You’ve got a great business, but there’s one major problem that’s keeping you up at night.

You know your marketing strategy is not up to par.

You know your lead acquisition isn’t great, your existing conversion campaigns are a little lackluster, and that potential customers are slipping through your fingers every day as they choose your competition over you.

What is Lean Marketing?

We’re no strangers to the uniqueness and pressure of running a startup. Whether you’re bootstrapped or VC-backed, you’re under the gun to upgrade your marketing plans and start getting more customers. It’s either investors breathing down your neck or your personal bank account quietly whimpering “Help!” as another month goes by in the red. We get it. We’ve been there, and so have many of our clients. Just check out this SaaS company who grew from $0 to $50,000/month or the new eCommerce store that started from ground zero and outranked Amazon and Walmart while raking in over $1,000,000 in sales.

Bottom line: startups need to make money and become cash-flow positive as quickly as possible. For that, they need a plan.

That’s what we’re here for! If it’s a plan you need, then it’s a plan you’ll receive. I think you’ll want to pay special attention to Tip #7. It’s the “secret weapon” behind many online startups that have gone from zero to unicorn really fast. Believe me, we’re all tired of the marketing fluff available online, so you’ll find none of that here. Instead, you’ll get formulas, action items, examples, and a whole bunch of other information you can implement immediately.

Keep reading to discover a lean startup marketing plan that can help propel your startup into success in 2020 and beyond!

Is It Possible for a Lean Marketing Plan to Be Profitable?

Yes! You don’t need deep pockets to make a big impact. You just need to be more creative and allocate your resources differently. If you’re interested in the specifics of what that looks like, make sure you check out our guide on SEO for Startups.

If you don’t have resources to launch a $1 million ad campaign, don’t be discouraged! It is possible to launch a comprehensive, ROI producing marketing campaign if you build out a proper lean startup marketing strategy.

The proof is in the pudding, so I’m going to be honest with you. We’ve used this same strategy to help us grow here at CanIRank. We’re literally taking this information directly from our marketing vault and putting it on the internet for you, fellow entrepreneur or marketer.

1. Define Objectives

Before you dive into the details, you need to figure out what you’d like to accomplish.

You can start with high-level objectives such as “More Revenue” or “More Traffic”. However, you should break those down into low-level goals so that you can accurately track KPIs. If you don’t define your objectives in detail, you’ll be stuck in the same circle of trying a few marketing initiatives but not making any progress.

Try breaking down your high-level goals into more detailed subsets like:

  • Grow average revenue per user to $1,000
  • Increase monthly traffic to 3,000 unique pageviews
  • Increase free trial to paid subscription conversion rate to 10%

With the right marketing software, you’ll be able to easily track these KPIs and quickly adjust your plan if you’re not making any progress.

2. Focus on the Plan

Many startup founders and employees suffer from “shiny object syndrome”, constantly trying new marketing initiatives and losing focus. It makes sense. We live in a fast-paced world and there’s always something new and full of promise to work on in a startup.

The truth is, you’re not going to get the best results possible if you dilute your efforts trying hundreds of different initiatives at once.

So, how do you focus in a world of distractions? You may find it helpful to write out your plan and look at it regularly to make sure you’re consistently aiming to hit your objectives. A good project management software can help align your various efforts and keep you on track. Popular choices are Asana and Trello.

3. Define Your Target Audience (Again)

I’m sure you’ve already defined your target audience, but you should probably do it again. Even if who you’re targeting hasn’t changed, it’s helpful to refresh the topic and maybe refine the details. This ensures your marketing is always focused on the customer, not the company.

If it’s been a year or so since you’ve defined your target audience, then don’t skip this step. You’ve probably gained valuable insights over the past year or so. These insights can lead to breakthroughs when hashed out in a brainstorming session or when worked out on paper.

Try to answer these questions in detail:

  • Who are we trying to reach?
  • What are their basic demographics?
  • What’s the #1 thing you can help this customer/client achieve?
  • Where do they hang out online? What websites do they visit?

4. Create a Drool-Worthy USP

You know the value of your services or products, but do your customers? People these days have short attention spans, so you need a way to quickly communicate why you’re important and why your customers should care. A unique selling proposition (USP) sums up how your business is better than other businesses out there. It’s also known as a unique selling point or value proposition.

Don’t think that you just have to create one main USP and be done with it. If your business is complex, you might have one USP for the entirety of your business along with multiple low-level USPs that help potential customers understand why all the features of your business are important.

You can use USPs on your website, in your email marketing, in paid ads, in blogs, on a trade show banner…the list goes on.

Joanna Wiebe, the founder of Copyhackers says,

“For best results, ensure your USP covers these 5 points:

  1. It states what’s unique or different about you
  2. The thing that’s unique or different is DESIRABLE to your prospect
  3. It is specific, not a watered-down summary
  4. It is succinct (again, without losing specifics – yikes, right?!)
  5. It is more likely to be remembered than forgotten.”

Here’s an example. Let’s say you own a meditation app for busy people called Peace. Your USP could be something along the lines of, “For busy entrepreneurs who can’t seem to chill out, Peace is the only meditation app proven to reduce stress in less than 10 minutes.”

Take your time creating your USP. Run it by your team. Run it by your mom. Run it by the lady on the street.

If you’re not familiar with creating USPs, here are some templates to create captivating USPs and value propositions.

5. Dive Deeper Into Your Positioning

So, you’ve defined your target audience and created a USP, but you still need to take things a little bit farther.

The next step is to define your values, beliefs, frustrations, and solutions.

We’re spending quite a few steps on positioning because it’s key to inbound marketing.

If you want to attract customers in a non-spammy way, you need to spend time developing your positioning. Building out your positioning allows you to create multiple “hooks” across different channels that all work together to drive home your brand story. As leads move further down your sales cycle, you can then “hook, line, and sinker” potential customers with conversion-oriented value propositions, promotions, marketing campaigns.

But none of that is possible if you screw up the positioning. It needs to be crystal clear and resonate with your target audience.

Values: Define your values as a company. For example, data-driven and honest. Identify as many values as you need to properly explain what your company is all about.

Beliefs: Your beliefs are the context in which you operate. It’s a little more nuanced than values, so let’s do a couple of examples.

If you’re an SEO company like us, let’s say you believe that good SEO is good marketing. Everything you do to improve SEO also grows your business, and vice-versa.

Let’s try another example from the perspective of our meditation app. You believe that meditation apps are the easiest way for people to increase their level of peace and mindfulness.

Frustrations: What are your customers’ challenges? Maybe you identified some earlier in Tip #3, but you want to expand on them even more. Write these out from the perspective of your customers. For example, “It’s hard to know where to start, and I don’t want to waste money making mistakes.” Or sticking with our meditation app example, try “I know meditation could help me, but I just can’t seem to get the hang out it. I can’t focus or sit still.”

Desires: What would your customers like to accomplish? This one is straightforward, just think about what your customers want. ROI, success, control, more free time?

Solutions: How does your business help your customers’ frustrations and desires? Put together your customers’ frustrations and desires, then frame your business as the solution. For example, “No data, no theory: just specific actions you can complete right now to grow your business, without requiring a lot of time or money.” For our meditation app, “Get all of the benefits of meditation without the struggle by using the easiest meditation app available on the market.”

6. Tell Better Stories

Now that you’ve nailed down your positioning and USP, you can pretty much go up to anyone on the street and tell them about your product. They’ll be super interested at first and maybe listen to you go on and on about how great you are for a couple of minutes.

Unfortunately, attention doesn’t always equal profit. You need to turn leads into customers.

So…how do you persuade someone to try something new? You’ve done the “hook”, but how do you “line and sinker” your new leads that are piling in? How do you turn Betty on the street into a loyal customer?

It’s simple. You tell better stories.

Simple? Yes, absolutely. Easy? Not in the slightest.

You need to learn how to tell stories of people like your customer, achieving what your customer wants, thanks to the new solution. (That solution is you!)

Here’s a formula to set you up for storytelling success:

  1. Be incredibly personal. Don’t start off with some vague description of a person and their journey. Be bold and detailed. Tell your potential meditation app customers how a 48-year-old suburban working mom found her inner peace and found the courage to start her own baking business by using your application. Context helps people imagine themselves in the hero’s shoes
  2. Hit on their hopes and dreams. Remember those things your customer desires? Yeah, write about those, in detail. Again, context is golden. It makes everything seem more authentic and relatable, which is super important in the digital age. Sure, maybe your customer got more free time. But what did they do with that free time? Take more self-care days? Plan a trip to Bora Bora? Build a house? You get the picture.
  3. They’re the hero, you’re the sidekick. If you’re telling the story of a customer success story, make sure you highlight how you’ve helped them grow but keep the customer at center stage. You want more potential customers to resonate with this story, so you don’t want the focus to be on how your company is so great. You want the focus to be on how someone like them has achieved success using your product or service.
  4. Pull everything together with the Story Comes First Method.
    Using the points above, write a captivating story using this outline:

7. SEO: A Lean Startup’s Secret Weapon

You’re now armed with this powerful positioning and storytelling knowledge.

Where do you go from here? What real tactics can you use to catapult things into action? You might be tempted to research new marketing strategies but I’d encourage you to step back and think about how you can make “old” marketing strategies like SEO work for your business.

The exact marketing channels that each business uses will vary. For CanIRank, we rely heavily on SEO. We also use additional growth channels which I’ll get into a little later.

Growing through SEO on a startup budget is challenging, but not impossible. We’ve done it time and time again. Here’s a basic overview:

  1. Identify your main challenges. For example, do you have lackluster organic traffic? No content? A new website?
  2. Identify high-level solutions. Even if you’re not an SEO expert, you can decide on some basic high-level goals. For example, if you struggle with getting organic traffic then your goal could be something like, “Rank on page 1 for high-value keywords”

I can’t go into the details of how to create an SEO strategy in this post or we’ll be here for another 257 hours. But don’t worry, friend! We’ve still got you covered!

Our CanIRank blog is a cornucopia of insider knowledge. Many of the blog posts are written by our senior consultants, Chief Scientist, and VP of Growth. That means good stuff and gold nuggets of information are waiting for you.

  • SEO for Startups – 5 Ways to Use Brains Over Budget
  • The Top 5 Link Building Strategies for Startups
  • Quick and Easy SEO: Taking Advantage of Low-Hanging Fruit
  • What Are The Elements of a Perfect SEO Team?
  • 8. Expanding Growth Opportunities

    Of course, there’s more to marketing than SEO. Take a big-picture look at all of your marketing objectives so far.

    List out what marketing channels you’re active on right now. Next, think about how you can enrich your existing marketing plans with more targeted positioning and stories.

    For example:

    1. Instagram: retarget users, promote our #1 case study to a new landing page that reflects our positioning.
    2. Email: A/B test different campaigns from different angles. Tighten messaging in subject lines and make it more reflective of our target audiences’ wants and needs

    Go through this process for every growth channel you have. Make sure to include action steps. Even better if you can link them directly to a KPI and create a task for them in your project management software. Remember how we talked about keeping focus earlier? That becomes really important as you add more marketing channels into the mix.

    So, now you have a plan. The question is, how are you going to implement it?

    If you’re looking to include SEO in your lean marketing plan and you want specific action items you can implement right now, CanIRank has your back. We offer flexible plans for all types of startup budgets. Interested? Sign up for a free consultation call.