Sifted Talks

March 29, 2022

How to build a brand without breaking the bank: Five things we learned from our panel

When — and where — should founders spend money on marketing?

Dalvinder Kular

6 min read

Shira Feuer, CMO of premium beauty brand Trinny London

When you’ve made a great product or service, you need to tell the world about it. 

But with so many ways of getting the message out there, and competitors hot on your tails, what’s the best marketing strategy to invest in without spending a fortune?

In our recent Sifted Talks we asked our panel how founders should build a brand on a shoestring. Our experts were:

  • Alice de Courcy, CMO of sales acceleration platform Cognism
  • Shira Feuer, CMO of premium beauty brand Trinny London
  • Tricia Miller, vice president, EMEA marketing of customer engagement platform Twilio
  • Gareth Nettleton, VP marketing of Austrian crypto platform Bitpanda

Here’s what we learned. 

Ludic Creatives

1/ Start from day one… or two?

It’s never too early — or too late — to think about building your brand. But Miller said it’s something founders really should be thinking about from day one. 


She said startups needed to start by thinking about what they stand for, and the experience they want to create for their customers. Every early decision — from the products they build to marketing copy — contributes to their brand, even if they’re not consciously trying to.

But, Nettleton said, startups needed to prove they could hang onto a customer before they started investing in marketing. He said founders shouldn’t spend big money until they felt their product fit the market and was secure. 

In the very early days, the brand is the product... Whether you are building product or writing marketing headlines, you're reflecting the brand. You need to understand that you are building a brand from day one. You don't need to invest in deep teams immediately, a brand is something that you build yourself into as you start to scale, but don't leave it too late” — Gareth Nettleton, Bitpanda

2/ Spend time not money

When starting out, most companies have a limited budget to spend on marketing. But, de Courcy said, adversity breeds innovation; startups should leverage their small size to experiment with marketing strategies.

It’s a bit like throwing spaghetti at the wall; Miller said you have to try a lot of things to find what works for you and your brand. And while testing all different channels and experimental platforms (have you heard of TikTok?) saves money, it does take time.  

Nettleton agreed and said that there were no quick wins in building a brand. Founders need to ask themselves what their product does and who it’s for, then pursue those customers. 

What are the unscalable things that can give you an unfair competitive advantage? When it looks like you are David versus Goliath but you have first mover advantage, you are more agile, you can do things quicker. Identify those things and activities” — Alice de Courcy, Cognism

3/ Focus on community

Nettleton said when he worked at fitness app Strava, they never spent money on big campaigns. Instead, they relied on community growth from people telling their friends. Miller said Twillo took a similar approach and focused on developers. 

Nettleton pointed out that most tech giants have expanded using a community growth model. He said founders should think about what parts of the product are better for users when their friends are also users. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising and founders should make it easy for people to tell their friends about their product. 

When you don't have a lot of money you need to know where your tribe is… and get those referrals because in the early days, especially if there is a community aspect to your offering, that can be more valuable than trying to figure out how to attract people on Google paid search” — Tricia Miller, Twillo

4/ Don’t forget PR

While at Strava, Nettleton said PR was one of the best marketing tools. The platform generated lots of data and insights, which they could then turn into stories and wait for the press to bite. It was an effective tactic to use when they broke into new markets. 

But Miller added that hiring a PR firm did not mean people would care about your story. You need to make sure what you want to share is newsworthy and the PR team can translate what is happening at your company to whatever is happening in the world. 

De Courcy said when considering an external PR firm, it’s important to remember that you’re paying for the relationships. Founders need to make sure that the person they are working with has the right contacts to fit your business. 


Feuer said in the past she had worked with tech founders who didn’t understand the value of PR because they couldn’t measure it like SEO. But PR is a valuable tool when you’re trying to scale without much money. 

There has to be a certain level of gut and belief and understanding of how consumers behave and it's not just the detailed metrics that you can measure every time. That can be hard to accept, but if you want to start building brand early there has to be a lot of that in mind” — Shira Feuer, Trinny London

5/ Get your content right

Making content, like blog posts or videos, can be a great way to gain and retain customers on a budget.

Feuer said founders needed to think about the objective of the content and measure it. For Trinny London, for example, she creates a lot of content for entertainment, so people will engage with it and share it with their friends. It’s no good creating content for the sake of doing it — according to Feuer, it has to add value and meet goals. 

De Courcy said you needed to make it easy for people to consume content and share it, and particularly to remember that PDF formats do not work effectively and users shouldn’t have to fill out forms before viewing videos. 

Nettleton said Bitpanda uses content to acquire customers, but it needs to be teamed with an SEO strategy. 

You have to start from the science side of it. What are people searching for? What questions do we think we can help people answer? Then you build your content from the skeleton of a great SEO strategy... the content you think is  relevant and that you should be creating, may not have that demand” — Nettleton

Like this and want more? You can watch the full Sifted Talks here: