How to reach mass audiences

The more I think about the book “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore, the more I think it is an accurate and fundamental book to any software developer. It makes so much sense and I think surmises the position of my own company nicely. I’m not saying he brings anything new to the table but it was certainly the first time I had been introduced to the software product life cycle curve and how to traverse it to the point of reaching the majority groups of users – mostly where the real money is.

product life cycle curve

To summarise the product life cycle curve it is the introduction, growth, maturity and decline of a product in a market. It actually makes a good comparison between it and world views. If you lined everyone up in the world, you would find  that most people had a moderate political view and then at either end of the line the views would become more extreme. To draw this as a graph it would be a bell curve, bulging in the middle with moderate world views.

The same can be said about people’s adoption of new technology: you have some people loving to use a new product immediately and have the newest stuff (innovators); others may see its potential and so wish to gain competitive advantage quickly by using it (early adopters); but most people want to wait until it is fully complete, glitch free, robust product (early majority); or that it’s too hard to ignore because everyone else is using it (late majority). It’s easy to see this with popular products now such as Twitter. There were millions of people using Twitter – using it to form communities, share resources, self promoting- before it really became huge – and then its potential for communicating with existing and potential customers, creating a human side to a brand, following their favourite celebs. Now even my mum is on it- to follow anything at all she wants, as everyone is on it (@Jonnybritton BTW 🙂 ).

When a software product is being developed, it is usually far from the finished article until it had been thoroughly tested against the vast majority of use cases. It is almost impossible to market, sell and gain feedback about the product to everyone at once. Therefore a particular market must be targeted initially. This market place will have common features, be well connected with each other and ideally have a product they currently use that can be displaced by your superior product- you use the existing product in the market to position yourself against eg, brand x is like brand y but I’d better because x,y,z. It saves having to educate the market. Anyhow, by selling into this market place a product can be refined and made more complete before moving onto new markets.

So, within the initial market place chosen to launch a tech (is it only tech following this model?) product into you have to consider this graph of people. First of all the innovators and early adopters need to be reached out to, with messages that speak particularly to them. These users become your best friends and help you hone the product into a more complete thing to use by the masses.

There is a big difference between your early sets of users and your majority groups. It is the skill of a team to enhance the product, change the marketing messages, price points etc to attract in these different types of customer.

I think this tells the story of our product nicely. When we launched people were just buying it because it was new and cool. When we asked what they liked about it that’s what they said: it’s cool. Not that useful to us but nice to know (and also made an inelastic price which was nice). Our next set of customers would buy in bulk at big discount on behalf of institutions, seeing the early phase of the product and wanting to come on our journey as we improved it but having got in early with a good price. Then we started to reach more discerning audiences and they were not buying so much, they wanted more from it. This has been a very hard stage of our business- selling to a “standard customer” and enhancing our product so its more like they want. It seems we are in the “Chasm” talked about in the book- the gap between different types of customer. However, it does give us great hope that we will soon be reaching large audiences and with a better product.

I actually think that it is this part of a software development process that the government should help out more. In order to reach our larger market places, and build the teams we need to get there, we are almost expected to go for VC funding or get into huge amounts of debt. Crowdfunding is a more recent option. But more support could be offered. Understanding of the Product Life Cycle graph and the types of customers you will meet along the way could significantly help umbrella organisations to support entrepreneurs move faster or fail less. Teams are needed and well skilled or trained purple to help software companies properly add to the economy without just getting lucky.

The Crossing the Chasm book does an amazing job of guiding you through how to market and sell along the full product life cycle curve. I believe it is a must read for start up companies.

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A Lean Experiment

The Lean Startup is a book, by Eric Ries, which highlights Japanese manufacturing rapid-prototyping methodology as great approach for software development. Rather than doing time consuming market research and then building a finished product that you hope people will like, the Lean approach advocates building an early stage iteration and releasing it immediately for users to comment on and guide it’s development, by quickly releasing updates and monitoring their effect.

Our business has recently launched a new product that is potentially going to be a really useful to it’s target audience. We’re taking a  “lean” approach to it’s production and have put up a very early stage BETA version on the site that people can register (with a wufoo form linked to a mailchimp account) for and download (using dropbox).

From the outset users are made aware that they are downloading a development product. Once they have downloaded it they enter into a chain of 9 mailchimp auto-responder emails ( 1 every 5 days) set up to incentive them to give us feedback. The emails are written very delicately and aim to be fun to read and warm people to us.

In return for giving us feedback, we offer them some very decent incentives: one of our other products completely free, the finished version of this product (they can only currently download the free version, the full version has not been built yet) at a massive discount, the option of buying all of products and getting this product free, and, of course, our eternal gratitude.

The aim of the feedback we receive is to guide our future shaping of the product, in terms of content (it is a learning resource), price (we can vary this to measure uptake), and delivery method.

We will know that the Lean experiment has been a success if we manage to tweak (based on user feedback) the above factors to the point where users are madly sharing the free product around, we have got great feedback that the product achieves its learning objectives, and that people are pre-ordering the full version before it is released.

Can we improve this experiment? Let me know..

Increase Sales On-line

People say don’t sell by price; sell by perceived value. How much does this product/ service improve the current situation? How much is that worth?

If you can get that right, you will have the basics of a sales pitch. What else is there? This is my non-exhaustive list based on my experience of being a non-salesperson trying to sell my products:

– Knowing your competition and your unique selling proposition compared to them;
– “…..” (Insert name there) is using the product eg. Add credibility;
– ‘pre-selling’, which is to make people like you or your company, or that you talking in the same tone, with same viewpoint as them. That you understand them. Put pictures up oc yourself and a non-selling About Us page;
– removing friction from a sale- eg. Spelling errors, bad use of language or anything that puts a doubt in peoples mind about the quality of the product. Another point here is one that works for us, but not sure how many others- we took down our free trial – of which we had a 1/20 conversion rate, and experimented with static pages, text and images. This not only increased revenue (curiosity? Less distraction from the selling process?) over time, but it also meant I had more time to get on with my other jobs. It is likely we will put a trial back up when we have more resources to properly follow up the leads;
– awareness of what stage your product is at in terms of its life cycle, eg. Beta, early stage, full product- this will help you speak the right language to the type of customer you are dealing with (innovator, early adopter, mass etc), who all have different requirements from the product.

Hopefully I will add more here as I learn them.

Please give me some more tips!

Asking for more from organisations that get too big to care

Have you ever wondered why there are seemingly obvious things that the government could fix but it doesn’t. Easy examples could be better recycling collection schemes or care for the elderly.

Why do these problems persist? Because they are not accounted for by supply and demand economics. There is no financial gain to look at an economically dependant group and improve their lives. This is also why there are very few, if any, start up companies taking on the challenge.

This apathy towards un-profit making activities happens everywhere without us noticing. Corporations like Microsoft and Google do not innovate in the ways they could because their is no financial incentive.

I read this article today which makes this point very clearly:
http://www.fastcompany.com/3006992/why-techs-biggest-players-favor-illusion-progress-over-real-innovation?

Among many good points, it looks at the Cloud. The race is on to make sharing easy, improving speed and making space accessible, but this bypasses years of Moore’s law hammering down prices and increasing the power of processors inside our devices. With this power we could run background semantic activities that improve our individual performance and output. By connecting up and contextualising our previous files and documents we could draw upon greater resources and easily find information. But why do that when the space is moving towards small devices and cloud storage?

I think the article is a must read for any one involved in digital. And the thinking around it can be taken down many routes. What are the opportunities for start ups doing good, not making money? What research has been done into the past offs for providing ancillary cool products? How can the government or big organisations work with businesses for good causes?

A template for customer pain

Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore, is a must read book for any tech start up. And as I have said before, maybe any product maker who intends to scale at all.  Maybe even all business owners full stop. The book is full of common sense/ business theory tactics on launching products. It is designed for high tech products but I think it lays out a general prescription for products of all kinds. This is just one example (taken straight from there), about your customers. Anyone who has or is going to start a business should know the results of this at the front of their working memory:

A day in the life of your customer (before sale)

Scene of Situation – Focus on the moment of frustration. What is going on? What is the user about to attempt?

Desired Outcome – What is the user trying to accomplish? Why is this important?

Attempted approach – Without the new product, how does the user go about the task?

Interfering factors – What goes wrong? How and why does it go wrong?

Economic Consequences – So what? What is the impact of the user failing to accomplish the task productively?

— I swap some of the words around to make it suitable to my industry eg. I turn “economic consequences” into “pedagogical consequences” as I work in edtech.–

 

A day in the life (after sale)

New approach – with the new product how does the end user go about the task?

Enabling factors – What is it about the new approach that allows the user to get unstuck and be productive?

Economic Rewards – What are the costs avoided or benefits gained?

 

This is the basics of business. What problem does your product solve? Know the answer to this scenario and  the empathy you are able to offer turns you into an instant sales person. Of course, it is hard to get accurate answers for, but we live in a world of social media so now anyone can use their brain and start asking clever questions.  

The book has so much more than this pithy blog. Read it.

 

Don’t forget the emotion.

My friends company got investment recently. They said initially they sent out their deck to investors with about 20 slides in. After a while they reduced it to 5 slides but included a cover letter with the story of the company on. This made much more interest. And the cover letter made a big difference as it was that that the investors remembered. It contained the emotion. People engage with emotions. I found this before with my About Us page article. When I made it more salesy, people stopped buying. I was actually turning them off our company by miss-using the page for anything other than what it should be used for- building emotion and a compelling story about our brand.

How to know your customers characteristics

How to know your customers characteristics

I’m reading Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore. It was written in the 90’s but is completely relevant now- which really surprised me about a book about technology marketing written before social media.

The book talks about differences between types of customers that tech companies have: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.

Each customer grouping has a different set of requirements from the products they use, for example an early adopter is interested in trying out new tech which is a bit raw but may give them a unique advantage or appearance; an early majority is the next step down along the curve, and require the product to be bug free and work well for their needs.

A company’s marketing must be targeted directly at the stage that their customers are at in the life cycle of a tech product. Between each distinct customer group is a chasm which must be carefully navigated to avoid falling into the abyss of marketing messages and product development that only loosely fit a customer segment.

The examples and companies mentioned have incredible parallels with the tech scene today. Netscape is still big and Microsoft only just getting there. I am only a couple of chapters in and fascinates already. The core concept – along with learning about the characteristics of each group and the marketing messages needed to appeal to them- is important to any entrepreneur. I think you can swap in “tech” to any product that changes an industries behaviours.

I recommend a good look at it.