MaRS Library Getting started with advertising at your startup: Digital advertising
Are you a startup getting started with advertising? Thinking about digital advertising? The most efficient way to advertise is generally online. Digital advertising is an excellent fit for lean startups because campaigns can be stopped, started or changed very quickly, optimizing scarce resources.
Advertising can be an important part of your startup’s promotional activity, which is a factor in your marketing mix.
For startups getting started with advertising, online campaigns are cost-effective
Digital advertising offers a cost-effective way for startups to promote their product or service. The key benefit with online advertising (digital advertising) is that it has a measurable impact. Digital marketing yields analytics provide instant feedback. By being able to quickly learn what is working (and what is not), you can respond and optimize your expenditures to attract the right traffic—and more of it. With digital advertising, it is easy for advertisers to see what they are getting for what they are spending.
A/B split testing
A/B split testing is a tool commonly used in advertising to determine how customers respond to different elements of an advertising campaign. With A/B split testing, you create two versions of an ad. One version is your “control,” and this is shown to group A. The second version has one minor change (e.g., slightly different copy, or a different design element), and this is shown to group B. The idea is to test and track the different responses from the two groups and to adapt your advertising based on what resonates best with customers.
A/B split testing may require a certain volume and time in order to generate reliable feedback.
Your digital advertising should leverage multiple channels to reach your market. Typical channels include:
- Search engine marketing
- Social media
- Sponsored content
- Context-sensitive marketing (direct ad placement)
Digital advertising and your startup’s objectives
When getting started with advertising, online campaigns have benefits beyond their cost-effectiveness and measurable impact. Digital advertising can help your startup with these objectives:
- Gather customer insights, including contact information
- Create leads for sales teams
- Build your brand
- Generate word-of-mouth advertising
Challenges of digital advertising
Certain specific challenges arise with digital advertising:
- Faceless traffic: Online ads may generate traffic, but if they don’t yield sales, you may be attracting the wrong visitors. That is hard to know at first since you can’t actually see the customers.
- Great ads, but ineffective landing page/product: Even if you attract the right type of online traffic, conversion rates may be low. Possible reasons are that your product is less attractive than expected or that the landing page or buying process is cumbersome.
These challenges mean that time, money and analytics are required to really make digital advertising work for you.
Increasing the quality of your startup’s digital advertising
Increasing the quality of your digital marketing efforts essentially means spending less money per desired outcome, be it a campaign to generate sales leads, new user registrations, sales orders and so on.
The key factors in increasing the quality are a combination of web analytics, advertising analytics, creativity, and systematic experimentation. Google provides advertisers with many tools that may help the process, and other media providers are catching up rapidly. If you are just getting started with advertising, start with small, tightly managed experiments. Then move on to larger campaigns.
Getting started with advertising: Further resources
- Using social media to support B2B sales — MaRS Best Practices
- Using social media in B2B sales: Four Hot Tips for Startups
- Adopting and adapting social media: Five Hot Tips for Startups
- Marketing on a Shoestring: Four Hot Tips for Startups
Digital advertising and stages of venture development
Startups can use digital advertising for different purposes at different stages of development. In the early stages, startups can run a small ad for customer validation purposes. In the later stages, startups can use digital advertising to reach and expand their customer base.
Blank, S.G. (2005). The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Self-published: Cafepress.com.
Tsotsis, A. (2011, April 10). Dave McClure On 500 Startups: “If Sequoia Is The Yankees, We’re The Oakland A’s”. Tech Crunch. Retrieved from http://techcrunch.com/2011/04/10/dave-mcclure-on-500-startups-if-sequoia-is-the-yankees-were-the-oakland-as/
Marmer, M., Lasse Herrmann, B., Berman, R. (May 28, 2011). Startup Genome Report 01. Retrieved from
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