Browsing articles from "May, 2011"

Seven Ways To Market Your Startup

Startups spend a lot of their hard-earned venture dollars on customer acquisition. A few years ago it was enough to be smart about search engine marketing and optimization. Buy keywords, put landing pages up on your site, integrate with Salesforce, do a little PR and if there was interest in your product, you were off to the races. That is no longer the case.

In a noisy environment, it’s not enough to be well ranked and buying keywords. The most successful marketing strategies today have seven key components:

  • Product
  • Viral
  • Social
  • Buzz
  • Search
  • Mobile
  • Brand
  • Product. The number one factor in marketing success is great product. Deliver a bad product and people will write about it and talk about it. Today, there is no hiding from bad product. Customers won’t just call customer service to complain, they’ll post, tweet, and even create YouTube videos like the well-known United Breaks Guitars.

    A great product is one that is easy to use, self-explanatory, and delights your customers and users. Apple has a great brand not only because of brilliant marketing, but because fundamentally, the company’s products are intuitive, incredibly well designed, and pleasing to the user from start to finish. From purchasing to unwrapping to using, and then doing more purchasing, Apple delivers a best of breed experience.

    What’s more, Apple’s products grow with you. A new iPad user might not realize that swiping left brings up search, but over time will figure that out. Seemingly small things like making more advanced features discoverable not only provide a great experience but also provide users with a reward, that “ah hah” moment when they discover a new feature themselves.

    Viral. To make your product viral, make viral your product. Just imagine Facebook or YouTube without user uploaded photos and videos and the ability to share them easily. Unlike other marketing techniques, viral is built-in and free. With viral acquisition, your users acquire you more users just by using your product.

    Not all products are truly viral from the ground up, but by giving your users the ability to invite their friends, make money, get a discount, or get free capabilities such as free storage for every user they refer, your site or app can take advantage of viral marketing. You can go one step further by adding in special features only available to those who get their friends to sign up. Viral executed well delivers near zero-cost user acquisition.

    One compelling form of viral is media sharing. If you have a product that requires users to share what they’re doing (documents, images, or links, for example) with others, that drives adoption. Every time an existing user shares a piece of media with a friend or colleague, you’ve added a new potential user.

    Social. While viral and social are often lumped together, they’re different. Social can certainly help get the viral flywheel spinning, but at its core, social is about presence, credibility, and visibility.

    Social is Pages, Likes, Tweets, Posts, Blogs, Answers, Comments, and Word of Mouth. You can bring social directly into your application by combining viral and social, social and mobile. More on that later.

    Fortunately, it’s easy to be social these days. Post regularly on your site’s blog. Tweet about new features, customers, and users multiple times per day. Don’t just do it yourself, enlist your customers, fans, and friends to leave comments, write, and tweet about you and your products.

    Buzz. Closely related to social is buzz. Buzz means your company is visible – highly visible. To get buzz, you need to take advantage of that other four-letter word, hype. To generate buzz, it’s not enough just to tweet, post, and blog. You have to be visible: on Internet TV shows, in blogs, at big events. You have to be seen as a leader in your space, often slightly controversial or edgy. Get people talking about your company, your product, or you. Today, success begets visibility, and visibility begets success.

    I grew up in the school of thought best articulated by Steve Jobs in 2003, “Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.” And I still agree with that statement. But don’t forget the 1984 Apple Superbowl commercial: not only did it create buzz, it also created an emotional connection. Fortunately, these days, you don’t need to spend millions of dollars on a Superbowl ad to generate buzz.

    You can do it by being unique, social, and personally visible. Not only will that help sell product and drive user awareness, it will also help with financing activities and, ultimately, liquidity.

    Search. With Facebook accounting for some 25% of US Internet traffic, it might be tempting to disregard search. But search, in the form of SEO and SEM, generates a lot of users. The challenge is making it cost-effective. With some patience, SEO work, and the right analytics tools, it’s possible to improve your rankings. In crowded spaces, spending time and effort on SEO may yield a lot more benefit than spending money on SEM.

    Test, measure, and repeat. Nothing is too small to be tested, from pricing plans and ad copy to layouts, colors and animated buttons.  Ask every customer to link back to you from their web site. Not all of them will do it, but enough will to help drive up your rankings and traffic. Plus, the referral traffic alone will boost sales. Add in an affiliate program to reward your customers and partners for sending people your way.

    Tuning conversion before spending too much money is critical. The right product-market fit, a product and pricepoint that a very large number of people want is paramount.

    Mobile. According to the New York Times, the average smartphone user spends 667 minutes a month using apps. That’s more time than those users spend talking on the phone. To reach your potential users where they are, you have to have a strong mobile presence.

    Plus, there are many compelling features that are only enabled on mobile: photos and video on the go, and of course, location. A mobile app may be as much about driving awareness as about gaining actual usage and revenue.

    Of course, some applications are mobile in and of themselves. The primary use cases for photo apps, video apps, and many games is a mobile one. Other applications are not inherently mobile or were not originally designed to be mobile but have added compelling mobile apps: reviews and travel reservations, for example. Not only may users want to access your offering on the go but a mobile app can also be a great promotional vehicle for you. As users search and browse through app stores, it’s just as important to be there as it is to be highly ranked in Google search results.

    Brand: Bringing It All Together
    In addition to great product, brand comes down to name, logo, icon, and even a single letter. F for Facebook. P for Pandora. Easiest and most powerful is to have the same company and product name. In a crowded world, there is little benefit to trying to market two brands – it’s challenging enough to market one.

    Where things get exciting is when you bring it all together. Delivered an order or a product? Ask your users to help spread the word by typing in a one sentence description of why they loved your service and post that to your web site and on their wall (since you’ve integrated Facebook login). More content for the search engines, more visibility for you, all driving more potential users to your site.

    When one user invites another to use your application, support the integrated ability for both users to post that to their wall or tweet it. “I just started using…” might sound corny and some users may opt out, but many will participate. That will drive up your visibility. Integrate the Like button directly into your product experience, don’t just think of it as a piece of marketing.

    Take a page out of today’s social games. Surprise your users with free gifts like free storage, discounts, and more, then ask for them to reciprocate by spreading the word about your product. Instead of relegating that to the marketing section of your web site, build it directly into the product experience at the time of upload or purchase.

    Ultimately, great marketing means a incredible product combined with a clear, memorable message. What’s so powerful about marketing today is that you can enlist your users in your success by making it easy for them. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, help your users help you.

    May 15, 2011