Introduction to Marketing for Hardware Startups
Many entrepreneurs ignore marketing their hardware product until after development is finished. In this article you will learn why this is a mistake, and instead how to market your product concurrently while you develop it.
Marketing is something that I see many hardware startups unfortunately neglect, or at least ignore initially. Many startups and entrepreneurs hold the fundamental misunderstanding that marketing should happen after product development.
But that’s not the way to do it. Marketing should be happening concurrently with product development.
Reach and Trust
Marketing can be split into two main functions: reach and trust. Obviously, you first have to reach people, and make them aware of your company and product. That’s one aspect of marketing.
The second, and perhaps the more important aspect, is that once you reach customers, you have to earn their trust. All businesses, all purchases, all buying ‒ everything centers around trust.
If someone doesn’t trust you or your company, they’re not going to buy your products, and they’re not going to give you their money.
So you have to first use marketing to reach customers, followed by gaining their trust once you’ve reached them.
Keep in mind that when it comes to building trust that is much easier to do when you present yourself as a person, and not just a company.
People connect more easily with other people than they do with an abstract business. So don’t hide behind your company name when it comes to building trust.
Inbound versus Outbound Marketing
There are two types of marketing that you’ll hear about: inbound and outbound marketing.
Outbound marketing is the traditional type where you actively go out trying to find new customers who likely don’t know you exist yet.
Outbound marketing mainly consists of paid ads, cold calling, and cold emailing.
Inbound marketing is when people come to you. Mainly this means you draw people in by creating great content for them to consume.
This blog is an example of inbound marketing for my business, but it can also include video and podcasts.
Inbound marketing is almost always more beneficial than outbound marketing. It’s always better to have people come to you. Then, you can begin the education and trust-building process.
There is also a level of built-in trust when someone finds you, instead of you finding them.
The line between inbound and outbound can become a bit murky with remarketing which is when you market to those that already know you exist. However, the primary distinction is that outbound marketing is mainly selling to cold audiences who don’t already know you exist.
Organic versus Paid Marketing
When it comes to online marketing, you’ll hear about either organic marketing or paid marketing. Organic marketing is in some sense free marketing ‒ although nothing is really free, of course!
For the most part organic marketing consists of you creating content and then Google indexing it and sending people to it.
There’s no cost to it, other than the time and/or money that is needed to create the content in the first place.
Quality content takes a lot of time to create. That’s the price you pay.
Paid marketing includes things like Facebook advertising or Google AdWords, where you specifically pay a third party to funnel traffic to your website. The oldest forms of paid marketing include TV and print ads.
Organic inbound marketing offers the highest return on investment, but it’s also much slower than paid advertising.
I find that paid advertising works bests when you are doing some testing and you need to quickly know what resonates with your market.
Paid advertising can also work well once you have streamlined all of your organic marketing efforts.
Until you accurately know all of your costs, you have to be very careful with paid advertising because you can quickly burn through a lot of money.
Building an Online Audience
A key aspect of online marketing is building an audience.
If you are selling to consumers then audience building is essential. On the other hand, if you plan to only sell to large corporations then audience building may not be the best route.
There are three different strategies for building an online audience: you can build it, borrow it, or buy it.
Building your audience takes a lot of time. It involves creating online content like blog posts and having people find you organically.
You get people to come to your website and interact with you by, for example, joining your newsletter or downloading a free PDF you have created.
In almost all cases, this the best way to reach people, but it’s also the slowest and the most time consuming. Time is the main cost of the building an audience option.
You can also “borrow” an audience. This means finding an influencer online that already has an audience in your target market, and forming some type of relationship with that person or business.
One example is forging an affiliate relationship where an online influencer presents and sells your product to their audience in exchange for an affiliate commission.
Lastly, there’s the “buy” option, which is using paid advertising like Google AdWords to drive traffic to your website.
I usually recommend that you start with the build option, because most influencers aren’t going to be interested in working with you until you’ve got a track record and some sales, because it’s a big risk for them.
They don’t want to sell or recommend poor quality products to their audience. Even worse is if they recommend a product that never makes it to market, or takes an unreasonable amount of time to reach customers.
In terms of buying an audience, you can’t just send online traffic to a sales or landing page and expect people to fork over their money. You need to already have a decent amount of valuable content for any new customer to trust you.
If you want to pay for advertising, that’s fine down the road. But you really need to offer something useful and valuable to anyone visiting your website. Don’t try to instantly sell your product to new visitors.
Instead, start off by building something more organically, because you can’t really sell anything to anyone instantly without them having some level of trust in you.
For example, a lot of my sales are from people who have been following me for months or in some cases even years before they join my Hardware Academy platform.
I do get some sales from people who just find me and then immediately join, but that is a relatively small percentage.
First, most people take time to consume my content which demonstrates that I know what I’m talking about. That trust building is just so important.
That being said, the trust building stage is typically much shorter for a physical product than it is for a service or membership like in my own case.
It Really Is All About Email
When it comes to audience building, there’s so much emphasis these days on social media like Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram. But nothing beats email when it comes to marketing.
You can still do social media marketing, but your goal should be to getting your followers onto your email list, because email is where all the action happens.
Email provides a much more personal connection. Your inbox may have an email from your brother or your mom sitting right next to an email from whichever company you’re following.
This creates the feeling that it’s more personal. It’s one-on-one, versus social media, which broadcasts to lots of people at the same time.
Obviously, when you’re emailing your audience, you’re also broadcasting your message. But for the recipient, the perception is that it’s a one-to-one communication ‒ and it will often turn into that.
Focus most of your effort on building a qualified email list rather than getting Twitter followers or Facebook fans, which are just vanity metrics.
It’s hard to sell to Facebook fans or Twitter followers. It’s much easier to sell to people on an email list.
Also keep in mind that most social media sites are considered “pay to play” platforms which means that organic reach is low, and if you want to reach people you need to pay for advertising.
So use social media to increase awareness of your business. From there, people will come to your website and read your content, learn to trust you, and join your email list. That’s where the relationship can really start.
Lastly, don’t ever rely solely on communicating with your customers through social media accounts.
You won’t own those contacts, and if your Facebook account is shutdown for any reason, you won’t have any recourse to recoup your followers contact information.
Content is King
A website with no content equals no traffic. You have to make creating content your top priority.
This is certainly very time consuming and it requires a lot of effort, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to have your product ready for sale before you can do this. You do not.
Start writing about topics that relate to your product and that you think your potential buyers are interested in.
For example, say you’re working on a pet product. Start writing about things that pet owners find interesting and provide information that they need.
This way you can start building an audience and increasing your organic website traffic well before you actually have a product to present to them.
Focus on teaching and educating, not selling. You can sell eventually, once you have that relationship built, but initially, it’s all about giving to your audience.
Give them content, give them advice, give them value. Just keep giving, and then eventually you can ask for a sale.
That’s so much better than interruption based marketing, which is the opposite strategy. There’s no giving at all. It’s just, “hey, here’s what we have to sell. Please buy from us.”
That strategy doesn’t work as well anymore. It may have worked in the past ‒ obviously, companies have used TV advertising for a long time ‒ but it’s not the future of marketing.
The future of marketing is making the customer want to hear from you, rather than forcing them to consume your content.
Text, Audio or Video?
When trying to build up your audience, keep in mind that text (blog articles) and infographics have the highest reach. I’m mainly going to focus on blogs because I’ve not done many infographics, but I do a lot of blogging.
Blogging is going to get out to the most people, mainly thanks to Google once your website is indexed. So blogs are great for having the highest reach.
But remember, marketing is about both reach and trust. While blogs are fairly good for building trust, they’re not as good as audio or video.
It’s much harder to connect to someone on an emotional level ‒ on a personal human-to-human level ‒ by reading what they write versus listening to someone through a podcast or seeing them in a video.
This is why audio or video work best for building trust.
I recommend focusing on both reach and trust. High reach plus high trust equals a lot of sales!
Marketing needs to be made a priority and should be done concurrently with product development. Doing so will give you an audience of excited customers once your product is finally available for sale.
Marketing is also a great way to conduct research for new products. It allows you to stay closely in tune with what the market wants.
By producing relevant content and building trusting relationships with people, you stay intimately involved in the market that you’re trying to sell to.
That’s always going to be beneficial, not only for your current product but also for any future products.
Other content you may like:
- The Importance of Early Marketing, Selling, and Networking for Hardware Startups
- Lesson 3: The Strategic Way to Develop and Sell Your New Electronic Hardware Product
- Episode 32 : How to Build an Audience for Your Product with Craig Rettew
- Marketing and Audience Building for Hardware Startups with Craig Rettew (Interview)
- The 6 Parts of a Hardware Startup You Must Conquer to Succeed