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7 digital marketing tips for design start ups

8 min read

As part of an ongoing effort to provide resources that support the design community, DesignSingapore Council speaks to digital marketing experts on how design firms can use digital marketing to boost brand awareness and reach out to new customers.

You run a design start-up and you’re busy delivering the best work for clients or producing exquisitely designed crafts for customers. But are you doing anything to engage clients and reach out to potential ones? Digital marketing can be an effective way to do so without breaking the bank.

Digital marketing includes all types of marketing efforts using digital channels from search engines to social media, as well as websites and emails to connect with current and prospective customers. Here are 7 tips to get you started.

1. Know your customers – At the heart of marketing is the need to know your customers. This mantra should be familiar to designers and design thinkers alike. Usually you help clients get into the minds of their customers – now, it’s your turn to understand your customers at the different stages of their buying journey. A useful tool is the “See Think Do Care” framework that helps you to understand customer intents and where they are getting the information they need. With it, you can plan what content and which channel(s) to reach customers with. For example, it could help a small furniture design business identify Pinterest as a good channel for customers to discover their works.

2. Be mobile-first – Today, we pretty much run our lives from our mobile phones. 87% of shoppers begin product searches on digital channels while 80% of Singaporeans use their mobile phones when shopping in a physical store. Imagine spending ad dollars on online ads to direct traffic to your website, only to have potential customers land on a slow and clunky home page. With people expecting web pages to load in 2 seconds or less, this would be off-putting. And with Google prioritising great mobile experiences, being mobile-friendly will improve your organic search ranking, making it much easier for potential customers to find you on the world wide web. Check if your website is mobile-friendly here.

3. Be discoverable – Apart from a mobile-friendly site, your digital presence on social media and other online forums helps more customers discover you. But you don’t need to be on every social media channel. Find out where your customers are and prioritise those channel(s). For example, an architectural firm may focus on LinkedIn – using it to showcase works and insights to gain the mindshare of C-suites. Instagram is a great place for design retail businesses, especially with its new Shopping feature. Plus, design firms have the natural advantage of producing Insta-worthy images!

4. Dabble with ads – Gaining organic reach on social media is getting more challenging, with the average organic reach of Facebook post at 5.5%. So don’t shy away from using sponsored ads and boosted posts to broaden your reach digitally. Ad tools (on social media and Google) allow you to target the exact type of customer (from demographics to their habits and interests) who will see your ads. Start by setting goals and then run experiments. Social media ads are affordable and give data that you can track to adjust your campaigns. There are many free training courses offered by Facebook and Hubspot to help you roll out ads – but the best way to learn is simply to get started! 

5. Offer value – At the start of their buying journey, customers are usually browsing for inspiration, tips or more knowledge. A possible search query could be “How do I make my 2-room flat look more spacious?” Your agency has the opportunity to appear on the customer’s radar by offering valuable content, e.g. an article offering “5 tips to make your apartment look roomier”. If you’re a design consultancy, why not offer insights, opinions and research like what Pebbleroad and STUCK Design have done? Local fashion brand Love, Bonito also has a blog that offers style tips. These helpful content boost organic search rankings, create positive brand association, and give brands opportunities to soft sell their offerings.

On social media, Hubspot recommends the 80-20 mix of curated and promotional content: 80% of your posts should be curated content that truly interests your audience and engages them in conversation, while only 20% should promote your own brand.

6. Engage customers and encourage User Generated Content (UGC) – Millennials are the world’s largest generation and most powerful consumers. And guess what? These digital natives love and trust UGC more than anyone else. In fact, they trust UGC 50% more than other info sources. So make it easy for your followers or customers to share, repost or add a hashtag to their social media content. Burberry was one of the early luxury brands to tap UGC with its Art of the Trench campaign in 2009. Customers upload pictures of themselves wearing the iconic Trench coat to stand a chance of being featured on the brand’s Tumblr page. Burberry’s ecommerce sales grew 50% year on year, with the increase partially attributed to higher web traffic from Tumblr and its Facebook page. Remember, social media channels love good conversations and will promote posts that engage responses from the audience organically.

7. Be more visual and use more videos: Video is huge, if you haven’t noticed. People love watching and sharing them. And marketers are responding by spending more than half of their budgets into video advertising. “Video marketing is effective as it is easy to consume, widely accessible, and can improve your SEO (search engine optimisation). Video marketing is powerful as it lets you tell your brand story, showcase your business and build relationships,” says Jayce Tham of Creativesatwork. According to Forbes: 90% of customers say video helps them make buying decisions, and 64% of customers say that seeing a video makes them more likely to buy. No budget for a slick production or to run ads? Start with simple unboxing videos and “live” streams using Facebook and Instagram’s Stories function. Bring your audience to events or show them what goes on “behind the scenes”. A quick cheat is to use great visuals to create a slideshow video. Canva has templates for most of the digital assets that you’ll need! Design agencies have a natural advantage here – so tap your design superpower to create some high-quality, shareable content!


Learn on your own for free

1. Google Skillshop: Learn how to place and optimise ads, parse data and use other Google tools to promote your business.

2. Hubspot Academy: Learn how to use social media, video and email marketing to grow your audience organically or with advertising.

3. Facebook Learning: Learn how to use Facebook for Business.

4. LinkedIn Learning: Learn how to optimise your LinkedIn profile for your brand.

Hire an external agency

Check out digital marketing services offered by CreativesAtWork, StoneForest and Tate Anzur. They are from our panel of service providers offering Shared Services for Design Firms at preferential rates 20% to 50% below usual rates.

Know anyone keen to reskill?

Check out this list of online design and non-design related courses that can equip designers and design businesses with new and relevant skills.

There is also the Professional Conversion Programme for Digital Advertising Professional to help local PMETs reskill to take on digital advertising job roles, which includes digital marketing and data analytics.

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Singapore’s highest honour for designers and designs across all disciplines
One of Asia’s premier design festivals that champions design thought leadership
National Design Centre