The last twenty years can be described as an “age of startups,” with many new names appearing on the market and defining what the future of technology will look like. Tech startups face challenges that are very different from the challenges faced by big corporations. With startups there is always a lack of time, money and resources that makes it difficult for their mobile products to compete on the market.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of companies that have been able to promote their mobile products and become very successful using a number of different marketing approaches and strategies.
Today we will look at four tech startups that have promoted their products in four unique ways - and have become equally successful. Each story teaches us a different lesson, but all together they serve as proof that often there is no right or wrong marketing strategy, there is simply one that works for your particular product and one that doesn’t.
Story number one: Slack, a new app for business communication.
Slack is a next-generation business communication tool, and is often referred to as “one of the fastest growing apps in its class.”
What is the Slack’s recipe for success?
First, Slack focused on gathering feedback and responding to feedback. This was an essential part of their product development and promotion strategy. Stewart Butterfield, one of Slack’s co-founders, suggests that Slack’s success is partially the result of prioritizing customer feedback. They started by asking their friends to try out the app and tell them what they thought about it, and gradually widened their user base, moving into more and more offices and companies.
Every time they collected another piece of feedback, they would thoroughly analyze it and work on improvements. Their motto was not to ignore any bit of criticism, but to act on it right away.
Later, Slack arranged press releases and articles to be published about their product, but in fact they wanted to use them to promote product invites. They used invites to attract a lot of new users and improve their product based on the additional feedback. On the very first day they sent out invites, 8,000 users joined the app and within two weeks that number nearly doubled!
Because of the way they launched, Slack never had to call the first version of their app a beta version, but they did get to do efficient beta testing (people just didn’t realise it).
Since its official launch in February 2014, Slack has seen unbelievable growth, and now has 750,000 daily active users. It’s global - people use it and love it in the US, Europe and Asia.
Lessons from Slack:
-Spread the word among people you personally know. Ask your friends and colleagues to try your product out and to recommend it to their friends. Every interaction with your users is a marketing opportunity.
- Collect as much feedback as you can and act on it! You need to constantly work on your product to make sure it has everything your users want it to have. Also, asking for lots of feedback establishes rapport with your users: people like knowing that their thoughts and ideas are heard.
- Do run beta testing of your product (and do your best to learn from it), but don’t call it “beta” testing.
There are various approaches for testing an app and getting feedback. Slack did their beta testing while the app was already actively used. While Slack relied on feedback from beta testing as a source of information, other companies do not rely on beta testing for all their market research. This is how it was for Powered Now.
Story number two: Powered Now - a business administration app with the motto “paperwork simplified.”
Powered Now is an app for iPad and iPhone that targets small entrepreneurs and trades people like plumbers, electricians, and construction workers. It replaces all the paperwork that entrepreneurs have to deal with - from invoices to receipts - with digital forms. Powered Now can also process credit card and PayPal payments.
The executives at Powered Now began with extensive marketing research. This research proved that the product they wanted to develop was (a) relevant and (b) necessary, and the no equivalent currently existed on the market.
The founders of Powered Now say that their marketing strategy is “as secret as the KFC chicken recipe.” That said, we’ve still identified some pretty smart moves that got their app where it is now.
What is Powered Now’s recipe for success?
Powered Now studied their target audience and developed high-quality content that was customized for this audience.
Powered Now’s co-founders realised that promoting a startup product by telling the tech community about it would not help them get clients. They knew their clients were tradesmen who might not use any app at all, but might work with Excel sheets. So instead of promoting their product on tech websites, they started by targeting industry publications: British journals and websites for tradesmen.
Benjamin Dyer, the CEO, started contributing articles to magazines and websites that would be interesting for tradesmen. For example, he did an interview with “Voices of the Industry” about how to choose a tradesman for your home repair. He also gave an interview with UK Construction Online portal and talked about the results of Powered Now’s survey where they asked people about their criteria when hiring tradesmen.
Other articles followed - articles on a website for “professional electricians and installers” and other similar sites, including www.electoricaltrademagazine.co.uk, and other popular websites for builders and tradesmen.
Powered Now got most of their initial capital through crowdfunding, so they also focused on preparing a great pitch for Crowdcube, a popular crowdfunding platform.
Powered Now began in 20XX, and was featured in the Startups 100 list in 2013 and 2014. As of autumn 2015, Powered Now had over 30,000 registered users. They have been experiencing stable growth since the launch of their app, and this is clearly the result of their marketing strategy.
Lessons from Powered Now:
- Create brand awareness through content marketing long before you launch a product.
- Study your target audience thoroughly and start by promoting your product in professional journals and on trade websites instead of promoting it purely through tech channels.
Another problem many startups experience is finding investors and persuading them that their product is of a real value. This is the problem that the co-founders of Instacart had to face at the very beginning of their journey.
Story number three: Instacart - a trendy web and mobile platform for busy people who like the sharing economy.
Instacart is an on-demand grocery delivery platform that arranges deliveries of groceries and other home essentials in major cities across the USA. The company prides itself on the fact that they deliver orders within 1 to 2 hours.
What is Instacart’s recipe for success?
Instacart’s recipe for success is simple and genius because it is based on the sharing economy. This idea of the “sharing economy” has been growing increasingly popular, and is beneficial both for clients and shoppers. The sharing economy has already brought success to such giants as Uber and AirBnB.
What about Instacart’s marketing strategy?
Instacart designed their app to be trendy in every way – starting with their name that reminds us of Instagram, and continuing with their choice of popular shops like Whole Foods, where people can buy fresh organic groceries from local farms.
But way before their name became known, Apoorva Mehta, the founder of Instacart, had to come up with a way to present their product at Y-combinator, often known as a "boot camp for startups” and one of the most prestigious programs for budding digital entrepreneurs. That is where his marketing lifehack took place, and this lifehack perfectly illustrates where Instacart got its popularity from!
Apoorva Mehta missed the deadline for presenting his company. He knew he had to surprise the Y-combinator people and he only had one chance to do it. Mehta realised that the main reason why people did not trust his product was very simple - they had not tried it for themselves and seen it in action.
He won over Y-combinator by showing his service in action; Mehta placed an order for a six-pack of beer to be delivered to Garry Tan, one of the Y-combinator partners, at their headquarters.
As a result, Mehta he got a call, and a chance to present his business idea.
Instacart’s development and marketing strategy has combined online and offline solutions. Offline, real-life marketing was based on the idea of creating brand recognition. The Instacart team strengthened brand recognition in two practical ways: all Instacart shoppers wear similar T-shirts with the name of the company, and deliver groceries in bright bags with the Instacart logo.
Lessons from Instacart:
People trust things they experience firsthand. Make people try out your product and you will win them over.
Instacart came up with an unorthodox approach to attract investors, but there are apps whose success story started with a completely invented legend that helped to draw attention to the app. This is how the Yik Yak app came to be!
Story number four: Yik Yak - a social media app Gossip girl would be in love with!
Yik Yak is an anonymous social media app for iOS and Android. It was developed by Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington and launched in 2013.
The biggest difference between Yik Yak and other social media apps is that Yik Yak allows users to anonymously share their opinion with people who are nearby. The app primarily targets college and high school students. The idea behind this app reminds us of Gossip Girl, an American teen drama series about the lives of privileged young adults in New York city. Plot twists are introduced by the anonymous narrator who shares insights about the characters’ lives with the rest of the world.
What is Yik Yak’s recipe for success?
Droll was intrigued by anonymous Twitter accounts that had become wildly popular on campuses, and he saw an opportunity in their success. His vision was to create a “local, anonymous Twitter,” and that’s what Yik Yak has become.
According to an article on Business insider, the startup's success has been fast and astonishing. When the app was only a year-and-a-half old there were already 1,600 college campuses actively using it. A few months after Yik Yak was launched, it had already been downloaded 100,000 times.
What was the smart marketing strategy behind Yik Yak that helped it succeed?
The app became popular quickly thanks in part to a lie. People want what other people have, and we all want to be closer to people who we think are successful. When it comes to schools, the “Ivy League” is where it’s at. Yik Yak’s founders used this idea to promote their app: they made up a whole story about how the app was inspired by an idea thought up by Harvard students. That was enough for the initial push.
They also relied on student’s curiosity about what apps their friends were using. Droll and Buffington first tested Yik Yak at Furman University, where both had studied. Next came a small university near Furman called Wofford.
Those who tried the app found it fun to use and spread the word among their peers.
Considering that their target audience was mostly college students and teenagers, it was a safe bet for the Yik Yak team to promote it within schools. To expand their app popularity, they created an email marketing campaign aimed at student organizations at numerous universities in the south. They sent witty emails to students who were thought to be popular at their schools. These emails contained jokes that would make students want to download the app and share it with their friends. Jokes are a good example of viral content, that’s simply too tempting not to share!
Yik Yak was growing in popularity, but it was still isolated to the eastern United States.
To reach the west coast, they planned a special trip. The founders rented a tour bus and brought their own costumed mascot, the “Yak.” After visiting 32 colleges, handing out gear and becoming surprise guests at countless parties, Yik Yak’s community became as popular along the west coast as it was in the East.
Check out: Developing an anonymous social network
Lessons from Yik Yak:
Target influencers who will share your product with their friends.
Make your email marketing viral.
Do not underestimate the power of offline marketing and the power of brand recognition.
Lie (a little bit) if you think it will help promote your brand, but choose wisely what stories you invent.
Here are six tips we learned from these four stories of successful mobile startups that you might find useful when promoting your app.
6 Tips you should learn from these stories:
Spreading the word about your product in the real world and raising public awareness on the Internet should happen simultaneously, both prior to the launch of the app and afterwards.
Beta test your app, but do not call it a “beta.” Come up with an alternative approach like sending invitations or limiting access to your service to make it seem special.
Come up with a fascinating story about how you created your app: people are more likely to remember your product if it has a cool story behind it. If you don’t have anything at hand, invent a legend - a myth often gets you a long way in the world of marketing.
Think about your target audience and things that will appeal to them on a deeply personal level. Think of resources they use or places they go to find the best promotion strategy for your app.
Make people try out your service and see how good it is for themselves; people trust their own experiences. If they like what they see, they’ll talk about it with others.
Do not be afraid to look to pop-culture trends for inspiration. Search for online solutions for everyday problems.