the big 4 of
pre-launch marketing

March 19, 2012

Engage with the Market on Day 1

I regurlaly notice that lots of startups skip the pre-launch stage in the life of their product(s) or service(s). They focus on the development of a minimum viable product, launch a beta and then only start talking about it (even for most of those who seriously apply a customer development process). For many of you, building a MVP would take at least from a few weeks to a few months. Taking seriously this pre-launch marketing perspective literally increases your chances of success. Why? Because you start to engage with the market on day 1, and not after weeks or months.

You can start to engage with your market simply by talking about the problem your product or service would solve without even explaining how it will work. When you’re talking about a problem you’re going to fix, people give you invaluable feedbacks on it: Do they really have this problem too? Or a closer one? How do they think this problem can be solved? Where is the real value for them?

Paul Graham wrote in his essay Startups in 13 sentences that if he had to keep only one, it would be “understand your users“. This is exactly what pre-launch marketing allow you to do: start to get closer with your future customers on day 1.

The Big 4 of Pre-Launch Marketing

Here are 4 main benefits I identify to start marketing the day you start coding.

  • Validating your idea
  • Gathering a beta list
  • Scheduling a launch day
  • Building links over time

Validating your Idea

We all know great people who spent 3 months (and maybe money) building a product and then only try to sell it. And in some cases (actually most cases), they can not succeed to sell it. Generally, it means that the product does not fit with a market and nobody wants to buy it.

Talking with people and building a coming-soon page to A/B test hook messages and start collecting emails are the best ways to measure people’s interest in your product. Talking about the problem(s) you want to solve, talking about your product as soon as possible allow you to engage with your market and validate (or not so you can pivot) your idea.

You can read a lot of literature on the Customer Development process and the Lean Startup movement about startups' success during early stages. And you can do much more during the pre-launch time than just validating your idea.

Gathering a Beta List

Pre-launch marketing allow you to connect with people who are interested in your product. One good thing is to build a launch notification email list, which is something commonly implemented nowadays. You can automate this adding a form to capture email addresses - and I also recommand capturing at least their names, because a lot of people will give you their funny teenage hotmail address so you won't be able to actually know who they are (on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) - on the landing pages you've built.

And I also highly recommand to do it "manually". After discussing on problems and solutions with random people - which is so great! - simply ask them if they would give you their email address so you can personally send them an email when you'll be live. If the majority of people don't want to, you have a problem. And you'll be amazed by how much people seem to really be interested in the problem/product you talked about, but don't want to let you their emails. Meeting ready-to-provide-emails people and early adopters enable you to validate even more the existence of a problem and the relevance of your solution.

And once your product is ready for beta testing, it reduces the time you need to find testers from a few weeks to a few hours.

Scheduling a Launch Day

Here it comes, the day of launch, your day. You've spent hours and hours during days and nights to build your prototype and now it’s ready! For you, it sounds like a masterpiece! You’re proud of it. You send emails to people you know, post on your facebook/twitter/whatever and eventually publish a press release (which in fact will not be downloaded)… And at the end of the day, you only get 3 subscriptions (from family and friends). Sorry to be a bit ironic, but it's quite true. This means that you still have to do all the marketing part… And it will take time!

Compare this to a 500 emails list you've built since day 1 because 500 of people who you talked to and / or visited your pre-launch / coming-soon page found your solution enough interesting to provide you their emails. The day you launch (remember, your day!), you send an email to these people announcing the launch and a special discount for them. Your conversion rate should be between 5 and 40% depending on how long you’ve been collecting emails, the interest level, and how competitive is your offer.

Just take a conversion rate around 20%, that makes 100 subscriptions. Compare it with the 3 subscriptions from family and friends, and give me only one reason not to collect emails and schedule a launch day.

Building Links Over Time

I will not teach you much if I tell you that search engines look more favorably on websites with “natural” link profiles. And it takes time to do so, especially because search engines love links over time rather than a lot on a single day. Your ranking on Google will be higher the day you launch thanks to the links you build step by step during the pre-launch stage. And to be clear, this is very valuable.

So do I, always

I do it all the time, and encourage people aroud me to do so each time they want to go beyond an idea. I love to talk with people about such-and-such problems, even if it's hard sometimes often to start a conversation from scratch, because I do find fascinating how much people's feedbacks are interesting and valuable to highlight problems and shape a sketch of solution.

I used to spend around 50% of the pre-launch time doing marketing to get feedbacks, gather a beta-list, meet with early adopters and schedule the launch. That's partly why I end up building a free tool to create quickly landing-pages to easily test marketing hook messages and collect email addresses before and during coding.

Remember that pre-launch marketing allow you to engage with your market on day 1. You'll seriously increase your chances of success by saving (a lot of) your time.

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