My company BrandYourself built a product that helps people improve their own search results. Because our product isn’t naturally viral or sexy, we were only expecting moderate growth. But since March, we already have well over 100,000 users after hitting a tipping point and signing up over 60,000 users in less than 60 hours.
Our momentum started with a strategic press push, covering a new feature. The push resulted in more press coverage, more users and more people sharing the product. While there's no way to guarantee going viral, I do believe there are a few lessons that anyone can apply when marketing their own product and hoping to make an impression:
- Promote one feature at a time, and make sure it's the one people care about. Many startups try to tell their entire story and sell all of a product's features when they market their products. This makes your story hard to digest and easy to ignore. By focusing on just one thing that a consumer would really care about, a feature nobody else provides -- in our case, the fact that BrandYourself can tell you when specific companies or employers Google you -- you not only make the story easy to pitch to a journalist, but you also make it easy for readers to understand. This ensures they’ll actually check it out and share it with their friends. Find that thing you do that no one else does, and push it to the forefront of your marketing.
- Pitch the right publication to make your announcement. When you’re starting up, only a few major blogs or publications are going to cover you (if any), so you need to get the biggest bang for your buck. You need to know who’s going to use your product and care about your story the most. Is it the techie demographic that reads TechCrunch? Will it be the self-improvement crowd who scrolls through Lifehacker? Are PR pros who read PRWeek your niche? We realized Mashable was the best way to reach our own target market. Getting published there worked; the announcement trended for three days, got 13,000 shares, created 15,000 signups and did so well that other great places like The Huffington Post and Yahoo! picked it up, giving us even more signups.
- Focus on a user story. Nobody cares about the new feature you built or how hard you worked on it, per se -- they care about how it might improve their lives. The easiest way to show that is through a story. I used an advertising student going on job interviews as an example, discussing how he could find out if interviewers looked him up afterward. This made the story easier to understand and much more exciting.
- Streamline your signup flow. All the press or traffic in the world doesn't matter if your product is confusing, hard to sign up for, or under delivers. We spent months perfecting our signup flow and making it easy to get started. Did it make a difference? If 8 percent of visitors convert to free users, that’s considered good, but we converted 30 percent. If we had settled for 8 percent, we would have lost 40,000 signups!
- Understand where and how your product can be viral. Even if your product isn't a game that’s meant to be played with friends, you need to understand how people will share it. Depending on how your users view your product, there are different motivating factors. You can offer valuable incentives (Dropbox does this by giving free space) or simply make the consumer feel good about your product in some way. Since people like bragging to their friends about cool accomplishments, we let people share their achievements, like owning their entire first page of search results or making their website 15 percent more likely to show up higher in search. This is a great way to let users share their experiences in a way that entices their friends to try it themselves.
- Offer a great product. There’s an old advertising saying, “The fastest way to kill a bad product is good advertising.” More than anything else, we've worked hard to create a product that helps people solve a real problem. Once we get you to sign up, we’ve done the hard part. You’ll have a great experience, and there’s no marketing tool more powerful than that.
Just because you aren’t the hottest new thing on the Web doesn’t mean you can’t generate tens of thousands of users. You have to study your product and the market to decide where and how to promote what you have. Once you start generating the traffic you want, you cannot stop working. Keep pushing and maximizing conversions, and you will be well on your way to surpassing your goals.
Patrick Ambron, a 2009 Syracuse University Graduate, is the co-founder and CEO of BrandYourself.com, the easiest way to own your search results.
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