You're no marketing guru. That's OK. It doesn't mean your brand's public image has to slump when there's no budget for advertising, public relations, or marketing. At start-ups, founders often wear many hats, and that of PR rep, marketing specialist and social media manager are likely going to be a few of them. We've compiled the best of Inc.'s recent reporting on bootstrapping and marketing to give you our best tips on successful marketing strategies on a dime.
1. Be your own PR manager.
At start-ups, founders often wear many hats, including that of a PR manager. The good news is that reporters and bloggers are more likely to listen to a pitch from a company founder than a PR rep. "It means something when you tell somebody, 'I invented this product,'" says Leslie Haywood, founder of Charmed Life Products, a Charleston, South Carolina, maker of grilling accessories. "They want to hear your story." J.J. McCorvey and April Joyner compiled an assortment of tips, including that you'll want to start small, by contacting local media outlets or blogs, make a press list, and know what the reporters you pitch write about. Read more.
2. Get creative on Twitter.
Gaia Essentials, her small boutique in Moss Beach, California, is one of several small businesses in the Bay Area that participated in a game in which Twitter users are asked trivia questions about local companies for the chance to win prizes. Jason Sutherland, the founder of Peninsula Shops, a Web-based community portal, devised the game as a way to promote local businesses. Every morning for a month, Peninsula Shops tweeted a trivia question about a company. In the case of Gaia, visitors flocked to the store's website, and many stuck around to do some shopping. Read more.
3. Let your buyers and celebs create your buzz.
In fall 2000, Henri Bendel hosted a press breakfast to introduce 20 new suppliers. Maureen Kelly, who'd just started Tarte Cosmetics, found herself in a room buzzy with fashion magazine glitterati, many of whom subsequently wrote about Tarte. That exposure brought orders from national boutiques, including Bergdorf Goodman. After that, fashion magazines did Kelly's advertising for her. Her only promotional expense was using the website WhoRepresents.com to identify agents for celebrities and mailing them samples. Oprah Winfrey was one target; in March 2001, Tarte turned up on the influential O List. Read more.
4. Do your own market research.
"Keeping track of who your competitors are, what people are saying about them, and what they are saying themselves can help you differentiate your business and stay ahead of trends that could impact your business," says Michele Levy, an independent brand strategy consultant. You can do the research yourself – by knowing the products or services your competitors sell. But, there are also specialized tools you can tap along the way. Read more.
5. Get obsessive about telling everyone what makes you stand out.
Kelly Cutrone, star of Bravo's Kell on Earth and founder of People's Revolution, says for building brand awareness, nothing's better than social media. "Get 65,000 Facebook fans. Make a one-minute short film and pop it up on Facebook and just talk to 65,000 people. Get it on the internet, then the Wall Street Journal and 700 bloggers pick it up and cut and paste it, you have a global message for very little money." We asked Cutrone what other brand-building advice she has, and she said: "Right now, everyone and everything is the brand. Your diary is now your Facebook page. That's great. But it's like, what do you have to say? What's your news? If you're a fashion designer and you have a new collection, well, so does everybody. It's like you're making little rick-rack t-shirts. You're not going to be in Vogue. You need to change your expectations or change your products." Read more.
6. Create great, simple, videos.
When it comes to explaining what your company does, video often speaks louder than words. YouTube demos featuring seemingly mundane products such as blenders and mattresses have attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers online. Plenty of companies on shoestring budgets, using just a basic camera and simple editing software, have produce an entertaining demo. Just be ready for it to reach thousands of prospective customers. Last August, FrontPoint Security began posting video tutorials on its website and on YouTube. Since, the number of monthly sales leads on its web site has increased 250 percent. Read more.
7. Get your loyal following to lend a hand.
What about just asking customers to give you some Facebook love for free? That was the approach taken by Powell's Books, a bookstore in Portland, Oregon. Beginning in 2008, the company placed small graphics at the bottom of every page on its website and e-mail newsletters. These little advertisements entreated customers to "Find us on Facebook" and "Follow us on Twitter." For a month, Powell's even used the marquee in front of its store to ask for Facebook fans, which was surprisingly effective, says Megan Zabel, who manages the company's social media efforts. Over the course of a year, the company went from roughly 3,000 fans on Facebook to 38,500 and from a few hundred followers on Twitter to more than 12,000. "The more fans we have, the more people are proselytizing our brand," Zabel says. "Word of mouth is one of the most powerful selling tools." Read more.
8. Go mobile.
There are a handful of new, low-cost ways to get your brand in front of the most valuable consumer eyeballs. And it's in a place people are likely to trust: on their cell phone. Advertising on mobile phone banners is relatively inexpensive - though rates range widely in the young market. Third Screen Media and AdMob, the two main mobile-ad networks, charge CPMs of $15 to $25 for banner ads. "The market is trying to find its price points," says Mike Baker, head of Nokia Ad Business, which charges CPMs as high as $75. Read more.
9. Hone in on your target demographics.
You can also target customers from specific geographical areas or with certain demographic stats on Facebook. Inc.'s Max Chalfkin writes: "Beyond the simple fact that social networks offer advertisers access to tens of millions of potential customers, they present two clear opportunities for more effective campaigns. First, they promise the ability to target customers with precision. If you want to reach baseball-loving twentysomethings who live in Seattle and have a college education, you can find social network groups that fill the bill. Second, social networks encourage your customers to recommend your company to others. Let's say your company has a Facebook profile, and another user signs on as a 'fan' of yours. Facebook will then alert that person's friends, informing them of the connection. Voilà: textbook viral marketing for free." Read more.
10. Make the most of e-mail campaigns.
Whether you want to trumpet a new product, spread the word about a sale, or simply say, "Hey, [first name], you are important to us," e-mail marketing is a great way to interact with customers. We picked a variety of services that let you manage subscriber lists, comply with spam regulations, monitor bouncebacks, and obsessively track who opened and clicked on what, so you can learn the options that might work for your company's budget. Read more.