A lot depends on the kind of business you are running, the target segment etc. I’d do as much as refining and narrowing down as early as possible – because every segment that isnt a direct fit, but is getting bombarded either walks away with negativity and more importantly is a waste of valuable money.
I’d leverage your social media for all its worth. Craft a messaging that targets the first segment of market that you believe is a very close fit to. Identify two more such market segments. Download your entire social database – be it on linkedin, facebook, email etc, and see if you can find 200 people (handpick them) who fit into each of these segments.
For eg. Lets say you are running a baby care portal, and you segment it by demographics, age group etc, and narrow it down to two or three different key segments that you believe will strongly convert, the key is to identify 200 of such segments from your own network. Add offline ones like family, relatives, friends all into that mix. This is very important.
Send out the link, talk to them, hand out brochures, and see for two signs:
1. Visits and final conversions (in this case, a transaction)
2. Repeat purchases and visits – is any of them coming back a second time and buying anything or transacting with your system.
Take all three segments, and track back to which segment has the highest visits and final conversions (one time), and which one is doing better on the repeat puchases and visits. (You can finetune visits to purchases later on).
Once you identify one segment, then its a matter of how to scale this up. You have numbers on total visits and conversions, so you’ll know the math on what is a “sustainable” number to bid for when you do ads. You should also keep in mind that this “baseline” is the best possible scenario – most probably your conversions will be lower, since it will be to strangers, rather than to folks you know of.
Take that one segment, run two three different kinds of campaigns, and two three different kinds of channels and see what works. Keep fine tuning, keep what works, kill what doesnt. Rinse, repeat.
The third way to grow is strategic tie ups. Lets assume that once you figure who your Wow customer is (the customer who will love you for the service you are building and will cry when you shut down), if you know of a existing entity that caters to that same audience, you can figure if there is a way to do a joint marketing program, or an affiliate program to get some of that customers with a big bump. But most will charge an upfront fee, so its important that you know it will convert well upfront, or you’ll lose money again.
Hope this helps. Its not exhaustive, but you get a sense of what marketing and customer onboarding in a consumer company is like. Perhaps others can add to this.
PS: Dont bother yourself with what worked for others. Most marketing campaigns only work once. What happened for whatsapp wont work for hike. And that time and instance rarely repeats. Case in point is Dropbox giving extra space for referrals, but the same strategy for box never worked.
So instead of trying to replicate Whatsapp’s strategy, go back to the fundamentals and figure what makes a lot of sense for your service and product instead.