One mistake commonly made by startups is to build a product in its entirety, in secret, before a big-bang launch. Gathering users of your new product or service takes time and effort. A well-coordinated and well-executed marketing plan at launch will undoubtedly help with user acquisition, but it is not merely a case of “build it, and they will come”.
User acquisition needs to happen over time. Not all customers will see your product for the first time and simply have to have it. Some will need to be exposed to your brand and product, in many cases over an extended period, before they make a purchase. Sometimes this is a trust issue; perhaps because they have previously invested time and money into a now-defunct product or a service that failed to live up to their expectations. Products or services which require a higher investment from customers will naturally suffer this effect to a higher degree. It is therefore essential that you begin to build your brand, and hence trust, within your chosen market, from a very early stage.
You should launch a website landing page as soon as you have secured an internet domain name for your product. Initially, this doesn’t have to be anything particularly large or complex, but at a minimum, it should introduce your product, identify the problem it is aiming to solve and have a simple email signup form.
It is entirely possible to launch a simple landing page, including a newsletter signup form, for very little money, perhaps even for no financial outlay at all. If you have no website building experience, many services are available which allow you to get a templated landing page up and running without requiring you to write any code. Above all, the site should be professional looking and optimised for indexing by search engines (I recommend this book by Dean Scaduto if you want an introduction to Search Engine Optimisation: https://amzn.to/2VG0kKY).
This site is the starting point for establishing your brand and, as always, it is important to make a good first impression. Periodically, as product development progresses, you should revisit this site, adding more information and starting to build out a full company website. In simple terms, the greater the volume of relevant, useful and unique content you display on your website, the better your chances of it being discovered by new potential customers, either through word of mouth or via internet search engines.
Regularly releasing new content is a great way to keep people interested in your product during development and can start to build excitement and anticipation for launch. To reach a broad audience, you should consider releasing new content in multiple channels, such as blog articles, newsletters and via social media.
Blogs can be a useful tool for publishing new content and building an internet presence. Blogs are not a replacement for your primary landing page but are a useful addition, with a focus on substance over style. As with landing pages, if you lack the technical expertise to self-host your blog, many fully-hosted solutions are available, usually for a small monthly charge. In my opinion, it is always better to have your blog hosted under your domain, rather than at a subdomain of a blog host. Most major blog hosting companies, such as WordPress, Squarespace or Ghost, allow the use of custom domain names. As a minimum, all pages on your blog should have a link back to your main company landing page. This link is important for two reasons; it allows search engines to associate your blog with your company site and provides an easy way for readers of your blog to find more information about your company.
Many tech-savvy users use software applications to aggregate online content such as news, blog posts and podcasts in one place. To allow these users to include your posts in their daily feeds, you will need to provide an RSS feed (mine is here: https://www.stevelydford.com/rss/).
Initially, at least, a variety of content is the key to a successful blogging campaign. Most experienced bloggers will tell you that it is extremely difficult to assess the popularity of any individual post in advance. Such a large number of factors are in play here; current trends, news and media coverage of subjects, links from other popular blogs, websites and social media accounts, and a lack of other useful information for specific subjects can all significantly influence the popularity of individual posts. So, to start with, aim to cover a variety of topics; progress updates, company news, relevant industry news, explanation of concepts and tips for success in your chosen market and are all good candidates. Once you have published a few posts and can assess their popularity, you can start to identify and focus on the areas in which users are finding your posts most useful and engaging.
Your landing page should have a newsletter signup form from the start. Newsletters are a simple, cheap and powerful way to keep people interested in your progress. A message landing in someone's inbox will make it more likely that they will read your content than merely expecting them to remember to revisit your homepage or look at your blog for updates from time to time.
To start with, it may be possible to manage your list of newsletter subscribers manually. However, many good email marketing services exist, and most are free for small lists; I would highly recommend this route. Most will offer you the chance to brand and customise the look of your newsletter. Even if based on a standard template, a well-designed email is much more engaging than a standard plain-text message. Choose a service that provides a signup page, which you can customise with your brand and link to from your website, or a signup form that you can drop directly into your page. I have used MailChimp, SendFox and the built-in features of Ghost extensively in the past, to good effect.
While I'm here, it would be remiss of me not to remind you to sign up for my email newsletter, which you can do here or by clicking on the Subscribe button on the bottom right of this page.
It is a legal requirement in many countries, and good practice everywhere, to provide a simple mechanism to allow users to unsubscribe from marketing emails. All good email marketing providers have an unsubscribe feature built-in, along with integrations with other third-party providers and the ability to measure metrics such as signups, unsubscribe rates, open rate and click rate.
It can be tempting to send an email on an almost daily basis, but you should limit yourself. I suggest starting with a weekly or bi-weekly cadence and monitoring the metrics. If your unsubscribe rate is high, consider sending fewer emails. If the metrics indicate that readers enjoy receiving your mail, try increasing the cadence. People hate spam, and it is tough to entice them to re-subscribe once they have left.
Social Media is another great way to share your message with your target audience. Although not as direct and personal as an email, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are another form of cheap and effective marketing. The rules for the cadence of marketing emails don’t apply as strictly to social media. Posts tend to be much smaller, requiring less effort from you, and it is entirely reasonable to post several times a week. At a minimum, you should always announce the publication of new content, such as blog posts, on social media to drive awareness and engagement.
The specific social media platforms that you choose to help engage potential customers with your startup will depend on the vertical market into which you are entering. The demographics of each platform vary a surprising amount. For example, you are much more likely to engage a younger adult audience on Instagram than on Facebook or LinkedIn. If your startup is aimed at a corporate business vertical, LinkedIn may be a good bet. Whereas if you are seeking a more creative audience, Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest is probably better. It is worth taking the time to investigate the most popular platforms amongst your target audience, to gain maximum traction, while using your time efficiently.
The timing of newsletters and social media posts is crucial. With many people receiving hundreds, or even thousands, of updates a day across all platforms, it is easy for your content to get lost in the maelstrom. Tweets, emails and other updates which arrive in the middle of the night are much more likely to be ignored or forgotten.
I am based in the United Kingdom, so I usually try to time my updates to go out to at around 5 pm UK time. This way, the same message arrives at 9 am on the US west coast (Seattle, San Francisco) and at noon for subscribers in the eastern United States (New York, Washington DC). These are prime times for people checking their work inboxes and social media accounts - at the beginning of the working day, lunchtime and just before leaving for the evening - and my message will be at, or very near, the top of the list.
Most email marketing platforms will allow you to specify a future-dated delivery time. For social media posts, there are several third-party service providers, such as ContentCal, HootSuite and Buffer, whose platforms will enable you to schedule updates in advance and can post your updates to multiple channels. If you have a busy period ahead, these services also allow you to pre-schedule your social media updates for a few days, rather than just going silent.
As you move through your product design, development and marketing cycles, you will find that many of your social media followers, blog subscribers and newsletter readers will be keen to provide additional information to you, which can be invaluable. Their interest in your product or service, which you have nurtured over time with regular useful content, will make them much more likely to fill in market research surveys, become beta testers, and will often form the core of your early adopters.
So, for the very best chance of success, start your marketing early and work hard to build a fanbase that is eagerly awaiting the launch of your product and will be keen to provide you with honest feedback.
Some of the links to products that I have provided in this article are affiliate links. This means that the supplier may pay me a small amount of money if you use the link. This will have absolutely no impact on the amount you pay.