Viral Marketing

Viral marketing is the process of getting your existing users to refer others to your product. It can come from different forms:

  • Pure word of mouth: people naturally tell people about your product.
  • Inherent virality: people can only get value by inviting others (chat app, social media app).
  • Collaboration: the product becomes more valuable when used collaboratively (Google Docs).
  • Embedded communication from the product (Apple’s “Sent from my iPhone”).
  • Incentive (refer friends to get more space on DropBox).
  • Embedded buttons & widgets (Youtube’s embedded videos, Facebook’s Like button).
  • Social networks.

Public Relations (PR)

PR focus on getting coverage from traditional media like news, newspapers, magazines. Most make money from ads, meaning the more view they have, the better. So if you have a compelling story, they want to hear from you.

Top news get stories from smaller news or blogs. That said, to target these effectively, start small and pitch to niche blogs or ones who often get picked up by larger ones like TechCrunch, Lifehacker, Hacker News, Reddit, and so on.

Follow influencers in your industry and target blogs they often link to. Ask them for comment/feedback on your product, and also to share it with their audience if possible.

Figure out specific reporters covering your market and build relationship with them (read their articles, comment, offer help). Pitch when you have a compelling story (raising money, launching products, hitting a usage barrier). Refer to the book for pitch templates.

Unconventional PR

There are two types of unconventional PR:

  • Publicly stunt: Richard Branson dressing like a woman, DuckDuckGo’s billboard in Google’s backyard highlighting its privacy focus, Dollar Shave Club’s viral video.
  • Customer appreciation: sending gits, hand-written notes to customers, contests and giveaways, having amazing customer support.

Unconventional PR is really effective if done right.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

SEM refers to placing advertisements on search engine like Google. You can use SEM to test product positioning even before you build it.

3 terminologies to focus on are:

  • Click-Through Rate (CTR): if 100 people see your ad, 3 of them click, your CTR is 3%.
  • Cost per Click (CPC): amount it costs to buy a click.
  • Cost per Acquisition (CPA): amount it costs to acquire a customer.

The higher your CTR is, the higher quality your ad is, the better placement and pricing you can have.

If your CPC is $1, 10% of people click on your ad and make a purchase, your CPA is $1/10% = $10. If your product costs $1 and it costs you $10 to acquire a customer, SEM might not worth it.

Social and Display Ads

Display Ads are ones you see on websites all over the Internet where they are run by ad networks.

  • Large Networks: Google Display Network,
  • Niche Networks: BuySell Ads.
  • Direct Networks: ask sites owners to place your ads.

To know the ads your competitors are running, use tools like MixRank, Adbeat. To determine whether a site’s audience is the right fit, use tools like Alexa, Quantcast.

Social Ads is when you use social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, reddit) to generate interests, awareness, start a conversation, deliver a message, build an audience rather than conversion purposes (completing a sale, generating sign-up).

Offline Ads

There are many kinds of offline ads, such as TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, billboards, direct mail. The most important factor to consider while making an offline ads purchase is the demographics.

You can run cheap tests by targeting local markets first and scale up to national ones. To track it, use unique codes or web addresses.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the process of improving your ranking in search engines.

Moz’s The Beginner’s Guide to SEO is a good start for beginners.

SEO comes down to two things: contents and links.

  • The more aligned your content is with the keywords, the better it will rank.
  • The more links you can get from credible and varying sources, the better it will rank. This can be achieved via PR, content marketing, and so on.

Content Marketing

Blogging is proven to be a great way to promote your product. Having a strong blog can positively impact other traction channels as well.

Some use their blogs as a marketing platform before they even have a product. Some use their blogs as their main channel for customers acquisition.

Other than blogging, courses, ebooks, infographics,… are also be used in content marketing.

“In the early days, it’s unlikely that your blog will see much traffic, regardless of content quality. Even Unbounce was receiving less than 800 monthly visits after six months of consistently putting out content. It took a while for them to grow to 20,000 monthly visitors.”

One of the best way to grow your audience is to do guest posting on popular blogs.

To succeed, you have to create quality content and publish consistently.

  • Write about problems your target customers have.
  • Use data from your product to produce in-depth posts.

Email Marketing

Email marketing works best when it’s personalized as they sit next to email updates from friends and family in your customer’s inbox.

Email can be used in all stages of the customer lifecycle:

  • Finding customers: include an email list in your blog, offer materials over email, and so on.
  • Engaging customers: what you really want is an email list of active users. What it means depends on your product. For Dropbox, it means uploading at least 1 file. For Twitter, it means sending out a tweet or following at least 5 people.
  • Retaining customers: send out lifecycle emails to slowly expose customers to new features, weekly summary,…
  • Upselling cusomters.
  • Generating referrals.

Checkout Copyhackers for copywriting tips.

Engineering as Marketing

Build useful tools and resources to reach more people. For example, HubSpot built a free marketing review tool, Marketing Grader, to automate the process of evaluating websites' marketing effectiveness and at the same time build a bigger customer base.

The key features of these tools are that they’re free, very to easy use, and an immediate value.

Target Market Blogs

Targeting blogs your customer read is one of the most effective way to get your first customers.

Mint used this strategy to acquire 20k sign up before they launched:

  • They got several blogs to write about them.
  • They sponsored blogs to put ads.
  • They partnered with larger sites like The Motley Fool.
  • They asked people on their pre-launch list to share in return for priority product access.

To find influential bloggers, can search for “top blogs/best blogs for x” in search engines, Youtube, social media.

Business Development (BD)

BD focuses on exchanging value through partnerships. Some of the major types are:

  • Standard partnership: two parties work together to leverage each or both products (Nike+ is the result of Apple and Nike).
  • Join venture: two parties work together to create a new product offering (Starbucks Frappuccino is the result of Starbucks and Pepsi).
  • Licensing: an upstart can use a stronger branch to have more credibility.
  • Distribution deal: one party provides a service to other in return for access to potential customers (Groupon work with restaurants to offer discounts to their mailing list).


Sales is the process of generating leads and converting them into paying customers. It works best for high-priced products.

For more information, refer to the book as well as The Mom Test.

Affiliate Programs

An affiliate program is an arrangement where you pay people to perform a certain action. Some of the major categories are:

  • Coupon/deal: offer discounts and take a sale cut (Amazon).
  • Loyalty program: offer cash back on purchases made through partnered networks (Upromise, Ebates).
  • Aggregator: aggregate products from retailers.
  • Email list.
  • Niche sites.

Your ability to use affiliate programs effectively depends on how much you’re willing to pay out of pocket to acquire a customer.

  • Use affiliate networks such as ClickBank, Commission Junction, Pepperjam,…
  • Create your own: even though you don’t have to pay for affiliates in cash, you have to recruit partners yourself.

Existing Platforms

Existing platforms are websites, apps with huge number of users (Apple App Store, Google add-ons/extensions).

  • For app stores, you want to get high ranking or featured.
  • For social platform, you want to focus on missing features.

Trade Shows

Trade shows allow companies to show their products in person.

Look at how other companies do it and decide yourself.

Offline Events

Conferences are the most popular type of offline events. Alongside, throwing parties is a successful strategy to attract and reward prospective customers.

Meetups are also good ways to build local communities.

Speaking Engagements

If you’re a good fit for a event, you’re doing the event organizers by presenting.

Community Building

“Community building can give you traction by magnifying your essential purpose, building a core asset, creating evangelists for your service, contributing to product development and even giving you a hiring pool.”