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Start Digital Marketing on a Zero Budget

Last updated:
29th May, 2017
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Start Digital Marketing on a Zero Budget

You’re the founder of a bootstrapped startup. You have practically left no corner uncut. Those sumptuous lunch buffets at restaurants have transformed into 2-minute Maggi noodles and you’re eyeing cash-back discounts every time you order food online. You’ve somehow managed to wade through the budget and build a beautiful product. All you need now is traction to get things in motion. You realize the product needs to be marketed to make people aware of it and so you begin to look up marketing strategies online. But wait, it suddenly dawns on you…

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Marketing to acquire customers needs money and you need customers to make money. It’s a vicious cycle.

Before you curl up in a corner thanks to this realization, let me tell you, it is indeed possible to avoid the cycle altogether. Listed below are some of the strategies we employed at, that can help you gain the momentum you need, without spending a single dime:

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Leverage Email Marketing

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Emails are undoubtedly the easiest form of marketing in the digital space. They are subtle, personalized, non-intrusive and more importantly, cost peanuts. Even though email engagement rates are known to be disappointingly low (15-20% open rates, followed by a 2–3% click-through rate), given that it’s practically free and highly convenient, it is generally a fruitful investment to make for a digital marketer. Here are some generous platforms that will help you stick with the allocated zero rupee budget:

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MailChimp: One of the most popular email marketing platforms that provide 12k free emails/month for up to 2000 unique subscribers; enough to get you started. Other features include email template builders, automatic integration with major platforms and engagement analytics.

MailGun: An email service primarily oriented for developers, which allows 10k free emails/month and support for most popular languages.

Sparkpost: Allows a staggering 100k free emails/month! (almost twice the population of Iceland). This service should serve all your bulk marketing needs till the point you start acquiring a sizeable customer base.

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Nail SEO Keywords

Digital Marketing on a Zero Budget UpGrad Blog
The Internet is a gigantic bazaar and your website is a tiny inconspicuous shop lying somewhere in that labyrinth. How do you ensure people make their way down to your store? You turn to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) — a set of practices by which search engines list your content higher than the competition whenever people search for relevant information.

There are various strategies and guidelines written by SEO experts on how to model your content so that search engines rank it well. There are services which perform the audit for you and recommend appropriate changes for a fee, but a vast amount of effort goes into deciding the keywords that represent your content most accurately, while overlapping with the terms users are searching for.

Keywords Everywhere is a neat little tool that simplifies keyword research by showing the search volume of a keyword, CPC (cost-per-click) estimate and how competitive the keyword is. On installing the free browser extension, it displays all this data for every google search you perform.. how cool is that! Combine it with tools like UberSuggest to automatically figure out the most searched phrases for any keyword and shape your website content accordingly, thereby ensuring that you gather maximum eyeballs and more business.

Gamify Social Sharing Actions

Digital Marketing on a Zero Budget UpGrad Blog

Social media channels (facebook, twitter, etc.) offer are a great way to market your content online. They offer good visibility and massive viewership. However, you do not have the luxury of flexing dollars to run ad campaigns on these channels, so you’re stuck now on the mercy and generosity of your product users.

However, arbitrarily placing sharing buttons on pages and praying that users share the content on their social feed is only going to set you up for disappointment. Users are inherently selfish and lazy (yes you too!) and need a strong trigger to indulge in an action (when was the last time you called up a customer care number to appreciate the service they were offering?).

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Gamification is a great motivation tool to make users perform a desirable action. They reward users every time they share your content online. Offer discounts, promo codes, points or digital currencies that are redeemable. This also increases overall engagement quotient of users.

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Build a Product Users Love

Digital Marketing on a Zero Budget UpGrad Blog

What does this have to do with Digital Marketing? The answer: everything. Paul Graham, the founder of YCombinator mentioned this in one of his famous essays:

Better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent. It’s better to have 100 people [who] love you than finding a million who just sort of like you.

Each user that you delight with your product is going to serve as a walking billboard, heralding your name within his social and professional circles like a pompous politician on an election campaign, delivering another 100 users straight, for you to delight them as well.

Let users do the marketing for you. Think of Levi’s t-shirts with their big imprinted logo that people carry around.

Moreover, these ads will have a higher conversion rate than any other form of marketing currently out there. While companies spend their lifetimes trying to achieve this goal, keeping the right mindset from the beginning would ensure that you always stay on track when making any crucial decisions.

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While having a good budget gives you the flexibility and the fuel to market online more effectively, the strategies listed above will ensure that you stay afloat and keep the wheels rolling till the money starts to flow in.

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Yashveer Rana

Blog Author
Yashveer is co-founder and chief technology officer at
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1Are there any ways to improve email open rates?

It’s true that the success of any email marketing campaign depends on the email open rate. Though email marketing is the cheapest and most convenient digital marketing strategy, it’s important it is used correctly. Some strategies you can implement include – always strive towards providing value, keep your subject lines fresh (test them, include personalisation and emojis), think of a series of email types you can send your customers (welcome email, coupon code, additional resources, testimonials, news) and avoid spamming. To know if a particular strategy is working or not, keep testing, and once you do so, start with a re engagement strategy.

2How can I ensure my website ranks higher using SEO practices?

Honestly speaking, there’s no point investing time, energy and money on building a website if your potential customers cannot find it. To stand out, you have to deploy certain SEO strategies. When you’re on a shoestring budget, it becomes even more difficult. However, some of the ways that can help you rank higher on online searches include – finding keywords relevant to your brand (focus on primary, secondary and long-tail keywords), avoid keyword stuffing, focus on niche keywords that differentiate you from your competitors, add as many links as you can to your site, publish high quality content (social media, Quora, blogs, articles, infographics) and tweak the UI/UX of your site. Once you’ve done all of this, don’t expect miraculous results overnight. Keep testing and be patient. If you appear on the first or second page, you’re on the right track.

3How do I create a product my customers will love?

A common reason most start-ups fail is because they focus on creating a product without assessing customer needs and pain points. The average customer is getting smarter by the day and therefore they evaluate every aspect before making a final purchase decision. If you want your product to stand out in the market, it is vital to focus on providing a sound user experience, creating great product appeal, adding a WOW element, offering personalisation and educating your customers through video marketing, blogs and other resources.

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