So you've spent a year building your awesome software or product. It's ready for prime time. Now what.
Customers and users. You desperately need customers and users. And quickly those two words a part of almost every startup's someday plans come into play—digital marketing.
Digital marketing matters
because 61 percent of global Internet users search for products online, and that's especially the case for high-tech customers. Social media is proving to be 100 percent more effective than outbound marketing at turning leads into customers, and content marketing three times as good at generating those leads to begin with.
Yet there are so many options out there. Facebook and Twitter ads. Blogs and content marketing. SEO and Google AdWords. YouTube videos (which you hope will go viral). And it's all intertwined with analytics. Most options cost money and all take time. So how to navigate all this? How do you know what works and what doesn't? For a startup, what is the best use of very limited funds and very critical time?
It was this increasingly common dilemma within startups accelerating through The Startup Factory that prompted the creation of the Digital Marketing Foundry
, a first-of-its-kind training program for digital marketers and entrepreneurs. The company, funded by TSF's two partners, Capitol Broadcasting/American Underground and its founder Corey Post
, launched late last month, and its first classes
—Introduction to AdWords for Business and Total AdWords for Business—begin in two weeks (June 9 and 11) in a classroom in the American Underground at Durham's American Tobacco campus. The vision is to master the business model and student experience in the Triangle before taking the foundry to other cities in need of similar programs.
Do a quick Google search for digital marketing training for startups and you'll see that classroom-based schools like Post's are lacking. The best known player in the startup community is General Assembly, the New York co-working space turned startup school now in cities around the world. Digital marketing is just one of dozens of skills taught through its classes. There are also programs for "growth hackers" which have a big emphasis on digital marketing tactics. The most common option is to teach yourself through YouTube videos and self-guided online curricula.
Post envisions a program that works a bit like a code school, with interactive coursework and training from expert marketers and guest speakers, but allows for students to keep their day jobs and eventually use the skills they're learning in the classroom at work. He'll also offer customized corporate training—he's already secured clients for that. Post believes the Foundry can give Raleigh Durham businesses an edge over companies in other cities without such resources.
"Where some firms say 'We'll do it for you and be your consultant', our job is to come in and empower companies to do it themselves," Post says.
Post got his own training in Washington D.C.'s media scene in the mid 1990s. He started a newspaper called Generation Next that eventually provided "DC politics meets bar culture" content to the 20-something audience of America Online. But selling advertising as a third-tier publication in a first-tier marketing proved too difficult, so he shut down the paper and went to the University of Virginia's Darden Business School to get an MBA, hoping that might help him learn to succeed in the business side of journalism.
He landed his first job out of business school at Landmark Communications, owner of Weather.com. He was in charge of online for its community newspaper division as the company transitioned its focus from print to digital. He went on to work in digital marketing related roles at Los Angeles-based software-as-a-service companies Cornerstone OnDemand and LegalZoom, learning all the tactics for creating explosive digital growth. But his family was on the East Coast, so in 2012, he started a consulting firm called Agile Leverage, moved to the Triangle and began mentoring the TSF companies in addition to helping his own clients.
Some of his best examples of the power of digital marketing include a LegalZoom user-submitted video contest that generated thousands of video testimonials about the company's services, which it then used as content to market, and a Cornerstone AdWords campaign that increased the bottom line by a seven-figure dollar amount. Here's a local example of his work—he assisted Shoeboxed with a Pinterest "Messy Desk" contest that brought in several thousand entrants.
"You adopt what works and discard what doesn't work and that's what gives new companies with digital baked in their DNA a huge advantage," Post says.
Though Post has learned plenty about digital marketing over the last 20 years, he believes a big strength of the program is the fact that it's a startup and must keep on top of the latest practices in order to market itself too. Much of the curricula will revolve around understanding digital marketing practices and channels, learning how to analyze what is working and what's not and performing small tests to find the best solution for a particular business. He's teaching most of the first classes but hopes to bring in other experts to expand the breadth of topics.
Those available through the summer range from four- to nine-week courses on AdWords and search engine marketing but Post plans to also hold two-hour or two-day intensive bootcamps. Costs will range from $50 for the two-hour option to just under $1000 for the nine-week course.
Key to the success of the program, he believes, is the commitment of Triangle startup community leaders and investors Chris Heivly and Dave Neal of The Startup Factory and American Underground to helping it grow throughout the region (He declined to share how much they've invested in the company.). A record of success will be critical too. Post hopes to report back on the accomplishments of the companies and students he trains.
"The learnings here you take back and over the next year or two apply to your company," he says. "We're teaching you both how to implement but also a system of thought around that implementation."