Lessons Learned From Helping Over 150 Startups With Marketing Part 1: Fundamentals

About a week ago, I made a post on Hacker News offering free online marketing advice to any startup that asked for it. I had over 150 startups emailing me, selling everything from enterprise software to scheduling tools to pet food, and I tried to answer every single one with specific, actionable insights they could put to use right away. This took a lot of time, but not as much as I expected, because I would frequently find myself giving the same advice over and over again.I’m going to collect the most useful and common advice I’ve given into a three part “lessons learned” series. In this post, I’ll focus on broader marketing strategies which are critically important if your startup is to succeed. Next week, I’ll delve into driving traffic and specific tactics startups can use to immediately begin growing their customer base.These suggestions may seem basic or common sense to some of you, but you would be surprised at how few startups are actually executing on these. I’ll write about more specific tactics and methods for driving traffic and customer acquisition in my next post, but all of those will be useless unless you get these fundamentals right. By the way, if you’re an affiliate and you don’t think these apply to the landing pages you’re building, you’re doing something wrong.

Articulate a Clear, Specific, Compelling Value Proposition

For many of the startups I looked at, I had to kind of scratch my head and think for a few minutes as I tried to figure out exactly what benefit they offered consumers. The value of your product or service, your unique competitive advantage, should be clear within 5 seconds of visiting your site. I’m sure you’ve heard the old copywriting mantra of “list benefits, not features”. Take that to the next level. [pullthis id=”1″]Take the single most important benefit of using your service, and make that your headline.[/pullthis][pullshow id=”1″]If you could only have one feature in your app, what would it be? Your “killer app” can lead to your biggest benefit, and that’s how you need to introduce yourself to customers. I could write volumes about writing headlines, but a simple statement like this is a good place to start. Especially if you’re selling a B2B service, as many of you are, you need to make the immediate benefit or ROI of using your service crystal clear. If you’re building a B2B app to manage payroll, “Cloud hosted SaaS payroll for your business” is not a good headline. “Spend less time worrying about payroll” is a better one. “Cut payroll management costs by 37% instantly” is even better.

Find Your Target Market, and Segment the Hell out of Them

Another issue I ran across rather frequently is a distinct lack of marketing focus. When asked who their target market was, many people responded “small businesses” or, worse “anyone”. Alright, fine, you sell your SaaS products to small business in the US. But what kind of small business owner converts the best for you? Which customers are most likely to be profitable customers? Who is most excited about your product? You have been tracking these things, haven’t you?You don’t have the budget to target all small businesses, so start with a specific niche or industry you think your product has particularly strong appeal for. Selling time tracking software? Start positioning as time tracking software for accountants, or dentists, or landscapers. How about targeting a specific task or feature and finding people looking for that feature only? Or what about people who already use a particular competitor’s software? I’ll go into competitor bidding at a later time, but it’s a fantastic way to get motivated early users.Build super niche landing pages or, even better, microsites targeting each specific market segment you want to go after, emphasizing the specific benefits of your product to that group only. Not only is this a very strong SEO play, but it will increase your quality score and relevance in AdWords, as well as greatly increase conversions.If you have a landing page targeted to doctors, test putting a stock photo of a smiling doctor using your software on your landing page. It’s cheesy, but there’s a reason companies use it- it works. Similarity is a very powerful principle of persuasion. Tech people respond well to screenshots of software. Local small business owners may not.By the way, this applies to ecommerce startups as well. If you’re a clothing company build pages like “Top products for new moms” or “Tshirts for fans of __”, they will do very well.

Optimize Aggressively for CLV

If you’re running a subscription service of any kind, customer lifetime value(CLV) is by far the most important metric you need to be thinking about. More than conversion rates, burn rate, SEO, or anything else, CLV will determine whether your startup lives or dies. Try to determine this number, at least an average for your entire customer base, as soon as possible.There are so many ways to increase CLV that fall outside the scope of this post, but just remember that effective monetization of the backend is where many online businesses live or die. Effectively upselling or cross-selling once you’ve acquired a customer could mean the difference between outbidding your competitors and capturing more market share or falling behind.You don’t have to be spammy or annoying to upsell well. This can be as simple a showing a notification when your customer is close to reaching a usage limit, urging him to upgrade to the next tier of service, or emailing your most loyal customers with special discounts.Start measuring engagement, churn rate and attrition, visit frequency, etc, loyalty and so on. If you’re selling a $20 a month service but you know that you will net $400 over the lifetime of an average customer, suddenly you have a lot more options for marketing, not to mention some great metrics to show investors.

Start Marketing Early and Validate Your Idea ASAP

You don’t need a product to start marketing. Let me say that again. You don’t need anything to start marketing. All you need is a vague idea and a landing page where you can collect email addresses from prospective customers. It’s called dry testing, and it works, at least for gauging initial interest to see if an idea is worth pushing further.It pains me to see so many startups emailing me who have already spent months or even years building a product without thinking about promotion or validating their idea at all before launching. “Launch first, then figure out marketing” is a recipe for disaster. You need to be able to answer at least these questions as soon as possible, ideally before you write a single line of code:

  1. Is there a target market for my product and how big is it?
  2. Who are the current players in the market? Is it controlled by a few big players or dominated by many smaller companies?
  3. How much market share can I realistically expect to capture, and how well can I monetize them?

[pullthis id=”2″]Remember this: A startup is a business.[/pullthis] And any business requires basic market research. If you were thinking of opening a coffee shop, would you jump right in and start building it? Or would you first see if there are any other coffee shops nearby, how many customers they have, how much they charge for coffee, etc?[pullshow id=”2″]Marketing isn’t just emailing bloggers and driving traffic. It’s everything- product, price, placement, and promotion. Start thinking about these things before you launch, learn from them, and iterate quickly before wasting a lot of time and money.Next Week: Exactly how to find exactly where your most profitable customers are, where to get cheap traffic to validate your idea fast, and how to easily dominate your competitors on most traffic sources.

6 Killer Facebook Ads Image Tactics That Will Skyrocket Your CTR

Don’t want to manually sift through the 11,000 Facebook ads images I posted earlier to find the good ones? Don’t worry, I did the hard work for you and found 11 excellent images that demonstrate some of the most effective techniques in Facebook advertising.I know that even if I ask nicely that you don’t copy these exact images for your own campaigns, some of you will do so anyway. Just keep in mind that these specific images are already very saturated and overused. If you find a stylistically similar but fresh image, you will get a much higher CTR, guaranteed, which could be the difference between profit and loss in your campaign.When selecting an image, remember that its purpose is to attract attention and entice the user to notice your ad. With apologies to Gary Halbert, you can think of your image as an ad for your ad. What would get your ad noticed?I tried to focus on a general effective tactic when selecting these rather than just a particular image. Read on, and you’ll see what I mean.Note: Posting these images is kind of a gray area which may or may not be fair use. If you can prove one of these images belongs to you, please send me a DMCA notice to ilya -at- unviral.com and I will take it down immediately. 1. Use lots of color The gradient background is a classic, time tested social advertising technique. It may not work for all niches, but it can be extremely effective in getting the attention of certain demographics. And anything bright and colorful will stand out among Facebook’s drab, pale blue interface.

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2. Add Banners And Badges I love the use of the word New! in the following ad. Not only is saying “New” a classic marketing technique, but the its design and placement in the lower right corner cleverly draws the eye towards the body of the ad.

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3. Mimic UI Elements Years of using modern operating systems have conditioned most people to respond in a very specific way to certain graphical elements. For example, our eye is naturally drawn to buttons that look clickable, just like we’re trained to draw our attention to a small mouse cursor on the screen. These techniques are controversial, but if you can get them approved, you can benefit from a dramatic increase in CTR. People routinely accomplished 30-50 percent increases in CTR just by overlaying a picture of a small Play arrow(like a YouTube video) on their image. This is no longer allowed, but some of these techniques might be:

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4. Faces are very effective, but sex always sells In the early days of Facebook Ads, all you had to do was present a picture showing a little cleavage to get massive clicks. They’ve cracked down on how much skin you can show since then, but don’t worry- the right picture of a face can be just as appealing as the sluttiest softcore porn pics. Closeups, especially those images that seem to be staring straight at the user from the page look very effective.Pictures of cute girls for the men, and of babies for the women work very well. We’re just biologically hardwired by millions of years of evolution to respond to them.

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Of course, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can always try to sneak in something vaguely pornographic…

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5. Don’t underestimate the power of plain text It can often be very effective to simply treat the image as more space for your text headline, particularly if you have a strong, clear value proposition with universal appeal that can be expressed in just a few words.

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6. When all else fails, shock Like a tabloid, you can always rely on shock value. Assuming you can get creepy or weird ads approved, you can get a very good CTR for certain demographics very quickly. These ads probably won’t convert very well, but for some offers or sites where getting clicks as cheap as possible is the objective, this is a valid strategy.

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This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but it should be enough to give you a few ideas on specific tactics you can use right now to increase your CTR, get more traffic, and lower your costs.

11,701 Effective Facebook Ads Images

As I mentioned in my previous post on Facebook Ads strategy, social advertising is purely a numbers game. If you can maintain your cost per click(CPC)<earnings per click(EPC) as you scale up your ad spend, you can stand to generate a lot of revenue very quickly on the margins.In order to maintain low CPC, you need a high CTR. And if you’ve ever advertised on social ads, you know that there’s one very important factor in getting a high CTR on Facebook- it’s all about the image.Choosing an effective set of images to test is critical to the success of your Facebook ads campaign. However, it can be time-consuming and expensive to determine by trial and error what kind of image is most effective.With that in mind, I wanted to share a few images I collected from actual Facebook ads, so you can see what is actually working for current advertisers on the Facebook Ads platform.Simply stealing some of these images for use in your own campaigns would be stupid- they’re already in use, and being saturated on Facebook Ads. Users on social platforms quickly develop banner blindness towards ads and images they’ve seen before, so you’re unlikely to find success by simply ripping some random images from this collection.The smart advertiser will take a macro view and browse through these images more broadly. As you look through them, you’ll begin to see common patterns and trends emerge, and develop a sense for what kinds of techniques and types of images are most effective on Facebook ads.Apply these techniques to your own campaigns, and you’ll instantly see significant improvements in CTR and profitability. For example, there’s a certain type and color of border I’m going to try that I think will do very well.I’m NOT going to post the targeting,headline, text or destination URL for these ads, because that would be outing entire campaigns and I’m not going that far, so don’t even bother asking.Methodology:I looked at about 250,000 Facebook ads targeting all English speaking countries(US,CA,UK,etc) in late September through early October 2010 and collected the images.These are not images I just think might work on Facebook ads.All of these images were actually recently used in Facebook ads, and many of them are undoubtedly very successful for the advertisers using them.After sorting through them and removing duplicates, I was left with 11,701 unique images.I also sorted images by how frequently they appeared/were used/copied to find the most popular and presumably most effective ones. But I don’t think I’m ready to release that data just yet. Again, don’t ask.Note to Facebook: I didn’t scrape these from Facebook myself, or touch Facebook’s servers in any way to get these, so please don’t be mad at me. To the best of my knowledge, I’m fully within my rights to link to this image archive.Bonus IdeaThe more astute among you might notice that PlentyofFish uses the same image dimensions and general ad format as Facebook. This is done intentionally to encourage advertisers to copy their campaigns over to the PoF platform. I’m sure PoF would love it if you took some of the high converting images found in this collection and tried on them on the much less competitive PoF platform.In case you’re too lazy to look through the files yourself, I’ll be posting some – but not all – of my favorites in a few days. Expect more outrage as I out people’s highest-converting images.Download:http://www.mediafire.com/?1er5b873e7rylu2Mirror:http://rapidshare.com/files/426415383/fbimages.zipArchive Password: www.insight.io

Advanced Facebook Ads Strategy: Optimize for CTR to Get Massive Traffic Fast

Social advertising is a completely different animal from most other paid traffic sources. With most paid or free traffic sources, the advertiser’s first challenge is getting wide distribution, specifically, getting enough volume to make optimizing your ads worthwhile.Ad platforms like Facebook Social Ads have virtually limitless traffic volume available for the taking- just bid high enough, and watch the traffic roll in.[pullshow]The main challenge for the advertiser is making the numbers work; getting cheap enough clicks and monetizing them well enough on the backend to make the campaign successful.[pullthis]A lot of people make the mistake of optimizing for conversions on Facebook ads.[/pullthis] That is, they’ll throw an offer up on Facebook, usually direct linking, see if it “converts on Facebook”, and, when they invariably lose money, they move on to another offer or traffic source.Don’t do this. Start out optimizing for CTR.The reason for this is that, if you develop a decent CTR early on with your ad, your clicks costs will drop dramatically in the next few days. If you’re starting out bidding CPC, you could be paying 80% less per click 3 days later, provided you have a decent CTR.Don’t worry too much about monetizing or conversions early on into a Facebook Ads campaign.Assuming your product is solid and the targeting makes sense, once you get your click costs down enough, you won’t have too much trouble monetizing in most cases, even if conversion rates are lower.In practical terms optimizing for CTR means aggressively testing lots of different attention-grabbing images.How do you know which images work best on Facebook? I’m glad you asked. See my next post.