Marketing any new blog is always a chicken or egg kind of problem. Your blog won’t take off unless readers are aware of what you do and why it’s so much better than anything else out there, and yet the revenue stream from which you might pull the funds for a full out marketing campaign isn’t exactly roaring.
That said, there are a number of free and inexpensive tools available to blogs and small business people, with the caveat of course being that you’ve got to have a deep understanding of and dedication to each tool to make them work. (No sending out a lone tweet every three weeks expecting your brand to “go viral”).
So just what can a cash-strapped blog do to make the most out of their limited marketing budget? Before we get to our top 5 tips, there’s one thing we’ve got to emphasize:
Research, Research Research. DO IT!
It doesn’t matter how much you think you know your target readers, doing demographic and psychographic research is an important part of determining just what they’re looking for and how they’re consuming information. What’s more, a good look at the numbers may also reveal a broader reader base than you even realized was there.
But doing research doesn’t have to mean investing in expensive surveys and formal research teams. Start by creating a basic reader profile, including things like gender, age, location, and so forth, and then heading out into the social media world to see what other websites or blogs your potential readers engage with. Start following them, see how they evolve, and then do a SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis to determine just how your blog might fill any holes.
After setting very clear and measurable objectives, then it’s time to start strategizing with the marketing techniques below.
1. Use Simple Viral Incentives
You know you’ve got a really new and inventive product or product design when it spreads by word of mouth (think Pinterest or Google in its early days). But virality can be built into even more run of the mill products with strategic calls to action like rewarding people for sharing or simple gamification for being engaged in the community.
Of course, you can get more creative with incentives, as we detail below, but never underestimate the power of a free service or a carefully worded call to action and referral link included in all of your communication with your customers.
2. Launch a Blogging Campaign with an Editorial Calendar
Most blogs know they should have a content strategy, but the idea of essentially becoming a one-stop shop news organization can be intimidating on its own, not to mention the fact that, sooner or later, most companies run out of things to say. That’s where developing a blog with an extensive editorial calendar can be so useful.
This exercise entails sitting down with other movers and shakers in your organization to mark important business and industry dates and brainstorm and set regular themed content days, like, “User Stories Tuesdays” and “Expertise Post Thursdays.” While you should always build in room for growth and creativity, having themed days (whether the customer sees their exact name or not) will give you the structure to stay on track, and it will also prevent writer’s block.
From there, get the process in place. Will you be hiring a professional writer for this, or doing these yourself? Who will edit and approve your posts, and how many days of lead time do they need? Make the system as clear as possible…and then get going!
3. Create an Email Marketing Plan
Though often lost in the shadow of its sexier sister, social media, email marketing is not only one of the best ways to directly reach customers, but it’s also the best way to personalize your outreach in a much less labor intensive manner. That’s because email marketing will allow you to create segmented lists to categorize and individually target customers in different demographics with different interests.
Inexpensive platforms like MailChimp are an easy way to create on-brand templates and call to action buttons, and they come with metrics that detail just who is opening what kind of email and how much they’re engaging.
An email marketing plan is both a marketing strategy on its own and one that can go hand in hand with a blogging campaign, as your newsletters can easily be placed on your blog as well. Emails also allow for more comprehensive hooks and giveaways, like complimentary e-Books and embedded how to videos. As with your blog, you’ll want to make sure content is varied, though you likely won’t want to send out updates with as much frequency.
All of that said, while email marketing can be a powerful way to directly target customers, there are many pitfalls that will land you right in the spam box. As such, we really recommend reading a good guide to email marketing guide for small businesses so that you can really master best practices before launching in.
From here, it’s really best if you do an even wider content strategy that includes things like infographics, case studies, white papers and more, but remember that whole getting overwhelmed thing? At least get the wheels turning on a blog and an email marketing plan before diving into the rest.
4. Do Creative Giveaways
As anyone who has ever encountered Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day knows, giveaways are a potentially delicious way to spread good will and cement customer loyalty. But you don’t have to do them on such a big and expensive scale in order to be effective, just as long as you know your audience and get creative.
Marketing to an eco-conscious crowd? Reusable bags with your blog’s logo can be a great way to spread the word. And hey, who doesn’t love t-shirts or candy? But perhaps even better than swag can be content that users can really use, like e-Books explaining something you know your customers are really curious about, or a free session of introductory coaching.
For the best prizes, try to get local, relevant sponsors involved, so you’ll also be associating yourself with a brand your customers already trust while spreading the word further within your community. Or, make the giveaway a part of a contest and engage customers through competition.
5. Make the Most of Social Media
Last but certainly not least, social media is a crucial aspect of any marketing plan, acting both as an important channel itself and as a channel that will support any of your other marketing strategies. Social media should not be a place where you tweet a constant stream of advertisements, or harangue followers into retweeting your posts. There’s a reason, after all, that it’s called social media, and your best strategy is to engage like the human being you are. This means actually reading and responding to tweets from potential customers, even if it’s just to say, “Awesome photo!” or to retweet something you enjoy.
It’s also a good idea to reach out directly to key influencers with interesting information or to invite them to guest post on your blog. Social media is also a great way to run more casual contests, like submitting the best 140 character story, or a TwitPic of a creative use of your product.
And of course, social media is one of the best ways to get your blog content, giveaways, and new product announcements right to your users.
All in all, social media marketing is about creating a dynamic, loyal and engaged community.
With so many online marketing tools available to us today, startups need not break the bank with those initial marketing costs. Start with a simple plan that takes its audience into account and provides, clear, actionable objectives, and build your strategy from there. Soon, you’ll have a marketing plan to rival all!