I’ve been asked a lot lately about the process of marketing a new product. In particular, how does one go about generating initial buzz and adoption of a new consumer web or mobile application? Since this has been coming up a lot lately, I figured I’d organize my thoughts here.
The plan I outline in this post comes very much from a scrappy entrepreneurial perspective – what are the easiest, highest-value things a company can do for the least (if not zero) amount of money to start acquiring users? As an entrepreneur, I am always looking for the low hanging fruit. This question is asked and answered very differently at big companies and business schools however, and I don’t claim that it addresses those contexts fully. This post is not a checklist for academia, instead it is a rough guide for the cash-strapped tech startup.
Before marketing any product it is important to sit down and hash out thoughtful answers to some seemingly simple questions. Make time to discuss these questions with your team, with target users, with anyone you can think of. Get as many opinions as possible.
What is the product’s value proposition? Think about the real benefit people are going to get. What problem does it actually solve? Sometimes entrepreneurs think they are building a product for one thing when in fact it is really for something entirely different. Discuss use cases, brainstorm, and be creative. Challenge your assumptions.
Who is your target user/customer? This question is similar to the previous one, but here you will want to test your assumptions about the customer to whom the value proposition is really important. A good process, but by no means the only one, is to develop profiles of example users, sometimes called “personas.” Include everything from their demographics down to the websites they frequent and the music they like. This information will be critical to your marketing program. Without it you won’t know who to target.
After you answer these two questions, you can develop the marketing messages you will use to tell people about your product. Get these organized – there’s a lot to do in the following plan and you need consistent, effective messaging that tells the right story to the right people.
1. Generate Buzz with Early-Adopters (PR)
Secure high-visibility digital PR. Early adopters reach blogs like TechCrunch and Silicon Alley Insider. The right story, good relationships, smiles, and handshakes can get your product coverage, sometimes even prior to launch.
Line up key influencers with significant social media reach. There are now tons of influential technologists, celebrities, and others who are brands in their own rights. These people have tremendous marketing power; a celebrity with millions of Facebook fans can successfully hype a product with a single post. Getting them excited and committed to trying and talking about your product can be a big win.
2. Launch with Built-In Reach (Business Development)
Source a small number of key pre-launch product partners. This one is a big deal. If your product can in any way be embedded in, bundled with, or linked to by partner products with existing reach to target customers you can potentially launch with a lot of eyeballs on day one. This isn’t easy – especially if you don’t have a fully -baked product, and you’re trying to convince partners with screen shots and partial demos, but it is always worth pushing hard on.
Line up high-probability post-launch product partners. You are going to have leftovers from the first push; partners who said “that’s great, but come back after you launch it.” Immediately after launch, these are the partners to go after aggressively. There will also be partners you didn’t approach in the first round because you knew that without a working product they’d be unlikely to sign on. Post-launch is the time to approach these potential partners as well.
3. Leverage Available Channels to Go Straight to Target Customers (Direct Marketing)
Typically direct marketing tactics like email and advertising cost money. That said, there will be partners you develop relationships with that may not give you the product integration you want, but will give you access to their customer lists / audiences in exchange for some non-monetary value. Partners can be persuaded to promote your product through their e-mail lists, ad inventory, and social media channels if you can offer them some special access to your product or an exclusive benefit that they can get value from. Be creative with these sorts of deals. If there is media reaching your target users, you should do what you can to access it.
Even if you have a great product, doing all of the above doesn’t guarantee that it will be a runaway success with viral adoption on day one. What it will do is guarantee that you will get a sense of what users/customers initially think of your product. It will give you a timely sense of whether you have something with potential, or something that needs to be tweaked or even re-thought completely before gaining the legs to spread more widely.