LinkedIn. Google. Facebook. Email. If you’re in B2B marketing, you know these demand generation channels and probably use them, or you’re planning to experiment with them.
So, what’s the problem?
Just like you, everybody else uses these channels. This leads to higher prices, saturation, and lots of noise.
So, what should you do?
We’re not saying you should stop using these channels, especially if you’re getting good results. But you should consider branching out to other channels, as well. Finding under-utilized, cost-effective channels can lead to a significant competitive advantage for an early stage startup. Later on, when your company grows and you need to bring in a larger number of leads, you’ll likely need to employ a broader mix of marketing channels, including competitive ones like Google and Facebook. But in the beginning, with limited resources and a relatively low number of leads needed, finding one good channel that brings in inexpensive leads can give you a tremendous boost.
7 examples for more original campaigns
We work with startups that succeeded in bringing in leads (and new customers) from less conventional channels like Capterra, Quora, local meetups, small conferences, university lectures, dinners, and co-marketing with other startups.
Here are a few real-life examples:
1. The roadshow. The CEO / VP Marketing / another team member with an impressive sounding title goes to a city where you have a large number of potential customers, and maybe a few existing customers. You run an email campaign inviting potential customers to meet her. If you’re also able to arrange a breakfast or a dinner with leads and customers, all the better.
Worked for us when: We sent the VP Sales of a New York startup to a 4-day West Coast roadshow, in San Francisco and Los Angeles. We arranged an intimate dinner (6-8 people) in each city with customers and leads. The VP met about five new leads in each city, and eventually closed two new deals, representing a very high ROI for this campaign.
2. The up-and-coming conference. Big industry trade shows are similar to the channels I mentioned at the beginning of the post; everyone’s already attending them, and they’re crowded, competitive, and expensive. If you’re able to identify the conference that’s going to be the next big thing, you’ll experience less competition, lower prices, and better results.
How to identify such a conference? We don’t have a clear cut answer. You need to take a chance on new and promising conferences, keep your finger on the pulse with customers and partners, read a lot, and connect with the right people.
Worked for us when: We worked with a startup selling to senior marketing executives of online retailers, a very competitive market full of well-known trade shows that everyone attends. One year we were invited to a brand new conference called Shoptalk in Las Vegas. It looked promising: created by industry leaders, with impressive speakers. Despite the high price and a lot of unknowns, we decided to go for it. The results? More leads and opportunities than we expected, and more than many other conferences we sponsored. We continued to sponsor Shoptalk in the following years, and it continued to deliver, but similar to other conferences, it became more popular, more competitive, and less effective over time.
3. The local meetup. Sometimes a meetup in your hometown can lead to surprising results at a very low cost.
Worked for us when: Two of our clients presented at Data Driven NYC, a data science meetup in New York. Each presented to an audience of about 200 people, and following a 20-minute presentation both startups received several relevant leads that led to sales opportunities. There was no cost beyond the time investment of preparing the presentation. In addition, we received a high quality video of the CEO presenting to hundreds of people, and used this asset in other channels for a while after.
4. Quora. Writing Quora answers requires time and effort, as well as basic writing skills. But beyond that, Quora is a free channel, and it has a lot of people looking for answers to problems you’re solving.
Worked for us when: The developers at Clay Sciences, a client, invested in writing a few detailed Quora answers (example). It definitely took time, but wasn’t too onerous… a few hours per answer, and no monetary expenditure. Every answer also included a link to one of their blog posts. Months later, they’re still getting free and relevant leads from these answers.
5. Co-marketing with other startups. We really love this tactic as a way to expand our audience and seem way bigger than we really are. We co-market by finding other startups that sell to our target audience but aren’t competitive, and are roughly the same size and stage, or bigger. We don’t recommend co-marketing with much larger companies – their pace and goals are usually very different, which makes collaboration more challenging.
We executed successful joint campaigns across channels – events, webinars, content, conferences and more. These campaigns are cool because they’re a win-win-win – no money is involved, each startup receives exposure to the other’s audience, and the audience itself appreciates getting to know another interesting company in the space.
Worked for us when: Lots of times: a joint event, joint webinars (example), joint dinners at industry trade shows, content cross-posting (when each startup publishes content from the other startup in their blog or newsletter.)
6. The survey. In this content campaign, you create a survey covering industry trends, challenges, goals, and any other topic of interest to your target audience. You email your audience inviting them to fill in the survey, usually offering a token of appreciation like an Amazon gift card. It’s relatively low cost, and usually engages a lot of leads. With the right follow up, you can get sales opportunities and new deals out of survey leads.
In addition, you can use the survey’s answers as the basis for new content: for example, an industry trend report, posts about your audience’s challenges and goals, and deep dive interviews with a few of the respondents.
Worked for us when: We implemented our survey playbook at the end of 2018 with three different clients, selling to different audiences, with different sizes of marketing databases (from a few thousands to ~40,000). All three received many survey responses, and leads that converted to sales opportunities. The end or beginning of the year is a good time to send out a survey about the state of the industry, recap of the previous year, or goals for the new year.
7. Product review sites. One of our clients operates in a very competitive market that sells software to SMBs (small / medium businesses). It makes for a challenging marketing environment, but on the flip side, we discovered that this space is thoroughly covered by product review sites like Capterra, G2 Crowd and TrustPilot. These sites can bring in a lot of relevant leads looking for solutions similar to what you’re offering, at little to no cost.
Worked for us when: We created profiles on all these sites, and asked customers to review us – initially manually, and then with automated campaigns. These sites also have paid options that are worth checking out – for example, the ability to target people who looked at your competitors’ profiles.
The bottom line
None of these ideas is rocket science. But hopefully, they will help you think creatively outside the LinkedIn / Facebook / Google / email box, and start experimenting with new campaigns and channels. It’s likely not all of them will perform, but those that do can be much more effective than the “usual” channels, and also position you as a company that does different, interesting stuff.