How to Build a Foolproof Startup Marketing Plan

A startup marketing plan is your business’s guiding star to navigating the murky, ambiguous waters of scaling a startup. It helps keep you on track and avoid fatal mistakes and business-ending distractions.

Without a startup marketing strategy, you’re just throwing darts at the board and hoping something sticks. While that can lead to one-off success, it’s not a sustainable plan.

You need a map to take you from Point A to Point B—and that’s what your startup marketing plan provides. Below, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to develop a personalized marketing strategy for your startup. We’ll start with the essentials, and then we’ll move on to a list of potential strategies and tactics for you to consider.

What is a startup marketing plan?

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Your startup marketing plan is your business’s guide to marketing. It defines your goals, target market, differentiating factors, and marketing strategies. It helps you build a replicable plan for success, allowing you to learn from your failures and scale your victories.

At a bare minimum, your startup marketing plan should include:

  • Marketing goals: Key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics
  • Target audience: Ideal customer(s)
  • Product-market fit: Where your product fits in the market
  • Budget: Amount of cash you have to work with
  • Team: Individuals responsible for executing the plan
  • Strategies: Tactics you plan to use to market your startup

Why do you need a startup marketing strategy?

A startup marketing plan is non-negotiable. From the get-go, you’ve been marketing your business.

When you first wrote your business idea on the back of a napkin to when you pitched the idea to your partner to get their buy-in (or at least permission), you’ve been marketing your business.

However, you’ve likely noticed things are getting a bit unmanageable.

It’s impossible to find time to post on LinkedIn, update your website, publish new blog posts, revise old blog posts, send your weekly email newsletter, and monitor if anything is actually working.

We get it. It’s a lot to juggle. Whether you’re a team of one or 10, marketing your startup can be a logistical nightmare if you don’t have a plan.

Here’s how a startup marketing plan can help:

  • Identify: You can’t be everywhere at once. There are good, better, and best marketing strategies—and you only have the time and budget to focus on the best.
  • Prioritize: Avoid shiny object syndrome and stay focused on your top-priority channels and tactics. If Twitter Ads are giving you the most bang for your buck, fine-tune your success and maximize your return on investment (ROI) there.
  • Eliminate: Not every strategy will work for your business or audience. Know when to cut your losses and move on. If a channel isn’t yielding a return, remove it from your plan and focus on something else.
  • Test: Marketing is an ever-changing field. What worked yesterday might fail tomorrow, and you always need to be testing new ideas to see what sticks. Don’t get caught like Blockbuster in the 2000s.

The 11-step process to developing your startup marketing plan

Let’s be real—seeing an 11-step process might be overwhelming. You might be tempted to jump down the list or skip straight to the tactics, but resist the urge.

It’s important to start from the top as you create your startup marketing plan. Skip to the strategies, and you might come up with brilliant marketing ideas that don’t fit your target audience—and that means you likely won’t hit any of your goals.

Take your time. Getting this process right can lead to long-term success.

1. Identify your marketing goals

What do you want your marketing campaign to achieve? Are you looking to build awareness of your products, or do you want to collect sign-ups for an upcoming beta launch?

There’s no right or wrong answer here, but your goals will be foundational to coming up with a successful marketing strategy. Choose the wrong goals, and your marketing plan will always disappoint you.

Here are a few goals to consider:

  • Awareness
  • Sales
  • Subscriptions
  • Lead generation
  • Traffic
  • Signups
  • Cross-sell
  • Up-sell
  • Free trials
  • Customer reviews
  • User experience
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV)

Choose the KPIs and metrics you’ll use to gauge success. For example, if you want to use marketing to grow product awareness, how will you measure it? Will you launch surveys, or will you measure traffic to your product pages?

2. Define your target audience

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Describe your target market. If you’ve already created your buyer personas, great! If not, here’s where to start.

First, think about who you’re creating your product or services for.

What do they want? What problems do they face? How does your solution differ from existing alternatives?

Fill in the following details to the best of your ability:

  • Demographics
  • Psychographics
  • Behaviors
  • Interests
  • Wants
  • Needs
  • Problems
  • Current solutions
  • Preferred channels

As you market your products, you’ll learn more about your audience. You might find they dislike certain vocabulary words, or you may discover their perfect price range.

Update your target audience profiles when you learn this information, and use this data to optimize existing and future campaigns.

3. Find your product-market fit

Product-market fit is about introducing the right products to the right market (at the right time). Your product should solve a customer’s pain point, and they should want to buy it over any existing alternatives or substitutes.

You don’t want interested customers. You want customers who will put their wallet where their mouth is and buy your solutions.

Do marketing research to refine your products and business model.

Here’s how to find product-market fit:

  1. Understand your target customer
  2. Find customer pain points
  3. Offer a differentiated solution
  4. Describe your value proposition
  5. Outline your MVP
  6. Build your MVP
  7. Test your MVP
  8. Upgrade and improve
  9. Test your MVP again

4. Decide on a budget

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A marketing strategy without a budget is just a wishlist. You need actual numbers to accompany your plan.

Without it, your plan might as well include getting Elon Musk to promote your product and Amazon to feature it on their homepage.

If you’re like most startups, you probably have a super-slim marketing budget. There’s nothing wrong with that—it just means you need to get creative and thrifty.

For example, organic social media is free, but paid social media marketing is expensive. Posting organic search-focused content on your blog is free, but pay-per-click (PPC) advertising on search pages is not.

You don’t necessarily need to limit your marketing plan to free channels, but you do need to prioritize where you’ll spend your money (and how much money you have to spend).

Here are a few free tools to hopefully help out your bank account as you explore your options:

All of these startup tools have free plans that’ll scale with your business. Start for free and wait to upgrade until absolutely necessary.

5. Build your marketing team

It’s possible to run a do-it-yourself marketing show, but your marketing efforts will perform better with a team.

You have enough hats to wear already, don’t you?

Your team doesn’t need to be expensive. While you might wait to hire full-time employees to manage different marketing channels and programs, you can start today with low-cost independent contractors and freelancers.

You might hire a freelance writer to help with your website’s copywriting, and you could find a graphic designer to design your logo and landing pages.

Yes, their services come at a price, but you can find talented people on sites like Upwork and Fiver.

6. Create your essential channels

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Every business’s marketing plan will look different, but your startup should at least have these essential assets:

  • Website: This is the home of your startup. It’s where potential customers, investors, and lenders will visit to learn more about your business.
  • Blog: Your blog is where you share information about your products and solutions for free.
  • Social media profiles: Grab social media accounts on popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube to secure your handle for the future.
  • Email list: Start building your email marketing strategy from day one. Google can change its search algorithms, and Twitter can freeze your account—but nobody can take away your opted-in email list.

7. Zero in on your primary channels

Now, it’s time to use your audience research and data to determine your primary channels.

  • Where do your customers spend their time, and where can you reach them?
  • Do they tend to look for answers to problems on Google, or do they turn to their Reddit community?
  • Does your audience like to read from news sites, or do they prefer influencers’ blogs?

Answers to these questions will dictate how you should prioritize your startup marketing program.

Remember, you can’t be everywhere.

Your marketing should be about quality over quantity, and your quality is going to suffer if you try to post on every possible communication channel every day.

8. Test, test, and retest

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Your marketing strategy is never perfect—there’s always room to grow and improve. Send your campaigns out into the world, and then see how they perform. Learn from your failures and victories.

When possible, A/B test your marketing materials. Whether it’s an email subject line or a landing page, test it with your audience to see which variations perform best.

Changing something as simple as the layout of your page or the text in your call-to-action button can have profound impacts on your marketing efforts—and they don’t involve you revisiting the drawing board and starting everything from scratch.

9. Analyze the engagement data

Keep an eye on your success metrics during your campaigns—not just at the end. You might find engagement data that inspires tweaks in your strategy that’ll save you money (and boost performance) when implemented now instead of later.

For example, if you notice that your YouTube ads have a better conversion rate (and lower cost per acquisition) than your LinkedIn ads, consider moving your LinkedIn budget over to YouTube.

10. Optimize your campaigns

image alt text Your startup marketing plan isn’t on auto-pilot—you can’t just set it and forget it. There’s room to upgrade and optimize all of your campaigns, from your website blog to your email newsletter subject lines.

Look for ways to improve, and ask your customers for feedback.

You might find that you’re fatiguing them with too many weekly emails, or you may find they want to see more video content on your website.

11. Revisit your marketing plan

Make time regularly to review your marketing plan. Your business goals might have changed, or you may have started targeting your audience differently—these business insights should be reflected in your marketing strategy.

Take time once a quarter to sit down and revisit your plan. What’s working? What’s not? What channels do you want to experiment with? What channels could you cut?

Startup marketing strategies to consider

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Your company could adopt dozens of different marketing ideas for startups, but more isn’t necessarily better. Instead of stretching yourself out across multiple channels and campaigns, hyper-focus on a handful of high-priority mediums.

You can expand and test later, but you likely don’t have the budget (or time) to build a high-quality blog while producing a video series and publishing viral content on TikTok.

And what about offline marketing channels like direct mail, events, and billboard marketing? Do these have a place in your strategy, or should you focus on online marketing and digital marketing tactics?

Here are a few of the best startup marketing strategies to consider:

  • Email marketing: Build your email list and use it for newsletters, product updates, and promotional content.
  • Social media marketing: Tap into your social network with PPC ads targeting your product pages or gated assets (to convert into email subscribers).
  • Earned-media marketing: Use the power of public relations (PR) to get featured in news coverage.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO): Invest in building high-quality SEO content marketing assets on your website that’ll convert organic traffic from search engines.
  • Offline marketing: Purchase billboard space or other offline marketing materials to build awareness and make sales in the real world.
  • Referral marketing: Incentivize customers to refer other users by rewarding them with discounts and prizes.
  • Influencer marketing: Partner with influencers and micro-influencers in your communities to promote your products and build awareness.
  • Free trials: Offer free trials (or free versions) of your products to get users in the door and experimenting with your solutions.

These strategies tend to offer the most bang for your buck, but they’re not the end-all-be-all.

You might find the most success with answering customer questions on Reddit and Quora, or you may find that your customers respond better to SMS marketing than email marketing.

If that’s the case, by all means, invest in those channels.

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