I’ve always loved reading and writing, so it was a no-brainer for me to study English literature at university. I’d planned to go into publishing or journalism (mainly because I thought those were the only options besides teaching!) but when I graduated, the prospect of corporate grad schemes or unpaid internships suddenly didn’t seem so appealing. I decided to stay in Bristol, where I went to uni, and take my time figuring out what I wanted to do instead of rushing off to London to live in a shoebox. This was one of the best decisions I have made in my career. Bristol is a really fun, creative city that values individuality and more ‘alternative’ lifestyles – there were so many cool things to get involved in.
I worked several different jobs during this period: shop assistant in a women’s fashion boutique, events editor for a lifestyle magazine, and even prepping food for a vegan takeaway company. It must have been stressful juggling multiple jobs, but I look back at that time really fondly. What all these jobs had in common was that I was working for small businesses, directly with the founders. I enjoyed the impact I could have on shaping these businesses, and I guess that’s where I caught the startup bug!
I fell into marketing accidentally, when I got a (paid!) internship at a digital publishing and events startup in the tech for good space. It was positioned as a marketing and editorial role, and I was managing the company’s blog and social media channels. Thanks to my love of writing, this came pretty naturally to me. I learned more about the digital marketing landscape and, somewhat surprisingly, found that I enjoyed working in the disruptive, exciting world of tech.
My next job was at Quuu, where I’m now Marketing Director. I initially joined as a Content Manager in the autumn of 2016 and was responsible for reviewing content submissions from our Quuu to Promote users. Following my previous role, I expressed an interest in social media and was promoted to Community Marketing Manager after two months. In this role, I grew and nurtured our various online communities: social media channels, our Slack group of brand ambassadors, our newsletter, and our highly successful Twitter chats.
As I said earlier, one of the main reasons I’d recommend working for a startup is the chance to work directly with founders. You learn so much about running a business, and, in my experience, having this close relationship means you get a lot more freedom and responsibility than you would at a larger corporation. Daniel Kempe and Matthew Spurr, Quuu’s co-founders, have always been hugely supportive of my career and encouraged me to develop my own ideas. As the team evolved, I started to take on more and more of our marketing efforts until I was directing and implementing our overarching strategy. Today, I’m responsible for pretty much everything: creating and commissioning content for social media, our blog, and our podcast, community management, our weekly newsletter, and other email communications, PR, partnerships, product, and whatever else needs doing!
Perhaps having side hustles is a natural result of working in a startup environment, but I’m a huge advocate of having fingers in different pies. Alongside my work at Quuu, I do content creation and copywriting for a luxury natural skincare brand, as well as consulting for another tech startup. The digital landscape is always changing, and I find dipping into other projects and industries a great way to widen my skill set, stay ahead of the curve, and keep my ideas fresh.
Thanks to digital, there are tonnes of different strategies companies can use to market themselves. The challenge when you’re working at a startup, often with limited resources and people, is deciding which ones to prioritize. Ultimately, this will depend on your product, industry and business objectives, but here are my top three marketing strategies that I’ve used at Quuu.
Quuu is a content curation and promotion app, so we, of course, rely heavily on these methods in our own strategy – as well as using our own tools! When you’ve just started your business, you’ve probably got a great product, but no customers. Social media is an amazingly powerful tool that anyone can use to build their brand awareness.
If you’re starting social media accounts from scratch, you’re going to need to post regular, high-quality content to attract the right audience. Curating relevant content in your niche is an easy and effective way to do this. At my previous company, we used content curation to grow a Facebook page from 0 to 100K followers in 9 months. At Quuu, it’s been even easier to do this since we built a tool to automate the whole process!
Once you’ve got an engaged following, you can start to think about creating your own content, the goal is to provide a higher level of value, establish your brand, and drive traffic to your website. This could be anything from an Instagram story sharing helpful tips to a whitepaper report on an industry trend. By the way, don’t overlook the power of email in your content marketing strategy! It’s one of the most enduring and reliable marketing channels – our weekly content digest at Quuu is a big driver of traffic to our blog.
When deciding what type of content to create, it’s vital that you really know your audience. Conduct customer surveys, hang out in online communities, research popular keywords, pay close attention to FAQs, and use all of this information to flesh out detailed customer personas. I know that it’s easy to skip over documentation for marketing activities that offer more immediate results, particularly at a startup, but I promise it’s worth it in the long run. Your customers’ needs, interests, and desires should form the backbone of your content strategy.
When I first joined Quuu, we already had a blog and social media managers, so my focus was on ‘community marketing’. I explain exactly what community marketing is in this post, but essentially it’s about building relationships with existing and potential customers.
It’s not enough to simply build a social media following or an email list – you need to interact with those individuals on a personal level to really reap the rewards. In my early days at Quuu, I started up a fortnightly Twitter chat so we could talk to our followers on a regular basis. They were a great success and helped us build a really loyal, highly engaged following.
It was also my job (and still is) to look after our community of brand ambassadors or ‘Quuurators’. When Dan and Matt first launched Quuu, they recruited a group of high-profile marketing influencers to submit their content to Quuu Promote for free. It was a win-win situation: they had free access to our content curation and promotion tools, we had a bank of high-quality content and an army of marketing superstars talking about our product. We have a private Quuurators Slack group to stay in touch and I’ve built up great relationships with all of them – hence why I’ve classified this as community marketing, rather than ‘influencer marketing’, which feels more transactional and doesn’t reflect the genuine friendships we have with our Quuurators.
What this all boils down to is the holy grail of marketing: word of mouth. Building relationships and making sure your customers always have a positive experience with your product and team means they are likely to spread the word.
There have been lots of fantastic examples of big brands running comarketing campaigns in the past couple of years, which I’ve written about here. The great thing about this strategy is that you don’t have to be a big brand to pull it off.
Whether you’re trying to build brand awareness or drive signups to your app, partnerships hold a lot of potential for startups. After a tough 2018 at Quuu, we’ve been focusing on acquiring new users and have doubled down on co-marketing opportunities.
Brand partnerships can take lots of different forms. For example, we’ve been doing regular guest post swaps with other B2B marketing brands to reach more of our target audience, as well as becoming a media partner for Running Remote, an international conference for remote leaders in Bali this June. This second type of collaboration is a good option if you’re prepared to offer an exclusive deal for your partner’s audience. When exploring comarketing options, make sure to be discerning about who you work with; you need to share the same target audience for it to be a worthwhile investment of your time or money.
Marketing tools are a real life-saver when you’re part of a small team. Conduct an inventory of all the marketing tasks you carry out on a weekly basis and identify where you could be saving time, and which ones you can safely automate. The exact tools you use will probably be down to personal preference, but here are some of my favorites.
Project management: Organisation is essential when you’re working at a startup. We keep track of all our projects using Trello, and I write up my daily to-do lists in Evernote. I especially love using Trello for organizing content ideas, but I actually use an old fashioned notepad for much of my brainstorming – I find my ideas flow better using pen and paper!
Content: we use WordPress for our blog and Anchor has been amazing for starting a podcast as a complete novice. Canva and GIPHY are fantastic for creating visual content when, like me, you’re not a professional designer! And, of course, we use Quuu Promote to drive tonnes of social media engagement and blog traffic.
My advice for anyone beginning a career in marketing is to always say ‘yes’ to opportunities for learning. Volunteer yourself for tasks and put forward your ideas even if you’re not quite sure how to execute them yet – we all spend a lot more time googling things than we’d like to admit! None of us can really predict what’s in store for the future of digital marketing, so it’s important to make yourself versatile and adaptable.
I learn a lot from podcasts. Here are a few of my favorites:
How I Built This with Guy Raz
Ctrl Alt Delete with Emma Gannon
Girlboss Radio with Sophia Amoruso
The Call with Erica Williams-Simon for ManRepeller
In Good Company with Otegha Uwagba
Everyone Hates Marketers with Louis Grenier
The Science of Social Media by Buffer
Conversations with Quuu (this isn’t a shameless plug – I learned so much from our guests!)
I would also really recommend attending events when you can. You’ll find tonnes of free workshops, mixers and panel discussions in most big towns and cities, and sometimes paying for a ticket is a worthwhile investment. You’ll usually come away with at least one new idea or a fresh perspective, and you never know who you could meet!
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