With the Fall season upon us, we’re well into start-up conference season, with the big ones like DEMO and TechCrunch50 behind us, and the Web 2.0 Summit coming up this month. There is a lot of hype out there about the next big ideas, products, and companies…some of the organizers are even starting to believe their own hype as influencers of future success.

A tag cloud with terms related to Web 2.
Image via Wikipedia

Well, I’ve got to admit, I’m downright fatigued from looking at the same kinds of ideas, over and over again, and the lazy approach to marketing and promotion from so many. For instance how many more companies do we need to see with no vowels in their names that have home pages that just display a pretty picture and the word “sign up”. I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU DO OR WHY I NEED IT, SO I’M NOT GOING TO SIGN UP.

Too harsh? Maybe. Tough love? Yes. As a previous attendee at these conferences, I still think that they are great venues, but with a little careful planning you can cut through the clutter out there, by understanding the most tired, played out tactics and what you can do to stand out to build something of real value.

The challenge: competing for attention, when attention is scarce

The first thing you need to understand is that you are competing in a landscape where your customers are suffering from a deficit of attention. So, to spend time on your application, I have to give something else up. If it saves me time from something else I’m already doing great, but you have to convince me of that before I invest my time, because I’m always looking for ways to save seconds and minutes in my day. Moreover, there are many more companies and apps out there, that didn’t exist one or two years ago – here’s good analysis of that effect.

Applying “design thinking” to focus your product development and marketing

IDEO's Design Thinking
Design Thinking Venn Diagram from IDEO (www.ideo.com)

The field of Design Thinking gives us a framework to think about how bet to represent your product and convey value to your prospective customer.

While I acknowledge that Design Thinking is not really limited marketing, I believe that this similar thought process can be applied to customer perception in this context as well.

1. Desirability: Why I have to have it

You’ve got to give me a reason to care. Why should I sign up? What is it you do? Show me what you do immediately – writing copy is ok, case studies are better, but data is even better. Making me watch a five minute demo of your product is not. The more you can let your applications speak for itself the better. So, show me what I can do that I’ve never done before, how will this change my life and the way I interact with people or my job.

The goal here is to awaken an eager want for your product. When thinking about creating desirability for your product, what’s going to make people think leap with delight and crave your product at an emotional level.

2. Feasibility: Why it’s easy for me to use and live with

Product desirability personified
Product desirability personified

Ok, so now I want your product, but that’s not enough, I’ve got to be able to attain it. I would love to have a car like this, but I could never justify the purchase for a number of reasons. So, feasibility is all about making your product easy to consume, and live with going forward.

These are usually issues like price, setup, time investment, and maintenance but you will have your own considerations for your product. All in all the basic idea is to make me feel like I can actually own your product and not suffer from buyers remorse afterward. These notions must be well communicated upfront…and signing up costs me time and my data to you, it’s by no means “free”.

3. Viability: Why I need to trust you

Who remembers sea monkeys?
Why does trust matter? Who remembers sea monkeys?

To me, this is the biggest barrier for most companies — after you’ve intrigued me and got my attention, now I have to believe you that all you claims are correct. This is the hardest part of the equation – anyone remember being pitched to buy sea monkeys for under $2??

To do so, I’d recommend finding ways to establish trust and credibility for your company product, and claims. While attending one of these conferences connotes some level of “filter”, that your company is somewhat better than others that applied, certainly helps. Adding testimonials, a series of killer management bios, customer lists, or other points of validation help me believe you.

If you don’t have any of those things you can try something straight of our Cialdini’s playbook to build reciprocity with your customer — i.e. give something to get something. So, let me get something immediate and valuable from going to your website without having to sign up.These could be videos, newsletters, blog posts, free tools or anything that I can get truly for free.

[Shameless plug: For instance at Visible Measures we showcase our syndicated Top 10 Charts for free without sign-up, as well as provide tools to navigate our historical charts]

Marketing does matter

I know it’s tough out there, and you’re working with little sleep to build something “insanely great”. So go the extra mile to make the visitors to your site want your product, can see themselves using it, and trust you enough to give up their time and usernames. If you spend the time and apply a these principles to your “sign up” process, I guarantee you that you’ll get more “sign-ups” and can capitalize on the traffic that these conferences give you.

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