In the previous post about Cloud Storage Studio, I walked you through our experience about building a product and making it commercially available. Now we were left with a gigantic task – How to market the product? In this post I will talk about what all things we did for marketing our products (really there were not too many ).
Let me preface by saying that at the core, I’m a developer. To me building software comes naturally, everything else is bit hazy for me. I was really out of my comfort zone with this marketing thing to be honest. Also we didn’t have a dedicated “marketing” professional. All the team members were developers.
What we didn’t do?
Before writing about what we did, let me describe what we didn’t do.
Feed <Google> (or <insert> your favorite search engine)
We did not do any “Ad Words” campaign. Absolutely Nothing, Zero, Zilch, Nada! There were two reasons for that:
- We didn’t know how to effectively specify Ad Words. Again because we were a small team, I thought our energy would be better focused on building and enhancing products rather than worrying about how to create better ad-words.
- More importantly, we didn’t have any money to feed Google. It was a self funded venture and money was limited. Whatever we were earning was going back into the business. To me the decision was either to feed Google or to feed my team members. Naturally I picked latter .
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Again this falls under “me not comfortable with marketing thing” . To this date, I don’t understand the magic of SEO (may be I never will).
Web advertising of any sort
We didn’t do any sort of banner/web/email advertisement primarily because we didn’t have any money. Furthermore, for our Omega.MSSQL product we did this kind of marketing once (and burnt 1000 or so precious dollars) but was not really satisfied with the outcome. So with the new products we built, we decided to skip it.
Closing thoughts on what we didn’t do
It’s not that I have aversion to the things we didn’t do. It’s just that we didn’t have time or money to do all of these things. If I had both of them, then by all means we would have done that (may be not ad words )
What we did
So now on to what we did as far as marketing our products was concerned:
Let the product market itself
I’m a firm believer that the product should market itself. If you have a crappy product, no matter how much you spend on marketing I believe you won’t get desired results. However if you have a great product, minimum or even no marketing will get your product noticed.
With that belief, we invested heavily into product engineering. We made sure that the product is constantly updated with the latest features offered by Windows Azure platform and before any other competitor can roll out the products. If there are bugs (all products have them, so no shame in admitting ), they’re taken care of on a priority basis. Remember, we made 4 releases in the 1st month when we went live with Cloud Storage Studio.
Kick ass product support
I will write a detailed blog post later on product support but I think providing great customer support is marketing too. Right from day 1, we knew that we haven’t build anything special which anybody else cannot create. Thus the differentiating factor apart from keeping on improving the product was to provide great support. I believe to some extent we were successful in providing great support to our users (paid or not, doesn’t really matter) and were able to convert trial users into paid users and paid users into more paid users .
Sponsor user groups/conferences
We sponsored various user groups/conferences across the world. Now these are not just any user groups/conferences; we focused on events for Windows Azure. We knew that the folks coming to these groups are attending with one and only one objective in mind – LEARN WINDOWS AZURE.
Targeted marketing could not get better than this!!!
Because we were kind of cash deprived, the way we sponsored these user groups is that we provided free licenses for our products to the speakers in these events as well as provided free licenses as give-away (swag) to one or more participants.
Free licenses to Microsoft MVPs/Bloggers/Open Source Developers/Students
We offered free licenses for our products to Microsoft MVPs. Again there are over 5000 MVPs world wide and we just didn’t want to hand out the free licenses, we ensured that the MVPs who approached us are indeed working on Windows Azure.
When a Microsoft MVP approached me for an NFR license, if I haven’t heard of them I would ask them 2 things:
- What kind of work they are doing on Windows Azure?
- How do they think our products would help them?
One of the main reasons for asking these questions was to ensure that they are going to use our product. In the initial days, we gave out free license to any MVP who asked for the product only to find out that they never ever installed the product which kind of sucked.
Yes, the ulterior motive was to have these MVPs demonstrate the products in various community events but more that that we want to engage with them as these MVPs are great developers (and honestly we were not!). We wanted to seek their input and feedback so that we can continuously improve our product offering.
Apart from MVPs, we offered free licenses of our products to bloggers, open source developers and students. I’m especially fond of our initiative of supporting open source developers because that was one of the way we gave back something to the community.
In many of my previous posts I have mentioned about community participation. We ensured that we are participating actively on the community forums and where we found an opportunity, we provided a plug for our product. This is one of best way of free marketing IMHO.
However one should keep following things into mind:
- The primary intent of community participation should be exactly that – community participation. Do not go there with an intent of marketing your products and/or services. Occasionally you could talk about your products there but that should not be the only thing you do there.
- Again you’re going there to help somebody out, be neutral. If it means telling somebody about other products which can help them out, so be it.
- Most importantly, follow the rules of the community. I got my ass kicked badly on Stack Overflow . Here’s what happened: You see, I was very active on MSDN Forums and there after every response I used to paste my signature which would have the address of our website (Sneaky, isn’t it ). That worked great for us. Then I started participating on Stack Overflow. I thought it would be all right to do the same thing here as well. But boy, was I wrong!!! The moderators waited for some time but when they realized that I am not going to change, they basically tore me apart. In my defense, I was not aware of this and when they told me, I took care of it from that point onwards.
Another thing is that if you’re a product vendor and you’re helping somebody out on these forums (whether or not it is related to your products), it is generally highly appreciated by community members i.e. more positive karma for you!!!
How can one forget social media!!! As far as social media goes, we did a lot on Twitter. We used that to announce the availability of newer versions of our products, included teasers about our upcoming products and also to some extent customer service. We didn’t do Facebook for one simple reason: I find Facebook too personal for doing marketing about products which are targeted towards developers (I know I’m an idiot ). We did little bit on LinkedIn as well (only around answering questions on various LinkedIn groups before they were taken over by Recruiters!!!).
So this is what we did for marketing our products. I sincerely hope that if you’re building products for developers (or any product for that matter), you will find some of the things we did useful.
If you’re already involved in marketing your products, I would love to hear about what you did. We could adopt those for our products.
More to come so stay tuned!!!