert them without being pushy; for instance, by creating incentives for your prospective customers such as free tools, free trials, giveaways, etc.

If a product requires habit formation, you can use external and internal triggers in order to bring users back repeatedly. Then, well-optimised CTAs are extremely important since they triple the number of leads.

At some point you will also start thinking about designing and implementing effective retention marketing strategies. The retention phase is the most profitable — this is where you can expand your offering by cross-selling and upselling!

And finally, if you effectively use data and metrics from the beginning, you will gain valuable insights and will be able to keep improving your product or service along with your marketing.

P.S. Do not forget that channels constantly change! This is something to keep an eye on. For instance, LinkedIn is currently making a lot of big adjustments that will definitely have effects on users’ marketing decisions.

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I am providing free mentoring once a month. I will be happy to brainstorm your marketing strategy with you, as well as discuss your funnel optimisation or any blockage points via Skype, or over a cup of coffee/tea at Level39. (Willing to sign an NDA!) Please, feel free to contact me! My email is zana.demellweek@CMOfin.tech

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