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How 7 Startups Found Success With Effective Content Marketing

Established businesses have it easy with marketing: print advertisements, radio jingles, TV ads, and social media pop-ups paid by their large budgets generate a huge amount of leads. But what if you’re a small startup with not a lot of money? What can you do with your time, hard work, and big dreams of getting your business off the ground? The answer lies in content marketing. 

In our modern digital era, intrusive ads aren’t effective anymore. In fact, consumers hate ads so much they install ad-blockers or scroll past pop-ups - a huge blow on the resources of big brands. On the other hand, content marketing is a cheap and fresh way to generate more leads because consumers are the ones approaching you. It’s a feasible and cost-effective way for startups to make their way into the spotlight, as these seven brands proved: 

1) Canva: Everyone loves free content 

In 2012, Canva began as a unicorn startup that allowed anyone to create appealing, professional-looking designs such as charts, infographics, and social images for free. As of 2020, it has a valuation of $6 billion and over 30 million monthly users. Canva has achieved this much through user-generated content and product-led growth. 

By offering both free and premium options for all icons and design choices, more people and businesses turn to Canva as an alternative to hiring professional graphic designers.  They further leveraged their product by bringing on influencers to help spread the word. In short, their product was helpful, valuable, and relevant that their audience naturally talked about it. 

2) Oh Joy!: You don’t need to “sell” anything right away 

Oh Joy! is the story of a blogger turned lifestyle brand. Joy Cho was a graphic designer who shared her blogging about her inspirations when she moved to New York to look for a job in 2005. As she grew her social following and substantial blog traffic, she was approached by various clients - whose projects helped her move from freelancing to establishing a full-time business. Since then, she released various products including stationery lines, wallpapers, bedding, and accessories.

Joy’s domination over visual content revolves around her blog, her Pinterest, and how-to lifestyle videos. Her Pinterest is especially influential with over hundreds of boards that Pinterest users can freely take inspiration from. Without actively trying to sell anything, her beautifully curated boards are supported by over 13 million followers who simply enjoy her visual style. 

3) Glossier: Listen to your brand’s community

Another successful blogger turned startup entrepreneur is Emily Weiss, who started a beauty blog called ‘Into The Gloss’ in 2010. From a successful blog followed her own line of beauty products called Glossier in 2014. A few years after the launch, Emily acquired venture funding worth $10.4M for both brands and has over 800k followers on Instagram. 

The secret to Emily’s success was tapping into the blog’s audience and social media channels to ask customers what they want next. Glossier relies on audience interactions such as emails, surveys, social media comments, and the like to create moisturizers and cosmetics that her audience genuinely wants to buy. It’s also notable that the Into The Gloss community remains strong as the brand itself interacts with them in a genuine way, using an authentic voice and re-sharing fans’ tweets to build relationships with customers. 

4) Buffer: Write guest posts for other blogs

No startup business has the luxury of having an established audience. Creating relevant content and building a following on your own blog will take years - but the creators of social media automation tool Buffer found a way around that. They wrote nearly 150 guest posts across relevant blogs and websites. This tactic skyrocketed their traffic from 0 to 100k visitors in 9 months and their first 100,000 customers to boot. 

From that point, Buffer launched more content and resources on their own blog. In fact, they have sub-blogs for marketing, workplace culture, and engineering as well as two podcasts on brands and social media. Buffer continues to enjoy over 1.5 million blog visits from an audience that appreciates their honest and genuine thought leadership. 

5) Mint: Find opportunities in content gaps 

In 2007, the personal finance product Mint won the TechCrunch40 competition. Even though they established some credibility, they didn’t have a lot of opportunities to grow until they figured out an intelligent marketing strategy. At the time, blogging wasn’t a big deal for businesses yet and their competitors were only blogging monthly (if at all). Mint created their MintLife blog and filled it with high quality content such as personal finance tips, videos, link compilations, and infographics. 

Their articles went viral on sites like Reddit, they had more search engine hits, and they continued to attract potential customers and brand advocates. And with their tight budget, they invited other finance bloggers to write guest content and do Q&As for their blog. Mint’s strategy helped them scale to over a million users within a couple of years. 

6) Blue Apron: Be aware of what your target audience needs 

A lot of people love delicious, fancy dishes but aren’t equipped with the know-how to prepare them. Enter Blue Apron, with its weekly box of recipes curated by high-end chefs and pre-measured ingredients to cook them with. In its first year, Blue Apron’s subscription base exploded and by 2015, they have been delivering 5 million meals per month. However, Blue Apron didn’t limit themselves to their successful product-service.

What made Blue Apron click was that they recognized an educational void in their customer base, so they would release fun and educational articles onto their blog “Extra Helpings” about the dishes they offer. Printable recipe cards are also available even if you aren’t a subscriber, which made Blue Apron more attractive to potential customers. Lastly, Blue Apron also encouraged their community to share photos and comments about the food they prepared all over social media - cultivating almost 2.6 million enthusiastic Facebook followers. 

7) AirBnB: Keep on generating quality content solutions 

When began in 2008, its founders were renting out air mattresses in their San Francisco loft. Now, AirBnB offers over 7 million accommodations worldwide. What propelled them to the top was how they maintained their brand community through content. 

They have a magazine that provides content for tourists when they visit certain locations. They upload stories about the experiences of hosts and guests alike. They have even published papers on the economic impact of AirBnB in specific locations. AirBnB also continues to publish maps, testimonials, and photographs from travelers and residents to enhance location guides. So even though AirBnB has achieved a lot (disrupting industries in the process), they never stopped creating content that promotes a sense of belonging. 

How To Develop A Creative Marketing Strategy On A Startup Budget 

As a startup, content management might be the last thing on your mind - and on your budget. Maybe you don’t have a lot of resources to hire influencers or do giveaways. So what content marketing tactics can you employ that won’t break the bank? Here are some of our top suggestions: 

  • Write about company wins: It’s hard to know where to begin with content sometimes. That’s okay. As a startup, you can write about awards or achievements your business has accomplished to establish trust in potential customers. This type of content will help people who visit your site develop a good first impression of your brand. 
  • Reimagine existing content: You might already have good content at hand that you can update or adapt into different forms. Turn your best posts into a slideshow, summarize useful findings into an infographic, or turn your FAQs into videos. By reimagining what you already have, you take a load off your editorial calendar and have more resources to do something else. 
  • Create a “challenge”: Interactive content like quizzes or hashtag challenges can spread organically pretty quickly so you might even go viral. However, be cautious with these challenges because you may lose control over the meaning. One way to prevent this problem is to tie in your content with the brand itself. Maybe when you make a quiz, you can include additional information and a call-to-action that leads back to your business. 
  • Highlight customer stories: You are not limited to basic testimonies from your clients. Go a step further and write articles on how you successfully addressed the problems your customers faced. Stories like this will ease concerns from potential customers. Though it may be tempting to frame yourself as a hero, remember to keep the focus on your customer and detail the situation, problem, solution, and outcome. 
  • Write tutorials and how-to guides: Many people encounter brands when they look for answers or solutions on search engines. How-to guides and tutorials are useful and informative pieces of content that showcase your brand’s expertise. Even though it’s time consuming to write a comprehensive guide, it’s best to answer as many questions your readers may have about the topic. You can even send these tutorials as an email series to the leads in your database. Even though they don’t need the resource yet, they might need it in the future and your brand will be the first one on their minds. 

Flex Your Creativity With Content Marketing

As a startup, you’re just beginning to find your footing within your industry. Content marketing is essential if you want to get your brand recognized. With creativity (and a lot of hard work), your content can help you tap into opportunities and resources -- without breaking the bank.

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