“Will people actually buy this?”
This is the nagging question that pesters every entrepreneur’s mind. No matter how validated your idea may have been prior to development, the possibility that people may not buy your product or service is still terribly nerve-wracking.
Marketing in the early stages of any business is a difficult and sensitive undertaking. For your product or service to effectively gain traction within your market, you must take ALL marketing possibilities into consideration. Gabriel Weinberg, successful entrepreneur and entrepreneurial coach, offers 19 traction channels that any startup should explore to find early customers. I’ll summarize all 19 below:
- Targeting Blogs: Target the blogs your prospective customers are reading.
- Publicity: Getting your name out there via news outlets, magazines, TV, etc.
- Unconventional PR: Publicity stunts and customer appreciation are examples.
- Search Engine Marketing: Placing advertisements on search engines.
- Social and Display Ads: Advertisements on social media websites.
- Offline Ads: Newspapers, billboards, direct mail, etc.
- Search Engine Optimization: Using keywords to drive traffic to your website.
- Content Marketing: Writing blogs and articles to gain a loyal following.
- Email Marketing: A free program like MailChimp is an effective tool to use.
- Viral Marketing: Incentivizing your customers to refer other customers.
- Engineering as Marketing: Making useful tools that expose customers to you.
- Business Development: Making strategic, mutually beneficial connections.
- Sales: The jobs of Dwight Schrute and Jim Halpert of The Office.
- Affiliate Programs: Paying a person or company to get sales or leads.
- Existing Platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.
- Trade Shows: Great for fostering interactions between vendors and prospects.
- Offline Events: Helps to attract customers to one place.
- Speaking Engagements: One effective pitch can make a world of difference.
- Community Building: Investing in connections among your customers.
Phew ... that’s a long list! Many of these avenues are well-known and highly saturated, but others are much less obvious. It’s important not to immediately disregard any of these channels, though. Sometimes the not-so-obvious traction channels are the hidden gems for your business.
But before you walk up to the buffet of traction channels and snag a small share of each … DON’T. Take the advice of billionaire PayPal founder, Peter Thiel:
"Poor distribution — not product — is the number one cause of failure. If you can get even a single distribution channel to work, you have a great business. If you try for several but don’t nail one, you’re finished. So it’s worth thinking really hard about finding the single best distribution channel." -Peter Thiel
To make sure you’re successful with this “a la carte” traction channel approach, use the Bullseye Method. This is a simple, three-step framework that focuses on targeting your most-effective traction channel without spreading your efforts too thinly across too many channels.
The Bullseye Method
1. The Outer Ring: What’s Possible
The Outer Ring step involves brainstorming ideas to gain traction via each of those channels. Even if you think, for example, trade shows are completely unsuitable to your concept, don’t be so skeptical. Sometimes it’s the most unlikely traction channels that work out the best, simply because others in your industry have saturated the popular ones. So, give each channel a chance and spend a considerable amount of time brainstorming.
2. The Middle Ring: What’s Probable
Now that we’ve reached the middle ring, it’s okay to be a little more realistic. Take another look at your outer ring and move the most promising and exciting ideas to your middle ring. Then, once your middle ring is settled, design cheap traction tests for each idea to answer the following questions:
- How much will this channel cost?
- How large of an audience am I reaching?
- Am I reaching my target market with this channel?
As you go through this process, try your hardest to give each channel a fair chance. Focus on collecting data in the most inexpensive, yet accurate and representative, way possible.
3. The Inner Ring: What’s Working
At this point, it’s time to take a look at the results you gathered in the prior step. Hopefully, at least one channel worked well, and for the one that did, it’s important to focus all your efforts on this channel. You’ll probably be tempted to keep some of the other, less promising traction channels functional, though. Fight this urge. Even though it may seem illogical to focus all your efforts in one place, having multiple different traction channels is simply distracting. Doubling down on the channels that work will bring you more customers faster than spreading your resources thinly by testing other channels.
If, however, you make it through this whole process and find that nothing seems to be working particularly well, it probably means that you should choose 3 new channels to test with. It's important to iterate through your marketing channels just as you would iterate to improve your product because it's impossible to predict the marketing channel that will get you the most traction when you launch. By testing multiple channels, you can validate with real data what’s working and what isn’t. Good luck!