Digital pure-plays or digitally born companies need to adopt different media strategies than their offline peers. Most traditional B2C marketing literature focuses on the lessons from traditional FMCG companies like P&G, Nestle, and L’Oreal. For transaction-based digital companies, however, traditional media theories won’t suffice. If you have unlimited cash, you can, of course, start with TV, but if you do have limits, you’ll be better off with a different strategy.

The most successful marketing launches I have seen or been involved in have followed a three-tiered approach to marketing launch. It turns out to be less about traditional media planning and more about channel selection and fit. The approach we have adopted for media has always been to:

  1. Get users that are already looking for you on your platform(-s)
  2. Get users that are not already looking for you, but are on your platform(-s)
  3. Get users who are off your platform (if you can single out the ones that are looking for you – go for them first)

By platform, I refer to where you expect to convert your traffic into leads/orders/etc. Platforms can be online versus offline, for instance, or desktop versus mobile. The intuition is that it’s much easier to attract a user, who is already online, to buy from your e-commerce store than it is to attract someone who is offline and, therefore, first needs to get online, find your site and so on, before he/she can make a purchase. Similarly, it is easier to get someone already on her phone to install your app, than it is to get someone to first find her phone, then find the app in the app store, and then install the app.

Unless you are targeting a mature market, the first phase is limited in its reach. If people are not used to dealing with your industry online, few people will be looking for it.

In most cases, this framework translates into starting out with pull channels such as search engines (in fact, there aren’t many other pull channels online). Multiple entrepreneurs and marketers I’ve met argue against starting with search. They argue that search traffic comes at a high price. That is almost always true. If you compared the price per prospect, you’ll hit way more prospects per dollar by using TV, but that’s not the point!  Despite the high price, search engines make a great start for two reasons.

Firstly, search engines usually provide the most relevant traffic you can attract with paid media. This relevancy should translate into high conversion rates as higher relevancy, in this case, translates into higher purchase intent. This is an excellent way to test your early product with unbiased (versus your internal tests and friends/family) users before you scale marketing further. If you can’t convert people who are looking for you, then how do you expect to convert people who aren’t looking?

Secondly, yes, search engines have higher click prices than other channels, but if you are in a situation where competition can generally afford to pay a higher price per conversion than you can, then you should seriously re-evaluate your business model. You will have an incredibly hard time scaling your company if your unit economics are worse than those of your competition – regardless of whether these are direct or indirect competitors. Given that most online marketing channels are open and auction-based, you will have a hard time competing, if the value of a given visitor is higher for your competitor than it is for you, as they will simply be able to outbid you. You may, of course, be able to scale your way out of this over time (if your unit economics improve with scale), but be careful about making assumptions here. Don’t count on “going viral”!

The principles above usually translate into a channel mix such as:

  1. Search engines
  2. Display, social media marketing (+other digital marketing)
  3. Traditional ATL marketing (TV, Radio, etc.)

There are few rules without exceptions and this rule has one too: Inbound marketing. Inbound marketing should be based on other parameters, e.g. you should start your email newsletter program when you have a meaningful subscriber base and for PR and SEO, you should start sooner rather than later – these are long-term investments and hence have a different return profile. You may, however, want to get proof that your business model works before you go big on the long-term investments. PR in particular is among the best ways to position your company and building trust in your brand. A strong media presence may help you build credibility, but it is often much easier and cheaper to do this via PR. You should seek to get as much (positive) PR as possible from the moment your site is live, tested, and ready for traffic. A few great articles presented to the right audience can make the difference between modest growth and a tsunami of traffic (so make sure to test your site extensively before a story gets published).

Image: http://hammer.ucla.edu

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