We live in a very busy and noisy world. There is an endless amount of information to consume, millions of products offered (each promising their own benefit), and advertisements constantly thrown in front of us. Needless to say, it can be quite overwhelming.
Consumable products are often the victims of all this commercialization — another hand soap will inevitably fail unless it’s clearly a better alternative than the incumbents on the market.
With all the hustle and bustle, most consumers don’t take time to research the majority of products they buy. They simply go to their local retail store and pick the product they are most familiar with or the one that fits their buying habits.
And why should consumers research their common, everyday purchases? There are family and friends to be with and good times to be had. Certainly, researching what brand of cotton swabs to buy can and should take a back seat to other activities.
Taking all this into account, how can you, as a savvy startup owner, get your product in front of consumers? Most advertisements, unless repetitively done (requiring a big investment) or especially unique, won’t attract much attention.
This is why it’s so important to go to your customers and early adopters, instead of thinking they’ll come to you. People have busy lives, and unless they are a hobbyist in your industry (e.g., automobiles), they won’t come to you and likely won’t research your industry.
Once you go to your early adopters or prospective customers and get them to try your products, they can become your marketers.
Startups going to consumers right from the start is very common. Let’s take a look at a few examples and the results that were achieved.
When Drew Houston launched Dropbox in 2007, he knew he had to reach the early technology adopters. So he made this video tailored to the Digg audience:
It was, quite literally, an overnight success. According to Houston:
“It drove hundreds of thousands of people to the website. Our beta waiting list went from 5,000 people to 75,000 people literally overnight. It totally blew us away.” He goes on to say, “Within 24 hours, the video had more than 10,000 Diggs.”
In addition to this, Houston also posted his product in a Hacker News post.
Houston has summed up his lessons learned as an entrepreneur in one slide:
Note the last bullet point. He has mentioned many times in his talks that it’s important to “go where your users are.” Let’s take a look at another startup that has done this.
Launched in 2007, Airbnb has grown to become a $1 billion company.
When Airbnb launched, they faced a tall task:
How do we get people to learn about and trust our little-known website?
In other words…
How do we acquire users?
So what approach did they take? Post on Craigslist!
In a story posted by Dave Gooden, he finds out that Airbnb would contact people who were offering their homes to rent on Craigslist. The email would come from a random person (who was really from Airbnb) telling them of a “lovely site” known as Airbnb. Here’s a sample email:
Some people will call it spam; others call it poor business practice. But 16 months after this story broke, has it negatively affected their business? According to their most recent round of financing, no.
Let’s look at another example…
One of the best ways to reach sports fans is through sports radio. Listen to any sports show, and you’ll hear impassioned hosts and fans discuss the day’s sports news.
So what better way to spread your sports business than to talk on the radio shows every week? That’s exactly what Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk (PFT) did. Take a look at his schedule, and you’ll see that radio is his main marketing channel. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t go on the shows to promote his website. He goes on to talk football with the sports host(s). Before and after the discussion, the host(s) mentions the ProFootballTalk website. In this sense, it is not an advertisement like you typically hear on the radio. It simply appears to be one fan’s NFL website.
Florio does precisely what Houston recommends: go to your users and talk to them in an authentic way.
Of course, it’s unlikely that anyone can simply get themselves a spot on a radio show without getting billed. Florio likely started out in small markets and then presented himself to bigger markets with a demo tape for them. A few sports talk show hosts let him on, kept bringing him on, and a few years later PFT was acquired by NBC Sports.
What You Can Do
So how do you reach your early adopters and your target market? The best way is to go where they go. What conferences do they attend? Are they on Twitter? Are there any niche sites, such as Hacker News, that they visit?
If you’re not aware of any niche sites that your early adopters are in, you probably need to understand your customer a little better. For almost every hobby, there is a site where those hobbyists go. When you find the niche site, reach out and become an active member. Kindly tell them about your product and ask for feedback. As long as you don’t spam, you’ll find that most people are more than happy to help.
Finally, Facebook and Twitter can be excellent ways to reach your customers and spread your product. With Facebook Connect, businesses can have their users register and login via Facebook. Because of Facebook Connect, visitors can also easily share their purchases on your site; and because they likely have friends with the same interests, those friends will also hear about your company. Spotify is a company that largely grew because of Facebook Connect. Most customers hear about Spotify through their friends on Facebook. It doesn’t involve any work for the user — Spotify by default automatically posts what a person is listening to. For more information on Facebook Integration and other growth hacks, check out Lars Lofgren’s blog post.
Going to customers is also a great way to garner feedback on your product. Listening to customers and asking the right questions can get you and your team invaluable data. For more information on getting user feedback, check out Jason Evanish’s blog post.
If your business is stagnant, make a concerted effort to reach out to early adopters or go where you think prospective customers might be. Don’t expect them to find you. Go where they go, be authentic with them, and you might get some business.