Engineering as Marketing
I had been reading the fantastic book on startup marketing, Traction, and one of the traction channels mentioned in the book is Engineering as Marketing, creating products and tools that benefit your target audience as a way of reaching out to them.
Your team’s engineering skills can get your startup traction directly by building tools and resources that reach more people. You make useful tools like calculators, widgets, and educational microsites to get your company in front of potential customers.
These tools generate leads and expand your customer base. Companies like HubSpot, Moz, and RJMetrics have successfully used this underutilized channel for rapid growth. We asked Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot, to discuss how engineering as marketing has driven HubSpot’s growth to tens of thousands of customers through tools like its Marketing Grader.
(from author Gabriel Weinberg’s blog post: https://medium.com/@yegg/the-19-channels-you-can-use-to-get-traction-93c762d19339)
I was immediately interested in exploring this, as both Mike and I enjoy hacking things together, (and we both seem to have an unhealthy obsession on productivity tools). One of the criteria for us to decide on marketing channels is if we can keep using it long-term, and this seems like a good fit.
It came to me that I had already been collecting email examples for cold outreach to investors/journalists - why not turn that into a tool and share? It’d be a quick way for us to get our feet wet in this type of activities and to see if it’s worth exploring further.
What we did
We used existing tools and platforms to build ColdEmailTemplate.cc. I wanted to get going quickly while keeping the cost low for the experiment. (I’ll write more about how it’s built in another post)
It took me about two days to create the site from scratch - making sure it worked on mobile, researching keywords to decide on a domain name, tweaking design elements (fonts, margins, button positions…etc.)…
Once it was ready, it was time to spread the word and launch. I recently started using ProductHunt’s maker community tools (chat, ToDos), as well as joining on discussions on IndieHackers, so those became my main focus for the launch.
I submitted Cold Email Template to ProductHunt, and made sure the screenshots look good for the listing. I also created a GIF for the thumbnail to draw attention.
After it was submitted to ProductHunt, I posted the news on IndieHackers, ProductHunt Makers Chat, a few Slack communities, Reddit, and Hacker News - as well as my personal Social Media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin). I also followed up with a few people who had given me feedback on the idea the day before to let them know it was now live on ProductHunt.
The goal for the experiment was to observe how effective it is for driving traffic to markd.co, focusing on the conversion rate and not the amount of traffic to either sites. However once I submitted to ProductHunt, I couldn’t help but keep checking on the upvote number. Watching the ProductHunt upvote number updating is always anxiety-inducing. Uber and Linkedin had both launched new products on ProductHunt that day and we all started out with around the same number of votes. There were already a dozen of products featured on the homepage for the day by the time we submitted as well.
It was a slow start, 5-10 upvotes in the first hour while I continue to post on forums and spreading the word, pointing people to the ProductHunt page instead of the site itself.
I went for lunch to stop myself from obsessively checking.
When I came back, I noticed we were at the bottom of the ProductHunt home page! This was very exciting as I know once you are on the homepage, it would start to accelerate as more people would get to see it.
I continued to be engaged on forums/social platforms where I’ve posted about the launch. We ended up at the number 6 spot for that day. (Interestingly the number 1 spot for that day was also a Engineering as Marketing tool from Buffer: Buffer Stories Creator 😉)
It was 12 days ago when we launched on ProductHunt. Here are some stats:
- New visitors to ColdEmailTemplate.cc: 2240
- Click-through to markd.co: ~6.6%
- New visitors to Markd.co: 320 (including traffic from sources outside of ColdEmailTemplate.cc as part of the campaign)
- Majority of click-throughs to markd.co is from the description tagline at the top of page
We were thrilled to see it featured. This was way more than what we had anticipated for a quick experiment. On top of getting traffic to markd.co, it also gave us opportunities to stay engaged with communities of people who work on digital products, the very people we are hoping to help build a better CRM tool for.
The experiment has shown us that:
- we can drive traffic to markd.co from these type of tools without being spammy
- there are small pain-points and problems we can solve for startups/SMEs
- building tools to solve these problems is a good way for us to engage with people we are building markd.co for. They get free tools while we get a bit of attention. Win win!
- Use GIFs for the thumbnail on ProductHunt listing - I don’t have any hard numbers for this, but I believe the GIF we used for the thumbnail image on the ProductHunt submission helps the product stand out.
- Submit to ProductHunt early in the day. When we submitted, there were already a lot of products being featured for that day with a lot of votes. I don’t know when the cut-off is for the day, but I imagine submitting earlier gives you more time ahead of others to gather votes.
- For Hacker News, text submissions seems to work better than links. I initially created a text submission. It got decent number of votes before I decided to posting a link instead. I deleted the first post. The second post did not do nearly as well as the first one.
- People tweet about trending products on ProductHunt.One of these tweets brought in over 150 visits.
- If people are having conversations with you on forums, keep replying! It keeps the thread fresh and helps it get noticed by more people.
- Find your communities. I have found the communities on ProductHunt and IndieHackers to be very supportive - which helps us keep going!
We will need to review this in a few weeks again to know the longer term effects, and how we can optimise it for SEO. But I am excited about engineering as marketing as a mutually beneficial way to reach out to potential users!
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