As a startup, you’re used to defying the odds. You work hard and persevere through the ups and downs of launching a new brand, and you’re not going to let those pesky statistics about startup failure rates stop you.
Good on you! But also, to make sure your startup beats those odds, you need to be prepared with an ironclad marketing plan. It’s not easy, when you don’t have a huge budget to throw at paid advertising or an entire team of world-class marketers at your beck and call.
But you do have the chutzpah. The moxie. The pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality.
And you’ve also got content. Content is a perfect place to focus your startup marketing efforts because it’s cost-effective, has a lengthy lifespan, and drives results. Here, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to put content marketing to work for your startup.
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is exactly what it sounds like — marketing that leverages the power of great content. Content marketing is most often an organic or inbound approach to marketing, though you can certainly put some paid advertising power behind it when budget allows.
But what really makes content so attractive to startups like yours is that it keeps costs low while delivering meaningful results over time. It’s also extremely flexible, with nearly endless options for content types, formats, and distribution channels. Content is truly a startup marketing powerhouse, and it could change the entire course of your brand.
Should Startups Invest in Content Marketing?
Not to put too fine a point on it, but hell, yes. Startups should absolutely be investing in content marketing. Sure, it’s an investment that takes a while to pay off (a lot like SEO), but once you get it going, you’ll be reaping the rewards for a long time to come.
So, why put your limited time, money, and energy into content marketing?
Customer Acquisition Channel
Content marketing is an excellent way to get potential customers into your funnel, which can be a major challenge for startups. But because content is often less sales-focused and more educational and informative, it creates an opportunity for leads to jump in on their own terms.
Since lead generation is a barrier for startup marketers, you’ll be relieved to know that content marketing generates more than three times as many leads as traditional marketing.
Low Cost and High ROI
Content marketing is so great in part because it’s scalable to your budget. When you don’t have two nickels to rub together, you can still put together an amazing blog post or record a short video on your phone.
The latest data shows that many marketers, especially in the B2B space, will be bumping up their content marketing budgets in the coming year.
Be aware that your competitors, especially established brands, may be putting more dollars into content marketing. But also know that the big upside to content marketing is that it costs as much as you have to spend — and you can always increase your budget down the road when it makes more sense.
Also, remember that whatever you put into content will come back to you at some point. It can take time to see the results content marketing will deliver — but it will deliver a solid ROI in increased traffic, better brand awareness, and ultimately, more conversions.
Cheaper Than Traditional Ads
Speaking of costs, you won’t find any type of paid advertising that costs less than content marketing while delivering the same return. We’re not saying paid marketing isn’t effective — it is, but you have to keep putting money into it to see the results. With content marketing, you’ll continue to see them well after the investment has been made.
You may also want to put paid ads behind your content at some point, to get it out to an even wider audience. Even still, many marketers opt for more organic channels, like social or email.
Many startups find it most effective to use a combination of content and other organic marketing (like SEO), plus paid advertising. This gets them some quick wins (from the paid ads) while they wait for their organic strategies (content and SEO) to come to fruition. If you’re looking for both short-term and long-term gains, that may be the best way to go.
Once you create a piece of content, it’s yours forever. And sure, you wouldn’t want to just repost the same tired old blog over and over again — but that blog can be freshened up, repurposed, made over, and redistributed on new channels over and over again to great impact.
It’s one major benefit of content marketing: You’re not just creating a flash in the pan that works today and is gone tomorrow…you’re creating a valuable asset that will serve you now and well into the future.
So now you know that content marketing is a long game. It takes time to start seeing results, but once you do — you’re not going to believe it. That’s because, as a long-term asset, your content keeps working for you — months or even years after you create it.
Even a year after it’s initially posted, a piece of content will deliver maximum traffic, leading to more leads and, eventually, more sales.
Drive Explosive Growth
As a startup, growth is likely your biggest concern, your biggest challenge, and your biggest goal. It’s what keeps you up at night, right? Well, content has got you covered because content drives extensive growth in traffic, leads, and sales.
Since organic marketing, including content marketing, has a low barrier to entry, you can get started on a shoestring with only as much people power as you have to spare. When you have more help or a bigger budget, you can revamp the content you’ve already created to get even more out of it — there’s no other marketing method or strategy that can offer the same.
Content Supports Other Marketing Channels
Content is best when paired with other marketing efforts, especially SEO. That’s because content uses keywords to improve ranking, and SEO relies on content to get your brand discovered. But content is also critical to lead gen, email marketing, social media, and much more.
Brand Recognition and Authority
Even if no one’s ever heard of your startup, content will help change that. It’s one of the most effective tools for raising brand awareness. At the same time, it also builds trust with your audience. When they realize you have something valuable to offer them, no strings attached, they’re more likely to come back when they need more information. This builds your brand authority, boosts your reputation, and positions you as a thought leader in your industry.
Your Competitors Are Investing in Content Marketing
You might have a product that’s unlike any other on the market, but sadly, you’re not the first brand in your industry to discover the power of content marketing. The competition may have gotten there first, but that doesn’t mean you can’t beat them by doing it better.
Overall, most brands say content marketing will be even more important in the coming year than it has been in the past.
The takeaway? If it’s going to be more important to your competitors, it ought to be pretty important to you, too.
What Type of Content Should Startups Invest In?
Now that you know how content marketing can give your startup a lift, you’re probably wondering what type of content you need to create. As we said earlier, content is great because of its flexibility, but that can also make it overwhelming, especially if you’re a first-timer. Take a look at these content types and some examples of how startups have put them to work.
Authoritative Blog Content to Build Authority and Trust
There are roughly 600 million blogs online, with about 77% of all internet users reading them on a regular basis. So if you’re wondering if your startup needs a blog, the answer is 100% yes.
A blog is pretty basic, but don’t sleep on creating one for your brand. Blogs are still highly effective and, aside from video, are the most popular form of content in most brands’ content strategies.
Want to see how it’s done? Check out this blog from finance platform Mint. The company’s blog page seems to go on forever, and it’s jam-packed with valuable content like calculators, TikTok-style tip videos, and sections on topics that appeal to a vast audience.
Bottom of the Funnel Sales Enablement Content
Whether or not you’ve got a sales enablement team or strategy in place yet, this type of content is focused on conversion. It’s meant to help your sales team close the deal and move your customers down and out of the funnel (at which point they’ll hopefully become repeat and referring customers).
Bottom of the funnel (BOFU) and sales enablement content include:
- Product spec sheets
- Pricing pages/subscription info
- Onboarding support content
- Sell sheets
Case Studies to Help Prospects Understand Your Unique Value
Case studies are a bit like testimonials in that they showcase a real experience by a real user. But case studies are backed by data and results, and if you’re a B2B startup, they’re probably among the most effective content you can create.
Case studies allow prospects to see a real use case for your product and envision how they might use it and how it might work for them.
Gated Content That Serves as a Lead Magnet
Gated content is a perfect way to get new leads into your funnel. It requires that the user swap their contact information for the content you’re providing. And if they’re willingly giving that up, they’re probably pretty qualified leads. But there are a few things to keep in mind when gating your content:
- It must be high value. The user should feel like they’re getting more than they’re giving.
- Gated content can happen at any stage of the funnel, but MOFU and BOFU are common. Save ungated content for top of the funnel (TOFU) to raise brand awareness.
- Make form fills simple and painless.
- Follow up quickly and use this opportunity to build a relationship.
- Keep the content coming so they don’t drop out of the funnel.
Emails to Nurture Leads
Email marketing was once thought to be dead. But before they put that last nail in the coffin, email came back with a vengeance. It’s still one of the most effective marketing tactics you can use, with extremely high ROI. But email wouldn’t work without content. The email itself is all content, plus any assets or lead magnets you want to offer within the email.
Back when Chubbies, a menswear brand, was still a young startup, they embraced email marketing to get their quirky content in front of the right audience.
And they’re still doing it today because email marketing works. Period.
Social Media Content to Engage Your Audience Where They Hang Out
As a startup, you have to be where your people are. And, like most people, where they are is probably on social media. The platform will vary based on your brand and your industry, but your audience is out there, and if you play your cards right, they’ll be more than willing to engage with you.
Marketing platform lemlist focused their efforts on LinkedIn when they were just a brand-new startup. From the get-go, they decided to use only organic content with no paid ads or boosted posts. They’ve since grown to tens of thousands of followers and grew their company valuation to $150 million in just three and a half years.
Audio-Visual Content Such as Podcasts and Videos
Don’t be put off thinking that video content or podcasts are going to cost too much or require an entire production company. Technology today has made it easier than ever to create AV content that audiences eat up. Video continues as the most effective and most consumed content type, while podcasts are gaining in popularity year after year.
SEO software leader Moz embraced the video juggernaut and now has a vast library of content that delivers engagement, leads, and traffic.
How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy From Scratch for Your Startup
Ready to get started building your own content marketing strategy? We’re ready to help you! Follow these 18 tips to take your startup to the next level.
#1: Define Goals and Targets for Content Marketing
We know that growth is your ultimate goal, but you’ll need to break it down further so you can properly track your performance. When you’re just starting out, sales isn’t typically the biggest indicator of content success. The metrics where you’ll be able to see a difference will mainly be in traffic, leads, content downloads, etc. So make sure you keep that in mind when you’re setting your goals.
Also, make sure every goal you establish is SMART:
#2: Identify Your Audience
It’s important to keep in mind that no matter how much traffic you get to your site or how many leads in your funnel if they aren’t the right ones, even the best content in the world won’t help you reach your goals.
To ensure your content strategy is effective, work on getting your content in front of the right audience. To do that, you need to figure out who they are and, more importantly, where they are.
Start with some research — poll your existing customers to learn more about them, and ask what kind of content they’d like to see. That’s your starting point for establishing your audience.
#3: Develop a Deeper Understanding of your Audience
Once you’ve got a broad idea about your audience, it’s time to dig deep. Like, really deep. See, a target audience is great, but you need to drill down even further than the basic demographic data. What you need now is a buyer persona.
Buyer personas are far more detailed than a target audience. They include demographic information, but also psychographics and behavioral attributes as well. You’ll need all of this to fully understand your audience so you know the kind of content that will be valuable to them and that will move them down your funnel.
Keep in mind that you may have multiple buyer personas, so you’ll want to create a separate study of each of them. Need a template to help you out? We’ve got a free one for you!
#4: Align Content With Where You Want to Be
More specifically, make sure the content you plan aligns with your business model and correlates with your planned future steps.
Consider first where your startup is today — the resources, people, budget, competition, and current marketing efforts. That’s where your content strategy begins. But it needs to evolve and scale as your business does, so make sure you map out how it will change in the months and years ahead.
#5: Choose Keywords That Help You Achieve Your Goals
Let’s say your startup is a tech business that creates apps for fintech brands. You might think you want your content to rank in search for “fintech app,” but then suddenly, you’re competing with established, existing fintech brands like Mint, Stripe, Venmo, and more. So, what’s a better solution? How about ranking for “who makes fintech apps for small businesses?” Then you get results for brands just like yours, speaking to the audience you want as your customers.
So, what’s the difference? Long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are those lengthy, specific phrases with high search intent. They don’t come with the same search volume, but they do have a far higher likelihood of conversion.
Use an SEO tool to help you plot out your keywords, and make sure you’re keeping an eye on semantically related keywords as well, which help search engines figure out what your content is about.
#6: Conduct Competitor Analysis
It’s important to understand your audience, but you should also be aware that your competitors have likely already done the same research, and they know them just as well as (or better than) you do.
So, take some time to do an audit of your competition. Look at the content they’re creating and pay attention to what seems to engage the audience. Check out their social media accounts and see which posts are performing well and which aren’t.
You can also use an SEO tool to learn which keywords they’re ranking for and find gaps where you may be able to outperform them.
Be sure to analyze their product strategy as well. Are they focused on product-led marketing, or do they have other priorities? What are they getting right, and what are they neglecting? Once you know, you’ll find the areas where you can work to ensure your content beats theirs and gives the audience more value and more reason to choose you.
#7: Create Better Content Than Your Competitors
Speaking of making sure your content beats the competitors, it all boils down to quality. You have to create better content, period.
Often, we see content as a subjective area, open to everyone’s interpretations and opinions. But there are some non-negotiables when it comes to creating great content:
- Longer performs better. Unless you’re talking about tweets or other micro-content, long-form generally does better, especially when it comes to blogs. Keep articles 1,200 words or longer.
- Always include visuals. Content with high-quality images does better. Just make sure — whenever possible — you’re using custom graphics and not stock photography. Stock photos are often a turnoff.
- Use the right structure. Yes, you want to use long-form content. But you also want to break it up into short, snackable sections your readers can easily scan. Use H2 and H3 headers, plus images, bulleted lists, and other assets to break up the text.
- Fill in the gaps. Now that you’ve done a competitor audit, you know exactly what they’re not doing. Fill the content gaps so you provide something to your audience that the competition is not.
#8: Help Your Audience Solve Pertinent Problems
Is your buyer persona losing sleep over something that your product or service can resolve? Great — you’ve discovered their pain point! Pain points are problems your audience has, though they sometimes aren’t aware that they’re actual problems. So before you make promises that your brand can solve them, help potential buyers understand exactly what it is that’s causing them grief.
Once you get them to the point of acknowledging and understanding the issue (or issues), you can begin giving them information on how to fix them. And once you’ve earned their trust, you can start showing them how your brand can be the solution they need.
Your content should be structured to accomplish those goals, not all at once, but over a period of time as they move from the top of your funnel (the awareness stage) toward the bottom (the decision stage).
#9: Ensure Content Serves Search Intent
Earlier we mentioned search intent, which is crucial in getting traffic to your site and moving prospects toward conversion.
Search intent is what your audience is looking for when they type something into a search engine. It’s what they hope Google will deliver, whether it’s a zero-click answer to “what’s the temperature in hong kong today?” or a carousel of products and prices when they search “women’s under armour long-sleeved shirts.”
There are four types of search intent, and you’ll need to understand them all to ensure your content meets the needs of the audience.
When you fulfill users’ search intent, not only are they more likely to click, they’re also far more likely to convert.
#10: Less Is More: Focus on Quality Over Quantity
As we’ve mentioned, the great thing about content is that it’s totally scalable. As your brand grows, your content marketing strategy can and should grow, too. But in the early days, focus on doing what you can with what you’ve got. If that’s a monthly blog instead of a weekly or daily one, that’s okay — just as long as your published blogs are rock solid.
You may not have the resources to hire content writers or strategists to build a plan for the next year, and that’s okay, too. But consider outsourcing what you can and ensuring you get the highest quality content whenever possible.
#11: Create Content
So, you’ve done all the planning and prep work, and now it’s time to actually do the damn thing — create the content. Here’s what you’ll need to consider next:
Tone and Voice
If you don’t already have one, create a brand guide outlining the tone and voice you want your content to have. This will influence your audience’s perception of your brand and set the tone for your future content. Your tone may shift between platforms (e.g., your LinkedIn tone vs. your Instagram tone), but your overall voice should be consistent.
Once you’ve got your tone and voice, you’ll want to build your primary and secondary brand messaging. Ask yourself what you hope each piece of content communicates to your audience, and look for broad themes. These will become your main messages. Choose a primary message and other supporting messages, and make sure all of your content is aligned with at least one of them.
Core content is that which relates directly to your product or service. It’s the content that can only be leveraged by you because it’s designed specifically for your product and your consumers. It helps to take a topic cluster approach to this, where you choose several content pillars (the main topics that relate to your product), then build clusters of content (subtopics) around them.
#12: The Content Creation Process
Make sure you have a process in place before you launch any content strategy. You’ll need to know who’s doing the writing, what the editing process looks like, how and when it will be published, and who’s going to measure the results.
#13: Brainstorm Out-of-the-Box Content Ideas
Blogs are effective, and they’re a low-overhead way to get started with your content strategy. However, you’ll want to start thinking ahead and finding new content types and formats to experiment with. And, of course, with technology today, you should be able to create some low-fi but authentic content that resonates with your audience.
Don’t neglect video content, but look at other ways to push it out. Maybe instead of commercials or heavily produced YouTube content, you opt to create your own TikTok videos. Or start a podcast you record from home.
Get creative, and remember that a single piece of content can be repurposed into new formats and distributed across new channels, so there’s always something else you can try.
#14: Guest Post on High Authority Sites
Guest posting is a fantastic way to build any brand’s backlink profile, but it’s especially key for startups that may not have an established audience. Guest posting on reputable, trusted industry sites gets your voice out to a whole new audience who are already primed and ready to hear what you have to say. And it may get you a significant amount of new traffic from those whose interest has been piqued.
If you’re wondering how to find guest posting opportunities, one simple way is to search for your target keywords, with an add-on, like “+ guest posting,” “+ contribute,” or “+ write for us.”
#15: Have a Robust Plan for Content Distribution
What your content says is important, but so is where you say it. Distribution is a critical part of your startup’s content marketing strategy, and you need to make sure you have all your bases covered. That means planning out how you’ll get your content seen on different types of media.
Focus first on owned media because that’s where you have the most control. Then move on to earned media like social shares, digital PR, and reviews.
#16: Publish Regularly With a Content Calendar
When it comes to content marketing, consistency is key. In fact, consistency is more important than frequency when it comes to scheduling. To ensure you get into a routine, create a content calendar that outlines your plan on a monthly and quarterly basis. In your calendar, you can include:
- Who’s responsible for content creation
- Topic/title/topic cluster
- Funnel position (TOFU, MOFU, or BOFU)
- Intended buyer persona
- Call-to-action (CTA)
- Visual or multimedia assets to include
- Publication date
- Distribution channel(s)
If possible, you want to aim to release new content on a weekly basis. If it’s not, aim for several times a month, and be sure to offer a newsletter or digest, so your audience doesn’t miss anything.
#17: Repurpose Content Across Channels
Here comes the best bit about content marketing. Are you ready for it?
We’ve already alluded to it several times, but to break it down for you: Content is king because it’s crazy flexible and has a shelf-life that gives Twinkies a run for their money.
In fact, repurposing old content is the best way to get results from your strategy.
Wondering how to do it?
Create Visually Appealing Content Such as Videos and Infographics
A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So a video is probably worth a million. Viewers are more likely to remember something they’ve seen in video over something they’ve read, and the same goes for infographics, which deliver quick, snackable information at-a-glance. You can turn pretty much any blog into a video or an infographic and give it a second life.
Don’t Ignore Social Media
Social media is a perfect place to get a little extra oomph out of your content. The audience and algorithm is always changing, so you’re likely to get your posts in front of different eyes each time you post. Make notes when something performs really well on whatever platform you’re using because you’re going to want to repost it every so often for maximum impact.
Use Influencer Contribution to Accelerate Growth
Influencer marketing is hot right now, and it’s easy to see why. Partnering with an influencer gets your brand directly in front of the right audience — an audience that already has a relationship with the influencer and trusts their recommendations.
Promote Through Email
Email is a highly effective marketing tactic and comes with some of the highest ROI in the business. You’ll find success with email because of its cyclical nature — you use your high-quality content to get people to sign up for your emails, and then you use emails to deliver your amazing content.
#18: Use Analytics to Measure Success, But Don't Obsess Over Numbers in the Early Days
As a startup, it’s easy to get some tunnel vision when you launch a new marketing initiative. Since you began, your sole focus has been on growth, and that’s what you expect to see with content marketing.
We get that, but it’s also important to keep in mind that it’s not going to happen right away. Content takes time and requires some patience. But once you’ve got your strategy in place and start putting your tactics into action, you’ve set something powerful into motion. Because once you start seeing results, you’ll continue seeing them well into the future. And those results will only grow and compound over time.
So, yes, you should absolutely keep an eye on the metrics that matter, like traffic, engagement, social share, etc. — but also know that you can’t move mountains at once…you’ll have to do it one stone (one piece of content) at a time.
Content Marketing for Startups Is a Slow Game With Big Results
Slow and steady wins the race, which sounds like some BS, but in this case, it’s actually true. Keep creating great content consistently, scale as you’re able, and build something with a strong foundation. Once you do, you’ll see that content marketing is the difference-maker that helps you finish first.