Building a startup is all-consuming. There’s never enough time, money or human resources to go around. So if you’ve created an ad that seems to be working, it’s better to double down and stick with it, right? Not exactly. There’s always a way to improve. Digital marketing doesn’t have to be paid advertising—that’s one avenue—but there is so much more you can do to gain exposure.
With the advent of new social and mobile media platforms, digital capabilities are constantly evolving. If your strategies don’t evolve too, you could miss out on a chance to prove your relevance and connect with consumers. Worse, you could leave market share on the table for competitors.
In order to lead the curve, you need to continuously challenge your assumptions and remain aggressive in seeking out knowledge. At Roomi, we’ve built a culture that embraces a willingness to fail in order to succeed. I encourage my team not to see failed strategies or tactics as personal or company failures, but instead as positive learning experiences that strengthen their strategic outlook moving forward.
Here’s how my team both examined and experimented with digital media industry trends to yield better insights and innovation.
1. Keep up with industry changes
Rather than ignoring cold calls and sales emails, I try to respond with interest. Even if you don’t think you’ll be interested in their product, salespeople can provide valuable insights into innovative practices within the digital landscape and what successful companies (especially competitors) are doing. Despite their small budgets, startups have the advantage of being nimble where big corporations often have lengthy campaign development periods. That means startups can be early adopters for new media strategies. We were quick to integrate Instagram, for example, as both an engagement tool and an advertising platform.
2. Attend industry events and classes
Seek out people whose effective and innovative strategies you admire, especially if they’re reaching your demographic or using the technology you want to use. It doesn’t hurt to ask for free or discounted admission to meetups, conferences and industry events. We encourage employees to use online educational resources for building various skills. Udemy, for example, allows you to shop around, interact with the instructor and track progress. After a great discussion in any of these forums, you’ll walk away with tangible tactics or actions to test for yourself.
3. Know your customer
Understanding your customer is the key to finding out how to reach and resonate with them. Read up on external research studies detailed in magazine or journal articles. If you have the budget, use surveys or focus groups to gain further insight into your customer’s mindset, behavior and reactions to your product. Lastly, examine internal data to help build user profiles and challenge assumptions about who they are, what they like (and need) and how they behave. Analyze it objectively to understand how people are actually using your product and where you can proactively fix shortcomings.
4. Research open rates
Align emails and posts to correspond with the best times for open rates and engagement on the platform you’re using. Reading up on the latest research is important, but since people don’t always take action when you want them to, you should always test your own campaigns for success with personally defined calls–to–action. For example, we tested copy and click-through rates for email campaigns and found that 9:00-9:15 p.m. was ideal for getting signups through teaser campaigns, yet Thursdays at 3:45 p.m. and Fridays at 9:30 p.m. were optimal for gaining poll responses.
5. Always be testing
This startup mantra is equally as important in advertising. Pay attention to which platforms are most active, as well as the types of messages that have had the highest response rates. Testing your messaging and graphics will tell you a lot about your target audience based on how they respond. For example, we test copy for different features, like price, security and ease of use. Be sensitive and objective about your use of language as well. Speaking as your target audience would makes you relatable and gives them the incentive to engage. Ensure that you’re always promoting with the customer’s benefit in mind, not the product. This way, customers can imagine themselves using your product or service and the difference it will make in their lives.
6. Focus on search engine optimization
Organic searches help us reach potential and current users via search engines and move customers down the sales funnel. We pay attention to what people are searching for and optimize our site accordingly, as well as create quality, discoverable content.
7. Use clear metrics
You can save tons of time, money and energy by ensuring that you’re judging results by the right metric. For a long time, we focused on lowering our cost per install. However, total downloads is a metric that’s losing credibility compared to criteria lower in the funnel. As a result, we recently shifted our thinking to cost per sign-up and other metrics driving user actions within our app. We’ve also tested a social component to advertising, asking people to tag others in order to expand our reach and drive down the cost of advertising through free exposure.
The best lesson I’ve learned is that no matter your company’s size, staying nimble and testing new strategies can lead to vast exposure and growth. You don’t need to be an expert right away to succeed in a new task, but you always need to be motivated and willing to learn. That means reading, attending new classes and devoting a portion of your work week to achieving that goal. Even as you find tactics that work, resist complacency. Test and challenge your assumptions, and trust that you can test your way to an even better outcome.
Ajay Yadav, CEO and founder of Roomi, sees every day as a new opportunity to “crush it” and to make positive co-living experiences easier to find. He’s guided Roomi through its debut in New York and expansion to San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, with other markets and services launching in 2016. Ajay also serves as a Lean Startup Machine mentor, advising early-stage startups during crucial growth points. He loves working with people who are also passionate about building a better world, and he strives to lead by example. Before Roomi, Ajay studied computer science at NYIT and helped to launch two other startups.