One of the most common answers that I get on asking new startups about their marketing plans is that they are focusing on providing the best user experience and then rely on word of mouth. I beg to differ here. Agreed – awesome user experience accompanied with word of mouth is quite effective, but I think that some clever marketing can give a non-trivial boost to the traffic, more so for startups in the consumer Internet space. If you have big budget, the obvious way is to spend tons of money to make regular splashes all over the media or give away freebies to attract customers or even give big ticket lotteries (this is not unreal by the way). But on the other hand, even some low budget clever ideas can be very effective in driving significant traffic to the site. Let’s take a look at some of the Indian Internet companies to see what they are doing to attract customers. Also presented are tips on how other companies can use some of these techniques:
Traditional media marketing: Air commercials on televisions, billboards, etc. This is of course an expensive way to spread the word. While the reach of such media is huge, the problem is that it is difficult to measure how many customers you have acquired directly because of these campaigns. As a result, only big companies with lots of money can use this technique. For example: media portal Yahoo.in, travel portals MakeMyTrip, Cleartrip, Yatra and job portals Naurki, Monster, IndiaTimes Jobs have commercials on different TV channels and billboards in big cities.
Referral marketing: This is a scheme where you give additional incentive to already existing customers to do referral for your product/company. This is a proven model and the success comes with a cost – the referral reward. Some of the companies that are using this scheme are:
- SeventyMM referral program: Get one sixth of your subscription fee waived for every new customer you bring in. So after you get 6 customers, your subscription is effectively free (well, as long as your referrals are active members).
- MakeMyTrip High5 program: Gives you Rs. 500 coupon for every customer you get who signs up and makes a transaction.
- Yaari referral program: First few members who get x number of friends to sign up on the site every month get an iPod nano.
Online Social Networks: With the onset of online user communities, lot of teenagers/youth spend quite a bit of time hanging out at these social joints. Yaari.com CEO Prerna Gupta is using an interesting approach to use this as a marketing avenue. She has created a profile on Orkut – a social networking site to promote her own Indian version of social networking community Yaari.com ! This is almost a free publicity medium. The key point here though is that it has to subtle. If you directly spam these places by creating a profile just for advertising, no one is going to pay attention. Other startups can take a cue and use this medium in other interesting ways. Like creating communities to start a conversation to introduce their services, get feedback or just to know the customers better. Other social avenues include popular blogs, which a lot of companies already try to have their presence in.
Sponsoring offline events/parties: Using this technique, the companies make an impression on the users’ mind that they are more than just an online service and are actually a part of the community. For e.g. TimesJobs.com organizes job fairs, Yahoo.in, Sulkeha.com were seen sponsoring BlogCamps, Tulleeho.com organizes wine trails, cocktail making sessions etc. The point to note here is that this technique does not always involves big bucks for sponsoring big events/conferences. Events/Parties can be small weekend parties or other relevant small events. Interestingly, MySpace actually built their initial traffic using this medium as well.
Extravagant thoughtless programs: What do you do if you have tons of cash and you do not want to waste any time thinking of effective ways of promoting your site? Lottery! Search engine ByIndia.com recently announced a $5 million sweepstakes program for new registrants to their website. I don’t know what others think, but I think this is the most stupid way to use $5 million for promotion of a website.
Simple creative marketing ideas: Mouthshut.com has recently started using autorickshaws as billboards. What a simple, creative and cost-effective of promoting their site! I think more such creative low-budget ideas need to be innovated/deviced by small startups. One medium that immediately comes to mind that can be effective, yet no one has used for marketing is mobile – more on that later. In the mean time, if you can think of some simple ways of marketing a site/service put it down here and we’ll discuss.