The Importance of Early Marketing, Selling, and Networking for Hardware Startups
If I had to pick one element of the entire process of bringing a new hardware product to market that is the most critical to your success it would be marketing, or more specifically, early marketing.
I know how tempting it is to focus all of your energy on getting your product developed. For many entrepreneurs, especially introverted technical ones, marketing, selling, and networking are scary unknowns. I know because that was the case for myself.
My goal in this article is to make this all a bit less scary, and to help you understand why you need to focus on these activities much earlier than you may think.
Online marketing essentially comes down to creating content, collecting emails, and building relationships with your audience. It’s simple, but by no means easy!
Your marketing success is built on developing relationships. People will be many times more interested in what you have to offer after you have developed a relationship with them.
Unless you have lots of money to spend (or more likely, waste) on advertising, then content marketing is by far the best strategy to get your message out there.
With content marketing, you create a blog loaded with useful information for people that may be interested in your product in the future.
The key to being successful with content marketing is to give, give, and give, and then eventually ask. Focus on providing a ton of useful content, and not asking for something too soon.
I can’t stress enough how critical it is to have an audience for your product.
Having an audience helps you gather feedback on what features you should include in your product, which is critical whenever you run a crowd funding campaign or begin selling your product.
The biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs and startups make is they wait until they complete product development before they give any serious thought to marketing or sales.
Building an engaged online audience is a slow process that requires a ton of effort, so you need to begin now.
Build your website
The easiest way to set up a website and blog is by using WordPress. That’s what I use for my website, and it’s by far the most popular content management platform.
Once you have a website, next comes the hard part, creating the actual content. This can be blog articles, videos, a podcast, infographics, etc.
Content marketing and blogging are long-term strategies. Content you create today may very well not pay you dividends for a year or more.
But what should you even write about since you don’t yet have a product to sell? Definitely do not just talk about your product. No one cares yet. Instead, you must provide helpful content that your target market wants to consume.
For example, if your product is a fitness product, then you can write about fitness and health. Once you’ve provided something of value then you can eventually begin sharing your product and asking for feedback.
Build your email list
Once you start to get more visitors to your website, you need to get them to signup for your email list. Having an email list allows you to form an ongoing relationship with potential customers.
With online marketing, it really is all about email subscribers. Other types of audiences aren’t nearly as important. In fact, your goal should be to get your other audience members (social media followers, podcast listeners, etc.) to subscribe to your email list.
There is a common saying among internet marketers: “the money is in the list”. Specifically they mean the email list.
But you can’t just ask people to join your newsletter. Joining a newsletter is a vague commitment and not necessarily that appealing.
While there’s no harm in encouraging visitors to sign up for your newsletter, don’t let it be your only strategy for gathering email addresses. It is much better to offer people something of value (such as a PDF download) in exchange for their email address.
You want to offer them something of value that is directly related to your product or market. You don’t want to build up a random list of anyone and everyone. You want to build up a list of people who are specifically targeted because they could be potential customers.
Once you begin collecting email addresses, then the next step is setting up a way to stay in contact with your audience. For this you will need an email marketing service provider.
There are various options out there. MailChimp is what I use, although if I had to pick again I’d probably go with ActiveCampaign or ConvertKit.
Finally, a common mistake people make with building an email list is they focus all of their efforts on getting people to join their list, but not on building and maintaining a relationship with those subscribers.
Unless you consistently engage with your email subscribers they will forget about you, and there will be no trust built.
Everybody of course wants to know when they’re going to get more Google traffic.
Google prefers to send their users to websites with links from other websites, and that are consistently active at producing new content.
This means it’s going to take 6-12 months before you’re going to see a really significant spike in Google traffic. Trying to increase your Google traffic is a long, slow grind, like almost everything in business.
When you first get started, you’re going to be doing lots of blogging, but no one’s going to be reading it because no one knows about you. It takes Google a long time to start sending you any significant traffic, and they won’t send you much until other websites link to your site.
This means you’re going to have to work really hard for probably the first year to reach out and bring people to your website.
Guest blogging is one of the best ways to do this. Guest blogging is when you offer to write a blog post on another website. In exchange they will at the very least allow you to include a link to your website in your bio at the end of the article.
Social media marketing
One mistake I see a lot of people make is over-focusing on social media. You should probably have social media accounts, but it is dangerous to rely too heavily on them for marketing.
The truth is, nothing compares to the effectiveness of email. It’s at least 10 times as effective as social media.
You can spend lots of time, money and resources trying to build a Facebook audience. But if something goes wrong with your account, you will have very little recourse.
The beauty of an email list is it’s a valuable asset that you own. Even if you get blocked from your social media accounts, or Google stops sending you traffic for some reason, you will still have your email list.
Social media is mostly just a big drain on your time. Focus on creating valuable content and building your email list, not on your social media following.
Sell your product before you make it
There is one simple way to eliminate most of the risk of bringing a new product to market.
Sell it before you make it!
Unfortunately, that is usually easier said than done, especially for any new physical product. But strive to implement this mindset into your strategy as much as possible.
In practice, it will be difficult to get purchase orders before you have a prototype. Some making is necessary. At the very least, sell your product before you manufacture it.
The best way to implement the sell it before you make it policy is by pre-selling your product.
Pre-selling simply means you collect money now from customers with the understanding that they will get their order once it is available.
Obviously, selling something that isn’t available yet, requires considerable trust so start building up that trust now.
There are a few ways to pre-sell your product. You can take pre-orders on your own website, you can run a crowdfunding campaign, or you can get advance purchase orders from other businesses.
Running a Kickstarter campaign is one of the best ways to pre-sell your product. The easiest, and less stressful, option is to pre-sell your product on your own website.
Although you can’t always sell a hardware product before you make it, what you can do is minimize the amount of making that you do before selling.
Keep your product as simple as possible and begin marketing as soon as possible. Once you have a prototype then begin pre-selling it before you order production volumes.
Get help from those that have done it before
Marketing is focused on your customers and your product (notice how I put customers before product), whereas networking is more focused on connecting with potential investors, advisors, co-founders, and other businesses.
You simply cannot bring a new physical product to market entirely on your own. It is just unrealistic to think you can.
It will likely take a lot of connections to get a new hardware product to market, so you must start actively networking now to build up your list of connections. LinkedIn is a great place for making connections, especially for potential investors.
Other content you may like:
- Lesson 3: The Strategic Way to Develop and Sell Your New Electronic Hardware Product
- Introduction to Marketing for Hardware Startups
- Why You Need an Audience and How to Build One for Your New Product
- The 6 Parts of a Hardware Startup You Must Conquer to Succeed
- Marketing and Audience Building for Hardware Startups with Craig Rettew (Interview)