I think the problem for us engineering types is that there is so much bullshit around marketing, that it's offputting to us. That's the case for me at least. If I spend time/money on a feature, I know how long it will take, how much it will cost and when it will be ready. Compared to this, marketing seems like burning money with voodoo rituals.
It doesn't help that marketing efforts are only meaningfully measurable on a larger scale. If you're bootstrapping something yourself, you don't have 12k to spend on marketing this month. You have $300. It's easy to burn that $300 on adwords or facebook ads and get zero signups, with no meaningful data whatsoever.
The usual advice goes: hire a marketing expert. But how do I hire a marketing expert that a) isn't full of it, b) will even listen to me if my current budgets are in the hundreds of dollars?
I think the article is right on point, but I wish it pointed me to a way to deal with the marketing problem.
Most replies focus on "talking to your customers", validating your idea, etc. I know, you should talk to your customers. It's all good. I do. But this won't get you out of the tarpit. Talking to your customers mostly gets you new feature requests, so you end up building new features.
Also, once you have a business with a bunch of paying customers, the situation is different. You know the product can sell. If you can get 10 paying customers, you can also get 100, and probably 1000, too. That was what the original article was about.
There was precious little practical advice in the comments, apart from "content marketing" and guerilla marketing. One is something pretty much everybody does, and the other is difficult to pull out for B2B.
libertyEQ has a great point: we know so little about the whole subject that we even don't get the naming right. Sorry. For the moment I'll just keep calling all this stuff "marketing", until I understand it better.
My original point still stands: the article got it right, and the reason why we hackers build features instead of doing marketing is because marketing is hard, poorly defined, and there is so much fluff, myths and cliches around it. I'm still looking for a solution.
- What was going on in your clients' heads before they found you. What precise problem were they trying to solve. This'll give you insights on whether or not your product is adequate, and on how to phrase your landing page.
- How they went about to look for you. What google search they did, whether they checked out reviews and how, etc. this is to better focus your SEO and adwords campaigns.
- What their decision process looked like. Was it a single person making the call, or were several people involved? What objections got raised? What were their key decision criteria? Raise them in your sales copy or in drip emails.
- Are they talking about your product? Would they? This is to help you spot segments with viral potential. Don't forget to politely ask for referrals if applicable.
- And, of course, feedback on the product itself. But don't spend too much time on this, and don't promise anything or build expectations.
The most important thing I always want to know is how they found me — unfortunately, for all of them it was via a search for a specific phrase. That doesn't help me at all: I am prominently featured for that search phrase.
No viral potential, this is a niche B2B product.
If a marketer came to you and said hey, I can market like a champ, but I need a quick way to engineer a killer product by myself on a razor thin budget. Can't start marketing until I've got the product ready, and I also don't know much about product design or what to build. How do I do it and succeed? Same chicken-and-egg problem.
You can hire a professional who is GOOD, but then you're going to pay a lot of money for it. The better quality you want, the more you will have to pay. Or you can learn to be good YOURSELF, but then you're going to spend a lot of time to do it (and possibly still a lot of money).
In marketing, you cannot usually just hire talented marketers for low dollar amounts. If a marketer is any good, he knows how to make hundreds/thousands of dollars a day marketing any number of different things. He can affiliate market something off Clickbank, or take advantage of any of a number of other affiliate channels. Or he can debut his own product and market it himself and keep 100% of the profit. Or he can work for a beefy startup with lots of equity and high upside, or if he's risk averse take a high paying salaried job at an ad firm or mega corp.
So at the lower end, you get a bunch of aspiring marketers who are either brand new or just plain suck. (a few diamonds in the rough here and there, but they're few and far between and they don't stick around in the rough for long)
Best path if you're bootstrapping and have limited funds:
1.) Do your own marketing until you find a few okay-enough channels to get business from. This part sucks at the beginning because it's slow going and most of what you try doesn't work.
2.) Look for free ways to market until you have more cash to spend on marketing. The average paid media campaign takes somewhere between $5K and $50K of experimentation before it reaches profitability. That's $5K to $50K down the drain before you're making money. Don't go for paid until you can afford to absorb the upfront cost of creating a profitable campaign.
3.) Once you have a few okay marketing channels in place (could be search traffic, a popular presence on Reddit, Facebook, or Twitter, or maybe you have a higher dollar offer you can leverage networks and do direct sales for), you'll get more money coming in
4.) Once more money is coming in, you have a few options how you spend it. Hire professionals to boost the conversions of your sales funnel; hire professionals to experiment with new or better marketing campaigns; or hire professionals to train you on these things and make you the expert
Not fun (at first, anyway) and probably not the fast/easy way you might wish you could find. But when you don't have the skill yet, and don't have investment money or high enough sales already to pay for high skill professionals, you've got to grind it out yourself for a bit.
If you'll study marketing, I suggest you pick up a copy of Jeff Walker's Product Launch Formula. It's an effective way to get an initial burst of sales and designed for people with low/no marketing experience.
I clicked around his site and...it's not actually a book?
Ads are an anonymous and low-touch acquisition channel, making them great for growing once you've got product-market fit, and (mostly) terrible before that point. If you're really clever with AB testing, analytics, lifecycle emails, etc., you may be able to get some useful info out of an ad campaign, but I think it's unlikely to be cost effective compared to higher touch options like networking, cold emails, posting on forums, meetups, conferences, etc. where it's easier to establish a line of communication and find out what people really think.
I don't think this is something you can hire for. Honestly, while it has its moments when things are going well, overall it's just not very fun work. It's tedious, frequently discouraging, and puts you in a lot of uncomfortable situations. It takes founder-level motivation to push through. Once you've done the hard work and have the machine running, there are tons of people who will be happy to scale and optimize it for money. Before that, I think a co-founder is probably the only realistic option if you're looking for someone to completely own early-stage marketing.
However the beginning of marketing is researching how your product interacts with the market, which problem your product solves and for whom. A lot of times who you think your customers are isn't really who your customers are and why you think they buy your product isn't really why they buy it. And many times your product is capable of solving a problem for a much larger user group which however you just don't know about yet (but should definitely find out about).
Getting all these variables right is how marketing starts and besides your own time it doesn't cost you a dime. Once you have better knowledge about the market (who you target, at which price point, with what message, etc..) you will have a much better feeling on how to target that market and spending actual dollars on a marketing end (ads etc.) at that point will feel much more satisfying and less "voodoo".
Don't hire a marketing expert. This is a bad first step. You should define a very specific subset of customers and talk to them. Find out their problems after talking to 10 very targeted people that fit into a user profile. I recommend reading "The Mom Test" (it's a book about how to phrase customer development interview questions) as a basis for how you talk to potential customers.
User acquisition efforts are not only measurable on a larger scale. You may have this idea because the people you worked with may have had a big company background. For a startup, it is very necessary for your advertising campaign to define a cost per click, find a conversion rate, and then test many different advertising phrases and avenues. This helps put a direct cost per user acquisition price on each campaign and you can compare apples to apples. It takes "voodoo money burning rituals" and turns it into numbers that are measurable.
If you rely on free marketing channels without a clear focus on who is using your product, it is very likely that you have 10 customers who fit 10 completely different segments with 10 different ideas of which features will give them value.
They key is learning. When you estimate future software releases, you typically point a story using things you have learned from previous, similar stories. When you attempt a new advertising campaign, you should use past learnings to determine which ads and messaging will work for different segments - how much they will cost, and how many users you can expect to get based on past results.
In summation, startup marketing should have a focused, scientific, numbers driven, methodical approach - just like writing software. If your marketers are not doing that, you probably aren't working with the right marketers.
https://amzn.com/dp/B01H4G2J1U (2016, 4+ stars, 43 reviews, $9.99)
Re your situation I’m not sure there is much you can or should do with $300. It’s too small an amount to make a dent in any paid channels for sure.
Hire a marketing/growth coach is probably the most cost effective way to spend a budget like that imho
I'm struggling to find a single startup concept where you couldn't be served by walking through your city and finding a potential customer. If one exists, they're probably targeting the wrong customers.
Or, gee, for the $300, hire some kids. Each kid gets a stack that has a promo code unique to them, and on your Web site landing page ask for the promo code and, thus, find out which kids are doing the best work! Sure, use different promo codes for your own efforts at such advertising -- basketball, football, politics, rock concerts. Uh, don't necessarily have to pay big bucks for NBA or NFL tickets; how about a college or high school sporting event?
All or nearly all of the above are from a book or article I read long ago about a guy who was trying to sell cars. He was just a salesman at a dealership run by someone else, but he wanted people to come to the dealership to see him by name, in person, as the guy with uniquely good car deals, etc. With those business cards and more such outrageous stuff, he claimed he got a lot of traffic and sold a lot of cars.
For the business cards, sure, cheat some on just what the heck such a card is and, thus, make them also have enough information, if only a tease, to get people to get to a Web landing page or some such. So, they look like business cards but, of course, are really hand bill advertising. Maybe such hand bills are illegal but just accidentally losing a stack of business cards is not?
There are many more possible gutsy, outrageous, non-standard, maybe crude, vulgar, socially awkward, embarrassing, borderline legal, original, creative, never seen before, etc. marketing approaches.
One description of such stuff is guerilla marketing.
The problem is: what percentage of companies happen to be starting a new project now or even in the next few weeks? There are plenty of them out there, but the odds of getting someone at the right moment when reaching out one by one in meatspace are too low to make it work. In this situation, I've found that a hybrid approach works better: use organic marketing, meetups, and conferences to cast a net that is sufficiently wide that at least some of the people that see it and like the concept are in a position to adopt it right away, then keep in touch to find out how it's going and what the blockers are. This has been effective for getting our first batch of happy production users.
1 - https://www.envkey.com
$300 will get you pretty damn far that way, enough to get a customer or two that you will hopefully be able to provide good enough first-class service that they'll help you from there.
Can I ask what you're using currently to deal with this issue?
Option #2 here: https://cloud.google.com/kms/docs/secret-management#choosing...
This is an example of killing the language, and it minimizes the nuance involved. Advertising and promotions are a subset of marketing.
Edit: To be clear, I work in the area of addressable market/ /go-to-market strategy/ product definition/ competitive analysis and I have never had anything to do with outbound, promotional messaging.
My response was that marketing encompasses both designing and selling products that meet customer needs. We needed a product manager who does the customer research to help us determine our target customers and to build the right product to meet their needs and wants, and who will design a marketing plan with the relative priorities of advertising, PR, promotions, and various sales channels (direct, reseller, etc) to most efficiently reach target customers with an always limited marketing budget.
As an aside: What can be a thousand times more efficient than Google AdWords or any advertising ever? Good PR. No one should ever spend a dime on advertising without first considering whether they have a compelling story that media outlets will publicize for free, with just the cost of a dedicated or even part time PR resource.
I spent $1,500 on a PR contractor for my 2nd app, with 3 months I had positive reviews in PC World, CBS Marketwatch, etc, and my highest sales ever. In the end I’d estimate his efforts produced at 20-40x his cost in revenues. I’m dumb enough that I never did it again.
Are there any particular online directories? I ask because from your description they seem like they've different tactics to the typical freelance marketer.
We used to run paid social/adwords campaigns, but once we were able to identify segments and customize the message, we ran smaller, more targeted campaigns.
I don't think having huge campaigns is as needed as figuring out your customers and how the present your product in a way they are ready to receive it.
We initially didn't have as much data to help us understand our segments, but we got a marketer that really had amazing intuition and experience. She was able to help us develop these targeted campaigns before we had the resources to really invest in better marketing software and bigger campaign budgets.
Many months we spend less than $300 on paid adverts and we're growing our customers and revenue. We've also got many good customer who advocate for us.
There are so many ways to promote stuff.
For example content marketing. Start writing a blog, when you get the ins and outs of blogging, start to use it to promote your product.
This year I wrote a blog article almost every week. Then I started to promote some educational videos I recorded for Skillshare. Made a few bucks on the side with that.
Just focus on some "type" of marketing that is easy for your and try it.
Side Project Marketing Checklist
・ https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15002079 (Aug 2017, 68 comments)
・ https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14942902 (Aug 2017, 68 comments)
Ask HN: Building a side project that makes money. Where to start?
・ https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14039135 (Apr 2017, 248 comments)
A couple more free resources:
Getting Real, chapter 13: Promotion (2006)
Growth Hacking: How to Acquire Users (2017)
The other half is "Marketing is not stupid". Marketing, sadly, is something that many of us are not good at. People still believe that if you build it, they will come. Myself, I have a several dead side projects that nobody came for, as do many here.
Also, maybe I've been out of the adword world for too long, so question for you folks that are living it now. Is a $70 CAC about average? I find that a bit high but I suppose if it only takes 2 months to recoup then their CLV must be good.
Then there's the added fear of being really bad at a new skill. It doesn't help that the iteration cycle of market validation and marketing is extremely long compared to programming. You could be screwing up for months and not have enough clear data to know you're screwing up.
To clarify, this is not me complaining. I realize I need to get over everything I've listed, press forward and learn a new (lucrative!) skill. But I can't be the only dev who feels this way about marketing.
In the intro to marketing course I took in college, one of the points they really tried to ingrain in everyone was that the market research you do before you create a product or feature is one of the most important parts of marketing.
Actually, I believe a clever marketing tactic can be counter-productive in such an early stage, as you might lure customers to a product that doesn't deliver value.
So, your first few paying customers should come from building the product and putting it in front of few people (your personal and professional network, Show HN, Reddit).
After you have these first customers then it is time to stop underestimating the marketing effort a successful product demands.
If you built it but no one knows about it to come and use it, how is that a product problem?
At most, you need to do sales, not marketing.
Marketing is knowing who you are selling to, what they want, and how best to reach them.
Additional symptoms are relatively low retention or no retention at all, and aggressive marketing tactics to the point where as a customer you're not sure how can they be possibly making money.
This article talks to my heart. I have been working on my startup for 7 years now. For all these years, I have been adding more and more features, changing the product direction twice and still not knowing if we have something valuable.
I want to start marketing right now and stop adding more features!
P.S. Anyone interested in helping me? I am willing to split the profits for the lifespan of a user if you can help me acquire new paying users!
I am having 30 minute conversations and asking THEM things like:-
1) What their process looks like.
2) What pain-points they have.
3) What they are actually using and paying...
We then brain storm what potential solutions could solve these pain points and move onto:
4) How much they would be willing to pay to solve these problems. i.e, if their ROI could increase by a certain % is paying the $$ a no brainer.
5) More importantly, how much time they would be saving and is the $$$ a now brainer now?
Features are great, they differentiate between yourself and your competitors. But they aren't the goal. What is the goal, is making those features part of a process flow and achieving a result that your customers want AND will be willing to pay for, compared to your competitors.
What's the point in building a feature a potential customer won't use or understand? Or even worse, is too complex and when they use it they leave frustrated?
Bottom line is, you don't know if you have something because you aren't talking to your market.
So stop what you are doing. Nowadays it's really easy. Go on Facebook, start searching for some groups. Sometimes the gold is there because people are asking questions and you can get a sense of where your product fits. Then insert yourself into the conversation and start asking questions.
Start adding people and trying to engage them directly. Say you'll send them a coupon or buy them lunch for 30 minutes of their time. You can setup a Skype conversation and then glean lots of knowledge.
I would also suggest doing this with those who are experienced and in the weeds. Because they could give you actual insights over what people THINK they need.
Best of luck! :)
I should start engaging on social medias.
Do you think Facebook is better than Twitter for this?
Thank you! :)
I personally don't bother with Twitter for this aspect of product validation.
This is what affiliate programs (and networks) are for!
Marketing and sales are super important. R&D is super risky. This is true for every business. To de-risk, spend more on the former and less on the latter.
Which is sad, in a way. We all read about how Woz was hacking logic boards during the early days of Apple, or how Sergey and Larry built their company on top of their groundbreaking PhD research. As a techie, you would dream that you can join a team where your contribution is crucial and consists of something that can't be outsourced to Ukraine. Yet, this mostly doesn't appear to be the case.
I think the key distinction to make here is that a "great product" is not defined by whether or not it is feature- complete, pleasant to use, etc. but whether or not your customers like using it, consequently paying you for it. Likewise, any change you make to your product should only be considered a positive delta if it makes people like it more (or pay more for it); otherwise, it's just a prettier/faster/more complicated product, not a better one.
Since we're B2B focused, my co-founder and I resolved this by deciding to go the consulting route to build the product. We essentially banned ourselves from writing code until we found someone willing to pay us to write the feature.
Coming away with nothing and then to keep on trying. This has been the hardest thing for me too. Coding/designing/building is way more fun and easy (in the short-term).
Build one simple feature that people are willing to pay for and start marketing and selling it is by far the path of least resistance.
(Then carefully grow your product outward from that point)
Also, when you get really down in the weeds, I bet it's easy to have a daunting feature list that people bounce off of, especially if you don't have a clear separation between marquee/headline features and detail features, meaning you might make your product attractive to an additional 1% of users, but 5% of your existing potential users fall out of the funnel because of the word soup.
Only if they are independent. Features A + B may attract a bigger public than both feature A or feature B alone.
P.S.: Been there, done that.
Another way to describe the situation here is - moving to growth mode too late, when you already have a good enough product to attack with but you're also almost out of runway.