Your second biggest problem

Trying to launch a product? Your first priority is to build something that matters. You need to create something that people want.

But your second biggest problem will be getting attention.


Building something great isn't enough. You need to be able to reach people that care. And that's hard.

We know that the best products don't always win. The classic example is BetaMax vs VHS (do any of you kids know what I'm talking about?), but there are others too:

Despite being the quintessential American rock band, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were initially ignored by the US market. For years they couldn't get airplay on American radio stations. What changed? They started getting traction in the UK. Once US radio stations heard that the cool Brit-kids were listening, they started spinning their LP. It's all about distribution.

In some ways distribution is getting more accessible, and in other ways it's as hard as ever.

Message distribution used to be highly centralized: there just weren't that many channels. If you grew up in the 80's, it's likely you remember the same commercials as me. (Here's me singing 3 jingles off the top of my head) That's because we were all watching the same shows, on the same channels: a kid growing up in Edmonton, Alberta would hear the same ads as a kid in San Francisco. There weren't that many options, and paying to get your message out was expensive.

Now, because of the Internet, it's easier to create a message (it also doesn't cost as much). But getting your message to resonate is harder, because there's way more messages.

What can you do?

How can you get people to care about your thing?

Normally we think about marketing like this:

But, if you want to win at distribution you can't play by those rules anymore. You need to think like this:

This means the first step isn't blasting out a message, but rather listening.

Your goal should be to bring people closer to the solution they need.

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10 things you can do

People are seeing thousands of messages a day - you need to break through the noise.

Here are some general guidelines:

  1. Build something people really want. Having something people are desperately seeking will make your marketing efforts 1000x easier. I'll adjust Derek Sivers' famous formula:
    Product people really want x smart marketing = your best results.

  2. Choose 1 person to market to. Think about someone (by name) that matches the profile of the person you're trying to reach. Cater all of your marketing efforts towards that person.

  3. You need to reach bigger audiences: the people that can help you are the entrepreneurs, podcasters and bloggers who have been building audiences for years. Think about how you could offer these people value, and connect with their audiences.

  4. Get on high trafficked networks that relate to your audience (news sites, sub-reddits, forums, Medium collections, etc...). Just like convincing people with big audiences, you need to offer communities value. Find out how you can help.

  5. Don't create "marketing" create "help". Write a blog post, create a small tool, publish a short e-book, host a webinar: build something that actually helps the people in your audience.

  6. Don't underestimate the value of creating something surprising, unusual, and weird. A lot of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' commercial success came from creating strange, off-the-wall videos. It was a breath of fresh air for hip hop fans - what could you do for people in your target community?

  7. Don't use a marketing tactic just because it worked for Basecamp, Intercom, Buffer, etc... Think about how you can uniquely help your audience.

  8. Invite early fans and users to help you spread the word. Only have 1 user? Find out why they're passionate about your product, and invite them to share that passion with others.

  9. Build lots of landing pages. A landing page is one of the best ways to experiment: you could try a new landing page each month. Focus the landing page on a specific pain you've seen in your community.

  10. The sooner you start your email list, the better. Early on, your marketing efforts should focus on getting email sign-ups. Why? Because, email is a great way to have real conversations with real people. You'll be able to adjust your product (and your marketing) based on their feedback.

I hope this is helpful!

Justin Jackson

Check out my new book: Marketing for Developers

Published on June 14th, 2014
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