PR and marketing investment for startups: the when, what and why

For the supremely talented entrepreneurs and startups doing great work around the world, marketing and PR are often low on their list of priorities. After all, there’s the running of the business to get on with, the development of amazing technology and launching of innovative projects, investment to secure, and people to hire.

However, sadly, the hard truth and well reported fact is that 90% of startups will fail.

Unfortunately, many companies remain well-kept secrets until it’s too late to escape the shadow of their larger, more richly resourced, competitors. For me, one of the key differences between a brilliant idea and a successful company is how well you tell the story about what you’re doing and the positive impact it will have. This is where marketing and PR can make a huge impact to building brand. So, what’s the best approach and at what stage should you look to invest?

The when

So, when do you embark on your marketing and profile-raising journey? When are you going to get maximum ROI from investment?

First, let’s start with the story.

It’s really important when building profile to understand your company’s ‘story’ as to why you exist and why there is a gap in the market which needs filling, or a new market which needs creating. You’d be amazed at how many companies don’t know how to tell their story, however brilliant it might be. This is where your marketing strategy starts. Your differentiating position needs to be strong so that your audience immediately engages with the proposition.

Secondly in the marketing must-haves is your website, or shop window, and once this is somewhere you feel you would like your customers to land, only then it’s time to think about how your audience will find you in the first place.

Thirdly, and this isn’t essential but a very good starting point – it’s good to start marketing when you have a good customer to stand by your brand as endorsement. There is nothing stronger than a third-party voice to tell your story. The customer voice is key to marketing to explain their experience of your brand, and why they chose to work with you over your competitors. Getting customers to tell the positive story as to why they chose to partner with the company is the most credible way to reach more prospects and drive lead gen, and this really works.

Lastly, if you’re going to embark on marketing campaigns, you need some resources and bandwidth to allocate to it. The best marketing and PR campaigns have the leadership team involved – as herein lies the heart of the story behind the proposition. And ideas and thought leadership are free so you should treat these as assets and use them in your marketing.

The what

First up, you need to create an online profile which is consistent with your story. Decide on your SEO strategy, depending on your product or service category. I can tell you that a lot of basic website tweaking (not rocket science either) will help you appear further up Google’s search rankings.

Furthermore, stats tell us that 72% of buyers turn to Google during the awareness stage, which means you need not just searchability, but quality content which differentiates you once you’ve been found. The rest of your searchability depends on having a solid content marketing plan.

This content plan should address the issue your customer is facing which drives the need for your product or service, followed by helpful educational material to nurture and support them throughout the journey. Reading about how customers chose to work with you will drive lead generation more than any other form of content, in our experience so this will form a key part of your plan.

Check your online presence for ‘likeability’ or ‘usability’ factors. Ask yourself if it is all about your product or about you, because it absolutely shouldn’t be. It needs to resonate with your customer audience. Is it too technical? Is it topical? Is it up to date? If you can pass these questions, then make sure that you’re creating useful downloads, or calls to action.

The why (do you know it’s worth it?)

If you’re wondering about kicking off your marketing, ask yourself what the risk is of not doing it. while you’re building a killer proposition that nobody but your network knows about, you aren’t building a new business pipeline of people who are searching for answers. But your competitors almost certainly are.

So, the killer question: how do I know PR and marketing are worth the investment? And the answer is firstly, in how much you spend, and secondly, in the measurement.

Optimisation should be a key part of your strategy if you just want to dip your toe in the market with a focused campaign. For example, if you know you want to reach accountants as your buyers, firstly create the piece of content and messaging that is targeted to them. Make sure the piece is interesting and topical, and then you can place it in a key media outlet such as Accountancy Age. This then has much more reach than your own blog – but also, the media outlet will share across their own established social media channels. You might then summarise this for your own blog, and socialise across your own channels and use the piece to form a content piece for your email campaigns. This creates a bigger buzz all round. The key is to make sure each idea has a long tail, that is how to maximise your marketing investment.

Measurement then comes in the form of using Google Analytics or a marketing automation platform to see where your traffic is coming from. Set targets for what you need to achieve, both in output and in outcomes. You’ll also know if your initial marketing efforts are working because your network will start to comment on it, and with good luck you could even get a direct lead in the first three months. In our experience, the more focused your campaigns, the more likely this is to happen.

Marketing is all about momentum, and as your profile builds, more opportunities arise. At the end of the day, if you’re not marketing your proposition to customers, it’s almost guaranteed your competitors will be.