Startups have scores of marketing options, each very complex with pros and cons. No matter what the startup’s budget, the question is always the same: What forms of marketing will deliver the best, fastest ROI? We can help you arrive at the right answer.

What Do You Need, and When?

The first step is to figure out what the objectives of your marketing campaign should be, and prioritize them. To put things in the simplest terms possible:

  1. If your product or service is brand new in the marketplace, you need to inform and educate the public. Before they can buy it, they need to understand it.
  2. If your product or service is not new in the marketplace, you can start right in generating sales leads or e-commerce revenue.

Although this breakdown is simple, a surprising number of startups launch immediately into lead generation campaigns that buyers are not ready to receive. Conversely, startups with very recognizable offerings get sidetracked on campaigns that address peripheral issues (such as using social media to convey the company culture).

Consider All the Options in Terms of Benefit, Cost and Time

All Internet marketing campaigns have value if executed properly, but not necessarily the value you need in the timeframe you need. Here is a general breakdown of popular options:


SEO is tremendous for lead generation and e-commerce, but it usually takes several months or a year before results kick in. In the meantime, you will be paying upward of $1,000 a month for a solid SEO campaign.


PPC is tremendous for e-commerce, and often very good for lead generation. The cost is similar to SEO, but unlike SEO, PPC can be tweaked, turned off or re-strategized very quickly.


Social media and content marketing (publishing articles on relevant websites and blogs) are very good for building brand awareness and conveying the value proposition for new products and services. While these options can be quite time consuming, they involve relatively little hard cost. Like SEO, these options take a sustained effort over many months to bear fruit.

Email Marketing

Email marketing can be effective for all types of marketing objectives, but certain elements must be in place. The startup must have a solid in-house mailing list (buying lists is a bad practice), and it must have internal resources or an agency adept at list management and email execution. If execution is poor or sporadic, email marketing will have a low success rate. An email campaign budget can be as low as $500 a month, and, like SEO and PPC, climb as high as your budget and goals can reach.

One, A Few, or Many?

In a startup, there’s always a strong itch to do it all, to think you need to be everywhere — on 10 social media sites, in organic search, the newspaper, etc. However, it’s easy to underestimate the time and cost of marketing, and thus spread your efforts too thin.

A much sounder approach is to identify one or two campaign options to invest in as heavily as possible, and set up a reserve budget to test other options.

For example, start with PPC and email to generate leads quickly, and set up a six-month test of SEO. This enables you to start generating leads quickly, while still putting wheels in motion for the long-term lead generation potential of SEO. When a decision is made to pursue or drop SEO, a new six-month test of social media could follow.

At Straight North, we have found that putting more resources into fewer campaigns produces the best outcomes. The real problem with spreading resources too thin is that a company is never able to make a valid assessment of whether a particular form of marketing will work. Thus, companies run marketing campaigns in a continuous state of uncertainty, which becomes very disagreeable. By focusing, you may indeed fail, but you’ll fail quickly and gain the ability to find another avenue that leads to great success.

Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, one of the leading Internet marketing companies in Chicago that provides SEO, PPC and web design services. With more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience, Brad has been featured in leading online publications including Smashing Magazine, Moz and Entrepreneur.