Launching a product was meant to be easy in the digital age. Oh how times have changed.
Alas, simply hacking your way with SEO and social media is probably not enough to get your product ‘out there’. It turns out that if everyone starts doing the same tricks and techniques, then at some point you hit saturation and the impact they make becomes minimal. A bit of a bummer really.
That’s not to say the tricks and hacks are not important or necessary – you still have to do them to set the baseline. It is more a recognition that the tools of the trade we have come to know and rely upon over the past few years have hit a wall in terms of effectiveness. Therefore for 2019 we have to rethink our strategy and hone in on what we are trying to achieve.
I have a lot of thoughts I want to get down on paper – so please bear with me and hopefully the intent and flow of the article remains. I’ll also put a few disclaimers. The first is that you have some assumed knowledge on digital marketing (lord knows there is enough info out there) and so this isn’t really an article about the different tricks and tools. Secondly, I am coming from my experiences with TakeMeAway and another project I am working alongside so very much geared towards consumer digital products. There are likely some applications for B2B and enterprise startups, but it is likely your priorities will be different.
1. Product is King
Let’s start with product. It is the whole point of why you are trying to attract users in the first place. Product trumps all. I think we forget that sometimes and end up with a half baked first release to market. Now I fully appreciate the whole startup/lean methodology of coming to market fast, learn quick and come back with a better product.
However I’d argue ‘early adopters’ are slightly less forgiving nowadays and so V1 needs to at least meet the basic vision you’ve outlined and that bugs have been well ironed out. That could mean keeping the product in beta mode for slightly longer than intended. But if you have the right testers and a rigorous testing program (with feedback loop) then it is probably time worthwhile. All this will increase the chance of making your product ‘sticky’ and getting users to keep coming back to it.
2. Are you authentic?
Storytelling has always been part an important part of brand building, however I sense the authenticity of the brand is even more important in 2019. Why is this? As I said at the top, it’s a crowded market, just a good offering isn’t enough to differentiate. So potential customers are looking beyond. You need to make them believe you are ‘real’ and not just putting on a show to get sales. This article in the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/apr/05/its-genuine-you-know-why-the-online-influencer-industry-is-going-authentic is a nice read up on authenticity (and the role of influencers in 2019 – I’ll come back to them in the next section).
So establish what your values are and ensure it comes through effectively in your campaigning, maybe even spell it out explicitly in your content creation, social media and ads. I’ll also add to ensure you do a proper job with your consumer personas – it helps with you targetting and to focus your efforts on the right groups of people.
3. Building a fan base
Community building has always been a useful tool in helping growth. The more people talking about your product can create an enthusiastic following. So it is worth engaging with your audience. However I’m not sure if you build a go to strategy solely around this. One of the old strategies to help with this was finding ambassadors through social media – or Influencers as we call them nowadays. What used to be an effective hack – influencers back in the day were more than happy just to receive free products in exchange for a recommendation, is not so easy anymore.
They can demand a lot of money to promote you and even then there are no guarantees – this is a gamble because it is difficult to measure their effectiveness in the purchasing journey. Finally the Guardian article I shared above shows how the influencer market has moved. Companies and brands are more wary about the type of influencer – they too are looking for authenticity in who they work with. This should have a knock on effect onto their followers. If you can come up with an interesting incentivisation strategy, definitely worth reaching out, but otherwise best to focus on your own personal engagement with users to start with.
4. Make me an offer I can’t refuse
One of the most popular go to strategies has been to incentivise users with discounts and offers. On the face of it it makes sense – it lowers the perceived risk to try a product. But I’d offer some caution on the effectiveness in building loyalty and locking in customers.
Startups have resorted to out doing one another with discounts – necessary when competition is fierce. All that happens is customers simply play off the offers off one another. The best example is with food/home delivery. I bet you have 4 or 5 apps installed and essentially gamify the buying process to find the cheapest. You have no brand loyalty to any of the services. It is almost possible to hack your way through life with discounts to save money – something which people readily do in more expensive cities like San Francisco. Worth reading this article about ‘hacking the freeconomy’ –https://www.1843magazine.com/upfront/postcard-from-silicon-valley/how-to-hack-the-freeconomy
All this does is push up your CAC (customer acquisition cost) and burn all in the pursuit of growth. Yet that growth is questionable as is the revenue, but without genuine lock in of users it is in my mind a vanity metric. If you can try a discount without it eating into your margins too much, worth giving a go – but keep in mind what you’re trying to achieve!
5. Please buy again
So what are the key metrics? If growth and revenue can push you into vanity territory, what should you focus on? I’d say it’s retention. This increases the chance of referrals and recommendations and thus a more organic manner of increasing MAU (monthly active users) and total user base. And this very much ties in with what I said earlier about getting the product right and people looking for authenticity. Retention will also keep your CAC down – which let’s be honest is a welcome relief when as a new startup you are to some extent bootstrapping.
All this will paint a positive picture about where your product is as well as validating that there is a genuine interest in your brand and company. This is particularly true for investors who will be hesitant to back an early stage startup that will rely on large marketing budgets to pull in users. It is a risky strategy in 2019 as ads can be a money pit.
6. Don’t panic!
Lastly getting traction takes time – remember lots of competition out there. It is worth factoring this into your cash flow projections to give yourself enough breathing room to realise the gains from your hardwork. Anyway enough ramblings from me – I definitely want to hear your thoughts on go to strategies! These are only my observations and so they can certainly be improved upon!
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