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Paid Marketing Strategies for Startups: Finding the Sweet Spot

Updated on June 18, 2021

9 Min Read

When it comes to running a startup, you can’t only rely on your organic marketing efforts to contribute to your startup’s growth, especially when investors are right on their toes. What the need is exponential growth. That’s where paid marketing comes in. Use it wisely and you get instant results for your efforts.


Paid marketing is known to bring results for almost all types of campaigns. Whether you are selling leather jackets or solar systems or even rockets, you can sell anything almost instantly using paid channels.

In fact, digital media experts believe that paid marketing is the future of digital marketing. It is one strategy that completely changes the way companies market their products to a target audience. Let’s learn how it can transform your startup into a sustainable business that can sell like hot cake.

According to Webopedia, Paid marketing, also known as digital advertising is an advertising model in which advertisers directly target the consumers based on their interests or intent.

It is further divided into social and search marketing, both having their own format of advertisement.

When you do advertising on a search engine, it is called search engine marketing. When you do it on social media, it is called social media marketing. And, when you do it on other websites, it is display marketing, native advertising, or even sponsored posts.

There are many advertising platforms for paid marketing which include, but are not limited to Google Ads, Bing Ads and Yahoo Ads for search engines and Facebook Ads, Pinterest Ads for social media platforms.

Here is a breakup of various ad platforms and the type of audience you can target by using them.

Platform Advertising Medium Audience Ad Type Ad Focus
1 Facebook Social Interest Based Sponsored Posts & Mobile Ads Leads, Awareness and Conversions
2 Instagram Social Interest Based Ad Sponsored Posts & Mobile Ads Leads, Awareness and Conversions
3 Twitter Social Interest & Intent based Sponsored Posts Leads, Awareness and Conversions
4 Pinterest Social Interest Based Sponsored Posts Leads, Awareness and Conversions
5 Google Search Interest & Intent based Promoted Listing, Display Ads, Mobile Ads Leads, Awareness and Conversions
6 Yahoo Search Interest & Intent based Promoted Listing Leads, Awareness and Conversions
7 Bing Search Interest & Intent based Promoted Listing Leads, Awareness and Conversions
8 YouTube Search & Social Interest & Intent based Video Ads, Display Ads Leads, Awareness and Conversions


Why Should Startups Focus on Paid Marketing?

Paid marketing is known for instant results. Startups can’t wait three to six months to get sales. They are looking for early traction and quick results so they can modify their strategies if needed. That’s where formulating paid marketing strategy can help startups.

It is better to understand this concept with the help of an example:

Let’s say you own an ecommerce store. Now, in order to know if people are actually interested in your platform, instead of focusing on SEO to rank for various keywords and then get conversions, you will need to run a few tests with paid marketing campaigns just to check what type of results you get, and how to modify your campaigns to move in the right direction. You can call it ‘breaking the ice’ concept for audience familiarization.


There is a misconception among most entrepreneurs about SEO and SEM. They think that both are the same thing. However, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is about optimizing your website to rank it higher organically in SERPs. The emphasis here is on ‘organic.’ On the other hand, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is about advertising your brand on the search engine. You will be provided one of the top four advertisement slots when you advertise. This type of advertising is also called PPC marketing.

Learn more about PPC Marketing from our Twitter Chat Session Highlights

Similarly, the third concept relates to Social Media Marketing (SMM) that helps you get sales through social media. You target people who are active on a social media platform by sponsoring products so that they show up on their screens. SMM is highly effective for impulse purchases.

You can’t start a paid marketing campaign by simply adding budget to the platform and promoting the content. You will first have to plan a strategy for the campaign and then test its results. Here is how you can plan your paid marketing strategy.

1. Set Goal

First of all, have a clear and Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic/Relevant and Time (SMART) objective.



For example, you need to sell 1,000 jeans in two months with a budget of $2,000 only.

Specific: Get sales for jeans

Measurable: 1,000 jeans in $2,000 or $2 per sale

Achievable: yes, because $2 is the average conversion rate for clothes in our target market

Relevant: We have to find audience that can buy this type of clothing

Time: Two months for this particular campaign

Setting a goal is essential for achieving your purpose. Without a goal, the business will be clueless about how many sales it needs to become a profitable startup. That’s why in business, accountants, and finance experts sit together to develop goals that they can easily achieve. But since startups don’t always have experts available, the startup founders can set their own goals to reach profitability sooner.

2. Define Your Audience

Once you have set your goal, select a target audience to which you can market your products.


Audience selection for a Fitness Store – Facebook Audience Insights

Let’s get back to the goal that we have set above. We want to sell 1,000 jeans for $2,000 with a Cost Per Conversion (CPC) cost of $2 only.

Now we will search for a relevant audience to sell jeans.

On most paid platforms, one can easily search for a similar audience by selecting pages of their competitors. For example, we can select our audience by selecting ‘Denim,’ ‘Levi’s,’ and ‘Wrangler.’

You can also search with keywords like ‘online shoppers,’ ‘Jeans,’ ‘fashion,’ ‘designer clothes,’ and so on.

Facebook Audience Insights Tool

Screen grab of Facebook Audience Insights Tool

Once you have the audience selected, the next step is to search for a platform where you can find this type of audience.

So, let’s see what platforms we have available.

3. Identify Platforms for Promotion

The good thing is that the type of audience we are looking for is available on both social media platforms and search engines. But we will select Facebook as our medium because it has a wide range of audience segments and will provide us with enough room to play with.



For those who don’t know about paid platforms, please refer to the platform breakup table we have provided above. It has a list of all the platforms and the type of advertisements they accept.

It is relevant to mention here that identifying platforms for marketing products is essential for small and large ecommerce stores. Because without having the right channel for marketing, paid marketers can easily burn their budget. This can have grim consequences ranging from a gridlock in startup’s operations to even bankruptcy.

Note: It is essential that you keep a small budget for testing various platforms and scale operations once you have the sweet spot.

Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

While this may look obvious, experimentation is the key to any type of marketing practice. Startups usually stop experimentation when they have found the sweet spot and are able to scale their avenues. But a sweet spot will not always remain as such. We have many examples to share with you. One of the most talked about example is of dropshipping. When Facebook started advertisements on its platform, targeting anyone was easy. You could even target a specific person through Facebook advertisements by using their interests. But later, Facebook restricted interest-based selection and now it has become a lot more difficult to target audience based on interests.

Now, what once was a sweet spot is not so sweet anymore. Therefore, marketers need to always experiment with new ways of reaching their desired audience. You can do this by selecting a different audience, changing dynamics, age, or even finding a completely new market.

The best way to start it is by researching:

1. Research

Whether you are spending a penny or thousands of dollars, research your options wisely so that you don’t lose the money. Researching, also called feasibility study, helps assess whether a paid medium is relevant for achieving your sales target or not.

Every paid platform has a free tool for researching the audience and analyzing the budget. For Facebook, it is Audience insights. You can easily select relevant audience and import it into your ad set through this free tool.

Simply select your competitors and add their names to the ‘interest’ section of the Facebook Insights tool.

Facebook advertising audience insight tool

Screen grab of Facebook Audience Insights Tool

This way you will be able to know what type of audience is searching for the content. Now, you can add around a dozen competitors and target their audience.

Similarly, Google Ads allow you to advertise your products both with relevance to audience and keywords. This means you can select relevant keywords from similar websites. Suppose you have a startup that markets a tool similar to that of BuzzSumo. You can use the keywords that Buzzsumo is targeting.


Screen grab of Google Ads Platform

Or, you can use audience interest in targeting for the same tool, Google offers both options.


Screen grab of Google Ads Platform

Similar to Facebook, Google offers various options to make targeting more precise such as Household Income, Gender, Age, and a combination of other factors.

2. Optimize

Once you have researched the options, start marketing the products through your selected platform.

There are chances that in the beginning, your ad cost would be too high and you will need to optimize them by testing various ad sets and campaign types just to get a fair idea about what is working.

Facebook Ads Platform

Screen grab of Facebook Ads Platform Dashboard with multiple campaigns running

For example, we tested various post engagement campaigns on social media just to find the campaign that works the best. As you can see, on a campaign we are getting $0.23 for post engagement. It provides the best results so far, so we will move forward with it.

Now that we have the data available, we can test it further by changing demographics, age, budget, or even interests. Or, we can move to the next step i.e. scaling the one that performed the best.

As a startup, you need to do both. Optimize and scale, both at the same time. The more sweet spots you find, the better.

3. Scale

Scaling requires that you have accurate data available so that you don’t burn your budget. This is only possible if you have optimized your campaigns properly.

Start small with a budget of around $5 per day and test the campaign for a week or so to check if it is working fine. Once you have the results, change the budget to $50 per day or even more, as you deem fit.

You can also try remarketing to people who have recently visited your website, or to those who have provided a list of phone numbers or email addresses. Just ensure that the data you use is GDPR compliant.

4. Repeat

Once you have found a winning strategy, it is time to repeat the same process with more campaigns. You can either launch similar campaigns on the same platform or move to another platform and test the same campaign. The possibilities are virtually endless.

FAQs Startup Founders Often Ask

Why am I not getting sales?

There must be something wrong with your paid marketing strategy. Either you aren’t focusing on conversions or you are targeting the wrong audience. Search for your competitors’ audience via Facebook Insights and use Facebook conversion pixel for marketing your own products. Keep testing with the small budget until you get your desired results.

How to know when you have found a winning strategy?

There is no winning strategy. There is an optimized strategy and a non-optimized strategy. The irony is that you can always optimize the already optimized strategy even further.

Coming back to your question, always test your campaigns for at least a month and then focus on the one that has the least cost per conversion/lead/click.

When is the right time to research new paid marketing strategies?


You must be searching for new strategies every single day. Digital media is changing drastically and it will keep on changing. Not searching for new strategies means you are adamant about going out of business.

How to improve your paid marketing strategy?

Through the same process that we have defined in the preceding paragraphs.

Research, optimize, and scale.

You need to ensure that you are running this process for all campaigns simultaneously. This means you should be researching a new campaign, optimizing another campaign, and scaling the third one, all at once.


Bottom Line

You must approach paid marketing for startups just like you do a regular online advertising campaign for a digital company. The only difference is that you will be starting from scratch so there will be a steep learning curve. Don’t give up. With time and by experimentation you will learn the secrets of the trade to increase sales quickly and easily.

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Arsalan Sajid

Arsalan, a Digital Marketer by profession, works as a Startups and Digital Agencies Community Manager at Cloudways. He loves all things entrepreneurial and wakes up every day with the desire to enable the dreams of aspiring entrepreneurs through his work!


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