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Product Communication =/= Marketing, but They Both Matter

First things first: what is product communication, again? Quick reminder! Every time you say something about your product in a place where a potential customer could see it — especially if you want them to see it! — you’re engaging in product communication.

Does that mean product communication is just marketing? Nope, it’s not the same thing as marketing. That said, product communication is a subset of marketing, like the folder called “Yosemite 2013” is part of your larger “Vacations” folder. However, the whole big field of marketing encompasses way more than little ol’ product communication.

Product communication is part of promotion, which is only a small part of marketing. It’s important, but it’s not everything. Marketing is far more complex and overarching than promotion. Before you can start spreading the word about your product, you need to evaluate the market you’re stepping into, right? You need to vet the competition and maybe put together a few spreadsheets.

Pitching your potential customers is only the last step in the process. You can’t convince people to try or buy unless you have something to offer! And the product you offer has to be good. “Good” doesn’t necessarily mean “high quality” in a fancy-schmancy sense, but it definitely should be compelling enough to get people to commit resources to accessing it.

Even though promotion should be the last item on your to-do list, after the core product development has happened, it’s still crucial. And promotion can’t be effective without equally effective product communication. You need to understand your product more deeply than you thought you possibly could, and you need to learn to explain your product’s value in a way that potential customers will understand.

This is not a new idea. Recently I came across a 2014 blog post by Brian Clark of Copyblogger that sums up the requirements well:

“First, make a list of every feature of your product or service. Second, ask yourself why each feature is included in the first place. Third, take the ‘why’ and ask ‘how’ does this connect with the prospect’s desires? Fourth, get to the absolute root of what’s in it for the prospect at an emotional level.”

Clark’s advice is useful, but it’s also pretty broad. Not to plug myself too obviously, but… ;) Product Communication Basics drills down into the questions you need to ask yourself. That still requires significant effort from you or your team, but it’s easier than floundering through without a guide. No need to reinvent the wheel when you don’t get better results that way!

The question was, “Is product communication just marketing?” The answer is, “No, it’s only one part of marketing — but not a part that you should ignore!”

Is A/B Testing Worth It for Bootstrappers?

“Companies that use innovative and data-driven analytical approaches to marketing are found to have the highest success rate of conversions on their website.” — WeSpotlight

In case you’re not familiar with A/B testing, here’s a quick definition from Visual Website Optimizer: “A/B testing (sometimes called split testing) is comparing two versions of a web page to see which one performs better. You compare two web pages by showing the two variants (let’s call them A and B) to similar visitors at the same time.” Then you record how those website visitors behaved differently based on which version they were shown.

After analyzing the data, you keep whichever design performed better, discard the other one, and start the process again with a new tweak. Over time, you iterate toward the Holy Grail: a perfect landing page that converts 100%! Jkjk, that’s impossible — but you can certainly improve your baseline. A/B testing is a simple way to ensure that the changes you make are doing what they’re supposed to.

This is obviously a very clever idea. Equally obviously it takes time and energy to pull it off. If you have limited resources and you’re forced to be ruthless about where you focus your effort, is it worth it to A/B test? You have to come up with website variations, deploy your A/B testing tool(s), and then wait for enough visitors to be processed. The concept is simple, but the execution is often lacking. From the Kissmetrics blog:

“A/B tests are designed to imitate scientific experiments, but most marketers running A/B Tests do not live in a world that is anything like a lab at a university. The stumbling point is that people running A/B tests are supposed to wait and not peak at the results until the test is done, but many marketers won’t do that.”

As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, maybe with a day job to balance, it’s important to evaluate where your energy will have the highest impact. Of course, “is it worth it to A/B test?” is one of those trick questions: the real answer is that you have to weigh your priorities and decide for yourself.

This issue is on my mind right now because I’m personally debating whether I can justify spending time and effort A/B testing the Product Communication Basics landing page. And I think the answer is… no. Here’s why: opportunity cost.

Investopedia handily defines opportunity cost as “the cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action. Put another way, the benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action.” Right now I don’t even have enough website traffic to get statistically reliable results from an A/B test! So I’m gonna work on that first. Hi Reddit ;)

Do you need a practical guide to writing sweet landing page copy? Check out Product Communication Basics.

Why Should Landing Pages Be Simple?

People are busy, impatient, and easily bored. They don’t have time to read through a complex list of your product’s technical features. Yes, some people will want more detail, and it should be available if they’re interested. (See what I did there?) But make sure there’s a low-investment option for drive-by buyers. “Simple” and “short” are related, even though they’re not exactly the same thing ;)

The ideal landing page format incorporates both short copy and long copy. In between those, you want a big ol’ button that people can click on to give you money. As stated in Kissmetrics’ blog post about looong landing pages:

“Place your call to action as early on in the process as possible. There will be some users who will convert early. You need to accommodate those users, by giving them the opportunity to convert.”

People can’t take actions that you don’t accommodate, and they’re less likely to take actions that you don’t encourage. Make the encouragement really obvious. Use the visual design as well as the text content to show people what actions they’re welcome to take. Even if you’re selling to adults, aim for a website that a fifth-grader would understand.

Lowest-common-denominator communication is not condescending — it’s actually very courteous! Don’t treat your potential customers like morons, but do treat them like professionals with priorities other than reading your marketing spiel. They just want to get on with their lives. If your tool can help them, awesome! But if it’s not immediately clear that you’re offering something useful, potential customers are gonna bounce.

Do you need a practical guide to writing sweet landing page copy? Check out Product Communication Basics.

The How & Why of Premium Pricing: Anxiety Included for No Extra Charge!

Update: I decided to cut the scope of the workbook and hence cut the price as well, but the reasoning remains the same.

“There’s one easy way to find out what customers think about prices. By selling them things.” — Tom Whitwell

I’m reaching the stage where I ask people to hand over their money. Frankly, it’s terrifying. What if I fail at the very thing I’m trying to teach? A big part of me wants to pretend that I’m sure the launch will be a slam dunk, that I’m abso-freaking-lutely confident 💪🏀👍 But a bigger part of me wants to be honest about my thought process and my anxieties.

Javon McCrea dunking. Photo by Chad Cooper.
Javon McCrea dunking. Photo by Chad Cooper.

Value > Dollars

When it officially launches, Product Communication Basics will cost $34.99. That’s definitely more expensive than the average ebook. Heck, Amazon wants to cap prices at $9.99! And yet I think $34.99 is justified; PCB is more of a guided do-it-yourself consulting session than it is a standard book. Like I wrote on the landing page:

“Consider this: if you hired an excellent copywriter, you’d end up paying them $50 per hour at the very least, and you’d spend most of that time just trying to communicate your vision. How much is your time worth?”

I chose this framing for a very specific reason. Price is 100% a function of perceived value. The time, effort, and cost of materials are close to irrelevant — it’s all about what the product will do for the customer. Bootstrapping guru Amy Hoy quips, “Don’t get snared into a price conversation. Turn it into a value investigation, instead.”

If people anchor on how much hiring a consultant costs — if they perceive the value of Product Communication Basics in those terms — hopefully they won’t worry about paying $20 more than usual for an ebook. My guess is that the kind of person I want to sell to will understand my point and find it compelling. Hoy has also written that people who pay money for things “value their time more than their money.” Why? Because they understand comparative advantage and opportunity cost.

If you’re a high-impact professional, especially an entrepreneur, then spending your time compiling a bunch of information into a useful format is not worth it, and your end result won’t be on par with what domain experts can offer. Any hours you might spend researching are hours that you could have spent improving your own product, which has an order of magnitude greater effect in terms of 1) saving your future time and 2) multiplying your future funds.

Patrick McKenzie, a former bootstrapper who is now CEO of Starfighter, similarly exhorts people building products to value their time highly:

“Instead of [trying to do more with the limited time you have], build time assets: things which will save you time in the future. Code that actually does something useful is a very simple time asset for programmers to understand: you write it once today, then you can execute it tomorrow and every other day, saving you the effort of doing manually whatever it was the code does. Code is far from the only time asset, though: systems and processes for doing your work more efficiently, marketing which scales disproportionate to your time, documentation which answers customers’ questions before they ask you, all of these things are assets.” (Emphasis in original.)

An effective product pitch is a great example of a marketing asset that scales — once you’ve found the essence of your value proposition, you can and should use it again and again on your website, in emails, in advertising, etc. Do the labor once and reap the rewards continually.

Looking Forward

I think I’ve made a solid argument that my potential customers will save money if they buy from me, because otherwise they’d have to pay a copywriter much more or waste their own time figuring out an approach. I’ve also made the argument that my customers will earn more money in the first place.

But… I’m still nervous. What if the people in search of marketing resources don’t agree with my reasoning? What if no one orders the book? Realistically, in that case I’ll lower the price and try again. I’m a big believer in ~markets~ and I’ll listen to the signals as they come.

Another point from Amy Hoy: “You’re afraid of asking for money, so you think the thing to do is to ask for only a little. It feels safer.” Welp, she’s right. In the grand scheme of things, $34.99 is not a huge amount of money. You can drop that much on brunch or jeans from Target. And yet I’m still scared that it will seem like a ludicrous ask.

What are you waiting for? Assuage my fears and go buy Product Communication Basics!

Minimum Viable Landing Page

Humor me for a second. What is a landing page? At the core of things, it’s a website where your potential customer has arrived. You must have done something right to entice them there, so congratulate yourself on that part. (Maybe your marketing features a killer product pitch!) So what do you do with a potential customer once you have their attention? How do you advance from just having their attention to also having their money?

Why a banana? Heck if I know. Photo by Ed Kohler.
Why a banana? Heck if I know. Photo by Ed Kohler.

It’s actually very straightforward. Tell the visitor why they should give you their money — in exchange for something valuable — and then make it really easy for them to do that. I mean “really easy” in the most practical sense. A highly visible “BUY NOW” button is ideal, although it’s worth toning down the tackiness if you can. Require as little information from the customer as is practical. (Still, don’t disregard the lesson Candy Japan learned about credit card fraud.)

A landing page’s primary purpose is to present a certain action to the user and convince them to do it. Therefore the most essential element of any landing page is the button. A beautifully clickable button, bright pink or green or purple! That button might say “subscribe” or “add to cart” or even “pay $57.65” — the specific message is not the point. It’s all about the principle! Think Nike:

Nike's "Just Do It" swoosh logo

You should aim to give your website visitors the opportunity to JUST DO IT. If you don’t provide that option, even the most eager would-be users won’t be able to fork over their money. And remember, that’s your goal! Sweet, sweet scrilla $$$ ;)

A minimum viable landing page features a button for the user to click, and a reason for them to do it. It’s up to you to provide that reason.

Perhaps it’s a bit disingenuous for me to say that the button is the key thing, since it’s useless without a compelling pitch to the user. You really need both elements. (Sorry — most of the time, shortcuts are a distraction rather than a time-saver.) It’s so simple but so crucial and so much more difficult than it seems on the face of things: explain why the product you’re selling is worth paying for!

“People don’t buy software because of what it does, they buy it for the positive change it will make in [their] life.” — Patrick McKenzie

Here are some reasons for a user to buy something, in decreasing order of importance:

  • The product will help them make money.
  • The product will help them save money.
  • The product will eliminate their pain or frustration.
  • The product will cause them joy.

Ideally: all of the above. When you’re writing your landing page, you need to spell out how your product performs one of those four functions. If it doesn’t, you need to go back to the drawing board and keep working on what you’ve built.

Did you find this useful? Then go ahead and buy Product Communication Basics!

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