Monday, October 26, 2015

Your App Has 99 Problems & Distribution Is One - Mobile Marketing

Since my last post — Don’t Build That “killer” App Just Yet  — I have had the opportunity to spend time with several founders who believe their apps pass the “filters” described in that post.

Several of them are are working on fantastic ideas — disrupting college / 529b planning, “stick a video to a physical object” to converge the offline and online worlds, a remarkable take on messaging, even one that allows new moms to record breastfeeding times.

But one basic problem almost all of them have:

They haven’t thought through distribution

Having a good product and finding a market fit for it is obviously step one, but table-stakes to even play the app game. The second part, less obvious and outside the comfort zone of a lot of app developers is the go-to-market that will get their app on users’ devices. It gets worse for some apps that also suffer from the “We will win the second hour of the movie” problem Chris D. pithily explained. It goes something like this: Founder: “When I have 10,000 users, they will all find each other and get value. I will have all this data, this will be so great”. Me: “You may never get to those 10,000 users if the first one doesn’t find value without anyone else being there”

Five Issues With Typical Line Of Thinking
“Google didn’t need a marketing or distribution plan so we don’t either”: First of, this is a big myth. Google didn’t just wait around for people to discover them. They found distribution big time — they powered Yahoo Search! Then they paid PC makers to install the toolbar. And then.. you get the idea. Second, even if it worked for Google it doesn’t mean it will work for you. Discoverability and triggers for app usage are a lot harder than on the web and the ubiquity of Google search is very hard to replicate.

Your product isn’t as good or as unique as you think it is: Have you really looked at your user funnel — impressions, conversions, users, DAUs and stickiness? Are you convinced people use your app as often as they brush their teeth? If you are building things used once every 3 months, it better be curing cancer for the user to remember to use it.
“We have an awesome first-time experience”: Just because the first time user experience is good users won’t tell their friends. They have to be BLOWN AWAY AND you will have solved a hard problem for them 10x better than what they do today. Your app will have made something hard easier. Or cheaper. Or more fun. Ideally all the above.

Things don’t go viral when you have 1000 users even if some of them “share”. Of every 100 users, you’d be lucky if 10 share. For the reaction to become radioactive takes a heck of lot more. And posting on Facebook walls might work to spread some web links virally, not doesn’t get you a heck of a lot of mobile downloads — the “media break” is too painful. When was the last time YOU downloaded an app seeing it pimped on your friend’s wall?

Hope is not a good strategy. Unless you engineer distribution, you’ll never get to those 10,000 users who love your app let alone the millions you dream about.

Engineering Distribution boils down to three questions:

I. Who exactly am I going after?
It really helps to define your model user in as much detail as possible, as step zero. When I ask this question, most of the time I get answers like “consumers”, “startups”, or “enterprises”. That’s not good enough.

If you’re going after the consumer space, you need to know exactly what type of consumer, with what need. Examples: “College seniors who are frustrated spending countless hours looking for an internship”, “Working moms who don’t have the time for window shopping”, etc. Identify the exact model user that you think is underserved in some way, that you know something deeply about.
If you’re going after startups, know exactly what type of startup and who within the startup. Examples: “CEOs of a series A startups who don’t have an HR organization yet”, “VPs of Marketing at series B+ startups who are overwhelmed with data”, etc. Identify the exact person who you think is underserved, at a specific stage of startup evolution.
If you’re going after large companies (good luck!), it gets more complicated. You need to know who the user is, who the buyer is, and who the purchaser is.

Knowing who you’re going after is 50% of the puzzle

II. How can I get to them?
The next thing to think about is how do I get to them? Most people try to answer this question with “I’ll hire a sales guy, I have advisors, I’ll do PR, I’ll do content, etc.”. That’s not an answer, that’s a gamble. “If I build it, they will come” has a very low probability associated with it.

The question is “what foundation did I create to get to them?”
For example if you’re going after a specific consumer audience, do you have a landing page that got you tried to draw traffic to and got 10,000 signups from your target users? Do you have a blog that your target users read regularly? Do you have access to a popular blogger that can champion your product? Have you tried and tested social media channels (Facebook, Twitter) where you can acquire users cost effectively? For example one of the apps I saw helps people in long distance relationships stay in touch — 90% of their downloads came from promoting a few blogposts through Facebook.

You can even “engineer” specific foundations — using specific APIs to get featured, building things on top of emerging marketplaces to get promoted, building interesting browser plugins, building win-win value propositions using APIs from growing products or platforms. My startup ______was entirely built on 100s of publisher APIs, Google Maps, and rode the Android wave.
If your target is startups, do you have access to an accelerator or a VC that can get you to them at scale? You’ll get to 5, 10, 15 companies via your network, but what unfair advantages have you developed to get to 100, 200 companies without cold calling or relying on online marketing?

Laying a foundation for distribution is important even before you build a product

III. How can I light a fire?
This is where your product comes in. Once you know who you’re going after and lay a foundation to get to them, then ask what can you build that will light a fire.
With millions of people racing for the same attention as you are, unless you light a fire, chances are you’ll go nowhere. What does that mean? That means building a mind blowing experience that gets word of mouth.

It’s easy to build something “cool”. Put it out there and it’ll pickup a few thousand users over time. But “cool” is not cool enough. Fundamentally, it comes down to: does it make money for me? save money for me? make me feel good? kill my boredom?
And if you’re going after the enterprise, small company or large, does it solve one of their top three burning problems? If not brace yourself for a lot of lip service.

Three key questions to think about: Is it a pain-killer or a vitamin? Is it making an existing market more efficient or creating a new market? And most importantly, why now? Why wasn’t this done before?

I’ve seen this over and over again — launch, get to 10,000 users using unscalable ways, and then get stuck. Most products follow that trajectory. But some products really take off. Why? The post-mortem “why the world needed Uber after Uber became big” aside, they take off because they light a fire.
In my mind, that comes down to a simple, solid, succinct value proposition that is unbelievably good. So good that they’ll tell their friends about it. Such products shoot up to 100,000+ users in no time. In fact, many ride that wave even without an ability to fulfill — that’s a good problem to have. So to get that fire going, it’s not enough if your initial users love your product — they have to be wow’ed by it.

Without real word of mouth, there is no scale

Once you get that momentum going, then it’s relatively easy to pour more fuel on the fire and make it bigger. Once you have those users engaged, it’s practical to design hooks to upload address books, invite friends, share on social media, etc. Without that momentum, those would be seen as horrible friction and a bad user experience no one wants to deal with.

So in summary: figure out exactly who you’re going after, lay a foundation to get to them, and then build something that not just solves a problem, but lights a fire.

***This article was original title “Distribution Is 80% Of Your Problem” and written by Sanjeev A. Manny + the BJ Mannyst + Founders Under 40 Group team are just sharing and not endorsing Sanjeev

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