OK, we lied. It’s pretty safe to say we are going to cover some of the top marketing initiatives in existence, not just for 2023. That said, before you can establish what your top marketing initiatives should be, you need to evaluate the type of business you have. What growth stage are you in? Are you trying to get your first hundred users or are you trying to scale? For startups and many small businesses, general “brand awareness” campaigns are a waste of money. For enterprises, brand awareness is mission critical.
Assuming you have Product Market Fit (PMF) and you are trying to scale, next consider whether your business is more marketing or sales intensive. Is your primary source of customer acquisition going to be inbound (they find you) or outbound (you find them)? Businesses that have Product-Led Growth (PLG) typically rely on inbound marketing. Businesses that rely more on outbound sales and sales teams are often said to have a top-down sales model. Often B2C tends to lean towards inbound sales and B2B tends to lean towards outbound (top-down), but NOT always. Obviously, your Go To Market motion will drive your marketing initiatives.
Initiatives vs. Campaigns
Generally, I do not see a “campaign” as an “initiative.” It might be a marketing initiative for you to start marketing on social media. Once you do, you’ll run marketing campaigns on Facebook. A marketing initiative might be to improve your website SEO and you might launch a marketing campaign to drive traffic there during the Christmas holidays. In fairness, there is overlap sometimes. For example, I think one could have a product launch campaign that pushes through multiple channels and a product launch could also be considered a marketing initiative. Regardless, we will stick to covering what I consider to be a marketing initiative, not campaign, for the purposes of this article.
What Does Your Business Need?
There are three main marketing pillars: product, growth and brand. For further reading on that, you can check out articles by Sandro Meyer at The Growth Report or Maya Spivak (previously at Wealthfront, Google, Mux, and IBM). We took the marketing quadrant defined by Arielle Jackson (previously at Square, Google, and Cover) and assigned them to the three pillars to create the descriptions below.
Which descriptions look like what your company needs? As you will see, there is overlap between the categories. Further, what you need will probably be a combination of all three. So why bother defining these categories? Because you need to consider the skill sets of the staff you have on hand. Most marketers specialize in ONE of these three areas. Will you need external resources to most effectively implement your marketing initiative?
Most marketers typically specialize in ONE of the following three areas:
Examples of product marketing include market research on customer pain points and competitive intelligence. Customer segmentation and defining your ideal customer through personas. It may also include naming, pricing, packaging, and positioning (messaging). They may work on collateral development, sales, blogs, social media, and emails, overlapping with creative and brand marketing.
There is a huge movement associated with product marketing in Silicon Valley called Product-Led Growth (PLG). In my opinion, a bad description of a good methodology, because it is really customer-centered growth. I think companies that have PLG also typically focus on inbound marketing. In the future, as customers gain more control over what they see and hear, expect to hear more about PLG.
Growth marketing is sometimes also called “lead gen” in the B2B world. The holy grail of lead generation is, of course, automation. An endless self-propelled supply of leads. One word I always think of when I think of growth marketing is “conversion,” but it could also focus on retention. Growth focused marketing will involve channel and funnel optimization like search, display, retargeting, direct mail, podcast or even video advertising. Growth marketers look at attribution modeling as well as lead scoring. They will also focus on organic traffic from SEO, which overlaps with content driven product marketing. Some marketers also include field marketing as a form of growth marketing, which overlaps with brand marketing.
Growth marketing might (or might not) also involve direct sales or outbound marketing. Outbound marketing involves carefully orchestrated multi-channel outreach sequences. Sequences usually involve email, social and cold calling. Here again, growth marketers optimize the channels and funnels.
Brand (creative) marketing is focused on visual identity and your voice, as well as tracking brand perception. It’s about the design of your branded assets including ads, websites, collateral and social content. This of course overlaps with product marketing. Marketing “events” fall under this category and overlaps with performance marketing. Since some refer to Brand Marketing as “marcomm”, you can expect this also includes communications initiatives. Communications involves influencer marketing, public relations (PR) investor relations, community and social media. This overlaps with product marketing.
Looking at Emily Kramer’s (previously at Asana, Box, and Intercom) early-stage SaaS marketing org chart, she would probably call all of this “corporate marketing”, breaking it down into content marketing, communications, field events and creative.
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Top Marketing Initiatives
1) Funnel Optimization
This is a straight-up growth marketing exercise. Iteratively split testing campaigns is part of the process. For a quick background on funnels, please see our article where we answer “What is Marketing?”
Does a call to action work the best when it’s at the top or the bottom of the page? Where are most people entering the funnel? What is the lead temperature? If they’re hot to buy, you need to ensure the path to purchase has the fewest clicks possible. UX designers called this “reducing friction.” If the potential customer is entering the funnel in the awareness or consideration phase, you need to direct them towards content that nurtures the relationship. Have you included testimonials through the customer journey?
Here’s a summary of Neil Patel’s (co-founder of Crazy Egg, Kissmetircs and founder of Ubersuggest) guide to funnel optimization.
Create Google analytics goals
Since Google analytics will allow you to add up to 10 pages of a conversion funnel it’s easy to define your final and determine where potential customers are dropping off. Determine the value of your goal. If 10% of the people who download a report spend $500 the value of a single download is $50.
Analyze your landing pages
A/B testing should be comparing different headlines, copy, color, font styles and sizes as well as the purchase path. Neil recommends using Google’s page speed insight tool to test your conversion funnel.
Analyze your sign up forms
Look at your headlines your text box words your placement and how many text boxes you have a page. Also take a look at your reCAPTCHA. Are they making things too difficult to read or do? Maybe it’s time to switch to version 3 or enterprise instead of continuing to use reCAPTCHA 2.0.
Test your trust elements
Do they have a moneyback guarantee? Have you made it clear that you’re registered with the Better Business Bureau? Is there a VeriSign logo prominently displayed?
Test your email conversion
What are your open rates? Have you split test short and long copy? What are the click through rate? How well does plain text versus HTML work? And of course try different Call To Action (CTA) copy as well as different CTA positioning.
Use usability tests to determine A/B tests
Get qualitative feedback from users during a usability test. Analyze your user testing results and determine three or more alternatives. Once you have insights and alternatives start your A/B testing. The big name in the space for doing this is usertesting.com
Run a mom test
“Do you love my business idea?” What would your mom say? For those of you not familiar with The Mom Test, by Rob Fitzpatrick, it involves asking questions in such a way that even your mom could not lie to you about the answers. You can find more information on The Mom Test here.
Run an online five second final optimization test
This was a concept created by Vinod Khosla to demonstrate that content heavy slide decks would fail. The idea here is you show someone a slide for five seconds then remove it. Whatever they remember is really the only information you need to have. In fact, you can download a tool for this at fivesecondtest.com.
2) Product Launch
A product launch combines brand creative marketing with product marketing. Inspired by Cluster CEO Brenden Mulligan’s article on product launches, here are some tips.
Introduce your product with simplicity and clarity
Can you boil your product name down to two words? Can you boil the product description down to 10 words? Brenden thinks you should look behind the elevator pitch and think about things in terms of syllables.
Launch with metrics in mind
Pick just three metrics to track and create a dashboard to track them. You don’t need an entire NASA dashboard. Audit your qualitative data for early influencers. Is the same person sending sign ups your way consistently? Is your set of influencers a group rather than an individual?
Build relationships with the press
For those familiar with the startup world, Airbnb and Postmates tell the story of PR and its importance. It’s important to play the long game here. Involve the media in your evolution from early on. Also think about identifying the right journalist. What do they typically cover? What does their body of work look like?
Build engagement tools into your product
Look for opportunities to gamify any process. Is there a trigger to share on social media? Experiment with different ways to let social shares do the marketing for you. Also make the user feedback channel highly accessible. Customers love the transparency, and you’ll have a tighter feel for the pulse of your customers.
Launch on Product Hunt first
Product Hunt is a great sandbox to launch before trying to get exposure on something like TechCrunch. It’s a great way to get validation and begin to build a community. Users are a lot more open minded, many of them are founders and they like trying new things.
Engage your brand evangelists
Hopefully you’ve been working on your email list and built up a tight community of fire breathing brand advocates. You want these evangelists lined up to give your product launch an initial boost on launch day. These people will prove invaluable.
For more information on Brenden’s company, check out Launchkit.io. It might also be worth reading our upcoming book summary of Launch by Jeff Walker.
3) Optimize Your Website for SEO
This is a growth marketing strategy. Establishing yourself as an industry leader with high domain authority is mission critical for any company that relies heavily on inbound sales. Having a great product that isn’t visible to potential buyers is like “winking at a pretty girl in the dark: only you know.” However, SEO is a long play. It isn’t going to give you cash quick. Most experts agree you need to plan for 6 to 12 months of work before you start to see a real difference in your Google rankings. Further, what ranks and why is always changing. After you have some high ranking content, you need to revisit that content to keep it on top. This type of marketing goal can be broken down into six basic steps.
This is taking a look at the three areas of SEO: Technical SEO, On-page SEO and off-page SEO. Technical SEO has to do with things like site speed and how well search engines can index your site. On-Page SEO has to do with keywords and the user experience of visitors. Off-page SEO has to do inbound links from other websites with high domain authority, but it also includes social media and any other off-page activity that drives traffic.
Are you trying to create skyscraper content? Pillar content? What is your ratio between commercial keyword and backlink driven blog posts? How is your content structured article by article compared to other SERP results? What blog posts are driving traffic for your competitors? What is your strategy for creating quality content?
This is more than just finding top keywords. As an example, you have to identify similar keywords with lower keyword difficulty that are still traffic drivers. In all, there are well over 200 factors that go into Google’s ranking algorithm. You can read more about them in this article from Backlinko.
SEO action plan
Combine the results from the audit, the keyword research, and the content analysis to create an SEO roadmap.
Implement the plan with adjusted content and fresh assets.
Hardly the secret sauce of SEO, and more difficult than ever, some would say. White-hat link building is the way to go. Between guest posts and networking for inbound links, this is almost like a full-time sales job. Most use CRM software to manage.
4) Use Market Segmentation to Niche Down
This is part product marketing and part growth marketing. Perhaps the best article I’ve ever seen on how to use market segmentation to drive growth is by Superhuman founder Rahul Vohra. He used it to find Product Market Fit (PMF), but it could certainly be used to simply drive growth. Here is a summary:
In the early stages of start up you always hear people talk about finding product market fit (PMF). There are plenty of descriptions of what it looks like or feels like after you get PMF. None of this however is very instructive in telling you how to get there if it isn’t happening for you!
The most defined metric for measuring this is what startups call the Sean Ellis test. Sean was a cofounder at Dropbox and Eventbrite. The Sean Ellis test involves a benchmarking survey or customers are asked, “How would you feel if you could no longer use the product?”
We want to measure the percent that answer “very disappointed”. If 40% or more of your users are “very disappointed” you have strong traction. In Rahul’s survey of Superhuman email users, only 22% felt very disappointed.
Here is the 4 step process he used to turn things around:
Segment to find your fire breathing brand advocates
First they assigned a persona to each person who filled out a survey. Then they looked at the very disappointing group or the 22% that were their biggest supporters. They narrowed the market to founders, managers, executives, and business development people. Just bye narrowing the market, the percentage of very disappointed customers jumped to 32%.
In the second question of the survey they asked what type of people do you think would most benefit from superhuman? This is a powerful question because respondents typically describe themselves not other people using “words that matter most to them.” This provided the insight we will analyze in the next section.
Analyze feedback to convert “meh” users to fanatics
Looking only at their top customer segment’s responses, they looked at the answers to a third question on their survey, “What is the main benefit you see from Superhuman?” They took all of these responses and uploaded them to a word cloud. What surfaced most prominently was “keyboard shortcuts, fast and speed.”
At this point they pass over all feedback from users who would not be disappointed if they could no longer use the product. Even paying users. Paul Graham tells us why:
‘When a startup launches, there have to be at least some users who really need what they’re making — not just people who could see themselves using it one day, but who want it urgently. Usually this initial group of users is small, for the simple reason that if there were something that large numbers of people urgently needed and that could be built with the amount of effort a startup usually puts into a version one, it would probably already exist. Which means you have to compromise on one dimension: you can either build something a large number of people want a small amount, or something a small number of people want a large amount. Choose the latter. Not all ideas of that type are good startup ideas, but nearly all good startup ideas are of that type.’
From here they segmented once again. Of the “somewhat disappointed” group (45%), they split it between those where speed was the main benefit (30%) and where speed was not the main benefit (15%). The 30% that saw speed as a main benefit had the most common with the “very disappointed“ group. That means they had the highest percentage chance of being converted into fanatics.
In the fourth question of their survey they asked, “how can we improve super human for you?” Taking the responses to that question, from only that group, a word cloud made prominent the words “mobile app and integration.” Now they knew what small things were holding their medium tier users back from being passionate fanatics. They needed a mobile app and more integration.
Build your product roadmap on what your fanatics love and address what holds others back
By doubling down only on what you’re most passionate users love your Sean Ellis score won’t increase. You have to use that information to further segment your “somewhat disappointed” customers and then determine what small things would convert them to fire breathing brand advocates. 50% of their product development efforts were then focused on more speed and shortcuts and the other 50% was focused on creating a mobile app and integration.
Rinse and repeat
Here he advises making your Sean Ellis test score your only OKR for finding PMF. Make sure you don’t survey the same people. Always new users. Within three business quarters of implementing this methodology there a score more than double to 58%.
5) Improve (Start?) Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is usually toward the top of business owner’s “need to get to it, but haven’t” list. For early stage startups, the main purpose of social media is to develop a community. Posting to create general brand awareness isn’t but so cost-effective with your time. There are marketers who feel that limited ad spend may be effective if it’s possible to be highly targeted for your customer base.
Let’s start with a quick list of the big social media platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, Snapchat, Discord and Quora.
Social media basics
The fundamentals include:
Profile. Optimize your profile with appropriate website links and a call to action.
Posts. You need useful entertaining and relevant posts. Generally photos do better than text and videos do better than photos.
Engagement. Engagement is a key part of social media marketing. That means liking sharing commenting and following. It especially means engaging with other influencers.
Ads. The next step is advertising with paid methods for reaching your target audience.
Measure. Lastly measure platform use with analytics to see what is working.
Know your audience
Different platforms draw a different crowd expects different types of engagement. Where is your target audience? Where are their influencers?
Some experts recommend that the content split in your posts should be 85% entertainment and 15% business. While that might be a useful guideline for some channels, the truth is more complicated. Twitter is going to favor a heavy percentage of entertainment posts using casual language, whereas the LinkedIn crowd is going to expect a higher percentage of informational posts. Gone are the days where you can cross post the exact same thing on every platform and expect results. It has to be customized per platform.
An effective strategy and content schedule per platform is nearly a specialty onto itself. There are people who literally make a living just building audiences on Instagram. There are people who literally make a living building audiences just on TikTok. You get the idea. You have to go deeper than just “social media marketing.”
The first step is it look at your company’s previous social media posts and see what has performed well. The next step is to look at your competitor’s posts and see what has performed well for them. Those are your starting points for high engagement posts. Meanwhile, here are some other ideas:
A how-to video
Relevant industry news
Surveys, polls or questions
Data insights or statistics
PR oriented announcements
Host an AMA
An industry influencer interview
Share a company milestone
A sneak peek or behind-the-scenes video
Share a reading or playlist
Respond to a trending topic
Create a post series
Sponsor a contest or a giveaway
Tips, tricks or hacks
Ask for advice
Post for charity
Showcase User Generated Content (UGC)
User Generated Content
Engagement is key to generating what some consider to be the holy grail of social media: massive amounts User Generated Content (UGC). By collaborating with customers and influencers, you have an opportunity to get there. This is perhaps one of the most powerful levers within social media. You can 10x your results with content you didn’t even have to pay to create!
Reformat and Recycle
Almost everyone who does social media marketing will tell you that you’ve got to reformat and recycle content. People may or may not have seen it the last time you reposted. There is an art to reposting, starting with looking at your top performing content, but that could be an entire article.
Process for Marketing Initiative Implementation
Following the methods of Emily Kramer, as you go through the process of determining your marketing campaign initiatives, she urges everyone to consider two things.
Does it tie to your Objectives and Key Results OKRs?
Does it add value for your audience?
Here an outline of her process, per the MKT1 article on goal setting.
Here you’re looking at perceptions and positioning, audience analysis, your KPIs and funnel mapping. What are your growth levers?
Here we look at OKRs, your content pillars, company roadmap and step-change drivers.
Here you take a look at your goals, audience, creative and channels. You’re going to outline this with a draft, get feedback, test and scale.
Here you’re looking at your sources of traffic, conversion rates and the number of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs).
We haven’t really covered email marketing, marketing automation, or automated metrics tracking. Topics near and dear to my heart! Never fear. You know I will hit those topics in future articles. Don’t forget to look at where your business is now and your goals. Also, revisiting the three marketing pillars of product, growth, and brand will help you determine whether your in-house team is the best fit for your marketing initiatives. If not, it might make sense to bring in a marketing strategy consultant.