Customer Experience

How to Get an Enormous User Base Without Spending a Dime on Marketing

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It’s no secret most startups have little to no marketing budget. However, this shouldn’t be a deterrent to success.

We launched Talentoday, a career guidance platform, in the U.S. in January 2014. By April 2014, we a million users. Compare this success to other popular startups. It took social network Path more than a year to reach 1 million downloads, Kickstarter 30 months to reach its 1 millionth backer and Facebook 10 months to reach 1 million users. After only nine months, our company has more than 3 million users -- with paying clients from more than 100 organizations in approximately 160 countries.

And we did this all without spending a dime on marketing. What was our secret?

Related: The New Approach to Get Customers Banging on Your Door

We credit our success to these key strategies:

Deliver real value to users.

The average person is enchanted by the word “free” and usually willing to give free things a chance (and then pay to upgrade later on). Furthermore, there is still profit to be made from advertising. Companies like Pandora, Dropbox and Evernote have seen huge success with this.

However, to retain audiences, the product or service must have real value. And this is where you really have to dig in and get to know your customer. What keeps the target audience up at night? What are their pain points? What problems can they not solve with other products or services? Research is key to determining if users are receiving real value. Use case studies, surveys and other techniques to collect data and determine if there is a need for the product or service.

Leverage social networks.

BuzzFeed quizzes, Spotify and all the quirky Facebook games have one thing in common: the ability to share. Whether it’s quiz results, music playlists or point scores, it’s important to tie sharing into the product or service’s core.

Related: The Fastest Way to Find New Customers

Consider ways to connect social-media sites into the product and allow users to share activity. Not only does this play into the audience’s love of sharing, but it also allows new users to learn about and access the site more easily.

Focus on a human-centric user experience.

A human-centric user experience requires incorporating the principles of universal design. The Institute of Human-Centered Design has a full list here, but some of the most important include making sure the design of the site is easy to understand and accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

Consider also the more basic components of the site. How much physical effort does it take to navigate? Are the sizing and spacing appropriate for a wide range of audiences? Think about the first thing new users will see when they encounter the site and make sure all the components are clear and easy to understand. All the marketing dollars in the world won’t help if users reach the site and are lost.

At the end of the day, no matter the marketing budget, market to people. Always remember the audience.

Related: Increase Your Customer Base