Unmasking marketing: Tried-and-tested marketing methods of pioneering start-ups

Which marketing channels work best for business? Award-winning UK start-ups reveal the marketing tactics they’re using to turn prospects into customers

Struggling to develop an effective marketing strategy for your new business? You’re not alone.

According to David English of The Start Up Loans Company the number one question raised by start-ups after they’ve received a loan is ‘How do we market?’

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to magically attract new customers, there are a number of marketing channels your start-up can leverage – and your marketing strategy will differ depending on whether you have a limited budget or a ton of advertising spend.

At the Startups Awards winners’ dinner, three early-stage UK businesses that have achieved explosive growth candidly revealed their marketing methods, and which marketing channels have helped them clinch new customers…

Social media

Jasper Martens, PensionBee:

“The way we attract customers to consolidate their pensions is mainly through Instagram and Facebook. These are very unusual channels when you compare this to other pensions companies and pensions providers but, actually, about 65% of customers come through these channels.

PensionBee Facebook post marketing

A Facebook post from PensionBee

“When you join a company as the only marketer and there’s only a bit of money to spend on marketing, you know you’ve got to quickly find what channels are going to be the most effective. At Simply Business [where Martens was previously head of marketing] we were spending a lot on Pay Per Click (PPC). We don’t have the budget now so you suddenly have to find out what the channels are where customers will find you.

“An interesting thing we realised early on was that nobody was looking for our products – with insurance, every 12 months you’re looking to renew it, but a ‘pension consolidation service’ isn’t something that a lot of people are searching for on Google!

“We’ve found that showcasing 30 second clips on Instagram, while someone’s on the train commuting for instance, is where we acquire our customers and where we get a touchpoint.”

Influencer marketing

Luke Barlow, Netduma:

“The world of influencers has been absolutely massive for us.

“When we launched we knew we had a great product that solved a real problem but what we didn’t have was money. We watched what gamers, our main target market, do and they watch YouTube all the time. There are various famous gaming YouTubers these days and there is a particularly established one in the gaming industry that we were targeting for the game Call of Duty.

“He’d recently reviewed another router and criticised it so we thought ‘well this is a risk but we believe in our product so why not try it?’ We had a great Skype call with him and he got the product, loved it and put the review up. We gave him a free router – which was quite a lot of money for us back then- and commission so for every sale made he would get a certain % for every sale. This meant that as a startup we had zero risk but he would also benefit from our success. The video hit about 50,000 views that night and our website actually crashed!

“Once we cracked that we knew we were on our way so we got a whole mixture of YouTubers – some of the smaller YouTubers who maybe get 3,000 or 4,000 views per YouTube video where you can give them a free router to do a video – all the way up to a Spanish YouTuber who gets about one million views per video.

A YouTuber review for Netduma’s R1 router

A YouTuber review for Netduma’s R1 router

“I think YouTube reviews for our router now total between five to 10 million hits, at least, from these videos but we haven’t had to break the bank to do it.

“You have to be very open and transparent with influencer marketing as you can get in trouble if you do it the wrong way. That’s not our style though as we tell them that they can tell everyone if they were paid for the review. We want them to give an honest review so don’t lie and if they don’t like something about the product, just say it.

“Influencer marketing has worked so well for us and it’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to bootstrap as it doesn’t need that many people to get it off the ground, and we’ve been able to market in the most cost-effective way for us.”

TV advertising – and marketing attribution

Miranda Cresswell, tails.com:

“One of the things I want us to get smarter around is attribution. I think there’s a lot of beard stroking on issues of marketing attribution but, if you think more laterally and you’re comfortable with rough measures rather than precise measures, the answers are there. We’ve recently been trying to figure this out this year as our TV response rate was dropping.

A still from a tails.com TV advert

A still from a tails.com TV advert

“It’s going to sound so obvious but the coupon code attribution from TV was dreadful so it was easy to think that TV was not working. In fact, we had to rethink this and look at the positive impact of what was happening to direct traffic, to search, to the capture of email, to click-throughs on Facebook ads etc.

“Validating this all with some quantitative and qualitative work, we’ve now got a very aggressive timeline to get back on TV in the Autumn with new creative and a new media strategy.”

Geo-targeted outdoor advertising

Martens, PensionBee: “We got to the stage where we had started to test marketing channels and understood customer acquisition through Facebook and Instagram, so we then wanted to know whether traditional marketing methods – like billboards, television and radio – made any sense.

“We’ve been running a test campaign in Brighton and Hove as I really want to understand, as a start-up with a limited marketing budget, if billboards actually work.

“If it does then, for our next company funding round, I will be able to show this to our investors and say ‘Well this is what happened in Brighton at this scale, imagine what could happen across all of our channels if we had the money to do so.’

“We targeted people travelling on the train from Brighton with specific campaigns and their click-rates were much better and the cost-per-acquisition was a lot lower.

PensionBee’s latest marketing campaign

PensionBee’s latest marketing campaign

“Trying to understand geo-targeting has been a really big moment for me because at Simply Business we had bigger budgets and it was a case of ‘here you go’ so we did television and outdoor advertising. As a start-up, we really need to understand what the results will be if we spend £20,000 or £30,000 in Brighton and Hove. If there is no result whatsoever, then our investors will say it’s a ‘no go’.

“The campaign has grown our brand across SEO channels but what has been more profound, and we’re still in measuring mode, is that it dramatically improved the click-through rate on our Facebook and Instagram campaigns.”

What do you think? Let us know what marketing channels are working, or not working, for your start-up in the comment box below or Tweet us @startupstowers.

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