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Ask HN: Ruby on Rails equivalent for marketing software?
9 points by ph0rque 2060 days ago | hide | past | web | 3 comments | favorite
TL;DR: What are the defined processes or methodologies for marketing SaaS, or App Store software? Existing software that no one knows about yet, just ideas for software on proverbial napkins, and everything in between?

I often see posts/articles mentioning how important it is to find customers, to sell before building, etc. I've read the Four Steps to the Epiphany and related lean startup posts. I understand the concepts of marketing as a conversation, building something people want, iterating quickly based on customer feedback, etc. This is all great, but it's either a bit too high level, or it's too focused on the product development aspect of marketing.

Just like Rails has baked-in opinions about how a Ruby web app should work that make using the framework much faster and easier then starting from raw Ruby, what are the opinions about the right way to market a SaaS or App Store product that can be baked into the process (Marketing on Rails) so things are faster, easier, repeatable (and perhaps automatable)? What's the cohesive framework for it all? What are the best practices? Does a book/blog/whatever capture the Ruby on Rails equivalent for business processes or methodologies? I'm looking for the framework of actionable best practice marketing tactics. The same way that Rails provides "your specific code fits here" into this overall web app best practice. What is it?

My situation is this:

* The small company I work for has an existing product that approximately nobody knows about.

* We have two products in development (a web app and a Mac app) that scratch our own itch.

* We have 33 ideas written down for future products; an effortless search would reveal hundreds more.

Note: I am not talking about product/market fit. Our products are very opinionated: they are something we're passionate about. The products fit as much or as little as they are going to fit. This question is about the marketing process to maximize whatever market potential they do have.

How do I become the marketing master for our company so the people that are willing to pay for solutions that we've solved, are solving, or will solve in the future are able to find our products?

OK Now I'm at home and can write you a substantive answer. It starts here:

- Marketing is Highly Situational

- Different Markets Should Be Approached Differently

- Tactics are constantly changing and evolving, so mix, match, and measure until you find something that works.

It sounds like you're looking for the essence of web marketing strategies for early stage startups. The best person blogging about this topic right now is a guy named Sean Ellis (http://www.startup-marketing.com) who's the CEO of Catchfree and ran marketing at some really amazing companies (Dropbox, Eventbrite, Xobni, etc.).

His framework, as detailed in these interviews here - http://venturehacks.com/articles/sean-ellis-interview - the Sean Ellis framework seems to be the following:

- Value Proposition Clarification based on user interviews/analytics/qualitative customer data.

- Conversion Optimization - not only conventional LPO or form optimization, but actually optimizing for high quality users, attracted by the value proposition found in part 1.

- Channel experimentation/optimization - At some level, web companies are not highly scalable until they can "buy" customers profitably - until there's a known, strong relationship between CPA (cost per acquisition) and CLTV (customer lifetime value), and of course, you can get CPA below CLTV at scale. So this step is where experimenting with different channels and different tactics fits in. Here's where you'd try different channels like paid and nonpaid social media and search engine activities, other advertising channels, affiliates, etc.

So that's what I'd do - clarify the value, optimize the conversion flow, and then relentlessly test channels until I could find something where I could acquire customers at a profit.

(In an slightly related side note, I'd suggest you read Noah Kagan's blog OKdork.com, where he writes on cool startup marketing topics.)

(Note: this assumes your product is not a social network.)

So, a framework to sell software? I don't think such a thing exists, and although there are SEO and social media spamming tools, I doubt those are what you want. If those are what you want, start searching. You will find them, and you will do nothing more than sell a few copies of your software and piss off countless people that are potential customers.

I'll assume your software solves a need for a set of people. I'll also assume that your software is well done, and people would be willing to pay for it, they just need to know about it. The basic idea behind internet marketing is that you need to find where this set of people hangs out online (spends their time), and then approach them. So let's say, for example, that the software you're attempting to sell helps solve a problem related to knitting. Your broadest target audience is knitters. Realistically, you are targeting people who knit, use the internet, and want to use their computer to make knitting better/easier/more social, etc. From this idea, you can begin finding where the knitters are, and how you are going to get to them. Are there popular knitting blogs? Is there a TechCrunch of the knitting world? Are all the knitters on a social networking site? Forums? Popular knitter Twitterers? If you made the software to scratch an itch, you'll likely know where these people are, because you're there, too.

Now, assuming you have an idea about where they are, how can you approach them? Post in the forum? Tag them in your tweets? Announce on IRC? Friend them on FB? Here is where a little digital savvy becomes very important and where I see many traditional marketers fail. Just like you would expect a socially awkward salesman to have a difficult time selling face to face, many 'internet awkward' people have a difficult time selling online. The important thing is to approach this community of potential customers in a way that is appropriate for that particular community. Because you do not mention where your product is aimed, I cannot give ideas about where you should go, or how to approach them.

Let's talk about a real example. There is a hacker who frequents here named pkrumins who runs a start up called browserling. Browserling appeals to web developers who need to test across different browsers. Whether he meant to or not, he has been doing very effective marketing by open sourcing code. This is so effective because he's contributing back to the community he's selling to. The same web developers who can use his open source contributions, can be his customers. This boost's his credibility with the people he's trying to sell to. A good door-to-door salesman dresses nice, keeps his hair neat, and is respectful and happy with the people he approaches. This works for him because the customer needs to see that he (and therefore his product) is respectable. Online, things are different. It doesn't matter what you're wearing, where you're sitting, or what you say about your past. This is because internet goers take everything with a grain of salt and realize that nothing we see online is guaranteed to be good as it seems (anyone who's tried online dating knows this especially well). Therefore, online, we need other signals of competence and helpfulness. Pkrumins pushed out good, competent code, which we can see and prove for ourselves. From that example, we can assume that the products he makes are similarly well done and as useful as he claims. Had he instead decided Adwords, a twitter account and some targeted FB ads would be the end of his marketing (which maybe he has, I don't know), none of those are likely to put him in such good graces as his open source contributions. By approaching good devs in a way that makes sense to them, he will succeed.

In the end, the main problem you need to figure out are the basics of marketing-who are you selling to and how are you going to approach them. A software framework for doing so isn't there because no two online groups work the same.

TL;DR You need to be one in mind with your customer so that you know how to approach them from a position of credibility and competence.

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