You May Have an Awesome Product, But It Won't Mean Much Without a Marketing Plan
Last week, I wrote about minimum viable products, and that it is important for it to actually be viable. Viability, as I explained, means the ability to live. To be viable, the product needs to have enough hooks and feedback loops. But even if you design the most amazing product, it still may not take off. To have a successful launch you need a great MVP and a solid marketing plan.
Let's start by considering your typical launch. You picked a date. You secured an exclusive with a hot publication. You planned your Product Hunt strategy. You told all your friends.
The launch went really well. You got the coverage you wanted, got in the top five on Product Hunt and a ton of tweets. All that led to thousands of signups. The users seemed to be happy and engaged. They love the product and keep coming back.
But one week later your signups are down by tenfold. Some users stopped using the product. You are scratching your head about what went wrong. The answer is nothing -- you had a perfect launch. Well, almost perfect.
Your launch went exactly how you designed it. You might have been counting on the instant network effect. You thought that since the product is so awesome, it would just take off. After all, the users that are using it seem to love and talk about it. So why is your product not going viral?
The answer is that the push wasn't strong enough. The influence network around your product is not strong enough. There is just so much noise out there that even a great product may not go viral right away.
The initial launch wasn't enough to reach critical mass. It didn't reach enough key influencers. As a result, the product is being used by the users it reached, but they don't have enough reach to give it a viral push. That's why, much like it is important to compute your MVP, it is important to plan and compute marketing for your launch.
A great marketing plan is simple and thoughtful. It starts by recognizing that one launch, one day, one event may not be enough to lead to a critical mass of adoption. Your marketing strategy is a week-by-week plan of post-launch activities for the next three months.
The idea is to amplify your initial success, hit key influencers and push the product over the virality threshold. Here are the things to consider doing:
1. Reach influencers.
Influencers are the key people who can really help your product go viral. If you have built the next great consumer product and Fred Wilson, Brad Feld, Marc Andreessen, Josh Elman and Ryan Hoover are excited about it, you can go viral really quickly. Regardless of what vertical you are in, it pays off to really understand and activate your influencer network.
For example, Techstars '14 company Pathgather sells enterprise-learning management software. The chief learning officer community is fairly small and very connected. When the CLO of Qualcomm spoke about Pathgather at a conference, CLOs from other large companies immediately engaged with the company and several became customers.
2. Leverage users.
Assuming that you've got thousands of excited users from your initial launch, you can work to leverage them to get more users. Great networks grow from the inside out, and having a passionate user spread the word is very powerful. Track your K-factor -- a measure of virality reflecting how existing users bring on board the new users.
This may seem like a trivial point, but really organizing your early community and giving them tools to promote you is important. Give the users specific asks, such as posting about your company on Twitter or Facebook. Tell your friends or invite them using a promo code. Create a referral program and give your users incentives to bring more users.
3. Score more PR.
Think through your PR strategy. Besides the initial launch, what else can you do to generate press? Can you become part of a trend story? Do you have interesting data to share with reporters?
Better yet, get several key reporters to use your product. Dennis Crowley from Foursquare was particularly great at engaging Nick Bilton and other reporters as early users. Because reporters loved Foursquare, and checked in all the time, they were compelled to write about it.
4. Create engaging content.
It is difficult to get reporters to write about you all the time, but it is not difficult to write one awesome post a week. Even if content marketing sounds daunting, the time to start is now. Don't expect this to be a magic bullet, but do write interesting, insightful content that is evergreen. This strategy will pay off in the mid to long term.
5. Plan more product launches.
One product launch is great, but if you can, plan additional launches every four to six weeks. Have an iPhone app? Next launch on Android. Then roll out a feature that users are asking for. Launches are almost always newsworthy. You can cover them on your blog, and there is a chance that they lead to more PR and more attention from influencers and excitement from your existing users.
6. Use re-targeting ads (sparingly).
It doesn't make sense to spend a ton of money in the early days to acquire customers. One type of ad, called re-targeting, could actually be helpful to generate more awareness.
Re-targeting ads are served on Google, Facebook and other sites to people who visited your site but didn't sign up. These ads are relatively inexpensive and effective -- they target people who already know a little bit about you. When you run re-targeting ads, people think you are a little bigger than you really are and eventually may decide to sign up.
7. Leverage physical events.
Depending on the industry you are in you may be able to leverage physical events -- meetups, conferences, etc. Physical events aren't just a thing of the past, and can be effective if you use them properly.
For example, when you present at New York Tech Meetup, you can get in front of a thousand people in one shot. Trade shows can still be effective for specific types of industries. Understand your return on investment and have clear goals.
The type of marketing plan you put together really depends on your business, but the point is to have a plan. Create a one page Google Doc with the plan and discuss it with your team and advisors. Commit to doing something every single week. Don't leave your launch to a chance. In today's tech world, it is hard to win without a solid plan.
Please share your best advice for marketing a product in the comments section below.
Alex Iskold is the managing director of Techstars in New York City. Previously Iskold was founder/CEO of GetGlue (acquired by i.tv), founder/CEO of Information Laboratory (acquired by IBM) and chief architect at DataSynapse (acquired by TIBCO). An engineer by training, Iskold has deep passion and appreciation for startups, digital products and elegant code. He likes running, yoga, complex systems, Murakami books and red wine -- not necessarily in that order and not necessarily all together. He actively blogs about startups and venture capital at http://alexiskold.net.