While it's 10x easier to start a company today, it's much more competitive to win over the hearts and minds of consumers. Hundreds of brands are vying for the same eyeballs. Advertising keeps getting more expensive. What worked for XYZ brand last year might be completely irrelevant now.
You either adapt or you die.
But it's not all doom and gloom. There's a reason why direct-to-consumer is such a frothy space for venture capital right now. Brands are growing like crazy in a short period of time. And when you look at these fast-growing co's, they all share a few common threads that have led to their success.
If you have a kung-fu grip on what I cover below, I believe you'll have a higher chance of growing your brand and getting more customers. Let's dig in.
Define Your Target Customer (The Innovators)
I always start here. In the early stages, you'll want to be precise in defining who your customers are.
Don't fall into the trap of casting too broad of a net. If you're selling an electronic toothbrush, it's easy to default to "my target customer is anyone that brushes their teeth in the US". That sounds great in theory since your total addressable market is millions of people. But you now have the impossible task of reaching a massive audience with zero brand equity (and probably a tiny budget).
The trick is to start small. Like really small. Per Crossing The Chasm, we want to identify the innovators, those that seek out novel products and that are willing to try new things.
It'll be a small group of people but they are so goddamn important in the early stages. They'll be the select few that truly believe in what you're doing. They'll stick with you while you're figuring your shit out and shout from the mountain tops to their friends about your products.
At Kettle & Fire, our early innovators had these attributes:
- Female, Age 60+, high 5-figure+ house-hold income
- Experienced chronic pain or digestive issues
- On restrictive whole foods diets (paleo, AIP, low-FODMAP etc.)
- Actively looking for solutions to their health problems, tried many different options already
- Cooking enthusiasts that enjoyed making food for themselves and family
How did we identify these attributes? I'll save a deep dive for a separate post, but from a high-level we did a ton of research, surveying, and interviewing. This can come from a variety of resources - industry coverage, thought leaders, online communities etc.
Once we stumbled upon our first few customers we routinely connected with them to drill into the details. We wanted to know everything about these guys - Their background, why they purchased, what they struggled with, what they ate for breakfast, etc. And over time, we began painting a clearer picture of who our customers were and what problems our products solved for them.
Identify Your Unique Selling Proposition
Once you have a good understanding of who your customer is, the next step is to determine what's going to get them to buy.
I like to tackle this using the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) advertising principle. The principle states that:
- You must make a proposition to the customer - "Buy this product and you will get this specific benefit".
- The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. It must be unique.
- The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions, i.e, pull over new customers to your product.
Following this principle acts as a filtering system for shitty value props. When you're writing ad copy or designing a landing page, you'll be forced to hone in on what's in it for them. And assuming that you've defined your target customer, you'll be able to construct tight messaging to that particular audience.
The nice thing about growing a brand online is that you can test different USP's quickly. Launch some ads on Facebook or Google, see what gets good clicks and conversions, then double down on what's working. It's a bit of trial and error in the early stages but oh so critical to identify a strong selling proposition as soon as possible.
Where Are Your Customers Hanging Out On The Internet?
Hang with me on this one. It's about to get weird.
In the critically panned film Freddy got Fingered, Gordon (played by comedian Tom Green) wishes to become a professional cartoonist. As he stumbles his way through self-discovery, an animation exec gives him these words of wisdom - "Gord, if you really want to be an animator...get inside the animals."
What results is one of the stranger film scenes I have ever come across. Gordon takes the exec's advice literally by finding a dead deer on the side of the road. He then proceeds to wear the carcass in a disturbing ritualistic attempt to connect with the animals he plans on drawing.
It's a ridiculous turn of events that makes me wonder WTF the screenwriters were smoking. But weirdly enough, it has stuck with me when it comes to thinking about finding customers.
You need to envision yourself in your customers' shoes. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? And more specifically, what are they doing behind a computer screen?
If you can find out where they're hanging out on the internet, you'll have a much easier time reaching them. Instead of defaulting to whatever 'flavor of the week' marketing channel, think hard about what their internet consumption habits are.
Depending on your target customer profile, you might find a few 'diamond in the rough' channels that your competitors are ignoring. I'll typically make a list of places on the internet I believe my potential customers are hanging out. This will include social media, blogs, forums, mobile apps, influencers etc. After making an exhaustive list, you'll be ready to take the next step and start executing.
Just remember, if you want to grow your brand...get inside the customer ;)
Running Growth Experiments
Instead of regurgitating a bunch of stuff in this post, I'll point you to Brian Balfour's incredible talk on building a growth machine. Through that link, he'll walk you through all the steps to establishing a growth process for finding customers.
Now that you have a list of places your customers are hanging out on the internet, you'll want to create a series of growth experiments to test these channels. But before jumping in, you'll need to prioritize the ideas that you think have the best chance of working.
I'll typically load up all my ideas into a spreadsheet and use the ICE framework to prioritize:
- Impact - Will this experiment potentially drive huge results for my business?
- Confidence - How confident am I that this experiment will work?
- Ease - How long will it take me to implement and get results?
I'll then score all my ideas to determine where I should focus my growth efforts. Ideally, you'll want to prioritize high impact experiments that you're confident in and won't take much time.
Now you're ready to start marketing to your target audience. The key is to rapidly test and iterate on these experiments so you can identify potential growth channels. Having a solid feedback loop is important here. You'll want to make sure that you're analyzing results from each experiment you run to determine what channels are working.
To see what this system looks like, here's a great post that details all the steps. You'll also find some templates and workflows you can leverage for your own efforts.
Next Steps: Doubling Down and Scaling
If you stick to this process, I believe you'll have a good shot at finding customers and growing your brand. Every marketing journey is different, what might crush for other brands might bomb for yours. I've ran dozens of failed experiments that didn't result in anything. But you only need a few channels to work in the early stages. The key is to continue iterating and double down on what's working.
In the beginning, it'll feel like you're pushing a boulder up a mountain. But I guarantee you once you find your first channels that work, it'll create a snowball effect and things will get easier.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.