Fun facts.

The top ten banks in the US spend over $3.2 billion (you read that correctly) annually to market to the American consumer public… each!

The space you are in has competitors with $200 million and $120 million dollar budgets, respectively… annually!

Why even bother?

Because you simply know, in your gut, that what you have created will blow the doors off of all of them.

Confidence?  Hubris?  5150?

How would a startup even compete?  Well, there a lot of ways:

You play the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) game.  SEO is the framework, the infrastructure, the architecture of your site, best described here:

SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand. (The Beginners Guide to SEO)

SEM is the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines. (What Is SEM & Paid Search Marketing?)

In its most generic form, SEM is how you appear in Google, Bing, and other search engines.   While Bing is rising, this is effectively how you appear in Google.  To me this is Black Magic, Hocus Pocus, the Sasquatch-ian, Loch Ness-ian netherworld where startups’ money get flushed down the proverbial toilet of Google’s rising revenues.  It is the depths, the fetid, oozing, sludge-filled purgatory peaceably called hell on earth.  We all think we can win at it, every digital marketing firm says they can win at it (if I hear “we’ll get you on page one” one more time I’m gonna crap rainbow unicorn pellets),. And, in one of the greatest sociological experiments of humankind, we startups all believe them, that we can win the SEM game because our idea is different, better, more unique.  It is why there are casinos and lotteries in America.


You are not that good.  No one is.  Every digital marketing firm will tell you the same thing:  “Listen, you need to give me three to six months to prove this out.”  And here’s the heroin of it all.  In that three to six months they WILL get you some traction.  Now remember, you’re a startup and you had no traction prior to hiring them.  Now you go down the road with this firm and gain some traction, what do you think you’re gonna do, stop?  No, they know that, you know that; heck, you’d be an idiot to stop.  Therein lies the drug.  It’s intoxicating, it’s addictive, and probably even a necessary evil of your macro marketing campaign… just don’t ever think it will be your sole marketing vehicle or you will die an inglorious, maggot-eating-your-face type death.

In sum, view SEM as your sniper rifle to get the precise customer/user you want.

But you must do more.  Take us.  We successfully tried native ads (What Just Happened? How Native Advertising Changed the Game) and are slowly foraying into a cable TV commercial.  Our native ad campaign increased our site traffic by 10x when we crafted an ingenious, in-house plan.  Now, not all of the users are “going down the funnel” (a term used for getting your user to complete the action you desire i.e. purchase, submit a loan, etc), but, as a startup, we need to build awareness too.  Awareness of who the hell we are (how do people find your site?) and what the hell we do.  And this is what is called building “breadth” of your marketing campaign.  Each thing you do, should have a specific, intended result.

I list some vehicles to consider:

  • Earned Media – the stuff that makes your Mom proud; a local TV station does a piece on you, a tech outlet writes a story after hearing about you. No cost, awesome.
  • Paid media – you pay an outlet to write a story about you; yup, happens all the time. Buy me a drink one night and I’ll give you the real dirt on this.
  • Traditional PR – unless they are SPECIFICALLY in your field and have done this before, don’t do it; just saved you 23K.
  • Targeted PR – you pay someone or a firm to use their ”influence” or “relationships” to get stories written about you. Expensive and worth it if you have the cash.
  • SEO – making it easy for search engines, and thereby users, to find and navigate to you.
  • SEM – finding that EXACT customer who is looking for your service.
  • Paid Social – Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat or LinkedIn advertising – a lower cost way to find your user; a little more generic than SEM, but a rising tide in the marketing world.
  • Native Ads – driving sheer volume to your site: reader awareness.
  • YouTube ad – a low cost attempt at virality for a younger demo.
  • Cable TV – a higher cost attempt at driving more volume to your site; greater visual awareness.
  • Retargeting – once someone visits your site one time, you follow them around the web reminding them (with your ads in their face) that you exist.  An absolute must.  They have already been to your site once, FIND THEM!
  • Programmatic – the marketing term du jour. Hyper targeting your customers based on their previous behavior.  Currently in development as I write this.

(I could, and probably should, write a blog on each of these).

So, you see I have given you some amazing pearls of wisdom from the trenches.  I wish someone had laid this out for me prior to beginning because it would have saved me hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I write to you from my bed, on my co-founder’s ol’ Mac, next to my amazing, sleeping wife, and I just saved you hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It’s on me.

Good luck, my brothas and sistas.