"We're here for the founders and the little guys," Alfredo Arvide says about his new venture that's redefining marketing for small businesses and startups. Photo courtesy of MAP360

A new Houston organization is working to redefine the way startups set up their marketing strategy — focusing on specific projects tailored to the client's goals at a significantly cheaper price than a normal marketing agency.

MAP360, also known as The Marketing Acceleration Program, is collaborating one-on-one with clients to learn their particular needs and goals for individual projects. Unlike traditional marketing agencies, they do not work on retainer, instead they focus on small contracts to increase efficiency and affordability for startups and small businesses.

"There is a great opportunity in Houston with the accelerating innovation ecosystem," says Alfredo Arvide, CEO and co-founder. "When my co-founder and I were brainstorming ideas, we saw the need for a marketing program tailored specifically for startups or small businesses."

Arvide's new marketing acceleration program has always been one of his goals as a budding entrepreneur, previously founding Pushr an app that manages multiple social profiles across all platforms. However, it was his layoff from Accenture last month, a result of the ongoing impact of coronavirus on the economy, that spurred him into action with his business partner, Jacqueline Levine, who has taken on the role of chief marketing officer.

The two have combined decades of experience in the marketing world — most recently Arvide was the prototyping center director within the Houston Accenture Innovation Hub.

"Usually in a startup, the entrepreneur wears a lot of different hats," says Arvide. "They have the responsibility to market the business and manage financials, this is a lot of pressure. We wanted to provide a different sphere of the marketing spectrum at an affordable price."

MAP360 touts a 50 percent or fewer costs of an agency with the same agency-quality talent. The services they offer range from branding, storytelling, design, to consulting. They also offer tiers or packages aimed for startups, funded or growing businesses, and established businesses. Each package has a different time frame and helps the client's marketing goals with the most efficiency.

For example, a startup has a need for pitch materials and setting up basic brand guidelines, unlike a growing client who perhaps needs a marketing distribution plan or social media engagement plan more urgently.

"We are able to focus on affordability and the needs of our clients because of our strategic nature," says Arvide. "We are going to provide our clients with campaigns that are very specific to their audience while providing them a plan and metrics for success."

MAP360 strategy of upfront costs and marketing plans cut to size added another benefit for clients' bang for their buck with their proprietary approach to data. The psychographic data allows businesses to measure and meet their target metrics using a profile of their customer's interests and values.

"We use a partner firm that uses demographic and psychographic data," says Arvide. "Then we can analyze the firm's target audience at the highest probability. We are not casting a huge net, rather fishing for the very specific fish willing to bite."

A startup itself, MAP360 has its own plans and metrics for its own success, aiming to add 10 to 15 new clients before the end of the year and expect that figure to double in the next year to 20 to 30 clients. They also plan to use local marketing professionals and freelancers to expand their pool of specialists.

"We're here for the founders and the little guys," says Arvide. "We want to help them be better and partner with local talent to make Houston first in the innovation sphere."

When it comes to setting up a marketing budget for your startup, considering every angle is important. Getty Images

Houston expert shares her advice on how much startups should spend on marketing

Is the price right?

Industry research suggests spending 5 percent to 12 percent of total revenue on an annual marketing budget. At Integrate Agency, we believe marketing spend should be determined from key data points, versus current size. We shepherd our clients through a five-step process to calculate how much they should spend on marketing to maximize their ROI.

1. Know your goals

You can't manage what you can't measure. Before you start spending, you must first set SMART goals. Challenging, but realistic, short-term goals may include:

  • Sales/revenue growth
  • Customer count
  • Consumer ratings improvement

Integrate updated Delmar Systems' website with the goal of increasing traffic that would generate leads. By having a clear goal at the forefront, Integrate created a conversion-focused website and calculated an ROI for the company (including 631.9 percent increase in new visitors and 23.9 percent increase in qualified leads).

Your goals should set a strong baseline of expectations and establish clear guidelines for the budgeting strategies to reach those goals.

2. Know your data

You can only track your goals, and tweak your spend accordingly, if you have the specific data to tell you what's working and what isn't. Some of our favorite tools include:

  • Google Analytics for visitors, bounce rate, and time on site
  • Site Checker for SEO performance
  • Conductor for content efficacy
  • Sprout Social for social media metrics

One of our clients wanted to increase its qualified leads, but before we added more dollars to the equation, a full audit of the company's digital efforts uncovered significant spend inefficiencies. The data uncovered a new strategy that led to a full revamp of its PPC campaign. This helped them save $8,000 per month and led to a 63.9 percent year-over-year decrease in cost-per-click cost and 42.3 percent year-over-year increase in click through rate.

3. Know your audience

If you have a strong concept of your customer base, you'll know where, when, and how you can best connect with them.

To this end, we are hyper-aware of our clients' seasonality and when their audience is most likely to buy (and for B2B clients, when budget review season is) so we can target their marketing budget accordingly.

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Splashtown operates on a seasonal basis, by its very nature. Each summer, Integrate focuses on a concentrated marketing approach and last year garnered over 540 million traditional media impressions in just four months.

This activity has ensured they're top-of-mind when it matters most, versus spending dollars when their customers are not considering this purchase.

4. Know your competition

Regardless of market share, it's important to keep up with what competitors are doing. We recommend beginning your competitor research with:

  • SEM Rush for SEO keyword research
  • Majestic SEO for linking statistics
  • Ahrefs for backlink strategy
  • Moz for rank tracking

When Escalante's sought to outmaneuver its competition with digital tactics, Integrate's competitive data revealed that none of its competitors in a specific neighborhood were being overly aggressive online.

By focusing on geo-targeting and ad scheduling to ensure ads displayed to the preferred audience at the right time, the restaurant has been able to capitalize on specific traffic without a large budget.

5. Know your capabilities

A question will often come up about in-house vs. outsourced marketing. In-house gives you maximum control. But, to be most effective with your spend (and often attune to the latest, best-in-class, industry techniques), you must fully commit to your marketing efforts, which an agency, or outside partner, can provide.

As one client — Arthritis Relief Centers — grew, their staff no longer had the time to devote to marketing. By making the decision to work with Integrate, the company had more time to devote to patient care. This led to an over 100 percent increase in clicks to digital ads and a 56 percent decrease in cost-per-click because the client trusted the agency's digital marketing expertise.

The biggest upside to outsourcing your marketing: letting your team focus on servicing customers and improving your products.

As we stated earlier, the experts tell you that your marketing spend should normally live between 5 and 12 percent of your gross revenue, but we believe your marketing budget, and the integrated mix of how that budget is implemented, should be tied to growth needs and goals.

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Allie Danziger is the founder and president of Houston-based Integrate Agency, which focuses on digital marketing and public relations.

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Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

money moves

A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Houston-based afterlife planning startup launches new app

there's an app for that

The passing of a loved one is followed with grief — and paperwork. A Houston company that's simplifying the process of afterlife planning and decision making is making things even easier with a new smartphone app.

The Postage, a digital platform meant to ease with affair planning, recently launched a mobile app to make the service more accessible following a particularly deadly year. The United States recorded 3.2 million fatalities — the most deaths in its history, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After losing three family members back-to-back, Emily Cisek dealt first hand with the difficulty of wrapping up a loved one's life. She saw how afterlife planning interrupted her family's grieving and caused deep frustration. Soon, she began to envision a solution to help people have a plan and walk through the process of losing someone.

The Postage, which launched in September, provides a platform for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones. The website includes document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create afterlife messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

"Right now, as it stands ahead of this app, end-of-life planning is really challenging. It's this daunting thing you have to sit down and do at your computer," says Cisek. Not only is it "daunting," but it's time-consuming. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance.

With more than 74 percent of The Postage's web traffic coming from mobile users, an app was a natural progression. In fact, Entrepreneur reports the average person will spend nine years on their mobile device. Cisek wanted to meet users where they are at with a user-friendly app that includes the same features as the desktop website.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple," she continued.

Cisek and her team focused on providing a "seamless experience" within the app, which took approximately four months to build, which mirrors the desktop platform.

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app.

After snapping a picture, "the next step inherently is sharing it with your loved ones," says Cisek. Photos, family recipes and videos can easily be shared securely with loved ones who accept your invitation to The Postage so "that legacy continues on," she says.

Since The Postage's fall launch, the company has grown a steady base of paid subscribers with plans to expand.

"We're really starting to change the way people plan for the future," says Cisek.