“New customers make the startup world go round.…”
OK, full disclosure … I made that quote up right this very moment!
While it may not have come from Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, it does sound quite appropriate for today’s startups, doesn’t it? It is one of the hard truths of the digital age that new customer acquisition is absolutely necessary for the creation of innovative and cutting edge products/services.
It is time for us to give the attention deserved to every entrepreneur’s most pressing early-stage startup question:
How do startups acquire sufficient customers?
Remember, there are numerous digital age startups that still fail (and fail miserably) even though they have great products, rock star digital marketing and experienced teams. Looking to our question above, we should take note we used the adjective sufficient to define our ideal customer base.
Well, as most entrepreneurs are aware, it isn’t an overly strenuous exercise in mental/startup competence to find a small customer base in the digital age. Even the digital age startups that truly hit rock bottom managed to accomplish just that. Yet, without sufficient customers you won’t be able to raise sufficient capital, and without sufficient capital, you run the risk of becoming just another unflattering statistic of the digital age startup scene (i.e., part of the 90%).
As a startup founder and entrepreneur, you likely understand better than most the notion that disposable resources are the bane of your startup existence. Not only will you have more time than disposable resources, but you will likely have more highly talented human capital as well. This means that the only solution for digital age startup survival is to evolve and innovate with the resources you have available. From content marketing, to SEM and social media, customer acquisition for young startups requires a multi-faceted approach.
To help facilitate this process, we have created a three-point plan of customer acquisition best practices. We will provide you with the need-to-know customer acquisition basics, as well as a list of additional resources.
Let’s take a look!
Best Practice #1 – Focus on Content Marketing
With all the buzzword rhetoric surrounding our digital age understanding of “content marketing,” we need to recall what content marketing truly is: the application of mostly digital media and content in order to keep your ideal consumers informed and entertained.
Typically, a diverse content marketing strategy is employed in order to raise the profile of a marketer and the brand with which he or she is associated. Content is great for customer acquisition in the digital age as purchasers are more autonomous and self-sufficient than ever before. They want independent engagement and the availability of high value content. From traditional content such as email marketing, to the millennial-focused campaigns of today, content marketing has the potential to take many “purpose driven” forms.
Here are five simple steps startups should follow to capture digital age customers with a multistep content funnel:
- Start Social: Social media (more below) networking works wonders when it comes to startup customer acquisition. Not only is it rather efficient in creating buzz marketing, but startups have the potential to organically reach a huge consumer base. Try using Instagram or Twitter to post a photo/Tweet value- driven information. When a potential customer sees this post with intrigue, they will likely follow you. Look to promote your startup industry and learn what it is that your consumers really want.
- Blog Post: After establishing a “social” relationship with your potential consumers (i.e., an ice breaker), the next step is to continue to nurture this relationship with more value-driven information. With potential consumer interest now perked, it is time to pass along blog content. This content can further discuss news and developments within your industry or can focus on fixing a problem many of your potential consumers are likely to have…. i.e., transferring value. Demonstrate your personality and build trust just like you would in any relationship.
- Enhance Value: The third step of the startup customer acquisition funnel is to highlight your academic prowess as an industry expert. This should take the form of an in-depth and authoritarian article. Not quite to the level of a white paper, but with more detail than your typical blog post. Your potential consumers are likely to be impressed with your knowledge on the topic and this will help facilitate social shares and email opt-ins.
- White Paper: As the most important value-added content you can provide, white papers are very similar to presents on Christmas … not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but most are packed with long lasting value. You should pass along a well researched and high value white paper via email and include a link to your sales page. Potential consumers that recognize time, effort and value will be impressed and looking for more.
- Landing Page: Your sales/landing page is the culmination of your content marketing and customer acquisition journey. While not typically thought of as “pure” content marketing, sales pages cannot efficiently serve their function without proper consumer nurturing. From social to blog to white paper, each is a necessary prior step in the customer acquisition journey of the digital age.
Given its diversity, content marketing should be considered an essential part of your customer acquisition strategy for both the customers of “today” and “tomorrow.” Look to develop a great team of content all-stars, continuously strive to meet the needs of today’s consumers. Here are additional resources for further content marketing guidance:
- How to Create a Content Marketing Strategy
- Why Startups Need to Rise Above the Deluge of Crappy Content
- Content is Customer Success
Best Practice #2 – Don’t Forget Your SEM
Search engine marketing (also known as SEM) is the logical continuation of content marketing. Without a basic understanding of its tactics and techniques, including both paid advertising and SEO, your value driven content will never reach the audience it was intended for and you will never acquire the customers you need. A recent study by Shop.org and Forrester Research highlights this point, with 85% of retailers surveyed indicating search marketing was the most effective customer acquistion tactic.
As we have recently covered PPC advertising in some detail, let’s turn our focus to SEO. Search Engine Optimization will help your startup rank naturally in search engines, as well as develop organic consumer relationships that are built on mutual trust. Contrary to popular opinion, SEO goes beyond simple links and keywords and is really is a broader concept designed to increase content popularity and authority.
SEO should be considered ideal for those digital age startups that already have a significant number of pages and a firm commitment to both content creation and distribution. For those startups still looking to build product buzz and general awareness, social media is a good alternative option (see below). As SEO can potentially generate traffic throughout all parts of the consumer funnel (i.e., from research to purchase), it is ideal to use SEO in combination with other techniques of content creation. Two essential points of focus for SEO customer acquisition are the appropriately named “on-page” and “off-page” SEO. Let’s briefly review each.
“On-page” is the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. This refers to both the content and the HTML source code. Some potential tactics include:
- Long Tail Strategy: Long-term SEO strategies will focus on long-tail keywords. These keywords are three- and four-word phrases extremely specific to the product/service you are selling. Highly specific keyword phrases means you can more easily meet the specific search needs of consumers. Blogs are a great tool with which you can begin employing long-tail keywords.
- Focus on Headlines: When it comes to copy, we will always come back to headlines. You should be including keyword phrases in the headlines of each of your pages and blog posts, as this is the only copy you can confidently know visitors will read. Try to keep the phrase between 50-70 characters, make sure your headlines are compelling and engaging and avoid clickbait headlines that fail to include keywords (Google doesn’t like that).
- Optimize Meta Tags: As short snippets of text describe your page’s content, meta tags do not have a huge impact when it comes to SEO, but are in fact essential for convincing potential consumers to click through to your website. Make sure you know your four types of meta tags (Title Tag, Meta Keywords Attribute, Meta Description Attribute and Meta Robots Attribute), keep the length to around 155 characters and write compelling copy.
“Off-page” SEO refers to the body of techniques (often associated with linking) that can be used to improve upon the position of your website in search engine results. It essentially tells Google what others think about your page. Some potential tactics include:
- Build Audiences with Social Media: The future of link building is social. The priority of Google is to prove quality and relevant content to search engine users. Typically, the best quality content is the content that is shared at a high frequency. Make sure to focus on creating compelling profiles with quality community engagement. Social bookmarking is also a great technique as a bookmarked page sends more quality signals to search engines that your content is top notch.
- Create Linkable Assets: Sharable value in the form of “linkable assets” means free tools or premium content (i.e., white papers) that people love to share with their communities. These types of value driven assets can establish a stronger online presence for your brand and business and can even help facilitate collaboration with industry leaders via “influencer features.” Some potential outputs include visual media, how-to guides and tools/apps.
- Use Guest Blogging: As one of the best methods for acquiring links from other highly ranked sites, guest blog posts create value driven and engaging content while incorporating a social community distinct from your own. This goes for whether your write one or put one on your own blog. It will help position you and your startup as thought leaders of the digital age and most influencers will offer an invaluable link back to your website.
Looking for more information on how to create organic search results and place potential customers in a position to find you? Check out these great resources below:
Best Practice #3 – Master Social Media
A common misconception in the digital age is that social media, on its own, has the power to solve the customer acquisition question that all startups face. A few tweets, a few posts and a few tags is all it takes to find you customers … so the myth goes. While it is an attractive theory for many young startups, it is not remotely close to accurate and it often leads to startup disappointment.
Social media excels as a singular (but very important) part of a comprehensive acquisition strategy. Its value lies in its ability to streamline consumer relationships through a mutual meeting of value. As the optimal way for businesses to truly acquire new/loyal consumers in the digital age is to understand and meet their unique preferences for value and the best way to accomplish this is to frequently use the social technology they hold dear.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, over 52% of online adults use two or more social media platforms for their social networking needs. This high usage rate means social media platforms are not only unique in their ability to provide insightful data pertaining to customer acquisition and value preferences, but they can help startups avoids superficial statistics such as “number of followers.”
Some of the potential insights to monitor include:
- Content Relevancy: What you are posting and what is being shared. When content is relevant, you will likely see a wide spread share pattern develop. Attention to share patterns will allow you to alter products and services to fit target market value preferences, and in turn, acquire more consumers.
- Competition: Social data monitoring technology grants businesses greater competitive insights than ever before. From strengths and weaknesses, to opportunities and threats, the typical social media strategy covers the basics. Take advantage of social media transparency and see how competitors are perceived in the market. Take note of any positive strategies you can ethically imitate.
- Influencers: Careful data analysis should be devoted to reviewing the follow patterns of your target markets. Influencers are those select social media users that, for whatever reason, have the capability of exerting significant influence on their followers. You should analyze those individuals making an impact on your target market and see if they can be utilized for linking and shares.
Another area of focus for social media customer acquisition is brand awareness. As we have already mentioned multiple times, great content can only do its job when the right people see the right posts and the right shares. Created in moderation, and while considering consumer preferences, social media brand awareness has the potential to connect/acquire consumers and drive traffic. Effective social media brand awareness can manifest in the following ways:
- Buzz: Marketing “buzz” creation is a viral marketing technique focused on maximizing the word-of-mouth potential of a product, service or marketing campaign. With social media, this takes the form of brand mentions, shares and conventions among social followers. Social media implementation has the ability to create long term value through brand buzz. However, keep in mind this buzz is not always positive, as brand polarization has the potential to create a large gap between supporters and critics. Yet, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Bad buzz can stimulate growth and provide an opportunity for increased support through constructive change.
- Balance: Most startups adhere to a 70/20/10 posting rule when it comes to content posting and new customer acquisition. This rule essentially dictates 70% of posts should be allocated to standard content that appeals to a large audience, 20% of posts should be moderately risky in order to appeal to similar (but new) audiences and 10% should aim for the stars and seek to acquire potentially brand new followers and customers. While the rule is flexible, it is a good principle that can be employed to simplify content scheduling while also continuing to push the boundaries of brand awareness.
- Personalization: Content personalization is a necessity in the digital age, especially when it comes to developing brand awareness. Through social media data analysis, companies can easily identify the consumer value drivers that will create long term loyalty and then aim to align their values with those of their consumers. Once companies identify customer values, they can integrate traditional marketing techniques to create for a seamless flow from channel to channel. Direct engagement with users also goes a long way in conveying personalization. Rather than talking at your followers, engage in a mutually beneficial conversation. Ask questions, answer theirs and make your brand available with an “open door” social media policy.
The above tips and strategies are just a few of the many aspects of social media customer acquisition that you should keep in mind. For further guidance on customer acquisition via social media, see the references below:
To end our discussion on the tips and techniques of customer acquisition for startups, let us recall the words a great entrepreneur once spoke: “New customers make the startup world go round….” The information above, together with the additional resources provided, should help put your startup on the path to customer acquisition success in the digital age. Good luck!