Does real marketing in the WordPress product space exist?
For the past few weeks, I’ve been chatting with other plugin and theme shop owners and asking what their marketing strategy looks like.
• Do you have a paid marketing position at the company?
• Do you have a set budget to spend?
• Have you defined a target market for your product?
The responses have been disappointing. Most owners I talk to aren’t really pursuing marketing with a plan or goal in mind.
I can only assume what the most common factor is: money. The majority of WordPress product companies aren’t making enough money to hire full-time marketing professionals to create engaging campaigns that grow an audience and increase sales. I stress engaging because I’m looking for something more than the occasional blog post or boosted Facebook ad.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the companies — big and small — that are doing things right, and how you can use their tactics to aid in the marketing of your own product business.
Why is marketing so difficult?
With so much stuff on the web screaming for our attention, your marketing needs to be great, and it has to be exactly for your audience.
In a world of instant notifications and a growing number of subscribed Slack channels, who has the time to read your content, let alone care about your boring e-mail newsletter? Especially on WordPress.
We live in a hyper-focused world of Twitter streams and group-chats that the rest of the population couldn’t care less about. We are, literally, 1% of creators vying for 1% of each other’s eyeballs. How could we possibly win with marketing? I repeat: your marketing has to be great.
Is it money that’s holding you back?
It’s fair to say that a lot of successful WordPress plugins are created by developers, and a lot of developers hate marketing — they confuse it with sales. Further, their products are generally undervalued and underpriced — a common conundrum in our market. Combine these two factors, and it creates a domino effect where even if the company wanted to explore some small marketing expenditure, there’s not enough revenue to do so. Then there are WordPress agencies that fund creating product (like me) through client service’s work. However, the grind of that business model, along with needing to spend on proper R&D for the product, can really snare our marketing efforts.
Guilty as charged!
From what I’ve surmised, the general boutique product firm or solo entrepreneur turns to 1 of many familiar scenarios:
Zip, zilch, nada
Something I’ve seen a lot of smaller product companies do: nothing. They don’t like doing it, and can’t figure out where to begin, so they resolve to do nothing at all. Eventually, they find themselves looking at what resembles a rising pile of unopened mail sitting on a desk. The benefits of even a tiny marketing campaign aren’t realized until it’s too late.
“I guess I should have started this sooner,” they say.
We put it off for a rainy day
Hey, about that marketing plan? Yeah, I’ll get to it. In fact, I blocked off some time in my calendar to read up on Facebook ads and create a series of blog posts. Hooray, content marketing!
Eh. So you’re a notch better than doing nothing, but you’re still delaying the inevitable. No plan in place. That, and the fact that you think you can get it done with your busy schedule. Whoops.
You haven’t settled on one market
Being all things to all people — the kiss of death. When I launched Conductor, I had similar aspirations. Everyone should use this plugin! Not the case. I have recently begun to focus more and more on developers and power users, not the general builder market. I say “no” a lot in my pre-sales conversations, which impacts revenue but wrangles in long-term support costs, refunds, and unsatisfied customers.
We’re a builder for people who don’t want a builder. Makes a ton of sense. (Insert winking emoji)
You haven’t settled on one channel (yet)
In the beginning, you need to be everywhere, finding your most engaging audience. You should try as many channels as you possibly can, looking for solid traction. Once you find that traction, you need to capitalize on it. Once you find what works, continue banging that drum until it doesn’t.
If you’re six-months to a year into a launch, you should have settled on one or two strong channels by now. If you’re still everywhere, well, you’re just not giving your marketing a chance to optimize itself.
You haven’t set a budget
This is where I default to the money thing I mentioned earlier. I’d say that a majority of products, even very popular products, haven’t invested their cash into marketing. Why? Typically there isn’t enough left over to spend after general expenses. The little money that is left over might go into a paid review or some re-targeting efforts.
It is a point where most people get a sour taste in their mouth. They spend a little here and a little there, never really seeing the benefits.
Who is doing it right? (big and small)
Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone is doing it wrong. Let’s take a look at some companies that you could potentially model your marketing from:
Big(ger) companies and what you can take away:
Rainmaker Digital, formerly Copyblogger – Content and lots and lots of it. They went from blogging, to education, to creating a network of podcasts, with all roads leading back to their products.
At this point, I shouldn’t have to tell you to come up with a strong content marketing plan, but I am going to say it again: come up with a strong content marketing plan. Stick to just the channels where you know you can get traction and you can perform well in.
For instance, if you suck at podcasting, save us the trouble and don’t start a podcast. You can, however, create a series of how-to screencasts and tutorials about your specific product, if you’re more comfortable going that route. Maybe you weren’t built for audio/video in any context. That’s okay, what about whitepapers or guest blogging about your customer’s particular industry?
I know this sounds like vanilla, run-of-the-mill advice, but so few people actually do it. It’s easy to discount these smaller organic marketing tips because it doesn’t sound sexy. It’s not the engaging: I made $5,000 dollars running a $3 Facebook ad campaign.
Get a goal set for even the smallest of content marketing campaigns.
iThemes — They market a strong company culture and an even stronger customer culture. I’ll admit, this is much easier when you have a handful of successful products, but it doesn’t mean you can’t start early. Cory and his team have organized meetups and webinars which help educate and elevate the success of their customers, using iThemes products.
My mission for you to is to mobilize your customer base, even if it’s small, to come together on a unified goal. Even more importantly, do this offline. Start with Meetup.com and try to find local events in your area where your customers might be, or attend events where you can have one-on-one conversations.
Believe me, strong marketing is about communicating well, and I’d rather talk to 3 customers in person than 300 on Twitter.
Small(er) companies and what you can take away:
Delicious brains — WP Migrate DB Pro, a plugin that the everyday Jane WordPress user wouldn’t ever touch or comprehend what it does, but that’s okay because it’s still successful. A developer-focused tool that has a strong following and is marketed as such — for developers. From what I’ve gathered, they focus on e-mail and content marketing that helps developers with more than just WordPress. As an example, they recently wrapped up a series on building your own WordPress hosting server on DigitalOcean.
Can you guess how you would migrate your WordPress website database to your shiny new server they just helped you build? Yup, their product.
So my challenge to you is: Can you come up with a clever tutorial or training series for a problem your audience is looking to solve that could also incorporate your own product — even if you don’t even mention it?!
Their content won’t drown you or annoy you with generalities.
WP Stagecoach — I love the grassroots approach Morgan and Jonathan take while promoting their WordPress staging site software. From case studies, to customer testimonials, to live Google Hangout webinars — this is how it’s done. It might not be the fanciest of models, but it’s the one I admire most. It’s brand building at it’s finest. Their content won’t drown you or annoy you with generalities. If you’re interested in their product, you’ll tune-in, which translates to a smaller audience with a narrower focus. The kind of customer we all want.
The lesson here is, as the creators of our products, our voice needs to be the driving force of promotion. Too many of us are getting so caught up on automation and autopilot that we convince ourselves our software will sell itself. It won’t. Believe me. Be proud and confident with your product and tell others about it.
Take action: 4 steps to improving your marketing plan
It’s time we make a plan for our marketing efforts. It doesn’t have to be difficult, time consuming, or overwhelming for us. Here are the 4 fundamental steps I’ve used to outline my new marketing plan(s):
1. Basic user profiling
I’m a huge believer in using the same discovery process we use for client work for my own products. You need to build an actual story of your ideal customer. Down to a fake name, age, income, likes and dislikes.
How will I do this, you ask?
Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin all provide the insights you’re looking for. Reverse engineer the data that you can research on your current customers and build the ideal profile.
• Who do they follow?
• Which brands do they like?
• What groups do they belong to?
Even if you can’t find them on popular social networks, I’m sure you can make an educated guess based on your past interactions with them. If you’re average customer is a software engineer making $75k a year and loves the BMW brand, yet you charge $19 for your plugin, I’m sure there’s a bit of wiggle room to increase your pricing and value.
2. Spend on advertising wisely
Facebook ads have become a marketing juggernaut that you can’t ignore anymore. There’s just one issue. If you’re in the traditional software space, converting on a sale is difficult. Facebook users are on mobile devices. Most of them won’t be purchasing your plugin or theme on their iPhone. It’s just not the best context for them to do so.
If you’re going to spend some money, I would spend it on content or events that you’re launching. For example, I’d spend on ad clicks to send someone to a blog post that potentially converts them to my e-mail list. If I’m running a training webinar, I’d have them register for the event. Too many of us get wrapped up in optimizing for clicks and reach, when we want qualified traffic to make the sale later.
Don’t get caught up in trying to complete a sale through an ad.
3. Community forums/groups
I’ll tell you right now, you need to be a people person for this to work. At the very least, you need to understand who your audience is, and if you don’t, scroll back up to re-read #1 on this list.
All too often I see people slapping in spam-like comments in popular groups about their fancy new theme or plugin with no regard to common sense conversation. It’s like the Kool-Aid man bursting through the door and forcing his powdery beverage on us — no one wants it.
Hopefully, you’re a founder that wants to be engaged in or around a community that your customers relate to. If you’re not, holding down conversations and fitting into an online discussion will always be challenging for you.
If you still want this marketing channel to work for you, start with helping people. Don’t jump in selling your stuff, just take a look around and help people. Over time, folks will recognize you and will do the research to find out who you are and what products you offer.
Build it and they will come! Yeah, well, they showed up and they don’t know what the hell it does.
4. Content drip (courses, onboarding, etc)
Build it and they will come! Yeah, well, they showed up and they don’t know what the hell it does.
Been there, done that, got a t-shirt.
Even with all of the marketing in the world, I guarantee a new visitor doesn’t understand your product. Again, something I’ve struggled to convey with Conductor. When I did the initial market research for our product, the resounding complaint people had about builders was bloat or too many options included. However, a majority of my pre-sales questions are people looking for all of these options that I thought they didn’t want.
In the coming months we’re creating a content drip series that educates our potential customers on the differences of our product versus the rest of WordPress builders in the space. A series that will warm them up to increasing sales and effectively lowering the cost of new customer support requests.
I’ve been writing about marketing automation that might help you on this area:
What’s your biggest marketing struggle?
For me, it’s time over money.
Balancing agency work, product creation, and telling the world about it. Refining and simplifying my goals has had a tremendous impact on that front, however. Understanding that we’re not chasing the success of other companies, but carving out our own path. This is very important for us. It should be for you too.
Post your biggest marketing struggles in the comments below, I’d love to work them out with you. Like what’s going on here? Consider joining my newsletter.