January 17, 2024

Startup Brand Awareness Strategies: Maximizing Impact on a Budget

Written by:
Tori Krouse

In the startup world, we’re constantly grappling with tight marketing budgets. But, on the road to validation and fundraising, we must prove product-market fit, demonstrate consumer demand, and ignite initial traction. So we have to be creative to drive brand awareness and create engagement for our product or service. Here are some of the strategies and tactics we employ to help our clients succeed. 

Know your target and get to them early

If you’ve done the right discovery work, you’re arrived at a great idea and know who it’s going to benefit. Introducing your product to them in its early stages and extending an invitation for their input in refining it can be invaluable. Your early adopters and enthusiasts will value the opportunity to be an integral part of your company's journey, eagerly embracing your product, contributing to its refinement, and catalyzing organic growth through enthusiastic word-of-mouth endorsements. They’ll help you eliminate bugs and provide details about user experience, and give you real market insights, understanding how your product resonates with real people. Inviting them in early will help them connect with your brand, and therefore they’ll become authentic and loyal brand advocates, spreading the word about you. Additionally, their involvement can help prevent you from growing too fast, shielding you from the risk of introducing an imperfect product to customers who might not extend the same leniency as early adopters.

Consider the ‘Velvet Rope’ strategy 

You might be thinking, "I want to grow, so why would I possibly limit access to my product?" Well sometimes it’s the right strategy. While this approach might not be suitable for every brand, there are certainly those that can reap the rewards of an air of exclusivity. Implementing an invite-only model for an app, for instance, has the potential to cultivate a sense of curiosity among the wider audience, piquing their interest and enticing their desire to gain access. A prime illustration of this strategy's effectiveness is evident in the rapid expansion witnessed by the app, Clubhouse.

Build a great referral program

The introduction of a referral program can cultivate a strong sense of involvement among your current customers, inspiring them to advocate for your product or service. This grassroots propagation through word-of-mouth can initiate a cascading effect, magnifying your brand's outreach and enticing new customers, all without the need to spend more money. A remarkable example of this is the story of Dropbox. Through their ingenious referral initiative, offering free storage to both referrers and referees, they achieved a staggering 3900% user base growth in just 15 months.

Discover niche influencers

Most people think influencer marketing is far too expensive to achieve with a small budget. But that’s not always the case. While you won’t be able to afford the big names, you can still find success doing influencer marketing with smaller budgets. Plus, big name influencers don’t always equate to conversions. Oftentimes, they have less engaged followings than a niche influencer. A niche influencer isn't characterized by having hundreds of thousands of followers; rather, they possess their distinct brand and a following that genuinely feels a deep connection of familiarity and trust with them. Your key lies in identifying these niche influencers who genuinely resonate with your product or service. These partnerships tend to yield more fruitful outcomes. Their contact information can usually be found on their social media profiles, and chances are, they’ll respond to you as they’re also looking to grow through mutually beneficial partnerships.

Be active on social media 

This might seem like a given, but we want to make sure it’s not underestimated. Finding a dedicated social media person does not have to be expensive. They could be a driven college student looking to make some extra money. Have them establish your brand presence across social media platforms, ensuring consistent branding, and tailoring content to suit each channel. It’s a great way to connect with your customers, and provide quick customer service which goes a long way in building trust. Plus, you can encourage User-Generated Content, alluring existing customers with the prospect of having their posts shared on your platforms, and showing potential customers how beloved your brand is. And, trust us, in the day and age of TikTok, rapid growth can happen overnight. So, go ahead and try it out.

Try content marketing

In our opinion, content marketing is never a bad idea. It drives credibility and positions you as a thought leader in your field. Beyond this, it serves as a potent tool for fostering organic growth down the line. However, it's important to note that witnessing tangible outcomes can demand some patience. Therefore, we recommend starting your content program early, and scaling it as you grow. And know, you're laying the groundwork for future success. But remember, your website absolutely must be optimized for search engines. Otherwise, they may not index your content or help you rank for SEO.

Don’t be afraid of paid

You don’t have to pour thousands of dollars into paid marketing to see results. You can test and learn with small budgets to find out what’s working, and once you know, find a budget you’re comfortable with and let it ride.

We know some founders pride themselves on their ability to amass a substantial user base without spending a cent on marketing but we don’t think this is always something to brag about. When investors ask about their ability to scale, and the founders claim they’ll use their investment to dive into paid and project significant growth, there’s a problem in that they have never tested it, have no idea if it will work, or what their acquisition costs will be. 

Find partners to collaborate with 

Whether it’s sponsoring a community event that resonates with your brand's values or embarking on strategic partnerships with like-minded startups that cater to similar customer segments, these collaborations possess an inherent potential to significantly expand your reach. Through cross-promotion, you’ll amplify your brand's visibility and foster meaningful connections with your target audience.

Get creative with Guerrilla Marketing

Guerilla Marketing strategies capture attention and engage your audience in unexpected and usually low-cost ways. These creative initiatives frequently push boundaries, sparking conversations and word-of-mouth marketing. Think back to when Red Bull threw empty cans around crowded areas to drive home the message that it was a popular drink. This approach granted them free advertisements and a surge in reputation. We’re not condoning pollution, but we remain impressed by the ingenious strategy.

Thanks for the read! Remember, the first step to gaining brand awareness on a startup budget lies in crafting a truly exceptional product that ignites customer satisfaction and prompts enthusiastic word-of-mouth endorsements. And we know we gave you a lot of ideas, but it’s important you don’t attempt them all at once. Instead, concentrate your efforts on making each endeavor a remarkable success or a valuable learning experience. Maintaining focus will help ensure you’re tracking your efforts effectively, allowing you to discern what's working and what strategies might not be worth pursuing long-term. Good luck with your endeavors, and remember we’re here to help. Reach out.