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5 Startup Marketing Moves That Work Even in Uncertain Times

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The startup world is in disarray as I write this, and the economic outlook is not great. Many companies are performing mass layoffs, scaling back on initiatives and rethinking their entire approach to sales and marketing. It won’t always be this way — it’s a cycle — but that doesn’t make it much easier while you’re going through it. The big question every marketer seems to have is, “What can we do?”

Start with these five startup marketing moves. They make a great foundation for any marketing strategy, even in the best of times, but they’re particularly prudent in the worst. Implement these, and when the cycle comes back around, you just may find yourself head and shoulders above your competitors.

Related: 5 Marketing Mistakes Startups Must Avoid in Order to Survive

1. Talk to your customers!

When in doubt, talk to your customers. What are they going through, what do they need, and what do they anticipate happening over the next three, six, 12 months? What’s troubling them may be news to you, and what’s troubling you may not matter to them at all. Here are a few questions to get the conversation going:

  • How are things now compared to this time a year ago?

  • Are you looking to spend more, less or about the same in this area?

  • What’s your biggest challenge right now?

  • What do you think the biggest challenge will be in six months? 12?

  • What would make you buy this thing or upgrade your account?

  • What would keep you from spending money on this?

  • What are we doing that you particularly like? That you don’t?

Use these customer interviews to shape your marketing.

2. Create frictionless buying experiences

The best customer experiences remove everything that stands in the way between the customer and making a purchase. “Frictionless” is always a good target, but uncertain times like these are when you need to look for over-the-top ways to remove friction.

A few ideas to get your gears turning:

  • Build a migration tool that enables customers to switch their data from competitors to you.

  • Offer something incredible for free or at a massive discount to get people in the door — your lowest tier plan, onboarding, shipping, a managed service, etc. Hubspot did this incredibly well during the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Show the product or pricing, and put the control in the buyer’s hands.

  • Do the work for customers — create templates, packages, widgets or something similar that they would normally have to invest time and energy into.

Through this, you can turn a nasty landscape into a great opportunity for both you and your customers.

Related: 7 Free Steps to Market Your Bootstrapped Startup

3. Communicate clearly and consistently

The companies that are present are the ones that are remembered. This is especially true in times of uncertainty, volatility and crisis. The caveat is that you cannot simply repeat what everyone else is saying. You must lead.

Take a stance on a topic, flesh out your positioning and messaging, and communicate it. If there’s so much volatility that you don’t yet know what your position is or don’t have the data to make a decision, share that. Bring people into the loop. Become the go-to brand or thought leader. Getting all eyes on you creates significant leverage for your sales and marketing.

4. Bet bigger where you can

A knee-jerk reaction in uncertain times is to cut back, but think about it: All of your competitors are cutting back. This is the perfect time to double down on what’s working. You can increase the gap between yourself and your competitors. Then whenever the cycle rights itself, you’ll be so far ahead with so much momentum, no one will be able to catch you.

You still need to be responsible with your resources. If you can invest actual dollars into projects and channels that are already working or that you know your customers need, great. If you don’t have the money, invest your time.

Options that take more time than money include:

  • Building your presence and brand on social media

  • Content creation for your blog and other channels

  • Public relations and earned media — find outlets and ways to tell your story

  • Refreshing your existing content, website and workflows

  • Search engine optimization

  • Strengthening your customer or follower community

Note: If you’re under pressure to increase revenue yesterday, account upgrades and repeat purchases are likely your lowest-hanging fruit. Otherwise, invest in creating a larger gap between you and competitors.

Related: 7 Paid Marketing Steps to Fuel Your Startup’s Growth

5. Audit your operations

Operations tend to fall in the bucket of “we’ll worry about that later.” You typically have enough fires to put out trying to create and capture demand, among other tasks, that operations get pushed to the side. But these times when everyone is pausing and reevaluating are perfect opportunities to review your operations and metrics, like:

  • Cost to acquire a customer

  • Customer retention and repeat purchases

  • Annual contract value or annual spend

  • Workflows

  • Automations

  • Customer personas and buying journeys (see section 1)

  • Quarterly objectives and key performance indicators

“That which gets measured gets improved.” Audit your operations and other metrics to determine how good or bad of a situation you’re really in, where you can improve and where you can afford to bet bigger (see section 4). Use this data to inform your marketing strategy.

Don’t react too soon

All things come in cycles. No matter how daunting the current situation is, there are sunny days coming when your business can thrive. Be careful not to make such hasty decisions — you don’t want to suffer long-term in exchange for temporary relief. Watch your metrics, take care of your customers, communicate clearly and consistently, and take a few big bets. You may be surprised by how well things can turn out for you.

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