Are you about to launch or have just recently released your freshly built web service or mobile application? There are many ways to get noticed and acquire your first customers. It is always easy to pay for clicks on Google, Bing or Facebook. But with only a little time and effort and without investing any money, you can generate remarkable reach within your target customer group.
Step 1. Launch your product and prepare yourself
- Get your minimum viable product online (a plain LaunchRock placeholder or MailChimp form does not generate much buzz anymore) and prepare for future visitor peaks by relying on scalable infrastructure hosting from Heroku or similar content delivery networks such as CloudFlare.
- Fine-tune headings, description, and especially, your product’s value proposition on its landing page. Add meaningful previews using screenshots or videos to give visitors an impression before asking them to sign up. Maybe provide higher-resolution screenshots and some attractive photos for journalists to use.
- Integrate web analytics to measure and build on your most effective marketing channels over time. Look at ranks of your referrers and which search terms visitors have used (and if they are bouncing). Then optimize your landing page to include only the most relevant keywords while first focusing on your customers, not just search engine crawlers.
- Claim and configure relevant social media accounts (at least Facebook and Twitter) and post some initial news. Personal, transparent, unique posts usually tend to perform better.
- Update your own profiles on personal and professional social networks, adding links to your product and updating your e-mail signature with a descriptive slogan and a failsafe textlink to your product. Every click counts and could be a future referral multiplier.
Step 2. Enable organic traffic and optimize your search rank
- Start blogging (on the same domain at best) on topics relevant to your potential customers to grow organic traffic through search engines. Give away digital freebies to further increase the number of backlinks to your domain.
- Keep your news reader up to date and your eyes open: Whenever you see something posted or asked about the area where you are active, chime in and comment as well. Just do not forget your backlink in case it adds real value to the article or discussion thread.
- Politely ask for reviews, recommendations or plain backlinks on the highest-ranked blogs sharing the same interests with your future customers. You can offer to add a link to their property in return.
- Promote your product in link and app directories by enlisting yourself or applying where necessary. Also locate relevant product lists on Wikipedia and add your solution as another alternative. If you do not already know and use them, check out Reddit, HackerNews or Digg. Sometimes even Tumblr is a place where people maintain amazing directory blogs, and they are happy to hear about and discover new solutions first.
- To further optimize your search rank, activate your friends to +1 your page on Google. To make your results stand out visually, you could even produce a YouTube video explaining your product or its underlying principles that will prominently show up in corresponding search queries on Google.
Step 3. Leverage your social network and generate referral traffic
- E-mail your family, friends, and current or former colleagues and ask for early feedback. Quickly act on their issues before approaching the big fish. Some might even be able to help connect you with potential customers.
- Create a fan page and invite all your Facebook friends who might use your product. Also post updates on your own timeline, referring both to your fan page and directly to your product’s website.
- Follow key influencers and potential customers with your product’s Twitter account and tweet using keyword hashtags essentially connected to your product. Many people on Twitter ask for help or respond with solutions to specific problems.
- Introduce your product directly or indirectly on relevant message boards and in groups (e.g., on LinkedIn), in Quora threads or anywhere else that may make sense. Do not spam, but engage in conversations in a meaningful way.
- Reuse existing channels, like mailing lists or fan pages of your previous products, and let people know about your newest venture, especially if you are planning to sunrise them in the near future to concentrate your efforts on the new one.
Step 4. Reach out to influencers, press and media outlets
- Provide key influencers (bloggers, journalists and early adopters with many followers like founders, angels and VCs) with exclusive beta accounts. Having access to a service before others makes people feel valued and special, sometimes leading them to publicly brag about it.
- Reach out to relevant tech blogs: include a short pitch, a remarkable story worth writing about and links/contact details for more information. Use being small and unknown as an advantage; be charming, but straightforward. Do not hesitate to ask for what you want, but be sure to present a good idea together with a solution every time.
- Offer your service as a guest blogger on other blogs. Begin with some smaller audiences, then move on to larger ones. To start, find something worth writing about, tell your story, and revise it until it feels right. Then use your draft to pitch different editors until you get your first approval.
- Do the same with established online or traditional media — it is worth a try. You could even give journalists a cold call. You will have better luck working up from the bottom: Start with local news outlets, then approach bigger brands.
- Contact software and hardware manufacturers you rely on to see if they might be interested in featuring your product as a reference case. This is much easier when you have already gained some traction.
Step 5. Get creative and do something special
- Prepare gift-like surprise packages, including a few offline goodies, for the most important and influential people within your network (press, investors, business partners).
- To drive attention, design limited time offers, distribute promotion codes, or set up contests for new or existing customers. Figure out something that fits your product’s business model. Do only promotions that have proven healthy for your business in the long term.
- Host a small launch party and invite coworkers and partners, friends and people who are or will be the most helpful. You might also give some local journalists a chance to RSVP. Finally, have a projector or demo running on repeat somewhere at the center of the venue.
- Apply for pitch sessions at conferences and identify suitable business plan contest to increase awareness. Forget about stealth mode. The more people you tell about your idea, the more feedback you will get and the more doors will just open magically.
- Organize stunts or demos to draw the attention of social media. If it makes sense, do some guerilla advertising with self-made stickers, flyers and mailings. Being small has certain advantages that you should consciously leverage. Loss is not losing something, but not having tried everything on the way to visibility.
There are so many more opportunities to drive attention, especially with the creativity enforced by limited budgets. So do not stop at building and tweaking your product; build its success through adequate marketing in parallel and thereafter. You do not need to be a marketing guru or press agency to get the first initiatives off the ground.