How to get distribution for a new product
After helping 8 companies with their distribution issues and taking some time to reflect, I started to notice a few patterns. There were definite patterns on what has worked with distribution already and what distribution ideas the companies wanted to try next.
Before I get into these I want to lay out a few pre-cautions. All of the companies I worked with were primarily consumer facing internet companies, they had a product already out in the marketplace, most had a transaction they took place in (booking, subscription, charged directly for product), and all had a base of pre-existing customers.
These methods might not work on enterprise focused companies, straight advertising business models, or companies outside of tech.
That being said here are some of the distribution ideas I saw which worked across all of the companies or distribution ideas that were going to be tried next:
Offer you can not refuse (preferably paid sample) + habit – This is the combination of a couple of strategies and works best with a product you are selling directly to an individual.
First you want to create a sample that makes it impossible for a person to refuse trying it. Next you want to create a habit within the customer of using the product. Then once you have shown value and the product is an ingrained habit you want to charge for the product, preferably on a subscription bases.
The best contemporary example I can think of is a service called SaneBox. They have a product that helps you save time with your email inbox, initially for free without even asking for credit card info (offer you can’t refuse). They show you value and create a strong habit of using the product daily over their 15 day trial. Next after the trial is over they ask if you want to continue on a monthly or yearly subscription.
Personally I tried so hard not to convert to a paid subscription but the value of the product was so apparent and my habit was completely changed to rely on SanBox is was ridiculously hard not to continue using it.
Personal story – It is much easier to make a person famous versus a product famous. People tend to respond to personal stories, emotions, and feelings much more than product features, benefits, and differentiation points.
We tried this ourselves with a new product we launched, GroupTie, and it definitely led to much higher conversions for wanting to try the product out.
You can either tell your own personal story (if you’re solving your own personal problem) or use one of your customers personal story.
For example if you are selling a product to restaurant owners your story should be told from another restaurant owner. It should be centered around the individual restaurant owner and it should be their emotional story on how your product is helping their life. It’s much easier to make a person famous versus a product famous.
Partnership with customer pool – Sometimes it’s much easier to partner with a pre-existing organizing that has a large pool of your ideal customers already in their community.
The best example of this is how PayPal leveraged eBay in its early days. One of PayPal’s strongest customer segments were people who were making peer to peer payments and one of their largest customer pools were people who bought things in online auctions. eBay was the largest online auction company at the time so PayPal made the strategic decision to focus all of its energies on eBay as its sole marketing channel.
This could either be in a direct partnership relationship, acquisition, or off-the-radar marketing tactics to go after the organization with your customer pool.
SEO directory – A simple distribution strategy is taking a network that isn’t currently online and making it freely available for anyone to use.
I can’t publicly talk about the best example of this but a good example is Yelp which took the previously private & commercial directory of local businesses (on Yellowpages) and created a free & accessible directory of local busnisses for anyone to use.
This takes a lot of time and energy but if your directory becomes the de-facto directory for your industry the distribution from that will be enormously valuable.
Special gift or special package for journalists – This is a strategy specifically for getting media attention.
Journalists literally get pitched about new companies 1,000x times a day with the same underlying message: “Please write about me”. Instead of writing the same boring message create a special version of your product specifically for journalists.
For example if you have a product that helps parents find babysitters: find all of the journalists who are current parents, create a high touch service product to specifically help them find a babysitter, then after you have provided service ask them to write their honest opinion on how the service was good or bad.
A word of caution on this one: If you do this it has to be a genuine offer, only contact journalists who fit your demographic, and this could never be a quid-pro-quo deal.
Open contributors but one group is highlighted – This is a strategy if your product depends on contributions from others.
We personally use this extensively for StartupDigest. Anyone can submit events to us but in each city there is curator who the email newsletter is published under and that person gets all of the reputational benefit for doing the newsletter.
If you’re interested in this method also look at programs like the Yelp Elite, Reddit contributors, and Wikipedia editors.
Who else is using this? – A simple but effective tactic to try out. One of the biggest questions anyone has when landing on your product page for the first time is, who else is using this?
Make sure to have a testimonial page or customer reviews page highly visible and use peoples real names.
Who of your friends use X? – This is a variation of the tactic above. A better question is not who else is using this, but which of my friends is using this product?
For example if you were creating a doctor recommendation service a good question to lead with on the home page might be to ask, “See which doctors your friends are using”.
Not only are you creating a compelling indirect way for a new customer to create an account with you but you are bringing all of the implicit trust persons close friends bring with them.
Crazy outrageous stunt – This is also primarily a strategy for getting media attention.
The press loves unusual stories and one good way to get press is to do an outrageous stunt. A good example of this is the company WePay dropped a 600 pound block of ice at the PayPal developers conference, ridiculing that PayPal freezes your money, getting them a ton of national media attention.
Stunts have the potential to completely backfire but if successful can gain you massive amount of attention for very little input.
Conclusion: Above are a few distribution ideas I saw work over 8 separate companies but their are a lot more strategies out there. The strange thing with distribution and marketing in general is its very hard to know what will actually work beforehand.
The only way to really know is through small testing and experimentation of different ideas and measuring the results from it. If you try any of these start small and test distribution ideas at as fast and cheap as possible.
Feel free to comment below on other distribution ideas that worked with you or other experiments you are thinking of running. Would love to learn more about the field and see what worked for you.