I know many people who’ve created software products using this process:
First they generate an idea, then they validate it, build the product, and then launch it…after launch, they start marketing.
It’s straightforward, and it seems workable. But what I’ve found is that it benefits creators so much more to begin marketing their products way before the launch date. And to successfully market a new product, you need to grow an audience first.
Building an audience takes time. But it’s worth it in the long run. The earlier you start, the more likely that people will be anticipating your launch and will scramble on board as soon as your product becomes available.
Find the audience
The first step in a knockout marketing strategy is to find your product’s audience.
Let’s say you’re building a to-do list app for brick-and-mortar store owners. You want to understand them — their needs, what’s on their minds, how to get in touch with them — and one good way to do that is to research websites that store owners frequently visit. Maybe you’ll find a forum where they flock to discuss the latest trends. Or a meetup for store owners that has a detailed website. Or a mailing list with resources geared toward them.
If you can’t pin down your audience online, you might be on the wrong track. After all, if you don’t have a way to connect with your audience, how will you get them to sign up for your service?
Experiment with ads
After you’ve found a way to reach your audience, you can start experimenting with ads on platforms they frequently visit.
You don’t even need a landing page or a website, for starts. Just create ads that lead nowhere. This is called a fake door experiment or 404 testing. It’s a way to validate your idea even further by discovering whether your product appeals to your audience before you do any serious developing or programming.
If enough people click on your fake ad, then you can proceed with creating a landing page. If your ad receives few or no clicks, either your product isn’t appealing enough, or you’ve picked the wrong audience.
Landing page A/B testing
So, a decent number of people are engaging with your ads. Nice! Now you can create your first landing page.
A landing page should have a clear purpose — to get people to sign up for your service. By measuring how many people visit the landing page and how many actually sign up, you can calculate your conversion rate.
A/B testing can help you turn your website into a well-oiled lead-generation machine. A/B testing involves creating multiple versions of the landing page and calculating conversion rates for each page to see which angles and copy lead to more sign-ups.
Connecting with people who signed up
People will begin signing up for your service after you secure the magic combination of the right audience, winning ads, and landing pages that snag conversions.
But what should you do if your app is still under development?
Connect with the people who are signing up via email and ask them for feedback. It’s all right for you to be completely open about your process. Share with them that the app is in alpha state, but you would appreciate hearing their thoughts and opinions. Feedback can help you learn more about your customers straight from the source as well as help you sharpen any features that are in development.
Create a mailing list
Consider adding people who sign up for your app to a pre-launch mailing list. (Just be sure to ask for their permission first by adding a checkbox to your signup form; nobody wants to get unsolicited emails.)
A mailing list is a great way to build a connection with your audience, since you can send them weekly emails with information they find useful and interesting. Going back to the example of that to-do list app — your weekly email might include a recap of the top three industry news stories that week, plus a short article on how to prevent store theft.
One of the best ways to attract your target audience and create interest in your product is to produce content — anything from a podcast, to a series of YouTube videos, or written articles. Focus on content that you feel comfortable creating. The idea is to produce something that’s authentic and valuable to your audience.
Developing quality content takes time. Promoting it and getting traction? Even more time. But the earlier you start, the bigger your audience will be by the time you’re ready to launch your product.
Promote the content
While people generally won’t respond to product ads unless they’re already aware of your brand, they will respond to ads promoting free, useful content.
Creating videos for store owners about merchandising? Offer a free online course. Through promoting the giveaway, you’ll attract lots of people who would otherwise ignore your ads, and after they signed up for a mailing list, you have the opportunity to sell them your app. Their level of trust in you will be much higher since you’ve already given them something useful. In turn, you’ll have a better chance of landing them as a customer.
Marketing software products is as hard as creating them, but no one promised it would be a cakewalk, right?
No need to overwhelm yourself, though. Tackle the process one small step at a time. Set up fake door experiments to test whether there’s any demand for your product. Even if you try just one or two ads a week, in a few months’ time, you’ll likely find an audience that works for your product.
Take it from there by gradually adding layers to your marketing strategy. You’ll see — even if you’re not an experienced marketer, in time and with work, you too can build a list of users who will be counting down the days until your launch.
Originally published at The Startup: Build something awesome