Marketing for early-stage startups can feel a lot like throwing darts in the dark. 

You’re overwhelmed with options — elaborate sales funnels, costly paid ads, social media trends — so you try a little of everything, hoping something will hit the bull’s eye and catapult your business to success. The only problem? The vast majority of your darts don’t stick.

Fortunately, there’s a better way to grow your startup.

A way that doesn’t involve costly marketing budgets or convoluted frameworks with hard-to-remember acronyms. 

What’s the secret?

Keep your marketing simple with a minimum viable marketing system. You’ll minimise the risk of failure, optimise your marketing spend and establish market validation to streamline startup growth. 

Let’s take a closer look at what a simple marketing system entails. We’ll then use this principle to outline a straightforward yet strategic lead sales funnel that drives results:

What is a minimum viable marketing system?

You’ve probably heard the term minimum viable product (MVP). The idea is to test a business idea at minimal cost to (1) guarantee product/market fit and (2) make necessary adjustments early on. In other words, you want to assess how the market reacts to the product. 

A minimum viable marketing system works in conjunction with your MVP. You deploy low-cost marketing activities to identify what works to accelerate growth (without wasting time and resources on bloated campaigns.)

If you’re in software, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “Fail early, fail often.” The same idea applies to your marketing. 

Think of your early-stage startup as an experiment. First, you must craft a hypothesis, then use data-driven insights to prove (or disprove) your theory. We call this test-and-learn marketing.

Rather than guessing which darts will stick, you use data to zero in on what works. You test, and you learn. 

This is the foundation of a minimum viable marketing system — and it’s a low-cost way to dramatically improve the chances of a successful product launch. 

The benefits of a minimum viable marketing system for startups

Verifies market demand

Verify market demand, so you don’t waste your time, resources, and energy on a product your target market doesn’t need or want. 

Tests UX to create products people actually want

UX in digital marketing drives purchasing decisions. The most successful startups shrink the gap between marketing and UX design to improve usability and brand interactions — and they do so early on.

Attracts early adopters and drives customer engagement

Early adaptors provide you with invaluable information, boost your credibility, and form the foundation of brand development

Improves messaging and brand propositioning

Get laser-focused on your target audience and better understand their driving wants and needs so that you create magnetic messaging that improves sales. 

Optimises marketing campaigns 

It bears repeating: As an early-stage startup, you can’t afford to waste limited resources on marketing that doesn’t impact your bottom line. Start small. Test and learn. Optimise and iterate — watch as you quickly transition from early to growth stage marketing. 

How to build a test-and-learn lead sales funnel 

Now that we’ve covered the benefits of a minimum viable marketing strategy let’s explore my three-part framework for a winning lead sales funnel:

1. Craft your lead magnet

Email marketing is more important now than ever before.

You communicate with your target audience where they are already engaging, and you build your business on the real estate you own.

How do you build your email list? You give your prospects something valuable. In digital marketing, we call this your lead magnet. 

Your lead magnet could be content, a discount, a webinar or an event. Don’t overthink it, but do answer the question, “How can I provide massive impact — and how can I do it quickly?”

No one wants to slog through a 100-page ebook unless that ebook is jam-packed with value on every page. Identify your prospect’s most common pain points. Then, create a lead magnet that solves one of those problems right now. 

2. Build your landing page

The next step to your sales funnel in digital marketing is to craft a landing page that converts. 

Now, a high-converting landing page is different from a website. Both are important; both serve unique needs. 

Think of your landing page like your sales page; it promotes one product well. There are no distractions — only laser-focused design and copy intentionally crafted to convert traffic into customers. 

To get started with your landing page:

  • Capture attention with a brilliant headline
  • Have a clear value proposition
  • Include testimonials and social proof
  • Focus on product benefits (not just features)
  • Choose only one Call To Action (CTA)

Read my complete guide to building the perfect landing page here.

3. Set up a traffic-driving campaign

Your high-converting landing page is live, and your value-packed lead magnet is ready to roll. You just need one last thing in your minimum viable marketing: targeted traffic to your assets. 

I almost always suggest that early-stage startups run paid ads. That’s because paid ads are an intelligent way to conduct small-scale testing and ensure market validation from the get-go. But paid ads aren’t the only way to drive traffic. 

Organic social media campaigns, cold emails, and even analogue media (like flyers) can work. The key is to show up wherever your audience spends time. If your target market is not on TikTok, don’t spend your resources here — even if it is trendy to do so.

I recommend targeting each of your possible target customer personas. Start broad, then remove low-converting audiences as you learn more about your market. 

Pro tip: Don’t give up if you don’t see immediate results! Optimise your campaign and landing page using test-and-learn marketing until you get results. And if nothing works, embark on a customer discovery journey to ensure you have product/market fit. 

To sum it up

When you’re an early-stage startup, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to invest your limited time and resources in marketing that works. However, resist the urge to haphazardly throw any marketing dart you can find. 

Instead, use this three-step sales funnel and hit the bull’s eye with your minimum viable marketing. Then you can expand your efforts as your business grows.