5 Minute guide to low cost, high impact advertising for startups

Startup marketers often ask me, “How can I get advertising results by spending little or no money?”. I've been meaning to put my responses in a blog and finally, here it goes:

Step 1: Setup your infrastructure.

Google Adwords, Mixpanel (on your web). Parse, Flurry or other analytics services on mobile. Make sure that you can measure even minor increase in traffic and sources of traffic.

Step 2: Create great landing pages.

By great, I mean landing pages that are really, really awesome. They must be responsive, look absolutely fantastic and must have a clear, call to action (like fill up a form, sign up link for a webinar etc). The landing pages must have customer testimonials.

Additionally, the pages must load fast and they just need to work without extra effort(goodbye, cumbersome form validations). Landing pages are reasons why most ad campaigns fail. Don’t have a bad landing expect customers to sign up to your services just because you're spending money.

Step 3: Build your advertising banners / messaging.

It is surprising how many entrepreneurs get this wrong. A great product with bad messaging is NOT going to sell. We are yet another X is not going to initiate customer interest.

Brainstorm and find out, what would make a jaded prospect of yours, click on your ad. Experiment with variations and be ready to A/B test.
Talk about case studies, have a strong call to action. Study case studies of similar companies and find out what has worked for them.

Step 4: Choose your battles, er Channels: Twitter / Linkedin / Facebook / Display Ads / Mobile Display or Retargeting

There are plethora of options available. I’d recommend one comprehensive platform (shameless plug: like http://reducedata.com ) which has most display advertising options and that which can be optimized for results.

Most importantly, choose a platform / channel through which your target customers customers are reachable.

Step 5: A/B test everything

AB test everything as a part of your advertising plan. Ads, landing pages, optimization settings and target audience including geo, demographics, campaign timing etc. Monitor everything closely. Prepare to spend 3 hours a day looking at Google Analytics, reports from your ad platforms and more. Not sure how to do it? Ask for optimization help and many smaller platforms will gladly help you to do so.

Step 6: Keep tuning and filtering out non performing items.
For example, block non performing zip codes, non performing demographics, non performing websites, devices and so forth. Watch your marketing funnel (most platforms visualize the funnel). Find out, which part of the funnel the users are dropping off and optimize that. These steps help you to get better results.

Step 7: Measure your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Measure KPIs within the platform as well as outside the platform. In advertising, this is how many customers are converting, and at what cost. How many clicks and at what cost. How much of engagement or increase in revenue and at what cost. Mostly, these numbers will be in the red. And it takes several weeks if not months of optimization to get the numbers to a desired level.

Step 8: Add in some content marketing (Outbrain, Taboola & Blogs) and affiliate marketing.

Articles appearing all over the web seems to be adding credibility to your product(s). Affiliate networks are platforms where you only pay for results such as form fills, sales etc. Don’t rush and convert your entire budget to affiliate marketing. There are downsides to that (a great topic for another blog entry)/

Step 9: When everything fails, call the experts.

By experts, I am referring to campaign managers at ad platforms who are in-charge of optimization. Or better yet, engage some performance ad agencies with the emphasis on results. Both campaign managers and ad agency account managers have years of experience in tuning digital campaigns for results. This effort might cost you a little extra. But that money is well spent as it helps you learn the ropes as to how to run digital campaigns effectively for results. In the long run, you should aim to move this entirely in house.

That’s about it. A sustained effort, while closely watching the metrics will deliver the highest ROI on your ad spends.

Ready to start advertising? Have Questions? I'll be glad to help. Please get in touch with me at asif@reducedata.com.

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