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Startup Guide: How to Attract Customers

Megan Pratt

Principal Product Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

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Every startup begins with a great idea. With a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, that idea can become a tangible, real-life product. However, developing a product is only the first hurdle that companies have to clear. The next challenge is to find (and attract) customers who will buy that great idea. If a startup doesn’t have a strong plan to attract customers from the early stages of development, getting that initial customer traction can be difficult. It may sound like common sense, but in actuality, most startups fail at the critical post-launch stage — in 2018, 67% of startups didn’t make it. Luckily, there are ways to prevent this from happening and to find those critical early customers. Our startup guide will help you get started.

Start with Three Simple Questions

What problem does the product solve?

This question seems like it came out of Startup Guide 101, but the number one reason startups fail is due to a lack of market need. Many startup founders fall in love with their product and forget about the customers — actual people with needs, desires, and pain points. The best way to get customers for a product is to make sure it serves one or more of the customer’s real needs. Identifying these correctly helps businesses hone their messaging and target customers for whom the product is most relevant. 

Who would benefit most from this solution?

Once the problem is identified, the next step is to consider who the problem affects. Asking this question will help the company develop a persona of the typical customer. It’s good to be as specific as possible in this process. Few products apply to broad sectors of the population in their entirety, such as all women, athletes, or teens. A more helpful composite would be something along the lines of “educated, working mothers in suburban areas with teenage children.”

Where are the customers?

Once a business has determined who the potential customers are, the next step is to figure out where to find them. The answer to this question can be a physical place, for example, a conference, a trade fair, or a community event. Businesses can also target potential customers in the virtual spaces where they spend time, such as TV, websites, and social media. With so many options available to consumers, it’s essential to do this research. For example, if a business is targeting teens, it would make sense to spend advertising dollars on Instagram or TikTok. LinkedIn or on industry-related websites are a better way for B2B companies to get customers for their product.

Tips and Tactics for Gaining Customers

Once the three questions above are answered, it’s time to start getting customers for the product. Below are three practical tips:

Be incremental and experimental 

Big marketing campaigns, SEO efforts, and media buying can be risky with a shoestring startup budget. Marketing overkill can burn through the entire organizational budget in a short period of time. Even if the efforts are successful in getting customers for a product, it won’t matter if the startup goes under in the process.

Startup guides often recommend approaching marketing and sales like a science experiment — simply define the metrics and KPIs and begin experimenting. Paid ads are an excellent way to experiment and validate assumptions. Does the business assume that urban 20-somethings will respond to messaging about health and fitness? It could run a brief paid ad campaign using that type of messaging and measure how many leads it brings in. It’s also a good idea to start small. Even a budget of $500 can be significant in testing assumptions or in gaining the endorsement of a valuable influencer. The startup can then increase the budget once it has honed it’s messaging and strategies. 

Give something of value for free

Everyone loves to get things for free, and giving away something of value is an excellent way to get customers for a product. For example, companies can start by offering a free, beta-version to a select (and preferably influential) group. They can provide insights and feedback about the product and serve as a reference for future customers.

Another option is to give users a free trial. This is critical for virtual products — why would a customer pay for a software product if they have never tried it? Another tactic is to offer a freemium option — let users use a part of a product for free. Once they use the product, they’re more likely to pay for more advanced features.

The company can also position itself as a source of expertise and in-depth understanding of the problem. By creating helpful content in the field, such as blogs, guest blogs, webinars, and videos, companies can start to develop thought leadership and gain recognition in their industry.

Work with influencers 

Since it’s low risk with the possibility of a high reward, influencer and affiliate marketing can be an excellent way for startups to get customers for their product. Influencer marketing is paying someone who has a significant online following to review or endorse a product. This works best if there’s an influencer working within a specific niche. For example, if a product tracks effective water use in gardens, the company could work with an influencer in the environmentally-friendly gardening space. Even if a niche influencer doesn’t have a huge following, their followers are more likely to be interested in the product than the general population. 

Affiliate marketing also utilizes influencers who post links to a product on their blogs or other media channels. They can actively endorse the said product, or mention it with the link. The startup or other company then pays them for every lead or sale that comes through their link. It’s a zero-risk method — if no leads or sales are generated, the company doesn’t pay anything, which makes it a good option for startups looking to get customers for their product without breaking the bank.

Getting customers for a product can often be more complicated than developing the product itself. However, by asking the right questions and using low-risk, incremental, and experimental methods, startups can target the right customers without going over budget. Moreover, smart marketing tactics will help them learn more about customers and their needs and help the business grow.

You've read our startup guide on how to attract customers — next is the startup guide to building a hybrid social media strategy

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