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Underdog Marketing Tactics: A Quick Guide

The do’s and dont’s of working with a minimal marketing budget

As Director of Marketing for Message Blocks, one of the biggest challenges I had was operating from a point of disadvantage in a competitive market; We were running against billion dollar companies over a limited inventory of prospects with fewer resources and just a fraction of their budget. Making an impact was tough.

The fact is – being small often requires a different marketing gameplan.

The good news is – as a smaller business, your marketing gameplan can create disruption and efficiencies your competitors might not be able to match, but for this to happen, there will be some guidelines you’ll need to follow

I had the privilege of speaking about this recently at EMU’s Search Marketing Workshop, so here are some of the Don’ts and subsequent Do’s that came up, along with a couple real-life anecdotes and examples I’ve experienced that have proved effective, specifically in the Digital Marketing sphere.

Applying Underdog Marketing Tactics – Some Guidelines

Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)

  • Don’t: Invest your money before knowing your  KPI’s  – Spending money on ads without knowing how to measure success is like living your life without knowing what makes you happy; A surprising number of people do it, but no one should.
  • Do: Understand and define the metrics that determine success for your business, set up the right tracking to measure how you’re doing. Then invest.

Competitive Research

  • Don’t: Do exactly what your competition is doing. You will get crushed.
  • Do: Understand what the big dogs are doing and why they’re doing it. Assume they’ve invested time and money to get their “marketing machine” to where it stands today, and try to leverage their activities in your favor. In other words – learn your competitors efficiencies and inefficiencies. You can then copy-paste, copy-tweak-paste, or innovate accordingly. Learning from others mistakes is typically a much cheaper and faster way to learn.

Paid Search

  • Don’t: Spend $30* per click.You’re the underdog, remember? If you’re this tiny, fluffy Pomeranian in a ring with 10 pitbulls and two steaks, do you fight them for the food? No you don’t. Maybe you leverage your cuteness to get out of the ring. Maybe you wait for the other dogs to fight it out and then make your move. In competitive markets with limited inventory and high conversion values (tyunderdog-marketing-tacticspically B2B, but not always) it can get ugly, and as the underdog you’ll get hurt applying big-dog tactics. There are other ways to get fed. Find them.

(*This could just as easily be $10 or $100, but the point is that with a limited budget, you have to make every click count, and unless you can turn a disproportionate amount of these clicks into paying customers, you should probably find cheaper ways to connect with your target audience)

  • Do: Compare and find effective and affordable channels and targeting. You can compare different channels like Google, Bing, LinkedIn, Facebook Twitter and many more. You can compare different strategies like Push (Display) vs. Pull (Search). You can compare different pricing models like CPM’s (Cost Per Mille), CPC’s (Cost Per Click) and CPA’s (Cost Per Acquisition). What’s really great is that there are tons of tools that can help you project your costs before spending your first dime. With so many options out there, find, prioritize and monetize using the marketing tactics that prove themselves effective and affordable.
  • Don’t: Send Paid traffic to your homepage without a clear Call-To-Action (CTA); In fact, don’t send Paid traffic to your homepage at all. Send it to a dedicated campaign-specific PPC landing page, with a clear value proposition and CTA. This will result in higher conversion rates and lower CPCs.
  • Don’t: Let your campaign run on autopilot. Here’s where you can truly disrupt the big dogs. Whether they have an external agency or internal team running their million dollar campaigns, they’re typically going to have bureaucracy, multiple decision makers and longer iteration and decision making cycles. You on the other hand, you’re more agile; You’re probably closer to the data than their decision makers too. You can therefore learn and make decisions faster, without blowing the bank.
  • Do: Build-Measure-Learn. Think of your first investment primarily as a learning tool, and secondarily as a lead/conversion-gen tool. Your first priority is to validate which of your marketing is working and which is not, which is justifying your investment and which is not, and you’re not truly going to know what works before you try. Yes, whether or not your campaigns provide a positive return matters, but not as much as your ability to make incremental improvements throughout the process. Stay close to your data and let it do the talking. Spend just enough to learn, then pivot or double down accordingly.
  • Don’tBid on generic keyword terms.
  • Do: Invest in keyword terms which are as long tail and bottom of the conversion funnel as possible. In fact, take this to an extreme. Bob Chunn from ContentOro, gave a great example from his time with Borders Books: they bid on book ISBNs (International Standard Book Number) in their PPC campaigns. Though each of these phrases typically had just a few queries per month, not only were they indicative that people searching for them had already gone through the necessary research and were qualified buyers (bottom of the funnel), but none of the competition was bidding on these keywords making them extremely affordable too. It’s tactics like these that make winning PPC campaigns.

Content & Organic Search (SEO)

  • Don’t: Try to fool Google. Yes, SEO is still a “thing”, but it’s no longer a game of pretending you’re something you’re not to Google’s Search engine. Be yourself, be awesome. Every day, search engines get better at ignoring (and even penalizing) signals targeted at them, while recognizing high quality signals that provide true value to users.
  • Don’t: Skimp on Content creation. You’ll lose
  • Do: Build it and they will come. AS LONG AS you’re providing value.Create relevant, useful content that gives your audience incredible value. Make it SO amazing they won’t be able NOT to share it. Google will reward you and yes –they will come.
  • Do: Do your keyword research, and utilize PPC insights for your SEO. Keyword research will help you get started, but to truly learn – you’ll need to execute. PPC can provide insights that Organic might not – about your users, their behavior and terminology. PPC can also provide a lot of data in a short period of time (depending on your budget and targeting of course) and can be turned on and off as needed. So while it’s funny how with Google’s “not provided” stronger than ever, they justhappen to be encouraging us to spend money with… You guessed it – Google, there are plenty of lessons PPC has the power to unlock. One example that comes to mind from working with one of Michigan’s leading Hospitals is how PPC taught us that “weight loss” search terms convert better than “lose weight” terms. An insight that we later applied to our SEO.

To be clear, everything above requires some form of investment, it’s just not necessarily a monetary one. With all the things you can be doing, it’s always advisable to set your priorities and build a plan compatible with your resources.

So there you have it; Some basic guidelines and examples I hope will help you run more effective and efficient marketing campaigns.

Thoughts? Feedback? Connect with me on LinkedIn orTwitter, and let me know what you think!

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