Startup Marketing: Where Do I Begin?

July 22, 2016

Guest Article By: Lisa Hill


I was recently presented the opportunity to intern as a Digital Media Marketer at a small software startup in Toronto. Excited by the challenge, I was immediately consumed with questions. How will I market a new product with a (pretty much) zero-dollar budget? How can I differentiate the offering from the large number of already-established competitors? Will I sit around laughing all day because it will be just like HBO’s Silicon Valley

As much as I hoped that the answer to the last question would be an affirmative YESthe reality of the startup world is far from what I thought it would be. It’s an uneasy world of ambivalence and semi-controlled chaos. Product name changes and shifts in focus were an everyday occurrence, resulting in constant delays and standstills for the digital marketing effort. You cannot sell a product or execute brand strategy with confidence when you are suffering from a severe identity crisis.


The company I worked for has a solid product offering that solves client needs. They have a well-integrated business model, despite being in need of an occasional adjustment here and there. They have a handful of existing clients with whom they interact frequently and provide a substantial amount of customer service. What’s the next step? What, I ask myself, is needed to accelerate the awareness and growth for the company and its products? 

silicon valley

There are many steps to reaching the common goal, which is of course, to taste the sweet nectar that is company profit. Startup marketing is all about your ability to grow as quickly and organically as possible, building trust and developing loyalty along the way. One of the most important things I can stress is this: The use of traditional advertising is being pushed out aggressively as inbound marketing is assuming control of the advertising world. What exactly do I mean by this? You can use your precious resources to harass internet users with obnoxious web advertisements or spam their already cluttered e-mail inboxes, but this could be a waste of time and energy. Your priority is to engage people with your brand and to do that you must be more thoughtful and creative than you would with older methods of marketing. You must develop relevant, engaging strategies in order to stand out from the noise. 

Seeking a comparative scenario, let’s take a look at a product I like to call my best friend, Dropbox. A well-known startup, this cloud storage company has grown to 4 million users in less than 2 years, with little to no traditional advertisingInstead of cold calling or email blasting, Dropbox focused on word of mouth and more authentic ways to engage potential customers. They built a referral program to attract users, not only increasing client growth by incentive but creating conversation. They provide excellent customer service and have built a solid social presence to focus on how their brand is perceived. Dropbox is a startup success story. 


Like Dropbox we needed to develop an approach that relied on creative inbound marketing methods to help increase brand awareness. The focus was to let customers find us, not the other way around. Through using simple methods effectively, such as Search Engine Optimization, social media, and content marketing, small companies are able to build market awareness on a tight budget. 

Inbound vs Outbound marketing

Source: Artillery Marketing

Inbound marketing is a win-win situation for a startup. By focusing on inbound marketing and the nature of your brand, you eliminate the risk of appearing intrusive or pushy while avoiding being lost in the thousands of other outbound messages from competitors. You can position your brand as a trustworthy friend you can talk to on Facebook rather than an obnoxious ad that is just getting in your face. It requires tremendous effort and ingenuity but it is entirely more cost efficient, allowing you to allocate resources to other areas of company development. As someone who was happily thrown into marketing for a startup company, I was more than pleased to fine tune my content writing and SEO skills rather than, God forbid, make cold calls begging for business. The best way to succeed is to be authentic, organic, and if you’ve read a Malcolm Gladwell book, you’ll know you definitely need a tiny bit of luck. 

silicon valley trending up


Lisa is cultivating her skills learned in her experience at Humber College as well as the customer service and hospitality industry. She is eager to pursue a career in the marketing world where she can combine her proficiencies in writing, design, communication and project management. Besides her obvious fixation on Silicon Valley she is a lover of travel, good food, and funny people. Connect with Lisa on LinkedIn and Twitter to get in touch.

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