How to market your product on a shoestring

shoesAs a startup, your marketing and PR budget is most likely non-existent, but that does not mean you have to miss out on getting your product mentioned in publications and social media. Granted, you’ll have to put a considerable amount of time and effort into your own marketing, and it requires a serious commitment and schedule. Once your product starts gaining popularity and you gain more investors and funding, you might be better off affording an agency or a team member who could focus exclusively on media relations and marketing. For the time being, there are five main steps you can take into making sure your product sees the limelight and starts becoming integrated in relevant networks.

Identify and work with industry influencers

Remember that influencers not only have incredible clout, but also have a vast amount of experience who can share valuable lessons to your startup. Influencers are trusted experts and their word of mouth will translate into a range of results for you – whether its app downloads, media coverage, customer reviews or even just feedback on your product, influencers are key to your growth. When identifying the best industry influencers for your startup, also think about what you can offer them. Ultimately, how does reviewing or working with your product help their business or brand? Ask and find out what issues they are trying to resolve, or what kind of products they are looking to expand into so you can strategize your approach to make it mutually beneficial to both your startup and the influencer.

Partner with other startups or businesses

Similar to working with industry influencers, working with other startups is a great way to share loyal customer bases, especially when both your customers can benefit from your partner startup. This approach will help you expand into a new customer base who can benefit from your product while your customers can benefit from your partner’s product. Again, before approaching any business, find out if both your businesses will find complimentary ground to work together on and whether this partnership will allow customers on both sides to receive a higher quality of service that also addresses their needs. At the end of the day, no businesses will agree to a partnership if it’s one-sided, which means as a startup, you need to have do your research and target specific businesses, whether they are a startup or a well-known brand, they will also be making their decision based on mutual benefits.

Create a referral system

If you already have a referral system in place, find out how you can make it more enticing for customers to use the system. Taking the example of Uber, customers who use the company’s referral system get a considerable amount of credit which greatly decreases the cost of their next ride. The key message here is that whatever you are offering needs to be creative and noticeable, as this will help you land new customers. Word of mouth travels a long way, and by tapping into this proven concept, your product will gain popularity in circles and there will be only one way forward: growth as your customers will refer you to larger circles.

Content marketing

If you’re confused about what content marketing is exactly, think of it this way: You aren’t simply telling customers to buy or use your product and service. You are explaining to your current customers why they should keep using your product and you are giving reasons to potential customers for why they should start using your product. This is not an advertising campaign. On a shoestring budget, you will most likely approach this strategy using social media and other free platforms such as blogging. When using social media, do your research so you can be strategic with your brand’s voice in each platform. The level of formality, word count and potential buyer’s habits will differ greatly from platform to platform, so you will have to adjust your own strategy accordingly. Social media gives you a great platform to raise awareness of your startup, your products and your philosophies. Before jumping aboard creating valuable and perhaps most importantly, relevant content to market your products, consider the following questions: What are the immediate needs of the customers you are trying to reach on a given platform? How can you add value to their experience of researching business or services to buy into online? What kind of content will be most valuable to them – think in terms of information and interaction or engaging content that your target audience will want to consider?

Be your own brand ambassador 24/7

Wear your company shirt – we know you have one! Stick your logo on your laptop, your phone case and hand them out (along with your business card) to people you meet at networking events. We have all received the valuable lesson in creating a memorable logo, so don’t undermine that effort by not putting your logo out there. As cheesy as it might sound, no one else is going to be your brand ambassador if you aren’t setting an example for it. Become as involved in your networks as possible, it will be much easier for media and users to remember your brand if they can put a face to the logo or brand name. Some of the questions you’ll need to resolve before becoming the perfect ambassador are: what are your key messages? What’s your elevator pitch? How are you going to remain memorable at the end of the night when everyone at the event has met tens of other people? What is it about your brand that draws attention and how you can use this to amplify your key messages?

Ultimately, what it really boils down to is whether you are able to really distinguish your product from other ventures out there. After all, your startup is your metaphorical child, so be obsessive and meticulous with your approach in handling this metaphorical child. Your lack of budget should not hinder your growth, especially if you are making strategic decisions on how to push your startup into the public eye. It is a balancing act where you need to stay selective and constantly doing research and staying up to date with any leads, especially with the possible implications of joining forces with a partner or an alliance. On the other hand, be fearless and optimistic in your approach and keep your key messages flexible up to a certain extent to give you room to grow, improve and evolve as your startup grows.


By: Raphael Cohen, Co-Founder of HotelQuickly, a last minute hotel booking app.

HotelQuickly is a leading last-minute hotel booking app offering travellers discounted hotels in more than 250 destinations and over 10,000 hotels in Asia Pacific. Rates on the HotelQuickly app are, on average, 28% cheaper than the best price online. Headquarters in Hong Kong with offices across the region, HotelQuickly has secured USD3.65m in funding since its launch in March 2013. The app is available for download for free on Android, iOS, and Blackberry 10 devices.

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