32 Fast and Cheap Marketing Tests Your Company Should Be Running
This is an excerpt from Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth, co-authored by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, published by Penguin Random House.
Below are some basic marketing test ideas across all 19 traction channels. These tests are designed for businesses trying to get to product/market fit, either preparing for a successful launch or post-launch, but may be useful for any business.
As part of our Bullseye Framework for getting traction, these are called middle ring tests and should cost less than $1,000 and take less than one month of time (that is, fast and cheap!)
The point of these tests is to roughly answer the following three questions:
- How much will it cost to acquire customers through this channel?
- How many customers are available through this channel?
- Are the customers that you are getting through this channel the kind of customers that you want right now?
You are simply trying to determine if it’s a channel that could move the needle in terms of your traction goal (you defined one right?). Your main consideration at this point is speed — to get data and to prove your assumptions. If successful, you should focus on whatever channel seems capable and most probable of reaching your pre-defined traction goal.
Please keep in mind that these may not be the best tests for you to run. You might come up with better tests in your Bullseye process, which involves brainstorming more specifically to your industry. These are more one-size-fits-all tests that I hope get you thinking!
1) Contact 10 niche blogs and try to get them to review your product. To make it really easy for them, offer to walk them through the product (in person if you can find local bloggers or connect with them at events). You can also make the offer even more enticing by giving them the opportunity to give something away to their audience (discounts, T-shirt contest, etc.).
2) Alternatively, you could find blogs that don’t run advertisements and ask several if you could run an advertisement on them for $100/month.
3) Contact five relevant local reporters about your company and try to get them to write about you. Local stories are much easier to get written since there is already local interest. Offer to meet them in person to walk through the product. Their phone numbers might be listed on their publication Web sites. Otherwise, try reaching out on Twitter or at events you’ll know they’ll be covering.
4) Host a contest around your product. This contest could be as simple as a cash giveaway for creative product usage or as complicated as a game constructed around your product. Once it’s set up, try a bit of both paid media (e.g., Twitter ads) and earned media (e.g., local press and blogs) to promote your contest.
5) Alternatively, try a more creative approach with an infographic or video you think could go viral with your audience. If you have a large incumbent competitor, it could be explaining how they do something poorly in some way (and at the end how you do it better).
Search Engine Marketing
6) Try four ads in Bing Ads (often cheaper than Google AdWords). These ads should be on keywords you’re highly confident will convert into long-term customers. Try some of these keywords even if they seem relatively expensive compared with keywords you’re less confident about. You want to figure out in the best-case conversion scenario whether SEM could work. Make sure before you turn them on that you have everything set up correctly to actually detect conversions (and not just clicks to your site). If you can’t automate that, then you can ask new customers how they heard of you (manually if necessary).
Social and Display Ads
7) Try a Facebook or Twitter ad campaign. Use their targeting capabilities to target two niche audiences that you think would really convert well. You can get very specific here, and you should. On Twitter, advertise against Twitter handles you think are directly related to your product (like industry leaders, aggregators, or even competitors). For Facebook, advertise against complementary affinity groups. If there are local areas you have a hunch would work better, for example, certain cities, then restrict your ads further to those areas. Make sure you try a few different images in your ads, as the image can have a major effect on performance.
8) Advertise on a niche podcast. With these advertisements, the host usually reads your copy directly to his or her listeners. It needs to be niche enough where you think the audience would really like your offer, but still small enough where it is reasonably priced (as podcast ads can get expensive for larger audiences).
9) Alternatively, run a few ads in local papers.
Search Engine Optimization
10) Test a long-tail SEO strategy by making some content-rich pages. Perhaps your product can naturally produce data for these pages, or maybe you have enough data from making and researching your product. Link to these new pages right from your home page (e.g., on the footer), as that will give them the highest rankings. Let relevant people know about your content and see if they’ll repost it with a link back to the original source.
11) Alternatively, test a fat-head SEO strategy by identifying promising fat-head keywords and then running search engine ads to see how effective the traffic may be. This is a very similar basic test to Search Engine Marketing itself, though the keywords may be different.
12) Start a company blog and write one blog post a week for a month. Promote your posts on Twitter and on link-sharing sites (e.g., Reddit). If you see any significant audience growth and conversion, double down and commit to a few more months. Turn on comments for your posts and engage with any commenters. Try to write controversial or surprising posts, ideally using new data you’ve researched.
13) Alternatively, do a couple of guest posts on other blogs.
14) Contact 10 email newsletters in your niche and advertise on at least two of them where it makes sense financially. If they don’t usually run advertisements in their emails, ask to sponsor the list for a week or month.
15) Alternatively, develop a seven-email mini-course, where you teach something relevant to your product. Make a landing page for the course and drive some traffic to it. At the end of the mini-course, upsell prospective customers to becoming real customers of your product.
16) Build a viral loop into your product and measure your viral coefficient and viral cycle time. See which step is the weakest in your viral loop (signup percentage, number of invites, click-through percentage). Run five tests to improve this weakest step and see how it affects your viral coefficient. If it gets near 0.5, then you might be on to something.
Engineering as Marketing
17) Make a simple, free tool tangentially relevant to your company. For example, a calculator of some kind that would be useful to prospective customers. Put it on its own domain and name it something that people would search for. Collect contact information in exchange for using the tool. Reach out to anyone who uses your tool with a personal email about your main product.
18) Write down three types of companies that could be useful to yours in terms of partnerships. For example, are there companies with complementary products? Identify some smaller players and reach out to two in each category, six in total. Have conversations with as many as will have them to gauge interest. Try to strike at least one deal.
19) List 20 local, prospective customers. Try to get warm intros to as many as possible and meet with them in person to discuss your product. Use the SPIN approach we presented in the Sales chapter.
20) Alternatively, reach out cold over email to 100 prospective customers that you think have a high likelihood of converting into real customers.
21) Register your product at the most relevant major affiliate network (there is a list at the end of the Affiliate Programs chapter). Recruit 20 affiliates from this program using a simple and attractive payout structure. Contact each affiliate personally to walk them through the product, which will greatly increase the chances they will sell effectively.
22) Alternatively, contact existing customers you think might be well connected to prospective customers and strike affiliate deals with them.
23) Identify the most relevant niche platform where your audience hangs out online (e.g., Craigslist, Tumblr, etc.). Research the best practices for promoting products on that platform and then do so with your product. Try some paid tools or advertising if available for the platform.
24) Alternatively, make a simple browser extension and try to get featured.
25) Follow the procedure outlined in the Trade Shows chapter to list all the obviously relevant events over the next year. Dig deeper on the next few months to make sure smaller events are on your list. Ask your local startup community if anyone has been to these events. Exhibit at the one that seems most promising.
26) Alternatively, go to a bigger event as an attendee.
27) Put together a one-day mini-conference. Pull together a few regional speakers to speak during the day. Host it at a university, and leverage its resources. You may need to make a professor one of the speakers to make it work.
28) Alternatively, sponsor several local events and ask to speak for a few minutes about what you’re working on at the beginning of the events.
29) Contact three local meetup group organizers relevant to your product and ask if you can speak at an upcoming event. Present your company in the context of your personal story. How did you come to be where you are today? How are you uniquely solving a problem with your product? What are your ambitious plans?
30) Alternatively, pitch a talk at a regional conference.
31) Join three online forums where your customers hang out and engage on at least 20 threads on each. Do this over a month so you don’t look spammy. Similarly, don’t just plug your product directly; truly engage as a useful member of the community. Include references to your product where appropriate and in your signature.
32) Alternatively, start putting together your own community using an online forum tool.
Traction has five introductory chapters explaining how to think about traction and presents two frameworks (Bullseye and Critical Path) for getting traction. Nineteen chapters follow, one for each traction channel listed above, helping you understand how best to approach and use each channel.