As entrepreneurs or developers, we often get so excited about creating and launching our amazing product that we don't always think about how customers will know our product even exists, let alone buy it.
But marketing and promotion are key when it comes to creating product awareness and generating sales. You know the old saying: if you develop great software in your basement and no one is around to use it, did you even develop it at all?
To make sure your software product doesn't end up gathering internet dust, you have to make sure people know what it is and where they can buy or download it. In other words, you should be asking the same questions that Nirav Mehta asks (via MegaMaker Slack): "What's the best way to get the word out about your SaaS? Should you pursue partnerships? What marketing channels work best?"
Promoting your software product effectively
There are a lot of marketing and promotion tactics you can use to get the word out about your software product. But here are a few ideas we've pursued at Transistor.fm that worked out well for us—and might work out well for you, too.
1. Build anticipation before you launch
One big opportunity many folks miss is building anticipation before launch. Even if you don't have a product to demo yet, you can still get people excited about the problem your product is going to solve and how it's different from what's currently on the market.
Some great examples of companies who have built pre-launch anticipation effectively are:
- Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger shared design tips on Twitter and on their blog for six months before they released their book, Refactoring UI.
- Ben Orenstein talked about Tuple, his new product, on podcasts for months before launching.
- Derrick Reimer has allowed people to “claim their username” for Level before its launch. So far, over 6,000 people have registered.
Following some of these great examples, you can make your potential customers just as excited about your product as you were when you had the idea to create it.
2. Build a reputation for being helpful
Being helpful is another strategy you can pursue before launch—and that you can continue to pursue after launch day. In fact, that's something else that Adam, Steve, Ben, and Derrick have in common: they were consistently helpful to their respective audiences for years before they launched anything.
Spending your time being helpful now—in forums, on Twitter, in podcasts, on your blog, in your mailing list, at conferences, at meetups, in an email—is an investment in your future.
Jason Cohen says that the only real competitive advantage is that which cannot be copied or bought. No one else can be helpful in the same way that you can because no one else has your exact knowledge or way of viewing things. Offering your expertise to your audience can easily give you a leg up on your competitors.
3. Bake SEO into everything you do
One of the most underrated growth strategies is investing in search engine optimization (SEO).
Product Hunt CEO Ryan Hoover says, “SEO is the biggest growth lever that you have, and it's something that you should prioritize."
Think about it: when people have a desire to solve a problem, what do they do? They Google it.
If your product is the answer to people’s questions, you want to make sure they can find it on Google. Here are some quick SEO tips to get you started:
- Explore questions your potential customers are asking by using tools like AnswerThePublic.
- Use tools like Ahrefs on your competitors’ sites to see which keywords people are using to find their site and what their most popular pages are.
- Set up Google Search Console for your website to see which keywords people use to find your site and to see areas where you could improve your rankings.
- Your main title should feature the keyword(s) you're focusing on.
- Make sure you've defined a meta description (a short, concise—usually 300 characters or less—description of a webpage). This description is what shows up in search results.
- Keep a running document of blog post title ideas. For example, from my research I can see that “podcast distribution” is a good keyword to pursue. So I could write a blog post with the title “Podcast Distribution Made Easy: 5 Steps.” You can also use a tool like Sanity Check to generate content ideas.
- Write an authoritative guide on a topic. Ben Orenstein noticed that there weren’t any good pair programming guides, so he wrote one. These guides get shared a lot, which means you’ll get high-quality backlinks to your site (which is important for SEO).
- People also search for “[competitor name] alternatives.” Those are great keywords to target.
4. Don't try to do too much at once
Lars Lofgren, one of the best marketers I know, focuses exclusively on one channel at a time. He recommends: "Do not spread yourself too thin. Usually, it takes a solid year to build a channel from scratch."
Below are some of the channels you can start focusing on if you want to use Lars's tactic:
- Ads: Facebook Ads, Adwords, LinkedIn ads, etc.
- **Partnerships: **finding influencers that have a similar audience to you. Cross-promoting. Integrations.
- Content marketing: blogging, podcasting, infographics, viral videos.
- Platform marketing: engaging in Facebook Groups, on forums, in comments threads.
- Direct mail: sending your prospects stickers, postcards, or letters by post.
- Events: attending trade shows, conferences, and meetups and handing out business cards (or other swag) with your website address.
There's no wrong or right channel to choose. Just pick one to focus on in the beginning so you can learn what works and what doesn't.
Some final thoughts on marketing and promotion
Marketing is a lot like physical fitness. Small gains every week give you the biggest gains in the long term. You can't hit the gym once and expect to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. You've got to do something every week to get good results overall.
In other words, marketing doesn't work like a jackpot. You're not going to hit that "one thing" that works and creates an avalanche of sales. Instead of "putting it all on black," you're better off diversifying your marketing investments to attract customers through a variety of channels and tactics over time.
Finally, people often see marketing as a big, hairy, ugly problem. And the best way to deal with a big overwhelming problem is to break it into smaller pieces. You can do this by choosing to focus on one marketing channel at a time, as Lofgren does, or by breaking your huge marketing campaign into smaller actions.
Start by sending one email, handing out one business card, writing one blog post. Build from there until your product is as successful as you always knew it could be.
Looking for more information?
- This article started as a podcast. You can listen to it here.
- I cover more tactics in Marketing for Developers.
- You might also like my newsletter; it's free!