Although the idea of using products or side projects to market your business isn’t new, their widespread use has only gained currency recently.
Businesses today use products as a way to introduce their brand to a target market through value creation (rather than a blog). If visitors like what you create, they’ll probably want to know more about your business.
As a concept, this is easy enough to understand, which is what makes it so compelling. So in this article, I’ll show you how to use products as a growth hacking strategy. This strategy can also be known as product-led growth.
What Is a “Product”?
A product is a standalone solution independent from your core offering.
This definition is purposefully broad; it can cover any kind of physical product, e-books, apps or services. The form matters less than the intention behind the product, which is to serve as a customer acquisition channel.
Of course, it’s not necessary for the offering to actually be useful to qualify as a “product.” Some of the most successful products are essentially meaningless but have a fun or novel take on an idea (such as this “Kardashian content blocker” app).
Most products serve two underlying purposes:
1. Build brand awareness
Curiosity has a strong impact on user behavior.
If your product provides a benefit to your visitors, some of them will seek out more information about the individuals or brands behind the product.
2. Help you acquire leads
People are willing to exchange their contact information for content that provides them value. Hiding your product behind opt-in forms or newsletters lets you gather leads that you can slowly nurture over time back to your core offering.
The most successful products are often designed in a way to facilitate lead capture (such as a quiz that requires you to enter your email to view quiz results).
Products are also useful for showcasing your skills. This is particularly true in the case of independent developers and designers who want something beyond client work to show off their abilities.
Successful Product Types
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to products.
The key is to create something that innovates on an existing idea or fulfills a niche need but isn’t too resource-intensive to create.
Resources, plugins or even simple mobile apps are all good examples of “products.”
To get a better idea, let’s take a look at a few examples of successful product types:
1. Product as a Resource
This product type serves to fulfill a niche need in a market and the market is usually closely related to your original offering. The objective of the “resource” is to provide value by aggregating relevant content and ideas.
For example, consider Unsplash, a service created by freelancing agency Crew.co. The team at Crew recognized that many of the freelancers they worked with were struggling to find high-quality stock images for cheap.
To fulfill this need, they created a free repository of high-quality stock images at Unsplash. By carefully curating their images, this site was able to quickly become the go-to image source for designers, coders and startups.
2. Product as Content
Content – a blog, an e-book or a newsletter – can be packaged as a product as well. Usually, this means focusing on something related to, or sometimes tangential to, your existing offering.
For example, MineSF.com is a boutique design firm that defines how brands look. To push their philosophy that inspiration can be found anywhere, they created a blog that reviews lessons from eating a different burger every week.
Similarly, newsletters make for fantastic products because they are easy to create and are designed to capture leads (i.e. e-mail addresses). They can also be easily packaged as a standalone entity that might have nothing to do with your core business.
For example, A Song A Day is a subscription-based service that emerged from a hobby. Originally an e-mail sent to friends to help them discover new songs every day, the idea transformed into a massively popular newsletter.
3. Product as an App
Although they can be hard to create, apps offer fantastic value for your target audience. Their high barrier to entry also means that you can create something completely unique.
For example, Everybody’s Invited is an events-based company. Realizing that wedding planning and execution was a shared problem among many of their clients, they made Scrum Your Wedding to help people better manage weddings.
4. Product as a Physical Entity
Although harder to create and scale (depending on your core competency, of course), physical products can be incredibly powerful promotional tools. Agencies frequently use them to showcase their talent.
For example, Mother NY recently created an eCommerce store to sell its physical products.
What Defines a Successful Product?
Successful products, more often than not, follow a template, regardless of the product type or target niche.
Here are some qualities that such products have in common:
- Narrow focus: The product should focus on one underlying pain point of your target audience. For example, Unsplash helps users find free stock images and A Song a Day helps people discover new music.
- Captures visitor information: For the product to meet your business goals, it should include a way to let visitors provide you with their information (either e-mail address or phone number).
- Easy to build: A side project that takes too much time to build is not worth the effort. You don’t want to spend so many resources building the product that you end up ignoring your core offering.
- Easy to maintain: Side projects are not your main source of income. Your product shouldn’t be so complex that you end up wasting resources in its monitoring and maintenance.
- Aligns with your target audience: Your audience pays attention to content that interests them. If your target market is programmers, make a programming-related product.
How to Make Products
Now that you know what a product is and how it helps with your marketing effort, it’s time to actually sit down and make your products.
Here are a few steps you need to take:
1. Identify your audience’s need
Start by figuring out an underlying need of your target market and remember to keep your focus narrow. You want to find easily solvable problems, not problems that will take up the bulk of your resources.
Niche communities, Q&A sites like Quora, and industry blogs are great places to discover unmet market needs. You can also consider interviewing some of your existing customers or surveying your audience to identify what they want.
2. Brainstorm ideas
Once you identify your audience needs, brainstorm ideas that are mutually beneficial.
There are three things you should consider before settling on an idea:
- Linkability: Products that become go-to resources for an industry often attract links, and thus traffic, over time. Choose ideas that have inherent linkability.
- Lead capture: Opt for ideas that naturally require users to exchange contact information in order to get value (such as e-mail newsletters).
- Press potential: A quirky, humorous or exceptionally designed idea is more likely to be featured by the press and go viral than a dull, industry-specific resource.
The best ideas would fulfill all of the above three requirements, though that’s not a necessity and, of course, you should also consider the amount of effort it will take to bring the idea to life.
3. Build the product
Combine your ideas together to build a product that is not too elaborate. The product should essentially be a well-polished MVP.
If you’re planning to omit a few features, make sure you don’t leave out any method to capture leads, since that’s what will give you value.
4. Market where your audience hangs out
With your product ready for the market, you need to promote it.
One tactic that you can use to promote your product is to approach your audience in places where they hang out.
For example, if you’re creating a product that helps programmers apply for jobs, launch it on Hacker News and Reddit, not Facebook or Pinterest.
Reddit is a great tool for figuring out what your audience is currently sharing and discussing. Head over to the site and search for your keyword and then analyze the results to identify popular subreddits, websites and ideas in the niche.
5. Get the press involved
If your product takes off on popular platforms such as Instagram, Reddit or HackerNews, this is undeniable proof that people like your product.
Use this as “social proof” and reach out to publications about featuring your product. A string of press mentions can often turn the initial lift-off from a successful Reddit post into ongoing, long-term traffic.
Over to You
Products are powerful tools for driving new users to your brand.
If you’re pressed for time and need quick results for brand awareness, invest your time in developing a product. From showcasing your skills to capturing new leads, a well-made product can yield incredible results in short time.
Use the tactics I shared above to brainstorm ideas and create your first product.