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Startups, especially those that are bootstrapping, tend to focus more on building product/services than they do on marketing them. But when you’re trying to build up brand recognition and a customer base, marketing is essential to growth. Throughout the initial phases of my full-service online travel company, I focused as much on marketing as I did on our actual services. In a world filled with numerous online travel agency startups, I’d argue that a strategic marketing plan is what helped set us apart from the others.

Companies that don’t immediately market themselves take longer to establish customers, which negatively affects any short-term profitability. By following a few essential marketing tips, though, your company can garner recognition in a shorter amount of time, helping you achieve the success you deserve.

Create a Unique Message Based on Customer Input

For startups to truly grow, they must know what the customer needs and then continue to create unique marketing messages for those customers. Work with your end users as much as possible, constantly asking for feedback and recommendations.

Take everything into consideration, but be warned: Don’t only feed the needs of certain customers, even if they are your best. If this happens, you can lose focus of the basic idea of your product that is likely driving new customers to your business.

During our first year, we constantly asked for feedback through follow-up emails and even some basic questions following a transaction. We asked, “How can we make the booking process smoother? How are our prices? Will you use us again, and if so, why?” These types of questions helped us refine our product and allowed us to center on the most important element of any startup: the customer.

Don’t Neglect the Importance of Great Content Marketing

The old adage, “Content is king” has never carried so much weight. Make sure to hire a great content team with a sharp eye for spelling/grammar mistakes and the know-how to capture the attention of an otherwise distracted or disinterested audience. 

We could have saved loads of money by hiring cheap freelancers. But the quality wasn’t there. Instead, we spent considerable amounts of time finding the right fit for content creation, from hotel pages to landing pages, and it has paid off. 

Develop a Strong Brand

Spend the extra time up front developing your brand. Find what makes you truly unique, and create a strong editorial voice, content strategy and social media campaign to strengthen your unique message.

The more defined your product is, the easier it is to build a brand: For instance, my company’s sweet spot focuses on travel in and out of Africa. Always start with the most simple and straightforward message of your product, and build your brand from there.

Focus on Your Customer Base

Focusing strictly on sales in the beginning of any startup is easy to do, especially for those who are self-funding. Revenue equals success, and all startups seek that. But this usually requires focus on the route to revenue: building a sustainable customer base.

Focus on creating relationships with existing clients and treating them well. Think of every situation as winning their business back over and over again. Make your customers feel as though they are part of your team through some interaction like contests on social media, giveaways, and frequent newsletters.

We cater to previous customers by providing them with a discount on their next trip. This has helped create some brand loyalty and positive reviews that help newer customers decide to continue working with us over our competitors.

Study Other Startups’ Strategies

Study your industry, especially your competitors that are doing well. Don’t mimic; you’ll immediately lose respect for that. Rather, find out what they are doing and see if you can learn from it.

We work with a few analysts who allocate time each month to studying the competition. You’d be surprised at what works for others, and also how many are mimicking your own services. Competitive analysis is fun and helps you create a better product by giving you insight into what works (and doesn’t work) within your industry.

Think of marketing as just as important to a startup’s growth as the product or service itself. As you grow and discover your brand’s “secret sauce,” you’ll create a truly unique marketing plan that is focused on your target customer and will build your brand’s authority. Start off with these five essentials and expand from there.