This is the second post in our blog series about marketing essentials for startups and engineering teams. Last week we talked about the customer funnel, a vital construct for understanding and measuring your customer acquisition process. This post focuses on product marketing, or how a team can clearly and effectively communicate a product’s purpose and benefits. Matt Hodges, Ken Olofsen, and Giancarlo Lionetti helped a lot in the writing of this post.
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Software in the 90’s was mostly distributed using compact or floppy disks, packaged in a box with images of happy people–think Norton Anti-Virus–graphics, and text describing a product. Product marketers thought critically about that box, because it was their only channel to communicate with the consumer.

The box was a product marketer’s fabric for enticing. Today the web has taken the place of the box. Products are downloaded instead of shipped, but the overall goal is still the same. Product marketing is the practice of making a product clear in the consumer’s mind, communicating what problems said product is solving, in a way that entices the customer to download or sign-up for a trial, and ultimately purchase or use your product.

Why Product Marketing Matters

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One could argue that Apple is perhaps the most legendary product company today. Apple has an uncanny ability to develop and market products that consumers lust after. Apple does a lot to create suspense in the market, some of which is excellent product marketing. Apple’s advertisements are catchy, their website gorgeous, their product pages exciting and clear. All of their efforts paint a beautiful picture, leaving us consumers dying for that Hot New Product.

Where Apple has succeeded, though, others have failed. Google Wave is possibly the biggest, most recent, and perhaps most talked about product failure. I’ll argue a large part of Wave’s failure was due to its product marketing effort, or lack thereof.

The Google Wave engineering team locked themselves in a conference room in Sydney and hacked for many months on what was meant to be a communication revolution. What surfaced from Down Under was a beautifully designed and built web app, and lots of confusion. Google Wave didn’t ship with a clear intention. Users were left to figure out the tool’s purpose on their own. About a year after Wave was announced and thousands of invites later, Google announced they would no longer actively develop and maintain Wave.

Good product marketing is an enabler for awesome engineering achievements. The Google Wave innovation may have found the market traction it was designed for if Wave’s awesome engineering was complimented by awesome marketing. Don’t let your awesome product fail because its vision, purpose, and usage isn’t properly communicated.

Enter Product Marketing

Product marketing is a challenging art, so we’ve taken the time to explain several facets of product marketing below. At the end of this post you’ll find a list of action items that you and your team can focus on.

Position Once, Position Right

Product marketing starts with positioning, or how one product stacks up against other products in the same space or market. Wave was never officially positioned against other forms of communication, though 3rd party videos emerged explaining Wave’s position relative to other communication channels such as email and chat. Proper positioning has two fundamental implications:

  1. Customers will compare your product to others in the same space, immediately giving them a sense of what your product does; and
  2. A product needs to either be different than others in its space or at least better if it overlaps with other products

So, ask yourself how your product compares to others, and what niche it’s filling. Get a sense for how to position your product in the marketplace, and be prepared to recall said position when you’re creating marketing material.

If you’d like to read more about positioning we highly recommend reading Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

Websites Are the New Box

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A company’s website is its new software box, shoppers surfing through a digital shopping aisle of search engines, social networks, and blogs. In most cases your website is your first–and possibly only–chance to engage an otherwise unaware, apathetic user. However, in some cases, such as for mobile apps, a website isn’t an essential part of the funnel. Take Angry Birds as an example, a hugely popular, profitable, and addictive mobile game. I would assume close to 100% of Angry Bird users have never visited Rovio’s website (Rovio developed the game in case you didn’t know). For those of us selling products and providing web-based services, our website is absolutely critical. A website needs to cater to both new and returning visitors, quickly engaging new visitors with a good landing page and intuitively sending interested/returning visitors to the next part of the funnel. Each page in your website needs to tell a story, with the ultimate goal of moving a reader to the next page, one step closer to becoming a customer. Each page should have a very clear call to action to help move users through their customer journey. For example, your home page should create curiosity about your products, or give users an easy sign up form to get started with your service. Your product pages should call to action your free trials, demos, and product videos (more later on videos). Formstack has an excellent guide for building good landing pages, which I highly recommend reading and following.

Videos Speak a Million Words

In Atlassian’s experience a video is by far the best way to quickly educate an unaware user about a product. We prominently embed a video on each of our product pages, and a ton of our visitors watch them. Dropbox believes so much in videos that their homepage is composed of a single video and a few links. The Confluence product page, one of our most popular pages, sees 34% of visitors watching the video. That’s an impressive stat given the diverse audience viewing the page. If there’s one single thing you take away from this post, it should be to create a video for your product and impress it upon as many visitors to your website as possible.

Social Media Matters

Social media–tweets, blogs, Facebook likes, and more–attract more visitors to your website and can make a huge impact on your business. Tweets and blog posts keep current customers up to date, helping drive license renewals, often a major part of a company’s revenue. For the case of existing customers, social media works at the bottom of the funnel, driving renewals and repeat sales. For potential customers, social media is the beating heart of most software products these days, a source for learning more and measuring community activity. For unaware users, social media helps create brand awareness for your company and/or your product, widening the top of your funnel and driving traffic to your website. Social media should always be for the benefit of the reader, though, because tweets and blogs that are actionable and about the user see more shares and reads. We’ll talk more about social media in a later post about lead generation.

Get Visitors Using Your Product

Depending on your product, evaluations might be an important step between a curious user viewing your website and a committed customer. For-purchase products like JIRA and Confluence benefit hugely from evaluations, because users grow their confidence in a product throughout an extended evaluation. Recall the last time you purchased software. Did you evaluate it before buying? As for products like Facebook or Google’s search engine, an evaluation doesn’t make sense. For these services instead you want to make getting started as quick and easy as possible. Google doesn’t require a login to run a search, and Facebook’s registration page, at least the first step, is short and simple, not shunning away new users with large, scary forms. Regardless of what product or service you’re providing, evaluating and getting started with a product should be free and as simple as possible. For products that run on a desktop or server, consider asking for an evaluator’s email address during sign-up. You can then use that email address to create an email drip campaign, both helping the evaluator learn about your product and helping you passively sell it. More on email in a later post, too.

If the Price is Right …

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Correctly pricing a for-purchase product is an art, requiring thought both around a product’s position and the psychology of a potential customer. Atlassian’s products are used mostly by software engineering teams. These teams typically don’t have a huge budget, and decision makers likely want to avoid purchase orders and legal departments. Our products are priced for an expense report, greatly increasing the likeliness that our products will be purchased by the teams we’re targeting. In terms of positioning, our lower price-point gives us a competitive edge against other more expensive tools that have been around longer. Pricing is as important to sales as the product itself, so think critically about pricing at all times, not just when you create a new product.

Your Five Hours of Marketing This Week

Now for this week’s five hours of marketing:

  • Create a video: don’t create a sales video. Create a demo video of your product–the shorter the better–and place the video prominently on your website
  • Create a blog and Twitter account: post often and make every post actionable, or at least useful, for the reader. At least blog product updates and new features, but also consider blogging testimonials, use cases, integrations, and anything else that might be useful for your readers
  • Evaluations and getting started: make evaluation and getting started free and dead simple, and drive people in these directions
  • Pricing: rethink your pricing strategy. You may find your products are priced incorrectly, limiting you from a certain audience or class of customer

Update: take a look at the conclusion post to get comprehensive marketing advice for startups and small teams.

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