I Asked 55 Startups About Their Digital Marketing. Here’s What I Found.

Digital Marketing, Startup Comments (29)

*** UPDATE: My 2017 startup survey results are now live! Click Here to read them. ***

Over my last year as an independent digital consultant I have met a great deal of startup businesses keen to leverage the web for results. Digital Marketing can hold great potential for those wanting to increase exposure, sales or leads. But with so many different channels, platforms, techniques, media formats and service providers in the industry, it can be overwhelming.

I created the survey to help the Digital Marketing industry better understand the needs and priorities of startup businesses in 2015. Now the results are in, I have made some progress towards that goal. The survey ran from Jan 30th to Feb 18th and collected a total of 55 separate responses. Each respondent was asked 13 questions related to their business and it’s digital marketing activity.

Use the quick link menu below to navigate to the relevant section:


So, Who Took Part?

Below is a brief break down of the startups that took part in the survey:

Country of Origin:

40 in the UK (40),  USA (4) , Australia (2), Netherlands (2),  Czech Republic (1), New Zealand (1),  Croatia (1), Ireland (1), India (1) and Unknown (2).


IT (20), Business Services (13), Telecoms & Media (6), Health Care (3), Construction (2), Fashion (2), Retail, Hospitality & Food (2), Food & Agriculture (1), Transportation (1) and Automotive (1).

Role in the Business:
26 Owners, 13 Founders, 10 Co-Founders, 2 Directors, 2 Managers and 2 Others.

Year Founded:

  • 4 started this year (2015),
  • 40 started between 2010 & 2014,
  • 4 started between 2000 & 2010,
  • 4 started in 2000 or earlier.


  • 28 sell to businesses
  • 23 sell to both
  • 4 sell to consumers


So to summarise my survey findings and thoughts:

  • Startups are clearly keen to invest time and budget in digital marketing in order to deliver results.
  • There is a surprising lack of any documented strategy / planning.  Perhaps hubs and bodies (e.g. Manchester Digital or SpaceportX) should be offering more startup advice or opportunities for cooperative networking that helps them plan?
  • The very high use of analytics by startups shows there’s a real desire to measure and make their marketing work. With Earned media high on the agenda for half of all startups, how can tools measure it’s success?
  • The lack of investment in Paid media suggest startups don’t have the capital to do it properly or don’t think it will bring in a return. Perhaps advertisers need to alter their business model to deliver viable options for startups?
  • Social Media and Content Marketing were voted top tactics, despite most startups wanting new customer acquisitions over brand awareness.  Social Media in particular isn’t regarded as a great lead gen channel. Does this suggest startups are unfamiliar with the channel or choosing channels based on budget?
  • With so few (8%) startups investing in an agency or consultant, should these suppliers alter their cost models to cater for startups? Perhaps more startups should be able to pay via stock, skills, service or products?
  • Startups are doing a great deal of marketing elements themselves without any formal training. This represents a potential opportunity for agencies/consultants to help with Content Marketing and Online PR in particular.
  • An over arching question is how to make the above work commercially when startups are typically light on budget?


Questions, Results & Findings

Below I have briefly run through the main survey questions, key findings and graphed results.

Q1 – Do you have a documented Digital Strategy / Plan in place?

71% of startups do not have a documented digital strategy

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Q2 – What percentage of your overall marketing budget is assigned to Digital?

58% of startups assign more than 75% of their yearly marketing budget to Digital


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Q3 – Which statements best describe your current Digital Marketing efforts?

37% of startups handle their own marketing despite not having background experience

Only 8% of startups outsource their marketing to a consultant or agency


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Q4 – What does your company aim to achieve with Digital Marketing?

63% of startups want customer acquisition from their digital marketing

59% of startups want brand awareness from their digital marketing

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Q5 – How do you measure the success of your Digital Marketing efforts?

69% of startups use free analytical tools to track their digital marketing success


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Q6 – Which 2 of the following tactics are most important to your 2015 strategy?

Content Marketing and Social Media were chosen by startups as the most important tactics for 2015

Display advertising was voted the least important tactic for 2015

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Q7 – Which 1 of the following media do you believe will deliver you the best return in 2015?

51% of startups believe Earned Media will deliver the best return in 2015


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Q8 – Which of the following areas do you require the most help with?

Content Marketing and Online PR were voted the two areas startups require most help with


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Q9 – Have you ever considered or had formal Digital Marketing training?


65% of startups have never considered or had formal Digital Marketing training


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Raw Data

The survey was hosted on Fluid Surveys free platform. Sadly I didn’t realise that to export the data I would have to sign up for their $70 per month account, billed annually ($840 per year). That’s an extortionate amount of cash for a mere 55 sets of data. So I have been trying to persuade Fluid to let me have the data for free by giving them a link back to their site.

[UPDATE 1] Disappointingly, Fluid Surveys replied to my request with the following backwards and time consuming solution: “I took a look at your survey and it looks like you could easily reproduce that on SurveyMonkey’s Select monthly plan, which you can cancel as soon as you’re done. You can use their question types, manually add the responses, and then export your data to any of their formats.”

[UPDATE 2] You data boffins can have a go too! You can download the raw data here.

FreeAgent Winner

As an incentive I offered survey respondents the chance to win a 1 Year Subscription to FreeAgent’s accounting software. I have been using their software for the past two years and it has saved me a great deal of time whilst streamlining my financial process.


Anyway, without further a do I can announce the winner is John McGarvey, a freelance web copywriter and content strategist based in north London. Congratulations John. I hope you get as much out of the software as I have.

Special Thanks

I wanted to thank those folks who helped make this survey and post happen:


*** UPDATE: My 2017 startup survey results are now live! Click Here to read them. ***

If you have any comments on my survey /findings or have noticed something I’ve not, please comment below.

» Digital Marketing, Startup » I Asked 55 Startups About...
On February 28, 2015

  • Interesting that Content Marketing was deemed an important tactic in 2015, but it’s the one they need the most help.

  • brandonmac63

    sound like the folks at Fluid Surveys missed a huge opportunity to surprise/delight a user!

    • Couldnt agree more Brandon. I have a bod from Odesk manually entering the raw data as we speak. Will be on the post by tomorrow.

  • As a startup marketing consultant, the results reflect the reality of what startups think about marketing. They tend to think it’s an evil necessity or nice-to-have, rather than something that helps drive the growth and success of their business.

    I think a key part is a lack of knowledge about how marketing works – strategically and tactically. They’re smart people, but marketing is not something they know a lot about.

    As a result, I don’t believe it’s highly valued. It explains why so many startups believe they can do marketing themselves, rather than hire a third-party to help them.

    Great initiative, by the way, to do the survey!

    • Hi Mark,

      Thank you for your comment. Based on my somewhat low level experience with startups, I couldn’t agree more with your points.

    • Hey Mark,

      Startups do understand they need marketing and they do see the value. BUT, they can’t see a clear path to success through a consultant or agency.
      Using a marketing agency does not guarantee success for their venture and for them to find out, they would need to part with limited resources.

      Startups tend to try different channels to see if they get some traction. If they find traction in a channel, they can then invest in a channel with a better chance of success.

      If you can show a startup a clear path to customer acquisition, I think they will be much more likely to climb aboard.

      • Conversion is definitely an important case to make as an agency partner. Wasting valuable time, resources and budget is never an option – even more so for a startup. Offering unique fee structures for our services that address the individual needs of each startup also helps.

        • Hi Kacy,
          When you say unique fee structure, that doesn’t really show me the value of your offering. If you tell me that you’ll share my risk because you are confident your marketing will work… that’s more interesting.

          There are a lot of agencies who promise the moon before they get the order, but deliver a tennis ball once they have the check. Can your agency demonstrate a good chance of delivering a decent ROI before they spend any money?

          • Hi Michael, yes, minimizing and sharing any remaining risk is hugely important to us. Working closely with our clients to set measurable objectives upfront is a critical part of that process. We also setup performance-based fee structures to prove that we hold ourselves accountable for every dollar spent and every recommendation given.

            Ultimately, we want to build long-term relationships that help startups launch, grow & thrive and you can’t grow or build new relationships by delivering poor results.

          • Nothing quite beats seeing a decent debate or discussion take place on your own blog 😀

      • Michael, LOVE this comment. As a new start-up, I finally came to the realization that the consultant I hired hasn’t netted me anything – except constant departure with my funds. Although I figured I’d need help with SMM, I knew to hire a third-party, now I’m still haunted by the fact that ROI is very very poor. There are some many consultants out there vying for attention, one’s resources and business, but none provide real stats on what they can accomplish for their clients. I do like the consultants/businesses that point out their strategy, yet their results are rarely advertised.

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  • Startup life ain’t easy! Speaking from experience.

  • Great insights! We launched an ad agency this year to fill exactly these gaps. Agencies can provide a lot of value for startups but not with traditional agency structures or revenue models.

    • Thanks for the feedback Kacy. Great to hear some folks are capitalising on this gap whilst helping startups.

  • Col, Thanks for putting together the survey.

    Do you have any insights on how well each start-up is doing in terms of revenue, customer acquisition, traction?

    It’s great to see what strategies they use, but are they being successful with their approach?

    • Thanks Michael. Sadly I didnt ask them revenue based questions. Damn hindsight!

      • We always want to know more!

        It was interesting to see that ‘Developing messaging and positioning’ did get a lot of response.
        I think a lot of startups and companies miss this crucial step before starting with branding, acquisition and branding.

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  • Sach Ki Awaz

    Great article. thank you

  • Thank you so much for sharing useful Digital marketing Survey Result Information.

    I know most of the source but some marketing survey results I see for first time. So it’s helpful for me.

  • Hi Col, Thank You for sharing these insights and survey results. Insightful and helpful, all the best with the growth of your consultancy moving forward.

  • Great job Col, seeing this results gives a better prospective on how startups strategist for digital marketing. How long did it take to complete this survey?

  • Akash Sunny

    Truth – I came here looking for questions for a survey and not answers. These questions were very to the point. It will provide as a guideline to the survey which i was trying to create for myself. Thank you so much.
    However, i went through the answers as well. “Only 8% of startups outsource their marketing to a consultant or agency” was an eyeopener.

  • Seema Kumari

    Great job man. Thanks for the insights and survey results. i will surly try these insights for my website