Proven Need

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9 creative marketing hacks for finding your first customers & a framework for finding your own

Thomas MacThomas

Marketer in Residence @ Forward Partners

When you launch a startup you need to quickly validate that some targeted people, (importantly - not your friends), are going to use your product and actually part with their hard earned cash to use it. Finding these people, your first proper customers, can be an expensive exercise if you don’t have digital marketing experience. If you don’t have any real money to throw at the problem then you’re going to have to get creative… here are some ideas how.

Key takeaways

  1. Marketing is first about learning who your customer is;
  2. Once you've learnt who your customer is, go and find out where they reside;
  3. Then when you've found some of them, learn the best way to speak to them.

These tactics are ordered first by acquisition and then conversion. Each one may or may not be applicable to your business but assess them, try them out and if you’re stuck look at the framework section below to devise your own.

  1. LinkedIn email export
  2. Submit on Product Hunt
  3. Leverage your friends on Facebook
  4. Facebook startup groups
  5. Slack
  6. Leverage NPS
  7. On-site feedback directs you what to test
  8. Top of funnel copy testing
  9. Be weird a.k.a. memorable

1) LinkedIn email export

This “hack” is well documented but I’m always amazed about how many people don’t realise it exists. Yes, you can export all your contacts from Linkedin with email addresses. To do this, hover over my network, click connections, click on the cog and click export connections. Ta-da, you have your first email campaign list. You could import this list to an Email Service Provider (ESP) like Mailchimp and start sending out some email campaigns introducing your product. You should also upload them as a custom audience to Facebook and see how many emails you match to Facebook profiles, which you can then save for further targeted Facebook campaigns. When working with email addresses always be mindful of the email marketing provisions set out by the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK and services like Mailchimp’s Ts&Cs.  

2) Submit on Product Hunt

A no-brainer for all new products out there. Check out our guide for success before you do it though. You only really get one chance at Product Hunt so make sure it goes off with a bang!

3) Leverage your friends’ data on Facebook

Before you start telling all your friends about your awesome new product and that they should share it on Facebook, ensure you have the Facebook pixel on your site. By adding the Facebook pixel you can create an audience of visitors to your website who could be great to target with ads later down the line. You only need these people to visit your site once for Facebook to match them to users on Facebook. Once this is all set up, do not go and ask people to share your website/app. By individually sharing posts you won’t get enough Edge Rank density - this is the algorithm that orders the Newsfeed. Instead create your own post and then ask friends via message to comment on it. Asking people individually tends to elicit a better comment/share rate than spam-tagging people’s names into your post. It’s worth also putting a link to your Facebook page on any posts as then you can reach some of them for free going forward. Always bear in mind when doing this how the Edge Rank algorithm works. It weights interaction in this order: comments > shares > likes. Much more detail here

4) Facebook groups

There are a lot of active Facebook groups out there and not many need permission to join. Research what groups might be of interest to you and start getting active. Do not just dive in and start spamming the group, you’ll most likely get banned. You need to nurse these communities into accepting you and your product. It’ll take time but it’s free.  

5) Slack

The techlondon Slack community is a great place to announce new products to an early adopting community. Join up here. There are increasing numbers of new Slack groups popping up all over the place, keep your ear to the ground and jump on board as many as you can. As with all community plays, you’ll need to nurture your audience.  

6) Leverage NPS

Net Promoter Score or NPS is something we recommend you bake into your product from the outset. Use a service like Wootric to measure NPS from people visiting your site (or better, people who complete certain goals). By definition people who respond to a NPS survey with a 9 or a 10 are “Promoters”. This, in theory, means they should promote your product without prompting. However, a good marketer doesn’t like leaving things to chance. For these people you should prompt that they do promote you with a modal overlay, toaster, pop-under or some other product enhancement to ensure you are leveraging them as much as possible. Make sure your prompt allows easy sharing - probably via a social network, but email also works well if you can import their address book. Sumome has some good free tools.  

7) On-site feedback directs you what to test

Place on-site feedback prompts at important conversion areas. A good tool is Qualaroo. With these surveys you can try and understand from your users why they’re not converting or whether they like/hate parts of your page. Use this plethora of qualitative data to direct your testing to user pain points. It’s great for understanding hesitations and intentions, which you can then address.  

8) Top of funnel copy testing

The problem businesses face when starting out is that they don’t know how to speak to their potential customers. You need to learn and learn fast in order to not waste valuable ad spend on low click through rate (CTR) content. Designing different landing pages is not a great way to do this as the amount of traffic you need to get a statistically significant result can be large (aka expensive aka slow). So push the test higher up the funnel into the actual ads (or posts) you plan to promote. Don’t worry about the visual too much, you just need to get a handle on the language that will incite a response. Remember this has to be a fair test so you need to make sure the ads are going to the same audience (albeit different people within the audience). This method may cost you some money, but the trade off in time should be worth it.  

9) Be weird a.k.a. memorable

You need your users to feel an emotion when they visit your site. All emotions are good except one: indifference. If you’re causing indifference you’re doing something very wrong. Being weird sounds absurd, but actually it’s a way to get noticed. If you have ever used Mailchimp you’ll be amazed at how drawn into a product you become by enjoying things like the below:



Similarly there is a reason the GoCompare TV ads with the hugely annoying screaming tenor ran for so long. Although irritating as hell, it had a very high recall rate and as a result worked wonders in driving GoCompare's traffic up. So be weird. A/B test very leftfield calls to actions like: “Show me the money!”, “Let’s roll”, “Free Puppy”, “Game On!” and so on. Show some personality, it should increase conversion and retention and importantly makes you memorable. Being memorable as a result of being weird allows you to become mentionable regardless of sentiment, which is good if your product is struggling with a lower NPS than you would like.  

The Framework

This is a three step framework that fundamentally underlies all marketing:

  1. Ascertain who your customer is
  2. Discover where they reside
  3. Learn how to talk to them

Solve (1) by research and customer interviews Solve (2) by putting together a plan for channel testing Solve (3) by testing copy on them and do this as high up the funnel as possible Extra step 4: test out ways to automate all of this!  

Useful Links:


Thomas MacThomas

Marketer in Residence @ Forward Partners

Tom is the former Head of Marketing at Forward Partners. He is an award winning growth marketer, having gained experience heading up the marketing function at high growth daily deals site Wowcher, online gaming firm William Hill Online and more recently the mobile app Bizzby. Tom helps our startups with marketing strategy and support, everything from PPC all the way through to TV.

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