So you’re a bootstrappin’ startup with zero budget to get the word out about your new product. Whether it’s a new website, online service, mobile app or a physical product, there’s plenty of elbow grease your can rub on the marketing wheels to stir up activity and interest. Here are my 10 favorites:
1. Appeal to influential bloggers
What blogs do your prospective customers read? Bloggers with large followings are constantly trying to feed the beast. While they aren’t looking to give away free advertising, if you politely contact them to tell them about your product and why it’s something their readers might be interested in, you’d be surprised how many bloggers will at least give you a Tweet. When we launched Knowapp.com (a web app that allows people to create project status boards), I was fortunate to have one blogger give my product a full write up the next week! Most blogs either have an email link on their site or a contact form. Create a spreadsheet or database to track your progress and concentrate on the most popular blogs first. Find blogs using Google’s Blog Search, Technorati, and IceRocket. Tap into Alexa to get an idea of the blog’s popularity and traffic. If you do have a budget, services like blogdash and GroupHigh have platforms that let you find and track lists of bloggers for outreach.
When contacting editors, keep it short, earnest and simple. Explain your product in no more than 2 sentences, and briefly tell them why it would be of interest to their readers. Be grateful and thankful for their time. Don’t ask them to write an article on it or Tweet about it--if they’re interested they’ll give you a plug.
2. Send out a free Press Release
You get what you pay for when it comes to free press release services. Unless your product is extremely unique or whizz-bang, their impact is typically minimal. However, writing a compelling, succinct 300 word or less press release is not that time consuming, and will get you into channels like Google and Yahoo! News. Additionally, you’ve now got a press release you can instantly send to any media outlet that might inquire about your product. Mashable published a great list of free press release services at: http://mashable.com/2007/10/20/press-releases/ While this list is a bit old, I’ve found most of the services on there still reliable.
3. Use the Dropbox technique
If you’re lucky enough to get early adopters to your product, be grateful and use it as an opportunity to attract more. Of course you have sales goals and don’t want to give up revenue, but if you have someone who likes your product out of the chute, reward them with an extended trial, a free upgrade, or a small gift if they take the action to tell others about it. Dropbox became immensely popular because they rewarded existing users with more space when they referred friends who signed up for the service. A few guidelines when using this technique:
- Be very clear in the reward your users will receive if they take action, and make it dead simple to take that action when you ask them to do it. For example, if your product requires registration, put a form directly on the “thank you” page allowing them to invite friends with a clear incentive to do. Tools like Tell-A-Friend from Social Twist, InviteBox and ReferralCandy can help automate this for you, and provide insightful reports on how your referral programs are going. Also, be sure to reinforce this offer in the autoresponder sent following sign-up and any subsequent correspondence you might have.
- Be careful not to give away the store. If you don’t design this program carefully, it can be detrimental to your business. Dropbox grew so fast that it strained their infrastructure and compromised their ability to make money. While that can be a good problem to have, it’s important to ask yourself, “what impact will it have on my company if this referral program is a runaway success?” Do the math!
- Keep tabs on users who are both referring your product and those bringing you the most new signups. These users are your evangelists. The incentive is only part of why they’re telling others--most people will not refer a product unless they love it. These users will be your best asset as you grow the product, so tap into them for feedback and to further help expand your reach. (Again, the tools mentioned above can help manage this.)
4. Become an expert
OK, I’ll admit, everyone is being encouraged to “become an expert” nowadays. (I’m doing it with this article.) The challenge with so many “experts” is eventually opinions can get watered down, and with really broad subject matter you don’t know whose opinion really matters. There are many ways to position yourself as an expert: guest blogging, participating on Q&A sites like Focus.com, Quora.com, LinkedIn Group Discussions, etc. You can also register yourself in numerous expert databases where journalists and bloggers can tap into sources to get quotes and opinions from experts. A huge list has been compiled here: http://www.journaliststoolbox.org/archive/expert-sources/
So how do you a) avoid having your voice lost in a sea of other experts and b) promote your product?
- Avoid the temptation to answer nebulous, vague, broad or leading questions. These types of questions often get a deluge of responses, and maybe I’m a skeptic, but most times I believe the questioner has a hidden agenda for asking questions that mostly encourage opinions not facts.
- Only answer questions you truly believe you can offer a unique perspective or true value.
- When you do answer a question, never promote your product outwardly. Instead, use examples of where your own product solved a problem as it relates to the question. For example, recall earlier when I mentioned one of my own products, Knowapp.com. It’s all about context.
- Keep your answers brief, unless the question demands a lengthy explanation. State facts, not anecdotes, and cite sources.
- If possible, use your profile to advertise your product. For example, most Q&A sites will display some information about you next to your post. If allowed, drop a simple product plug in. For guest blogging, advertise your signup link in your byline.
5. Partner up!
I don’t see this one often enough. Entrepreneurs do well when they help one another. There’s likely an established product or service that’s complimentary to yours, with a similar target audience. Contact the owner/product manager/CEO/CMO, etc. Tell them about your product and ask them if they’d be willing to share it with their customers. As an incentive, offer to give away your product for free to a certain numbers of their users. This is an especially good tactic if your product ties into theirs somehow. (By tapping into an API for example.)
Asking to partner up in this manner is a win-win. You get the word out (for free) to your target audience, and your partner offers something of value to their clients, boosting customer loyalty, appreciation and retention.
6. Create a webinar
It’s likely your product is trying to solve a problem. Inevitably, there’s a whole slew of challenges your prospective customers face related to that problem. For example, if you’ve created an app to help people more easily track sales opportunities, the challenges salespeople face don’t end there. Put together a short (no more than 30 minute) webinar that provides valuable information helping those who may be interested in your product. Join groups on LinkedIn where your target clients are active, and advertise your webinar. Take the time to create good content, and don’t make the webinar a shameless plug for your product. DO (very briefly) talk about your product launch at the start and end of the session, and offer anyone who contacts you an extended free trial, coupon codes, free invitations, or (insert incentive here), to use/tryout/buy your product.
Also, be sure to make your presentation available post-webinar (using a service like SlideShare) and follow-up with an email to every registrant with a link to the presentation, a thank you for participating and a short plug for your product.
7.Advertise for free
Major ad networks like Google, Yahoo! Search, and Microsoft AdCenter want you to try their services, so they often giveaway promo codes crediting first-time advertisers anywhere from $25 - $150. While that’s not going to get you very far, if you planned on doing PPC advertising anyway, it’s a great freebie to test the waters. Simply sign-up for any of these services and wait for the offers to roll in (don’t advertise until they do), or search for terms like “Google Adwords promo code” to find sites with active codes you can apply when you sign-up.
8. Bundle it up!
The Groupon craze spawned a huge number of Me-Too’s looking to cash in. Fortunately for entrepreneurs, there are deal sites for nearly every niche imaginable, even B2B. Sites like AppSumo cater to entrepreneurs, MightyDeals to designers and web professionals. While most of these deal sites will discount your product heavily and take a cut, if your product fits the target audience and sells well, they can be a great way to get the word out.
9. Tap your network
Friends, family, colleagues. Everyone has them. While these folks may not all be candidates for your product, they probably know people who are. If you’re in charge of getting the word out, ask them for help! However, just because people are in your network doesn’t mean they aren’t busy like everyone else. If you simply send an email encouraging everyone to email their friends, post on Facebook or broadcast a Tweet about your new product launch, you may be surprised at even your closest friend’s lack of response. Instead, appeal to their sense of goodwill, provide exact instructions on what you’re asking them to do, and then make it easy for them to take action. For example:
Hi [person’s name here],
Guess what? We finally launched! I’m so excited that our ABC Sales Tracker App has hit the market. Please take a look: [link to product website here].
I’m in charge of marketing, and need help spreading the word. I would be immensely grateful if you shared the product with your network. I’ve made it super easy for you--just go to this link: [link here] and you can email, Tweet or post to Facebook or Google+. I promise this will only a take a minute or two.
Thank you in advance for your time. Your help is important to me.
Make sure the link brings them to a form with a pre-filled message they can simply click to send (note the referral apps I mentioned earlier--they can be great for this too). If they want to change the copy, that’s up to them. You’re accomplishing two things here--you’re controlling your marketing message and you’re leveraging your network as a distribution channel with a super simple mechanism to do so.
Lastly, make sure you appeal to EVERYONE in your company to do this. Even if you are part of a 3 person team, that’s still 3X the reach than you have alone. If they are asking their networks for help, offer to write the emails for them or give them a template they can use.
10. Follow some really smart people
OK, sorry, I realize this isn’t a tactic. However, when it comes to building buzz and executing great marketing with limited resources, there are 4 names I follow religiously. If you don’t follow these guys, I strongly encourage you to check them out:
Do you have any surefire free or super low-cost tactics you’ve used successfully? I’d love to read about them in comments!
David Albert is a principal at GreyGoo Media a company dedicated to helping startups and innovative companies build beautiful, functional websites and applications designed with people in mind. Learn more at http://greygoomedia.com