In my last write-up, I discussed how I stumbled onto my first product idea while helping my wife set up advertising for her Etsy shop. Over that last 3 months, I've tried multiple attempts at driving traffic to my signup page. I've read far too many articles on SEO, spent far too many hours using Google's Keyword Planner and overall I am much more comfortable with marketing, SEO, and advertising.
Through all of this research, I've recently found a successful tactic to get my product in front of customers by setting up product demos with cold outreach emails. I'm calling it the "King Arthur of Marketing".
Knights of the Roundtable Marketing.
You can associate marketing channels as different Knights of the Roundtable. Yeah, you read that right.... I went there....
This fair maiden finally settled on his "marketing knight" of choice, and this is how I got there...
Blogging, The Perceval of marketing.
This is my favorite marketing channel. Blogging marries two of my favorite things to do, writing and talking about (my) tech. There is also a way to optimize blogging that I've found quite useful. This hack comes in the form of linking your website in a variety of online publications to keywords that you're trying to rank for on Google. Some call it Domain Authority, which boils down having reputable sites linking to yours. I've slowly been applying this technique and as a result slowly climbing Google's search results.
The drawback is that it's a brute force style approach similar to Perceval. You are essentially trading time for rank. You have to dedicate hours to writing, editing and publishing blog posts. There's also time spent moderating and replying to comments. So although powerful, blogs often time end up being more brawn and less brain.
There is also a fundamental flaw in my business that doesn't lend itself nicely to domain authority. Unfortunately, I chose to build a product in the backyard of two of the largest Silicon Valley companies: Facebook and Etsy. When searching for anything remotely related to those two companies, the front page of Google results are almost entirely dominated by Facebook and Etsy's forums and blogs.
I'm trying to combat this by finding long tail keywords to rank for. I got this idea from my friend/co-working buddy. Yet another reason why it's necessary to find someone to work with that complements your skill set. I am a developer by trade. SEO and marketing are foreign to pixel pushers like me. I needed someone to question my assumptions. It seemed to work as I am finally getting traffic from Google.
Cold Outreach/Scheduled Demos, The King Arthur of Marketing.
The real winner has been setting up demos using cold outreach emails. Now, I'll quickly point of the elephant in the room... This doesn't scale. Fine... But it does work. Over the past couple of weeks, I've found a list of the most successful sellers on Etsy and simply emailed them asking if they would be interested in trying my product. Lots of them decline but a majority of them are interested. Even the ones that decline often times share the product with friends. It's a great way to get your product in front of successful sellers that have a strong network of peers that are, you guessed it.... Also selling on Etsy. I'm trying to find what marketing savant Seth Godin calls "Sneezers".
Instead of trying to sell to the masses, grab the attention of "the sneezers." In the beginning, the customers you attract are crucial, because they're going to be the ones who get the word out for you. In other words, don't make your product "bland enough to work for the masses. These companies make spicy food less spicy, and they make insanely great service a little less great (and a little cheaper)."
The best thing about running a demo is the insight you gain. I can spend 30 minutes to an hour really diving into the phycology of the customer and figuring out what it is they are after. I take everything with a grain of salt and don't necessarily implement everything they recommend. I keep every feature request in a spreadsheet. Each line item is a potential feature and a count of how many times it has been requested. Every time there is a new request I add a new line. Every time there is a duplicate request I increment the counter. Whatever counter scales the fastest is what I tend to work on.
I consider setting up demos the King Arthur of Marketing simply because it's a well-rounded approach to improving your product. You get to spend quality time with leads that are potential customers. You get to look into what makes a customer buy your product. Finally, you get to establish personal connections with your customers which likely will lead to increased lifetime value. The only downside is that it doesn't scale. You will eventually need to hire customer success representatives to handle a larger influx of leads. But we all know that doesn't matter when you're just starting out. Do things that don't scale as Paul Graham would say.
Facebook, Reddit, and Google ads. The Lancelot of Marketing.
PPC Ads work. We all know that but they come at a price. Ad campaigns, especially on crowded channels quickly get pricey. If you're a young bootstrapped business, they often time fail to deliver. I associate them with Lancelot, the greatest swordsman, and jouster of the age. Although quick and effective, it's almost impossible to get conversions and come in under budget.
Facebook Ads - are tough. It's a crazy, competitive space with lackluster results if you are looking for direct conversions. It's more important to use Facebook ads as a vehicle to gain page likes. With page likes, you can retarget these users at a later time for a much lower cost. If you try to simply get clicks on your website using Facebook ads, you're doing it wrong. This is where e-commerce sellers struggle the most. They simply try to drive traffic to their shop and fail to build an audience of engaged, eventual customers.
Reddit Ads - are a good way to test ad copy and creative. Impressions are cheap on some of the newer/lesser know ad platforms such as Reddit and Quora. They are quickly becoming competitive, but still a great way to test. You can pay as little as 10 to 30 cents a click for some subreddits and categories.
Google Ads - a tried and true approach to advertising. You can target exactly who you want, for exactly what keywords you want. But expect to pay a price.
Email Marketing - The Merlin of Marketing
A channel that I have been exploring lately has been reaching out to successful e-commerce sellers with large email lists. Advertising in their weekly newsletter is a great way to drive traffic that you know fits your target audience. With that said, the price is not trivial. Not as bad as some of the social networks but expect to pay close to a dollar per click. One thing that I've realized that ends up being a deterrent is that it's hard to "get in" next month's newsletter. Usually, popular newsletters are booked months in advance. The great thing about email marketing is you know your target audience. Odds are you are a member of that community so you have a good idea what ad copy will work to drive clicks.
Similar to conjuring up spells, this technique is very wizard-like. You can quickly get an influx of solid leads from one newsletter. The only catch is it's hard you might need to wait in line before seeing returns. All things considered, Merlin would be proud.
What we've learned
Over the last 6 months, I've had to rapidly adjust my working style. In the graph above you can literally see where my time was spent. The small hump in June was mostly development and a little bit of outreach on Etsy forums. I really didn't know what it was going to take at that point. The big spike was releasing on Hacker News. I thought this was it! The new normal. Hundreds of visitors a day with very little to show for it. I was trying a lot of different marketing tactics here but more like indulging in vanity metrics. The rapid decline in September was the low point. The high wore off and I was jonesin' for my next signup. The trough of sorrow to say the least. Finally, you can see a steady rise in the right direction over the last two months. I'm starting to do the hard things that I finally now understand are crucial to building a successful business.
I used to be a solitary developer building side projects that never saw the light of day. I always thought that I needed perfection before I released it into the wild. I still sometimes get lost in the code and spend days fixing trivial bugs that ultimately will never help the bottom line. My job now is to get people excited about e-commerce marketing. I have to create urgency around creating ad campaigns for Etsy products. Educating small businesses on the benefits of advertising is a slog but a mission I am absolutely dedicated to. The idea is to continue to try all of the tactics above with an emphasis on scheduling product demos. I will most likely settle on the two or three channels that work best and as of now, that is blogging, Reddit ads and cold outreach emails.