How to get people talking about your product
Scene: A Marketing Meeting in the Conference Room
Mickey the Product Manager has called Daisy and Goofy
into a meeting to discuss promotional plans for their upcoming new product.
Team! Time is growing short. Our product is now in beta, so we need to decide
how we're going to do the marketing. Any ideas?
we should run a bunch of ads in magazines?
That's a great idea! The professor in my marketing class told us that magazine
ads are one of the most effective forms of promotion.
I saw a post on Eric Sink's blog which said that all magazines are going to be
out of business by sometime this fall. Any other ideas?
we should do some word of mouth marketing?
That's a great idea! The professor in my marketing class told us that word of
mouth is one of the most effective forms of promotion.
It's settled then. We'll use word of mouth marketing to promote our new
product. Great work, Team!
Word-of-mouth is not a strategy
Everybody knows how powerful word-of-mouth and buzz can be.
Lots of ink has been spilled about all the nice things that happen when people
are talking about your product.
But this is a little bit like explaining the nice things
that rich people can buy. It is obvious that good results are good. We don't
need to be told that. What we need to know is how to make those good
Word-of-mouth is not a strategy. It is the result of a
How do we make it happen?
Begging bloggers for links
In the last couple years, the most popular way of trying to
generate word-of-mouth marketing is a two-part strategy that looks like this:
- Make a list of all the top bloggers.
- Send email to them and ask them to mention your product.
This won't work.
In fact, any marketing approach which is a post-processing
step is going to give very disappointing results. Recall that there are two phases of
- Phase 1, Strategy: Make decisions about your product to
focus it on a certain market.
- Phase 2, Communications: Tell everyone about your
If you want to generate buzz, you have to start early. The
foundation of buzz lies in the decisions you make in phase 1, not in the tasks
you perform in phase 2.
How to Get No Buzz
The most popular two step product strategy is:
- Find a Very Large Group of People
- Build a product and hope that 5% of them will buy it.
This won't work.
It seems like it should work. We chose a Very Large
Group of People to make the numbers look good. Five percent of a big number is
a lot more revenue than five percent of a small number, right? And if our
product has enough features, surely one out of every twenty people will like
The result of this approach is that you don't have enough
focus to make good feature decisions. The Very Large Group of People is simply
too diverse. You can't decide which features to leave out because every time
you consider a feature, you can think of at least one person in your Very Large
Group of People who might want it.
Your best case result with this strategy is that you end up
with a product that everybody likes, but nobody loves. Nobody is going to see
your product and believe it was perfectly designed just for them. Therefore,
nobody is going to call, email or blog their friends and tell them how great
your product is. Bottom line: No word-of-mouth. No buzz.
Instead, focus on a smaller group
The better approach is far less intuitive, but far more
- Find a Very Small Group of People that share common
- Build a product that 100% of them will love
Numerically, this sounds wrong:
- You want me to focus on a small group of people? Why
would I do that? Shouldn't I go after the largest market I can?
- And how am I supposed to get 100% of the market? That's
The reason this approach works is because it is much easier
to delight a small homogenous group of people than a large diverse group of
And your product will ship sooner because you only need the
features that are required by the folks in your Very Small Group of People.
And most importantly, when your product does ship, you will
have set the stage for buzz and word-of-mouth to happen. If your product is so
perfectly designed to delight your customers, they will be dying to talk about
Build a product that is worth talking about
People don't talk about products because somebody asked them
to. People talk about products because they're interesting. They talk about
products they love.
Recently Scott Hanslemann posted a blog
entry about a product called FinePrint. Why did he do this?
- Did he post this entry because some marketing drone at
FinePrint asked him to mention their product? No.
- Did he post this entry because he is so impressed with
FinePrint that he just can't manage to keep quiet about it? Probably.
The first step in getting people to talk about your product
is to have a product that is worth talking about. Design something insanely
great. Think about the folks in your Very Small Group of People, and build a
product that they will love so much that they can't keep quiet about it.
An example of great word-of-mouth
Delphi is a
programming language and development tool from Borland. It is very highly
regarded by its users. People often speak of how it allows developers to be
extremely productive and how it generates very efficient standalone Win32
Borland is currently in the process of spinning out its
developer tools into a new company which is informally referred to as "DevCo".
Three weeks ago I published chapter 9
of my Source Control HOWTO, in which I rather whimsically exaggerated by saying
that Eclipse and Visual Studio are the only two IDEs left in the world. I
figured that this might ruffle the features of anyone who is using one of the
many other IDEs that admittedly still exist, but I didn't expect any sort of
Nick Hodges, product manager for Delphi, responded by asking
his readers to go to my blog and post a comment in protest. As a result, 15
raving Delphi fans posted their complaints about Delphi and Borland's products
Fifteen people? That's like 20% of all the remaining Delphi users on earth, right Nick?
Truth be told, I was impressed. I've always heard that Delphi is a great product. It's clear that Delphi's fans are a great group of people as
well. They're passionate and they're tightly knit. DevCo has some big
challenges ahead, but don't count them out as long as their customers love the
product as much as they apparently do.
But I was even more impressed with the Delphi community last
week when I saw this
post by Tate Needham from FinalBuilder. Basically, he announced the
results of a survey in which he asked his customers "Which Version Control
systems do you currently use, or plan to use in the next 12 months?" The top
ten responses were as follows:
- Microsoft Visual SourceSafe
- Borland StarTeam
- FreeVCS / JediVCS
- SourceGear Vault
- QSC Team Coherence
- Microsoft Team System
- Rational ClearCase
I think this data is very interesting in several ways, but I
want to zero in just one issue: Why is QSC Team Coherence ranked so high?
I mean no disrespect to Team
Coherence. It seems like a fine product. One of their people, Ewan McNab,
is a regular on the same forum where I hang
But seriously now -- Does anybody really think that Team
Coherence is the seventh most popular version control tool in the world? How
could QSC's product rank so high in this survey?
- All of the responders to this survey were customers of
- And FinalBuilder is written in Delphi.
- And Team Coherence is written in Delphi as well.
If a similar survey were conducted with a much larger and
more diverse group of developers, the results would almost certainly be very
different. For example, Perforce would rank higher, while Team Coherence would
Please note that I am not crying foul or bias or
unfairness. In fact, I am delighted (and quite surprised) that my product
ranked as high as it did among FinalBuilder developers, especially since Vault
is not open source and has no particular connection to the Delphi community.
Furthermore, I am not intending to disparage any of the
products on this list. All the version control tools on the list above are
fine tools and worthy competitors.
Except of course for SourceSafe, which everybody knows is a steaming pile of cow dung.
My point here is simply this: The community of Delphi developers is very strong, and they talk to each other. They're a perfect example
of a Very Small Group of People. Build a product that they will love, and
before long, they won't be able to keep quiet about it.
Postscript: Preemptive responses to comments
"Eric, how can you say that the Delphi community is a Very
Small Group of People? There are 500,000 of us!"
Neopets has 70 million users.
MySpace has 100 million users. Visual Studio has 5 million users. A group of 500,000
people is Very Small. And yet, it's a big enough market to sell a
"Eric, how can you say that people choose products based on
what language the product is written in? People just want software that
works. They don't care if it's written in C#, Delphi or Erlang."
Normal people think that way.
Many developers don't. A developer whose primary community affiliation is
around a programming language with minority market share will definitely be
more inclined to buy a developer tool that is written in that language.
"Eric, you forgot to point out that FreeVCS/JediVCS is
written in Delphi as well."
No, I didn't forget.
"Eric, how can you say that we have to try and get 100% of
our market niche? That's impossible, right?"
Right. The point is not that
you have to get absolutely every customer. The point is that going after all
of a niche will help sharpen your decision making.
"Eric, did you really say that all magazines are going to be
out of business sometime this fall?"
No, but Mickey seems to think that's
what I said. On the other hand, Mickey is obviously an idiot.
"Eric, have you even used Delphi?"
Nope. I just think the Delphi community serves nicely as an example of my point.
"Eric, if you think the Delphi community is so cool, why
doesn't your product support any integration with Borland tools?"
Er, good question. Maybe we
don't get very many requests for this feature? And maybe that's because Team
Coherence is doing such a fine job serving the needs of Delphi users already?
"Eric, how can you say that all we have to do is build a
great product and the word-of-mouth will just happen automatically with no
marketing communications effort at all?"
I didn't say that. I admit that
there are things that can be done in the marketing communications phase to help
generate buzz. I'm just saying that being interesting is a necessary condition
for buzz, but it is not necessarily a sufficient one.
"Eric, I'm in charge of promoting a product that isn't
interesting. You're basically saying that there is nothing I can do to
generate buzz. You're saying that all of the real mistakes were made a long
time ago when the initial product decisions were made and now it's too late to
fix it. How does this help me?"
It doesn't. Probably, nothing
is going to help you. Don't shoot the messenger.
"Eric, how can you say those terrible, unkind things about
Oh, settle down. I'm just
kidding. SourceSafe works just fine for lots of people. Its bad reputation is
partly deserved and partly exaggerated. In part, that's because exaggerating
"Eric, have you even seen a steaming pile of cow dung?"
Yep. Here in the Midwest you can find them all over the place.