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What I Learned from Growing a Brand in a Pandemic with a Nearly No Marketing Budget

Paying too much for marketing can cripple your startup before it starts.

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 When I first started working on a business plan for my fashion project, Emilia George, someone advised me to allocate $60,000 to $100,000 on digital ads, (an amount that's a drop in the ocean compared to how much other brands spend on the sell).

I'm bootstrapping my business as a working mom, don't have a country house, nor spend my summers in the Hamptons and would never have that budget.

I'm a firm believer that if there's a dollar to spare? Spend it on earned press, (i.e., public relations rather than paid media). Our generation is growing increasingly wary of social media's impact, inundated sponsored posts, plus ads that pop up every 15 seconds, killing any remaining interest to keep up with our friends. 

I was recently invited to guest speak at a fashion marketing class and herein lie the lessons I unleashed. 

Related: Record Number of American Workers Quit Their Jobs, Signaling Labor Market Squeeze

Everything is marketing

I have never taken an official marketing course.

In my view, almost everything done for a brand or a line of products can be considered marketing activities. How is press coverage not a marketing activity if the range's ultimate goal was to promote a brand's service or product to a broader customer base? How is participating at a pop-up event not a promotional activity of brand recognition and sales? 

There is no reason for a startup to have a wide-ranging publicity plan if they have to stress about spending $20 on Facebook ads a day. The more elaborative and specific the activities are, the more likely one will be overwhelmed by budget and measuring progress or lack thereof under each action.  

Are influencers truly helpful?

I received a lot of questions from fellow founders about how I have spent on  influencers marketing.

Last month, I got a kind note from a pregnant woman living in Sydney, and she said all she wanted to let me know was that my article reached someone in Sydney. So how much would I have needed to spend on digital ads to get a with-child resident of Australia inspired by my brand? It's probably going to cost some money and take some sweet time for it to happen. But instead of paying someone to write copy and run ads. It always hurts when an influencer does not care about our clothes.

I can share that for the $2,500 I paid to an influencer when I first started, I got two sales and less than ten followers out of the post. I'm not sure how many companies would be forthright on these types of collaborations, but I could not afford this game.

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Initial markups are your marketing costs 

When I first launched, I tried to Google the term "Emilia George maternity".

There is much money to spend to own Google keyword ranking, which is basically how easy, or difficult, an internet user finds you when they search a specific set of words. Many millennial owners consider wholesale an outdated concept, but not me.

After Emilia George got on Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Maisonette we have benefited from their influential Search Engine Optimizations. The customer base these retailers offer and the great SEO results can be worth their Inertial Measurement Units. There is a fallacy that people like to tell that Direct-To-Consumer brands take all the profits. You may get revenues, but the costs of making that sale can be the reason why your DTC brand cannot be profitable for a very long time. 

It is worth mentioning how many free marketing channels are out there if you don't run ads or write articles or do interviews. For example, Google Business profile is one of the most powerful, yet free, tools to help a brand leave its online footprint. Don't let the perception of what you should spend on marketing squash your startup plans. I didn't. 

Related: Addressing the Stress of Uncertainty

 

Elle Wang, Ph.D.

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

A New Yorker with a doctorate in public policy, Elle Wang is the founder and CEO of Emilia George, a new line of sustainable maternity wear. Wang has a plethora of experience in personal investments and is an angel investor and advisor to startups. She is also a UN advisor and strategist.