Startups face knowledge gap in digital marketing

A recent survey of startups in India revealed gaps in understanding that could lead to a stormy relationship between them and digital marketing.

By Surajit Agarwal

You would think startups and digital marketing is a match made in heaven. For the most part yes, it is. Digital marketing offers startups an unparalleled opportunity to reach their customers at a fraction of the cost of any other media. Yet a recent survey of startups in India revealed gaps in understanding that could lead to a stormy relationship between the two.

The survey, aimed at marketing professionals in the startup ecosystem, received 129 responses; 63 percent of responses came from marketing and digital marketing practitioners and CMOs, while 27 percent came from founders/cofounders and CXOs.

Interestingly the survey states that mobile is now almost equal to web as a traffic source. The respondents were split almost equally down the middle between mobile and desktop as to their primary source of traffic.


Source: Kstart’s survey Exploring India’s Digital Marketing Landscape

The average amount startups spent on digital marketing tended to be fairly low. Nearly 70 percent of the respondents report spending less than $1000 a month on digital marketing activities. Interestingly only 10 percent of those polled said their marketing activity was digital-only, and 24 percent say digital accounts for between 25-50 percent of their total marketing spend.

The reasons for their diffidence towards digital marketing has less to do with the efficiency of the channel as it has to do with their inability to understand how to leverage digital platforms.


Source: Kstart’s survey Exploring India’s Digital Marketing Landscape

A whopping 82 percent of those surveyed find a scarcity of talent or a lack of digital marketing as one of the major problems facing them. Combine this with the fact that most startups prefer to do their own digital marketing highlights the real reason why digital marketing is yet to take off among startups.



Source: Kstart’s survey Exploring India’s Digital Marketing Landscape
The results do not surprise Braj Chaturvedi, Co-founder, Mcounts. According to him, the fundamental problem with startups is a lack of understanding of marketing, not just digital marketing. “New age digital marketing experts view digital marketing as an extension of technology, which it is, but the application requires understanding of marketing and branding. Most digital marketers are not marketing and branding experts and hence the challenge they face is setting up the right expectation.”

According to Braj most digital marketers put the cart before the horse. “You send out emails - because you have something to offer to a set of clients, you don't create an offer because you have to send an email. You create a YouTube channel because you have a product to demo, or client testimonials to share. You don't create stuff because every company needs to have a YouTube channel. It is important for marketers to clearly define the problem statement and identify the digital marketing requirements.”

On the issue of lack of trained manpower, especially when so many institutes offer digital marketing courses he says “these institutes are imparting basic knowledge of digital marketing. They don’t teach how to use this tool to optimise marketing impact. Hence all we get is well trained digital marketing executers and not digital marketers.”

Ravi Kikan, Mentor at the Center for Incubation and Business Acceleration lays out a simple formula for startups to get the best out of digital marketing.

Understand your audience: Understanding who your audience is makes it very easy. That helps you choose the platform, language and content. Digital marketing is great for micro targeting your audience. So if you have a clear understanding of your audience you will be able to benefit tremendously from the tools provided by various digital marketing platforms.

Building content: Content marketing is the number one way to reach out to your audience. Building the right content in the right format is key. For example visual content works very well on Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook is the ideal platform for reaching a vernacular audience. WhatsApp is perfect if you have limited or no budgets.

Conversion is key: For a startup the key is converting to a sale or a lead. Brand building is not that important. Your marketing activity should be sharply targeted with clearly defined metrics. These metrics should be sale or lead. Not likes and comments.

Ready your house: Before you go out and invest either time or money on digital marketing, make sure your house is ready to receive the guests that you are inviting. Nothing spells disaster more than a bad landing page or confused UI. Test market your website, UI, landing page before spending on digital marketing. Otherwise you will get the clicks but they will bounce off.

Digital marketing can be a great friend to cash-strapped startups but for it to work companies will need a clear focus on their audience and goal.

The author blogs about digital marketing.

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