Understanding how to connect with customers is a crucial part of marketing for startups, especially for any business that wants to maximize profits. The more your audience is engaged with you, the more they’re interested in your products and services, the more invested they’ll feel in your brand, and the more awareness you’ll generate.
But the mistake that many businesses make is to try and connect with their audience after they’ve released their product/s. Hardware startups that put a ton of effort into creating a product only to then try and find an audience to match are essentially playing catch-up and will be wasting a lot of time and effort. There’s the very real possibility that they may never find that audience, in which case they will have lost all of that investment.
The same goes for Crowdfunded projects. Don’t start reaching out to people once you’ve created the project – create your audience first, and then get their backing. Otherwise, you might end up like one of the hundreds of failed hardware projects on Kickstarter – like the recent Ty Together, which failed despite having a somewhat famous creator.
Instead, the smart startup will connect with the audience first, build buzz and excitement about the launch, and use the input of their audience to ensure their product takes the right direction that their fans want to see. Here’s how to connect with customers for smart startups…
Prototype Testing – Friends/Family
Before you have a finished product though, you can already start testing and getting feedback – you just need to crowdsource your friends and family! While your close friends and relatives may not represent your target demographic, that doesn’t mean they can’t still offer useful feedback and potentially help shape the outcome of your project. You can use people you already know to gauge interest in your product, to quickly spot problems and bugs and to see how someone with no experience of your industry might perceive it. Take their feedback with a pinch of salt – but still be sure to listen carefully for suggestions or problems that keep coming up.
Creating surveys is a great way to test the market and to get feedback about your project before you invest too much into one set course. Use a free tool like Survey Monkey and you’ll have a more structured and formal way to make decisions regarding size, cost, functionality, etc. Sending an email containing your new survey to your email list (see above) is a great way to garner helpful information from people who are both interested in you and should be happy to offer their advice and feedback.
Creating a development blog that tracks the progress of your project is a great way to build interest and excitement, and it can act as the perfect platform to build your social media following and mailing list. The easiest way to create a blog is through WordPress, and from there, you can just report back during each stage of your product’s development.
Pre-Launch Social Media
Social media can also be used in a similar way, and to keep updating your audience on your project so that it stays on their mind. This also makes it very easy for you to crowdsource ideas. Need a name for your innovation? Just ask your followers to chime in! First, build a following by posting lots of great content and by promoting your accounts through your other channels. Then, when you next need ideas or feedback, you can just Tweet the question! However, you will need to find that audience first. This is all about customer discovery and knowing your target audiences buyer persona and behaviors. Once you gather that information you can then make an informed decision on which platform to build your following around.
Build a Mailing List
With an e-mail list, you can get a feel for the market and see whether there are people out there interested in your product by inviting your visitors to ‘sign up to be the first to hear about…’. For this, you’ll need an autoresponder and a clear Call to Action that will compel them to sign up. You can follow some more instructions here.
What’s more, a mailing list can then later be used to build excitement and anticipation for your product over a series of e-mails. You will also need this when you launch your product as the more email you have the more likely you will get funded through crowdfunding.
Another option is using Launchrock services. They provide a pretty great service for building a landing page to drive traffic to. It’s very easy to set up, easy to manage and did I say it was Free!
Getting pre-orders is a great way to connect with early customers, but should be treated as a launch, not a test. It is true that pre-ordering your product is a great way to validate demand and see if people will pay money, but it shouldn’t drive the development of your product. Before you launch your product on crowdfunding you should have done plenty of iterations on prototypes and have gotten it in front of some core users. The information you are collecting should help you understand your customers problem your are solving and how to properly position it in the market for your launch. The work you put in before you launch and take pre-orders will help you save years and thousands of dollars into a piece of hardware no one’s willing to pay for.
There are plenty of ways you can build a connection with your audience then – the key is not to pick any one of these, but rather to use all of them where appropriate. A common mantra in internet marketing is ‘be everywhere’, and this applies here too. Create as many lines of communication as possible, and you can get constant feedback for your project while building a community around it!
Are there any other methods you use to validate your ideas and connect with your audience in the early stages? Let us know your thoughts on how to connect with customers in the comments below. Remember to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest news and tips on marketing for startups and so much more.