26 Practical Demand Generation Strategies for Startups and Small Businesses

26 Practical Demand Generation Strategies For Startups


The major key to success with any demand generation strategy is to get people to say, quite simply:

Demand Gen - Take My Money

In the world of economics, demand refers to how of a product or service people want to buy for a certain price.

Likewise, demand generation is all about driving awareness and interest in your products and/or services, which can be hard for small businesses and startups–even some enterprises!

In this post, I’ll share some effective demand generation strategies for startups–but before I do, it’s important to make a distinction between demand generation and inbound marketing.

Demand Generation vs. Inbound Marketing: What’s The Difference

Inbound marketing, according to Hubspot, is “all about creating content and viewing yourself, company, etc. as a publisher of content, that when combined with other inbound marketing best practices, can generate quality inbound leads for your business, inside and outside sales teams.”

So inbound marketing is demand generation, right?

Not exactly. “The goal of demand generation is to build and nurture key prospect and customer relationships for the long term,” and that requires your marketing and sales teams to be aligned.

For a startup or small business, this means your marketing team will identify and attract prospective customers or clients using content, community management, email campaigns, in-person events, and other inbound marketing strategies.

Meanwhile, your sales team will qualify those prospects with lead scoring systems, identify high-quality prospects, and then nurture them into your sales funnel. At some companies, marketers may also help qualify prospective customers in order to provide the sales team with higher-quality leads.

Demand Generation Diagram
Photo Credit: leadsmarketer.net via WordStream

Now that you have a better understanding of what demand generation is and isn’t, let’s jump right into the 26 demand generation strategies that I’ve retrieved from the Ladder Planner–our growth marketing database with more than 1000+ growth strategies. 

I’ll separate these strategies into 5 categories:


Content Strategies 

Fun fact: Did you know that only 29 percent of people want to talk to a salesperson to learn more about a product, while 62 percent will consult a search engine. This is where content comes in. Generating SEO-friendly content is one of the most effective ways to generate buzz around your startup, but mediocre blog posts and graphics just won’t cut it. If you really want to make your startup standout, try one of these 6 creative content strategies.

Standalone Widget/Tool

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Create a standalone widget or tool that your current and potential customers would enjoy. Treat your widget as a viral marketing campaign and craft a dedicated landing page to promote it. This will allow for you to send paid traffic to the widget directly. (Pro Tip: Use your site’s root URL so that the SEO benefits impact your website.)

Difficulty:

Advanced

Marketing:

5h

Design:

5h

Development:

5h

Widget Landing Page

Webinars

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Show both potential and existing customers how to best utilize your product or service through a webinar event. By hosting a webinar, you will build a stronger relationship with your current customers, while also educating potentials customers about your company’s offerings. (Pro Tip: Make sure to include an exclusive offer or discount to webinar attendees.)

Difficulty:

Advanced

Marketing:

7h

Design:

1h

Use Webinars for Demand Gen
Photo Credit: wpbeginner.com

Longform Content

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Longform content is our highest-performing content at Ladder. Our biggest blog posts (10,000 words or more) tend to do extremely well on all important SEO metrics – sessions, pageviews, time on page, sharing, returning users, etc… That’s because this type of content is both immediately actionable & useful, and is long enough that people bookmark it for later visits. Studies also show that content with more than 2,000 words get more social shares, rank higher in SERPs, have higher on-page conversion rates, and makes your brand look more authoritative and knowledgeable.

Difficulty:

Advanced

Marketing:

20h

Design:

2h

Longform Content

Data Blog Post

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Content around interesting data you have on your users or industry is a great way to get attention and PR for your business and products. You collect a lot of data and insights about your customers that can shine a revealing light on different parts of your industry and your own business’ performance. Sharing that data with the world as content is sure to grab attention with journalists and in your industry.

Marketing:

8h

Design:

2h

Development:

1h

Data Blog Post

Content Upgrade

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Or, instead of a content offer, try offering content upgrades at the end of short-from content that expands on the topic discussed. This will leverage the fear of missing out (FOMO) while delivering value. For example, a conceptual post about PPC followed by a content upgrade of a step-by-step PDF for Google PPC beginners. Other forms of content upgrades could include a Slideshare presentation, podcast, checklist, etc..

Success Rate:

19%

Difficulty:

Intermediate

Marketing:

4h

Content Upgrade

Tutorials

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Tutorials are great because they offer a ton of value and are not sales-y. Create a step-by-step tutorial or a how-to that directly benefits your target audience. Solve a common pain point or describe a complex procedure and your audience will be grateful that you took the time to clear the fogginess. (Note: Make sure to update tutorials if the software you mentioned changes.)

Difficulty:

Intermediate

Marketing:

3h

Content Marketing Tutorials

Social Media/Community Management Strategies

Social media platforms are perfect for content distribution, and reaching and engaging with your users. However, when used as a demand gen tool, social media allows you to listen and address your users’ concerns, and interact with industry thought leaders. Here are 4 strategies to help you build a thriving online community.

Thunderclap Social Share

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Spread the word about your new product or service using Thunderclap. This crowdspeaking platform allows users to customize a message that you want people to share. When you reach your supporter goal, your message will be published to their social media accounts all at the same time on the date you chose.

Marketing:

6h

Thunderclap Social Share

Relevant Group Posting

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Rather than paying to show ads, try posting in groups with members who have a strong interest in your product or service. Search for and join relevant groups and communities on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Slack and try posting your blog content, information about your product, or a promotion/sale. However, make sure to read the rules established by moderators of each group.

Keep track of the most responsive groups and return regularly with new content and responses to comments. (Pro Tip: Be sure to follow the rules of the group you’re posting in to prevent your posts from being deleted or marked as spam – if you’re not sure, ask a group admin. It’s a great way to show off your product while building influencer relationships.)

Success Rate:

70%

Difficulty:

Beginner

Marketing:

2h

Relevant Group Posting

Topic Comment

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Comment on a relevant topic to your niche on Reddit (but think twice about Reddit advertising!), Quora or other forums. These platforms already have a large audience looking to solve exactly the problem you solve, which you can tap into. This tactic is hard to scale, but can be the perfect way to get super-qualified users early on in your product’s life.

Difficulty:

Beginner

Marketing:

5h

Topic Comment

Reply To Tweets and Comments on Social Media

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

When someone replies to or share your content on social media, take the time to send them a short and sweet thank you reply. If they comment on your content with their thoughts and opinions, continue the conversation. While time-consuming, this approach is more meaningful and engaging than a like, helps build influencer connections, and encourages social sharing of your content. Use tools like TweetDeck or Hootsuite to optimize the process.

 
Marketing:

3h

Reply To Tweets

Post To Video Sites

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Video content can help you connect potential customers to your product or service. Whether you create explainer videos, commercials, product walkthroughs, or social video content, post video content to sites like YouTube and Vimeo or even Twitter and Facebook’s native video clients to increase their reach and access a new audience of potential customers.

Marketing:

1h

Post To Video Sites

Email Strategies

Today, our inbox is flooded with calendar invites, promotional emails, and social media notifications, but consumer still like emails from trusted brands–in fact, 86 percent of consumers would like to receive promotional emails from companies they do business with at least monthly  and three-quarters of companies agree that email offers “excellent” to “good” ROI. Make this most of your startup’s email marketing efforts with these strategies.

Referrals From Existing Users

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Prompt your existing users to refer friends to your product or service. A great way to do this is to provide an incentive of a free trial, a discount, or some other reward. This creates a viral loop around your product, driving happy users to share with their friends, increasing new user registrations, and encouraging those users to participate in the referral system.

Marketing:

2h

Referrals From Existing Users

Email Drip Course

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Provide an email course on a relevant topic over a series of days. Include high-quality content each day in separate lessons, teaching best practices and imparting expertise, while building interest for your product. At the end, add an upsell for your product to sell to a qualified audience of readers who went through the course.

Marketing:

10h

Design:

1h

Email Drip Course

Discount Welcome Email

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

When someone signs up for your email list, offering them a discount in your welcome email can inspire them to make a purchase immediately. Offer a percent off coupon code for signing up to capture emails and include it in your automated welcome email. This will drive interested customers to return to your site and browse your products, eventually convincing a portion of them to make a purchase with the coupon.

Marketing:

2h

Design:

1h

Discount Welcome Email

Email Winner Referral

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Emailing a subset of your top users to inform them they’ve won some form of competition can drive referral behavior. Create some sort of competition among your users, such as a rating of the highest level of activity or the most shared content and send out an email letting them know about their success. This can be made into a weekly or monthly email that includes sharing functions and a referral link encouraging top users to invite their friends.

Design:

1h

Development:

1h

Email Winner Referral

Paid Advertising Strategies

For marketers, our go-to platforms for paid ad campaigns are Facebook (84 percent), followed by Google AdWords (41 percent) and LinkedIn ads (18 percent). But choose your ads wisely; 72 percent of consumers say they would have a lower opinion of a brand if they were subjected to a pop-up ad. To get the most bang for your advertising buck, try these paid ad strategies to help you target high-quality audiences.

Category Interest-Based Targeting

This tactic requires media budget

Targeting audiences based on their likes and interests related to your product category. For example, a luxury bag retailer targeting people who like ‘fashion’, a hotel aggregation site targeting people who like ‘travel’ or an email automation software company targeting people interested in ‘CRM’. Note that this is a separate tactic from targeting people interested in your product (‘black bags’, ‘rome hotels’, ‘drip emails’) or targeting specific competitors (‘gucci bags’, ‘rome hilton’, ‘hubspot crm’).

Marketing:

1h
Category Interest Audience

Lookalike Audience with Interest Overlay

This tactic requires media budget

Using Lookalike Audiences in Facebook advertising can be a useful way to target leads that are similar to customers you care about. Generate the lookalike audiences based on people who like your page or those that visit your site. Then, to find higher-quality prospects, narrow down the audience to individuals with the same interests.

Marketing:  

1h

Lookalike W/ Interest Overlay

Website Lookalike Audience

This tactic requires media budget

Targeting an audience that looks like your current website users based on their demographic and shared interests. A couple of the major ad platforms now offer the ability to target users based on their shared demographics and interests with the people currently using your website. This tactic can be remarkably effective and should be part of any demand gen strategy.

Difficulty:

Intermediate

Marketing:

1h

Website Lookalike Audience

Free Content Ad Copy

This tactic requires media budget

People love freebies, especially if they are highly-relevant. Create free, branded content that is easy to access and valuable to potential customers. And then, highlight the offer in your copy – linking the potential customer directly to a landing page with the content… not your homepage. This is an effective tactic to capture email addresses. And further down the line, if they are faced with a problem you can solve, they will be more inclined to contact you rather than the competition.

Example:
“Check out our eBook on the best uses if AI.”
“A must see guide to SEO.”
“Enjoy our free marketing plan template and crush your marketing goals.”

Difficulty:

Beginner

Marketing:

1h

Free Content Ad Copy

Press Ad Copy

This tactic requires media budget

Take advantage of the press your offer generates by mentioning media outlets that have featured your product. Incorporating well-known media outlets or news sources can bolster your offer’s credibility while also acting as a guidepost for people to conduct additional research. Utilize earned media to it’s fullest extent… because, you earned it!

Example:
“New monitor featured on TechCrunch.”
“In the New York Times last week.”
“Recently featured on MTV.”

Success Rate:

6%

Difficulty:

Beginner

Marketing:

1h

Press Ad Copy

Public Relations Strategies

Public relations is more than TV interviews and press releases–it’s a viable method for generating brand awareness and building your brand’s reputation and authority. Let’s look at strategies to get your brand into the public eye.

Data PR Pitch

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

If you have interesting facts or pieces of proprietary data gathered by your platform or through research, consider pitching them to journalists and bloggers writing about your niche. By offering them information they need to write their articles, you can get a link in return and gain access to their audience.

Marketing:

5h

Data PR Pitch

PR Email Outreach

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Get press by scraping emails from journalists and emailing them to write up an article about you. Ensure you’re only targeting journalists who write articles relevant to your business/products. Draw their interest with a highly catered email referencing a specific article they wrote and why they and their audience would be interested in hearing more about you.

Marketing:

5h

PR Email Outreach

Get Interviewed On Podcasts

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Podcast hosts love to interview entrepreneurs, influencers, and experienced players in their space. If you get the opportunity to be interviewed on a podcast, take it. It’s a high impact, low effort way of getting in front of a highly engaged user base. Go a step further by researching podcasts in your space, reaching out, and pitching them on an interview. This tactic is also a great way to gain backlinks and generate buzz for your startup.

Difficulty:

Advanced

Marketing:

10h

Get Interviewed On Podcasts

Bonus Strategies

There are a ton of strategies that don’t fit perfectly into the categories I named above, but these strategies are too good to leave out of this article. Take a look at these demand generation strategies

Free Tickets Call To Action

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Studies have proven the power of the word “free” in marketing. Generate conversions (assuming your goal is not direct revenue) by offering free tickets to an industry event as the call to action in your advertisements or on your website. When done effectively, you can use this tactic to capture email addresses, drive traffic to your website, or increase attendance to a lead-generating event.

Difficulty:

Intermediate

Marketing:

1h

Free Tickets Call To Action

Invite-Only Beta

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

Restrict your product beta to invite-only users to keep the quality of users high in the beginning. Then provide referral rewards for users who share your beta with others, allowing them to jump the queue and get to the front of the line. This is an easy way to drive virality for your beta while increasing registrations and allowing excited registrants to remain a vital part of the process.

Marketing:

2h

Design:

1h

Development:

2h

Invite-Only Beta

Rankings Social Proof

This tactic doesn’t require media budget

When researching different products, services, or anything that involves a purchase decision, consumers go to a recommendation site and look for the top provider in that category. Show your customers why you’re highly recognized in your industry through social proof. Go for the most impressive of ranking lists to show visitors how great others think your products are.

Marketing:

2h

Rankings Social Proof