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The Entrepreneur’s Blindspot

I borrowed the title from something that business analyst Ben Thompson wrote about Dropbox in 2009. In that essay he said:

“[O]nce you’ve developed a product that meets your needs — and many products start out this way — how do you market it to a population that is not like you at all? […] And so it goes for all too many tech companies. Amazing technology is followed by lots of funding and backslapping in Silicon Valley, and far too few ‘normals’ from the rest of world.”

This phenomenon worries me. In fact, it’s the whole reason why I wrote Product Communication Basics — bootstrapping is particularly difficult because people who excel at building software don’t necessarily excel at marketing. Getting all those skills united in one or two people is difficult.

You build something cool. It solves your problem. You think it’ll solve other people’s problems too. But how do you communicate that? How do you convince them that you’re trustworthy and that you’ll deliver the value they need? Will they feel comfortable with the level of ongoing support that you’re able to offer, compared to larger competitors?

From the potential user’s perspective, buying from a small bootstrapping company is risky, especially if they’re going to rely on you for business-critical tools. I think the answer to this problem is bringing passion to the table, and explaining that your success hinges on their success. You have to take your users’ needs seriously, or you’re out of a job…

User lgray pointed out on Barnacles:

“This doesn’t really jive with how my business has come to be. For me, the hard part was finding the right problem to solve. I wanted a problem that:

  • Was clearly a problem.
  • Didn’t have any satisfying solutions yet.
  • Interfered with people’s businesses.

First point made the marketing really easy — all I had to do was tell people I had a solution to their problem. I didn’t need to convince anyone that they had a problem they didn’t see. Second one meant I didn’t have to convince anyone to change products. And the third one meant that people would be willing to pay money, since it was in an environment where money was changing hands.

Not that there’s anything wrong with starting a business in a situation unlike the one I’ve outlined. Just thought I’d point out that the problems raised in the OP aren’t always problems.”

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!”

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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