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Tips & Guides — 18 May 2023

Growth Marketing Strategies for Startups

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Growth Marketing for Startups: 14 High-Value Strategies for Fast Success

Did you know that 90% of startup businesses fail? According to National Business Capital, of the 6.5 million businesses launched every year, only 10% enjoy lasting success. These numbers could be seen as a deterrent for entrepreneurs – but it’s important to look deeper.

According to a survey by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), customer acquisition was cited most commonly as the greatest challenge to startup success. In the early years of business, acquisition equals growth. It’s critical for entrepreneurs to reach out to the biggest audience possible, and to carefully plan their marketing efforts so that a high proportion of that audience converts to customers.

Enter growth marketing. These techniques – referred to as growth hacks – have become an integral part of scaling startup businesses. Read on to discover how to implement them in your brand strategy for fast and noticeable results.

What Is Growth Marketing?

Growth hackers stray from the beaten path, using innovative methods to organically reach huge audiences and see significant results. While these techniques are often experimental, they remain agile and dynamic, well-suited to the ever-changing marketing landscape. 

These tactics also stand out for their cost-effectiveness, reaching enormous audiences and engineering significant returns on investment without breaking the bank.

Combining methods such as content and viral marketing, email marketing, SEO, partnership marketing, and A/B testing, growth marketers bring as many new users and customers on board as they can without spending too much money.

Growth Marketing

Benefits of Growth Marketing For Startups

The most significant benefit of a growth hacker mindset to early-stage companies is its cost-effectiveness. This can critically reduce a brand’s marketing budget when funds are most thinly-spread and yet bring significant profit back into the business.

The creative focus of growth marketing is another clear advantage: growth hackers are aware of marketing trends before they happen, and reworking them to fit a lower budget. This keeps small businesses on the cutting edge and helps boost them into viral awareness.

Core Tips For Startup Growth Marketing

1. Dare to Try

Growth hacking relies on a company’s willingness to be bold, and try things beyond conventional marketing practices. 

Some of the most ubiquitous brands of today were once startups with unusual ideas and trailblazing advertising campaigns – consider the early days of Apple, for example. Those who dare win, and if you want your startup company to gain instant recognition, you need to use fresh growth strategy ideas rather than tried-and-tested messaging.

However, you can ground your ideas in strong foundations by developing a consistent idea of who your customers are and what they want. Use Google Analytics to explore your target audience, and understand the average age range, gender, education level, and location.

This can form the basis of your plans going forward – no matter how new and bold the messaging if your mission and values remain aligned with the goals of your customers, you’re onto a winner. 

2. Go Extra

In the words of social media titan Mark Zuckerberg, “the biggest risk is not taking any risk”. 

You could play it safe by investing your marketing budget on the usual paid ads and SEO keywords. But with the amount of competition available online, will traditional marketing tactics ever boost you to international recognition?

Instead, try gaining organic recognition with something that truly speaks to your audience. Be a little controversial, and let a genuine conversation build around you. Doing something wild means generating a unique selling point, and setting yourself apart from competitors.

Besides – audiences love a rebel!

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3. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

That being said, don’t fall into the trap of copying the latest marketing fad. If a competing brand has had viral success with a comedy video, the answer isn’t rushing out to create your own.

Instead, look to the foundations of their success: why did their messaging capture the public’s attention? What needs or strong emotions did it speak to? How can you build your own unique response to these same needs?

Find that fertile middle ground by researching aspirational brands and seeing how they put a brand new spin on well-established products, campaigns, and marketing concepts. Your campaign doesn’t need to be completely unprecedented to stand out – but it does need to approach things from an interesting angle.

4. Set SMART Goals

Make sure you know your own needs as well as you do your audience’s, and align each stage of your marketing strategy with these. SMART goals are as follows:

Specific – rather than a vague statement like “increase profits”, explore how much you can reasonably expect to increase them by. Many startups have a pie-in-the-sky vision of success – but breaking this down into more tangible steps is the first step toward achieving it.

Measurable – ensure that each of your goals can be tracked and checked up on by applying a metric to it. “Spend more time on creative collaboration” might become “meet with the marketing team once a week for creative collaboration”. That way, you can look back at your records and see how well this goal was met.

Achievable – be realistic about your aspirations. Do your research and work out the minimum your business needs to stay afloat, and the maximum you can realistically expect to make. Aim for somewhere in between, then scale your goals ongoingly according to past successes.

Relevant – we’ve all gone off on a tangential flight of fancy when discussing big marketing opportunities, but keep yourself grounded in your needs and your audience. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, but reel those ideas in when they stray too far from your mission.

Time-bound – keep yourself accountable by putting deadlines on your goals. “Acquire 2,000 new customers by 2025” is a goal with a sense of urgency. Not only this, but it’s easier to track; by examining month-on-month and year-on-year data, you can see how on-track you are to achieving your goal as you go.

Setting SMART goals relies on data analysis, so invest in marketing data management technology to bring data from all your channels together into one easy-to-analyze place.

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14 Growth Marketing Strategies for Startups

Now you’ve got a grasp of who your ideal customers are, and what your own goals are, you can begin strategizing around these. Read on for 14 great ingredients for your growth-hacking campaign.

1. Pre-launch Emails

Did you know that you can start acquiring interested leads long before launch? Start building your email list early, and create hype. This way, when launch day arrives, all you need to do is send a reminder.

Gather email leads through gated content, onsite offers, or social media promotions. Be transparent about how your audience’s data will be used, but offer a reward for their consent to be added to the list. Sometimes it’s enough for this reward to be sneak previews or an early release of an upcoming product.

It’s important not to just sit idle on your list of email addresses: plan out a campaign that counts down the weeks to the launch date, including previews, reviews, related articles, and special offers. This would also be a great time to use cross-promotional email to reach new audiences.

2. Product Hints

Get creative with your sneak previews, and draw your audience into the anticipation. Before you even announce an upcoming product launch, you can start reaching out to the right audiences, letting them know that something exciting is on its way.

Consider using cross-platform messaging to get audiences guessing what the big news might be. This could even be done through storytelling: drop hints in a series of short videos, and watch the comments blow up as viewers add up the clues.

If you want to go all out, consider experiential marketing: cryptic flyers appearing around major cities will get people talking to the point of virality. This could inspire valuable word-of-mouth marketing as people discuss it with friends.

Include a QR code that directs puzzle-solvers to a mailing list signup, where you can treat them to more hints via email marketing.

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3. Referral Marketing

When it comes to cost-effective marketing for startups, you can’t get much better than getting your customers to do your sales for you. 

Happy customers will know who in their circles has similar requirements and interests to them, and can therefore source quality leads. What’s more, the personal nature of their introduction to your brand will build an immediate sense of trust in new leads’ minds.

Integrate your referral program into your sales funnel by incorporating it into your confirmation landing page or follow-up email. Offer a small reward for each referral, such as points toward a future purchase, or a discount for each friend who cites their referral code.

4. Brand Partnerships

Want to get seen by the right audience? Reach out to a brand they already love. From cross-posting on your website to collaborating creatively on a campaign or product, forming powerful brand partnerships is one of the fastest growth hacking techniques.

Not only do such collaborations create organic buzz, but they also act as a triage for quality leads, ensuring that engaged traffic clicks through to your homepage.

It can be difficult for startup companies to make the right connections before they have a reputation of their own. That’s where Affise Reach can help, with 500+ brands and networks to browse, and tools to help you recruit the most valuable partners who are aligned with your goals and values.

5. Guest Posts

Chances are you already have a company blog. This is an ideal place to demonstrate thought leadership in an engaging and approachable way. But what if you could take your expertise to the next level, and use it to gain new awareness?

By reaching out to adjacent brands and offering them guest posts, you can make your content go the extra mile by providing links to your website. This will both provide click-throughs from interested readers and increase your SEO rankings.

If you’re looking for a cost-effective solution, consider a cross-posting arrangement, wherein you write an article for a partner’s site in exchange for hosting one of their articles on your own site. This builds a sense of connection between brands and should open the door for further partnerships down the line.

Be aware that as your guest posting partnerships grow, so will your need for a powerful data transfer solution to seamlessly integrate offers and ongoing projects.

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6. Social Media

Chances are your startup business already has a degree of social media presence – after all, Facebook claims to host 140 million businesses on its combined platforms! But are you really squeezing all the value you can from these multifaceted platforms?

Gain social media leads quickly by creating spaces for audiences to engage with your brand. Keep them updated on products and offers, and allow an organic conversation to form around your products and services. 

You must ensure, however, that your groups and profiles create value for your audience. Get creative with your messaging, and encourage user-generated content such as reviews, testimonials, or photos of your products in action.

This wider conversation will promote customer retention, as well as draw in new customers with inspiring content.

7. Customer Feedback

In this world of online reviews and unboxing videos, customer feedback is king. Potential leads will want to see customers like them enjoying a product before they’re willing to commit to it.

Furthermore, this valuable data can help you resolve complaints and queries more quickly, with a better knowledge base. Encourage your customers to share their experiences with a prompt on your purchase confirmation page, or with a follow-up email thanking them for their business and linking to your reviews page.

Respond to negative reviews quickly and professionally, and don’t be afraid to go the extra mile to win back a customer’s trust. For example, you could invite them to contact you via your cloud phone system for an immediate and personal solution to their problem.

You can repurpose positive reviews as social proof by lifting quotes for banners, Instagram posts, or your own testimonials page.

8. Influencer Marketing

“Influencer” is the big buzzword of modern marketing – and with good reason. 49% of consumers rely on influencers for product recommendations. These social media superstars occupy a sweet spot between relatable personal recommendations and engaging celebrity endorsements. 

Entrepreneurs can collaborate with relevant influencers to reach the right audiences and achieve an enormous reach. However, many influencers make a career out of promoting products, and their services won’t always come cheap.

By selecting an influencer whose values align with your brand’s, you’re more likely to be able to negotiate an affordable arrangement, such as sending them products to try in return for a certain amount of coverage on their platforms.

In time, these influencers could become valuable affiliates, sharing links to new products and referral codes with their highly active audience.

9. Trend Tracking

While your campaigns may be growing more creative, they need to remain rooted in hard data to guarantee success. Keep abreast of the latest trends in your area of industry, and use this data to inform your own marketing.

Identifying marketing trends before they take hold will keep your messaging fresh, and ensure that you’re seen as early adopters rather than wannabes. 

10. Competitor Analysis

Once you’re confident with your own place within your chosen market, it’s time to understand the competition. This will help you understand other brands’ competitive advantages, and hone your own response.

Start your research on social media, watching the conversations around competitive brands. Pay attention to any changing trends in competitors’ messaging, and seek to understand what factors they’re responding to. This will help your business to become more agile and adaptive over time, able to get ahead of the game when it comes to reactive marketing.

Once again, it’s important not to simply follow your competitors blindly – before taking action, check that you’re still in alignment with your SMART goals, and adding value to your potential customers’ lives.

11. Adjacent Markets

When it comes to growth, expanding outwards can be as valuable as moving upwards. Look at the bigger picture, and keep an eye on trends in adjacent markets. You may find an opportunity for brand growth in an area beyond your core products.

The key to successfully using adjacent markets is exporting your skills, capabilities, and reputation rather than your products’ functionality. This new area may add value to your existing products, or they may offer some of the same ethos that guided your original products to an adjacent area of customers’ lives.

However, switching between markets can be a big risk, so evaluate opportunities carefully. Think about the likelihood of success, the potential rewards, and who you’ll compete with. Ensure a solid product-market fit. Only make the leap once you’re certain the new market opportunity aligns with your SMART goal.

12. Community Events

The internet is a treasure trove of information for startup businesses – but networking doesn’t end there. Get involved in the communities that align with your brand, from startup-centric events to industry-based opportunities.

These will not only help you forge strong professional connections but will also bring your business closer to the cutting edge of growth hacking. Gain the tools you need to move forward with confidence, and the inspiration to go boldly into new areas of growth marketing.

13. Gifts and Freebies

The principle of reciprocity states that if potential customers are offered something for free, they will feel socially obliged to offer something in return. This is the idea behind freebies at conventions, free gifts at checkout, and discount codes in return for email addresses.

These gifts can be a low-cost investment that will keep your brand name in customers’ minds and maintain ongoing customer loyalty. Ensure that your freebies offer genuine value and reflect your brand and target audience. 

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14. Multimedia Strategies

All of these elements can come together into a solid growth marketing plan – but you need to take the time to make them gel. Your content marketing strategy should prioritize attracting the right audience over the biggest audience, driving quality traffic to your site.

This may be the time to invest in conversion rate optimisation services, which can help you centralize processes across your business to focus on a common goal: converting customers.

Make your marketing budget go further by creating readily-sharable content such as videos or social posts. Video, in particular, can convey a lot of information concisely and engagingly, prompting viewers to share it with friends and family who they know will “get it”.

Video content is also a great equalizer, as homemade videos are as likely to become viral hits as those with a high production value. The key to any media is evoking emotion and adding value, which can be achieved as easily with a startup budget as it can in a professional film studio.

Paid Marketing Platforms For Startup Growth

While growth hacking focuses on low-cost strategies, paid digital marketing can still prove a valuable investment for startup companies. Companies spent $110 billion on paid search advertising in 2021, relying on powerful algorithms to target their messaging.

Here are a few of the most lucrative platforms where you can invest your marketing budget – and tips on how to make your investment go further.

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Facebook Advertising

The Facebook algorithm is a powerful tool, allowing for total optimization of your target audience via social media ads. You can define your own parameters for targeting, such as age, gender, and location, or allow the tool to create a lookalike audience of platform users who match your current user base.

Once you’ve set your audience, it’s time to start A/B testing. Try out as many variants of each ad as you can, and use Facebook’s built-in analytics tool to see which iteration captures users’ attention the most.

Google Ads

The ubiquitous search engine gives entrepreneurs greater control over their SEO presence, allowing them to bid on search terms that are relevant to your startup business. 

Make sure you take the rise of voice search into account while bidding – while keyboard users might search “PBX system”, you may also want to bid on more long-form voice search terms such as “What kind of phone systems are available for small businesses?”

Bidding on and maintaining search term rankings can get complicated, so make sure you track your google ads data with a designated tool.

Google also makes it possible to purchase banner ads via its extensive display network. These are likely to appear at the top, bottom, and side of websites within the network. Again, you can bid to have your ads appear more regularly on websites related to specified keywords, or even specify which websites your ads should appear on.

LinkedIn Advertising

LinkedIn is an ideal place for startup companies to post ads – particularly those designed to drive B2B sales, talent acquisition, or networking. The platform allows users to target ads by job and sector, ensuring that you’re getting to the heart of the right industries with your product.

However, if your business is more targeted toward consumer sales, LinkedIn might provide too-narrow parameters to attract the same numbers of quality traffic that Facebook and Google can.


Business growth is a challenge for organizations of all sizes – though it’s never more important than in those startup years. When small businesses find themselves competing against established companies, they have to get smart.

By tapping into multimedia, referral marketing, influencers, and valuable partnerships, startups will find themselves circumnavigating blockers on the mainstream path to success, and attracting customers in astonishing numbers.

Growth hacking strategies open new doors for smaller companies, harnessing the changeability of online audiences to create buzz and drive acquisition. While no single strategy can drive success on its own, a cleverly mastered marketing campaign can utilize multiple growth hacks to a powerful effect.

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Richard Conn

Written by

Richard Conn is the Senior Director for Demand Generation at 8x8, a leading communication platform with integrated contact center, voice, video, and chat functionality. Richard is an analytical & results-driven digital marketing leader with a track record of achieving major ROI improvements in fast-paced, competitive B2B environments.

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