With over 75% of marketers in 2020 stating that their marketing campaigns have directly impacted sales, revenue and growth, the importance of an effective marketing strategy has never been more recognised. It is no wonder that even in 2023, 47% of marketers expect to increase their marketing budget — so as to ensure that the products they spend so many hours developing reach the hands of their desired consumers.

The importance of marketing also rings true for startups. For emerging brands, growth marketing is crucial to succeed in a competitive environment. However, with limited financial and logistical resources as well as a lack of an established customer base, startups face unique marketing challenges compared to more well-established organisations.

We find out more about Otterhalf from founder Cassandra Ong

Emerging startups and well-established brands also tend to have different priorities. An established organisation typically focuses on improving customer loyalty and lifetime user value. Hence, a significant percentage of marketing dollars are spent retargeting and upselling to existing customers. On the other hand, early-stage startups will need to focus on building brand presence and acquiring new customers through growth-hacking techniques.

Marketing strategies look vastly different for every start-up. From building brand awareness to leveraging on existing brand recognition to cost-effectively achieve targets — here are the lessons I’ve learnt from my experience driving marketing at early-stage, growth-stage and mature-stage companies. 

Early-stage: Building brand awareness with limited marketing budgets

The main goal for emerging brands at an early stage is to drive brand awareness. This will translate to leads that can start generating income for the company. However, when not developed effectively, marketing campaigns can be costly and may quickly deplete limited financial resources. Hence, it is important to build a resilient, creative and resourceful team that can make full use of available resources to grow the business. 

Exploring partnerships to drive brand collaborations and promotions

A cost-effective approach for early-stage startups is to collaborate with strategic partners. High-growth firms are more likely to incorporate marketing partnerships into their strategy than no-growth brands. Thus, forming strategic partnerships and leveraging each other’s available resources is an approach I strongly recommend to drive brand awareness. 

However, when it comes to forming strategic alliances, the key to thriving is to ensure that the partnership remains mutually rewarding and beneficial for both parties. To do so, early-stage startups should first identify businesses or organisations that align with their goals and target audience, and then build a cross-promotional marketing campaign. Cross-promoting each other’s brands is an inexpensive method that allows you to tap into existing customer bases, expand your reach and amplify your marketing efforts. This can take various forms, from creating joint marketing campaigns to co-hosting events or offering bundled services. 

During my time at foodpanda as their first marketing lead, I was tasked to increase conversions with a limited budget. Inspired by Tripadvisor and MICHELIN, who have both built an enormous brand presence with their instantly-recognisable window decals, my team and I implemented a restaurant branding campaign where we persuaded restaurants to place foodpanda’s window decals on their storefronts. This provided free marketing at little cost. Additionally, to expand our branding efforts, we gave delivery riders jackets and delivery bags with the iconic foodpanda logo. We also partnered with DBS Bank on a barter basis to feature our brand at every DBS ATM in Singapore. By leveraging the network and resources of our partners, we were rewarded with an average of 15% -25% order count growth MoM, with little cost involved. 

As long as you can ensure that the collaboration helps to solve your partners’ pain points, there are no limits when it comes to exploring partnership opportunities.

Growth stage: Improving and adapting to meet consumer needs

At this stage, the startup should have already gained some traction. The focus is now on differentiating themselves from competitors in the market. As such, the marketing growth strategy would shift from simply building brand awareness to growing the existing customer base. 

Analysing campaign results and optimising future campaigns

Marketers invest a huge portion of their time and effort into planning and executing campaigns. However, brands that use data-driven personalisation saw a five to eightfold increase in marketing ROI. As such, marketers should prioritise analysing campaign results to better understand the needs of their audience and optimise future campaigns. 

In addition to exceeding business targets with 2.4 times and 2 times YoY growth in 2016 and 2017 respectively, another of my Chope team’s biggest accomplishments was to launch a viral K-drama brand video that successfully garnered more than 1.2M views within 2 months. The success of the viral marketing campaign was reflected in the spike of the Chope app downloads at 28% MoM, which was more than 4 times the average.

Success, however, did not come by chance. It was only after running and executing multiple campaigns, analysing the reasons behind them, consistently trying new ideas and optimising the campaigns each time that were we able to achieve our goal. By leveraging data analytic tools, brands can understand their customers, identify high-performing campaigns, and refine their marketing strategies accordingly. Hence, when asked to choose between quality and quantity, prioritising the latter is a wiser choice for marketers. The more campaigns you run, the more accurate your analysis becomes, and the more targeted your marketing optimisation process becomes. 

Mature-stage: Maintaining market dominance and growing customer base

Reaching this stage as a startup is not an easy feat. To remain at this mature stage is an even tougher task. Hence, maintaining market dominance and continuing to grow their customer base should still be a priority to ensure they remain competitive.

Capitalising on existing brand recognition with UGC content 

The biggest asset a brand has is its pool of loyal customers. The growth of social media platforms in recent years has created a new type of content that can be extremely powerful when used wisely — User Generated Content (UGC). UGC is created by the brand’s consumer rather than the brand itself, and consumers unsurprisingly show a clear preference for UGC. In fact, they are 2.4 times more likely to watch UGC over brand content. However, despite UGC being relatively new, the concept essentially boils down to a traditional marketing strategy, word of mouth, which is always successful due to the authenticity of the content. 

When I was at Tripadvisor, traveller photos and reviews were our preferred creative asset when developing campaigns due to their authenticity. As such, Tripadvisor operates a robust user review collection system that encourages travellers to return to the platform to offer their opinions after every trip. These reviews have also been used to drive industry-leading campaigns like the Travellers’ Choice Awards that market to both travellers and travel operators. By marketing across the whole travel ecosystem, Tripadvisor can maintain market dominance and capture new audiences. 

The right marketing strategy for the right startup stage 

Emerging brands in Singapore face a unique set of challenges as they strive to establish themselves in a crowded marketplace. Whether you’re an early-stage entrepreneur working with a limited budget, a growth-stage start-up striving for sustainable growth, or a mature-stage company seeking to leverage your existing brand recognition — the lessons I learnt from foodpanda, Chope, and Tripadvisor can guide your marketing efforts and propel your business towards long-term success.

This article titled “From start-up to success: Marketing growth strategies for emerging brands in Singapore” was contributed by Cassandra Ong, the founder of OtterHalf 

About the author

Cass is the Founder and Managing Director of OtterHalf, a marketing consulting firm that specialises in growing tech companies. OtterHalf was created when Cass’ entire marketing function was made redundant at her previous company in March 2023 at the height of a tech layoff. While still dealing with the news of being laid off, she recognised a gap that her team could fill in terms of providing specialised marketing support for tech companies with limited resources, given that companies are still required to grow despite layoffs and hiring freezes, hence, the birth of OtterHalf.

Cass brings with her over 12 years of marketing and partnership experience. She spent 9 years building and leading marketing teams for tech firms ranging from hyper-growth food tech startups – Foodpanda and Chope – to the world’s largest travel guidance tech company, Tripadvisor. She was the first Singapore marketing lead hire and country manager at Foodpanda and Cococart respectively, giving her a unique understanding of the pain points marketers and business owners face at early-stage startups face.

Cass graduated from Singapore Management University in 2011, with a Bachelor of Business Management and majors in Human Resources and Economics.