Your customers are your absolute lifeblood as a startup. Developing a customer marketing strategy as early as possible will only pay off in the long run.

Read on for how and why you should be going about it.

Why is customer marketing important for startups?

When you’re starting up, business growth is most likely going to be your highest priority. But, at the beginning of the business journey, the best thing to do is start as you mean to go on.

In this day and age, it isn’t flashy advertisements, big deals, or fun features that get you ahead in the game but, instead how your brand treads and prioritizes customers. With so many companies to choose from for similar products, the best way to distinguish yourself is by delivering an excellent customer experience.

Customer marketing allows you to interact with your customers in a unique way; it prioritizes customer retention over customer acquisition which, though it may sound like the opposite, actually works to not only rapidly increase your business growth, but to also maintain it.

Benefits of customer marketing for startups

The greatest part of beginning your customer marketing strategy during the early stages of your business is that it’ll inform and influence how you expand your business and your goals going forward.

Customer marketing holds a unique insight into the way your customers think and can help you avoid some big pitfalls later on if you begin your expansion with this knowledge already under your belt.

Develop your buyer personas and user personas

Buyer and user personas are a great way to give you and your team direction when developing strategies that revolve around your customer. Personas are a kind of cheat sheet, a representation of your ideal target customer with their demographics, needs, pain points, and habits clearly displayed in one place.

They can go hand in hand with battle cards for your sales team and can provide customer-facing internal teams with the base knowledge to cater their interactions and marketing campaigns to the right people.

This all starts with evaluating your current customers first. Though you’ll already have a good idea of the kinds of people your brand wants to market to, you may find there are other avenues for you to pursue.

This information comes from gathering customer feedback, conducting experience surveys, and hosting focus groups and interviews to get the best idea of who exactly makes up your current customer base.

Knowing when they joined, how long they’ve been with you, and what attracted them to your brand in the first place can tell you a lot about the personas you’re already targeting well, and those you’ll want to do more for. Gathering this information is where customer marketers come in.

Being a start-up, you may not have a dedicated customer marketing team (given that the majority of customer marketing teams are currently only made up of 2-3 people). But customer marketing tasks are also taken on by customer success, product marketing, and other marketing teams too.

So, make sure these teams have good cross-functional collaboration to get the best out of this type of information gathering.

Establish your customer segments

Along a similar vein, customer segmentation is another way of grouping your customers together to better market to them and their specific needs.

While you may currently have a small group of existing customers, finding out the key characteristics or demographics that make up this group goes a long way to understanding how best to approach marketing to new and potential customers.

This may be a specific location or age group, or they may have similar searching habits and frequent the same social media site. Each of these will tell you something about who your customers are and, in turn, how to market to them.

Prioritize customer loyalty and customer retention

We said earlier that customer retention should be a priority more than customer acquisition, and we’ll maintain this statement regardless of whether you‘re an enterprise or a start-up-sized company.

But this is particularly important for start-ups. Companies with a customer base in the millions will suffer less if there’s a high turnover of customers. For start-ups, those initial customers, and their loyalty, are a huge part of determining whether or not your business will survive.

Start-ups that begin their trade using a customer-centric approach ensure that customers get the best experience possible with their brand. This will mean gathering and acting on customer feedback about various touchpoints throughout the customer journey. This includes marketing, both pre- and post-purchase.

Produce lasting communication channels

When customers begin with a customer focussed outlook, the vital thing to do is open communication lines between you and your customer, and then keep those lines open.

Keep an eye on where your customers like to hang out. Is it on forums like Reddit, social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, or somewhere else? Be present in the same spaces your customers are so you don’t have to rely on them coming to you.

Once you’ve established a strong following on these platforms, and that you’re active on them, customers will get used to reaching out and volunteering feedback themselves. If this becomes a common practice in the early stages of your business, it’ll become an easier habit to maintain, even as you grow.

Start as you mean to go on

All this being said, what you do in the first few years of your business's existence will reflect how the future goes. Setting up this customer-centric and customer-obsessed style of service at the start will mean that even ten or more years down the line, you’ll be able to continue growing and adjusting your practices alongside your customers.

Seven steps to the ultimate startup customer marketing strategy

1) Know what your goals are, and give them a time limit

There are many ways you can go about structuring your goals into specific steps, but the most important part of doing so is to make sure you impose a time limit. For a start-up, there is likely a very long list of things you want to accomplish in order to set your business up for success in the future.

The reality is that you won’t be able to do everything all at once. So prioritize what you want to achieve first with your customer marketing strategy, and set a date you want to achieve it.

This will not only give you and your team something to aim for but will also make it easier to set up the steps you need to take to get there.

2) Know your audience

This goes back to our points on personas and customer segmentation, but the best way to implement a successful marketing campaign is to understand who you’re targeting.

And get to know them in a variety of ways. Talk to some of your most loyal customers one-on-one. What made them stay with you?

Conduct short and longer surveys and interviews for the customers that make up your silent majority. What’s their experience been like and how does that compare to your competitors?

Knowing your customers will influence how your brand grows and even where it goes in the future.

3) Have compelling messaging

Messaging is how your brand communicates and presents itself to those outside your organization. This is in the copy of your email marketing, how you answer complaints, and how you market your product.

Tone and style should be consistent when communicating via messaging, which should be common practice across your organization even as new members are added to your team.

Not only that, but your messaging should hit important points for your target audience. Don’t tell them what you offer, show them how what you offer fixes their problem.

And do this in a way that makes your brand memorable so you can stick out from the crowd.

4) Prioritize clear content marketing

Content marketing is a great way to develop an awareness of your brand. This can be through social media, a blog, or forums, but the main goal is to know exactly how this content will inform readers of your product (without being outright sales-y).

The upside with this type of marketing is that you can gain a following on these platforms, and use them to increase conversions. Be transparent and let your potential customers glimpse behind the scenes into what they’ll be paying for, and how you work as an organization.

When customers feel like a part of the business themselves, it nurtures loyalty to your brand and can help you start the journey to growing your customer base while having a consistent bottom line of revenue.

5) Develop a relationship with your current customer base

Along the same vein, don’t try to ask for loyalty and then not do the same in return. Customers like to know that you are as much on their side as they are on yours. So take an interest in their needs and pain points.

Demonstrate that these matter by taking action when you receive complaints. When launching new products, show them where the idea came from, what problems this new product will solve, and more.

Customer marketing is also one of the main starting points for customer advocacy strategies. The aim of these programs is to give back to your most loyal customers, the ones who shout your name from the rooftops. These customers usually only take up about 5-10% of a customer base, so it’s vital to keep them on side. Reward their enthusiasm by getting enthusiastic yourself. Identify areas where you can offer rewards, exclusive gifts and opportunities.

6) Don’t overpromise and underdeliver

One of the worst things you can do when marketing your product to your customers - both potential and existing customers - is to promise it can do more than it actually can.

Your product is not magic and, as a start-up, you will most likely be more limited in what you can offer compared to the enterprises within your industry.

Building a level of trust and transparency with your customer base helps them stick around until you’re able to offer those features in the future.

7) Develop customer loyalty and string referral systems

The benefits of connecting with your customers throughout the customer lifecycle are numerous; it can inform your internal practices, help direct product improvements and marketing campaigns, and can also leverage customers to support your marketing.

We spoke briefly about customer advocacy. This concerns customers in the latter stages of the customer journey, who’ve been returning and loyal customers for a significant period, and who aren’t likely to churn.

These customers are usually enthusiastic about supporting your goals and so can be used to entice potential customers into making their first purchase. This is most commonly referred to as word-of-mouth marketing and can be a lifesaver for start-up businesses.

Marketing campaigns and advertisements are pricey and, while they have their place, they’re not the most effective use of resources for new businesses. Potential customers are far more likely to trust other customers than anyone else. So, giving your customers a space to rave about your brand does a lot of the marketing legwork for you.

Advocates can be used for case studies, reviews, and testimonials. They can also be a good source for referral marketing, which is the practice of offering an incentive for the customer to recommend your product or service to a new customer.

This style of marketing improves customer relationships and saves marketing budget money, which can be used more effectively elsewhere.

Common practices

So there you have it, a quick overview of the benefits customer marketing can bring to your new business. There are a lot of common practices and tips for setting up customer marketing, which can be found in our recent State of Customer Marketing Report 2022.

Or you get advice directly from the source using our Customer Marketing Alliance Slack channel, where marketing peers can interact and discuss areas of customer marketing. Get a deeper understanding of how customer marketing works within real-life businesses today.