Marketing and sales are two facets of a successful company that I’ve grown to appreciate the longer I’ve been in the business of Web entrepreneurship. Marketing is something that a lot of first time entrepreneurs neglect, as they tend to have the naïve mentality that “if you build it, they will come”. While this was often the case in the early days of the Web – pre 2005 – it’s no longer that way.
Successfully marketing your product is more important nowadays than ever before, which has only been reinforced by my own experience with my new startup, Uncover.
The inspiration for this article came from a meeting I had with two entrepreneurs in the planning stage of their new startup. I do some consulting on the side and what they’re building very much interested me. We met over coffee in the Lower East Side of Manhattan to discuss their product, vision, and game plan for moving forward.
When we met, one thing that was very apparent right from the get-go was that neither person had spent much time at all thinking about marketing and user acquisition. Both had been solely focused on product. What was clear to me after talking through their idea with them was that more than anything else it would be a user acquisition and marketing challenge. In fact, my parting words at the end of our conversation were that it’d be “90% marketing and 10% product when all is said and done”.
During our chat, I laid out some ideas about how they could go about marketing their first product. The first thing I tell every entrepreneur I meet with is that you should not do any form of marketing until you are in a position to track its success or lack thereof. That means that you need to track the source of your traffic.
For that I recommend a combination of Google Analytics, MixPanel, and Intercom: Google Analytics for tracking the traffic, MixPanel for seeing trends and creating funnels, and Intercom for gathering biographical information about new signups.
Next, I suggest looking at what your competitors are doing. If your competitors are half decent then they’ve likely spent the time, money, and energy to calculate what marketing works for them. If that’s the case then you can get inspiration and ideas about how to market your product from what they do. You won’t be able to know exactly how well their marketing converts, but it’s a great place to start.
Marketing without a budget can be difficult. It’s important to focus your time and energy on people that you feel you’re solving a pain point for. Before I start any sort of marketing campaigns after the idea generation phase, I try and poke around to see if there’s going to be interest before I go ahead with it.
One way is to reach out to people in the community you’re targeting to see if they actually want what you’re offering. Far too many times I’ve seen advertisements on websites where nobody in those user bases would ever actually use the service. That seems like a lot of lost revenue to me. A great way to do this is to contact the website and talk to them over Skype or the phone to ask what types of products/services have had success advertising on their website.
If the company doesn’t know the answer, then ask them what advertisers have been advertising for the longest period of time. It’s most likely that they would have canceled their campaigns if they weren’t doing well.
After you’ve got tracking in place, with some inspiration and ideas from your competitors or from your research, you then want to incentivize users of your website or product to talk about you with their friends and the world so that you can begin to see some word of mouth growth. That way the marketing money you spend will have extra reach.
Instagram, Foursquare, Vine, and others exploit Twitter and Facebook to do this. You need to look at your service and product and figure out whether there is something worth sharing, be it through an affiliate program, neat content they can share, statistics, or whatever. People are vain (sorry), and anything that can make them look better will encourage them to share your service.
There’s a lot that goes into marketing, advertising, and sales. User acquisition during the early stages of your startup is the most difficult, but persistence is the key. You cannot get discouraged if what you’re doing is not working at first, but at the same time you need to have an honest look at what you’re selling and make sure that it’s something people want.
I wish I could give you a magic formula, but in the end you’re going to need to experiment because every market and service is different.