Marketing for coders (part 1)

The situation: You’re a technical co-founder, launching/managing a startup on a shoestring. You don’t have a marketing budget, but you need to reach a consumer (non-technical) audience. There’s good news to be had, you can use your technical skills to build a marketing apparatus for virtually nothing.

For the sake of this discussion, marketing will be discussed in relation to the customer ecosystem model.  Part one will focus on acquisition and conversion. Part two will look at upsell and retention.

Acquisition

Acquisition is what most people think of when they think of marketing. However, it’s important to keep in mind that marketing does more than acquire customers.  Marketing engages customers. Marketing upsells customers. Marketing retains customers.

Because acquisition is when the funnel is the broadest, it gets most of the attention.

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Search engine optimization (SEO) is the no-brainer of acquisition. SEOmoz.com is a great resource for those interested in SEO information and I found this presentation that they gave to the Y Combinator folks to be a great overview. There are two ways  to attack the problem of SEO. You can see what keywords you appear in and improve your ranks in those areas or you can see what people are searching for and then build around that. I prefer the latter. The best way to optimize in my view is through multiple landing pages with relevant content that can be swapped out early and often to remain fresh. Utilizing a free content management system is probably the easiest way to do so. That being said, if you’re a real estate site don’t optimize around Miley Cyrus. You should optimize around FSBO, foreclosures, and short sale even if you’re a site like Zillow whose niche is not listings but property values.

All of this can be accomplished for free through an adwords account. You don’t need to specifically pay to advertise with Google to get access to their tools, you just need an adwords account. As far as optimizing for other search engines, I wouldn’t really bother. Google’s share of the paid market is about 80% and for all intents and purposes, the paid market represent the value of the search.

SEO also helps validate your idea. If you’re having trouble finding the right long tail of searches, perhaps the market isn’t there for the solution you proffer.

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Virality of product is probably the best way to acquire new customer. How did you first register for Facebook or Twitter? I can promise it wasn’t via a banner ad or a paid text link. Chances are, however, that you’re not building the next Facebook or Twitter. Therefore, it is important that you build social tools into your product in a way to enable sharing and promotion.

Virality works best when it’s baked into the product. The quick and easy thing to do is to enable someone to share their activity via Facebook or Twitter. This is getting old quick, however, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one with status ennui. Much better to have engaged user send a customized e-mail to a close friend or share a heartfelt message to their blog than to have them post a half-assed Twitter update to 72 followers.

Be creative and you can build a viral feature into almost any web product

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Co-marketing is another great way to great way to acquire customers. Now since we’re talking zero budget marketing this might be tough, but not impossible. Look at these examples from Billshrink and FourSquare. Getting a top-tier mobile carrier or cable network to feature your product in a national television advertising campaign may not be in the cards, but look around for natural partners, especially ones that might benefit from aligning with your technology and your product.

If that doesn’t work so well, do a charity fundraising with your users. First off, you will get lots of karma for doing something good. Secondly, you will engender a lot of goodwill and curiosity with others who are associated with that charity. Silicon Valley is in LOVE with Kiva.org and doing a campaign for them will get the attention of the valley’s entrepreneurs. Be sure, though, that your charity efforts are something that your users and your target market are passionate about. This is marketing after all and don’t feel guilty or cynical for using this as a way to acquire new users. It’s still a net positive for the charitable organization.

Conversion:

Conversion is all about landing pages. The better the landing page, the better the conversion. Period.

Ideally you should have a landing page for almost every search term, while this is an important part of optimization to bring in the traffic, it’s also an important part of the converting the traffic.

Having multiple landing pages is a great way to bring in diverse traffic. Once you bring that traffic in, you need to fine tune the landing pages to determine the best way to convert those potential customers.

A few tips:

  • A strong visual component.
  • Very little text
  • A strong call-to-action (CTA)

Your CTA should probably be in the form of a button. Here’s a great primer to get you started. The important thing is to have multiple iterations and to continue to refine.

Working with Google Website Optimizer makes the process almost pain-free. Starting off with simple AB tests makes sense, but you’ll probably want to move into full multivariate testing soon thereafter just because it’s so much fun.

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The other big part of conversion is  understanding where your traffic is coming from. While it’s easy to find out where traffic is coming via Google, it’s a lot harder to track conversion from viral efforts. it is especially hard to track success when you have multiple viral efforts going at once. Therefore it’s important to build the ability to track campaigns.

Ability for promo codes is probably the best way to track a viral campaigns success. The ability to accept promo codes will help whether it’s an invite to a closed beta or an opportunity for free/discounted use of a premium feature. Moving forward, it will also help track the success of paid marketing campaigns.

Easier than setting up a promo code is a unique landing page: it.com/promo, but in my experience people tend to read right through these and go straight to the homepage. Especially if they are obviously promotional, like it.com/radioad.

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Look for part 2 to this post next week.

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