Archive for January, 2007

How to market to smart people

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

It should be pretty obvious, but a lot of people forget this important first step: your product shouldn’t suck. Otherwise you are wasting your time. For smart people the product should be at least good, better yet—great. It should be deep and flexible. When you plan to implement a feature, don’t just cover use-cases that you’ve managed to come up with; make it flexible so if a smart person thought of a new scenario, it will still be covered.

But don’t make it everything for all people. The product should be focused and simple enough so that the development converges and you can spend time polishing and perfecting it.

Assuming you have a product you feel proud about, how do you market it to smart people? Let’s first consider a few intrinsic properties that make your product more attractive to smart people.

Make it open. Make your product as open as you possibly can, the ideal being open-source. Publish protocols and provide SDKs. Allow smart people to use your product in ways you haven’t thought of. Another important thing is to make your support system open as well. This will allow prospective customers to see what kind of problems others are having with your product and how you handle them.

Facilitate test-driving. Make it as easy as possible to try your product. That means no crippled evaluation versions or long online registration forms. The reality is that most of today’s products suck, and that’s what a smart person will assume about your product until proven otherwise. The ideal is a direct link to the package: just install using your platform’s native method and you are all set. Now we can move to the marketing part.

Don’t deliver – allow discovery. Don’t force information on smart people. Instead publish it in relevant places and allow smart people to find it when they need a product like yours. This approach has an advantage of also covering search engines. When you do the right thing everything falls into place.

Don’t hype. The information you provide should be useful. Present honest differentiation of your product compared to alternatives. Don’t use meaningless terms like fast, scalable, reliable, or easy to use unless it is clear (e.g., a well know fact or from your competitor’s website) that the alternatives are slow, do not scale, unreliable or hard to use. Things like open source and cross-platform are good differentiators if you are competing against proprietary products that work only on Windows.

Scrap online advertising. Online advertising has discredited itself to the point that most smart people automatically block or ignore ads.

Don’t bash competition, especially on their turf. It is your word versus theirs. Bashing competition on their own turf (forums, mailing lists, etc.) is especially ill-advised because you are telling people who are already invested in your competitor’s product that they’ve made a mistake.

Prove your product is great. The only way you can do this is with real customer case studies and testimonials. Don’t just list your customer names. Tell how they use your product and how it helped them solve their problems. The best testimonials are the ones that have extra credibility of a voluntary post on a mailing list or a forum.

Prove you are the best. You need to have a great reputation besides a great product. Publishing quality articles that share your knowledge and wisdom. This will position you as an expert in the field. But don’t try to make it a “big ad” for your product. Instead concentrate on how the overall technology will help smart people, whether they choose your product or your competitor’s.