User Acquisition

By | January 14, 2014

In this post I will describe the user acquisition process we used to get thousands of people to sign-up for TypeKids.com. Quite a success, but  it was preceded by a launch that taught me the importance of having a strategy to acquire users.

I vividly remember the first time a friend and I launched a product. It was called MailToVoice, an application that enabled users to dial a phone number and listen to their email (this was before smartphones became ubiquitous). We figured that the product was so good, all we needed to do was putting it out there and wait for users to sign-up. By the thousands. “Build it and they will come.” Right?

Overnight successes rarely happen. As an entrepreneur you need to hope for the best and plan for the worst. That is why it is important to have a solid strategy for user acquisition. Chances are, that if you do not actively pursue new users a few months after launching only your girlfriend, some friends and mother will be using the product.

User acquisition is about getting interested prospects. It is the part art, part quantifiable process of attracting visitors to your website and getting them to use your product.

Who are your target users?

All user acquisition starts with knowing your audience. Start with defining your ideal customer. The person you had in mind when you developed your product or service. Describe your ideal customers in as much detail as you possibly can. What do they do in their spare time? How old are they? Do they have children? Are they single female executives who like to travel? Male, overweight football fans over 40? You get the idea. The more detailed you can describe them the better: gender, age group, social status, profession, kids, hobbies, favorite brands etc. etc.

Defining the target market

This first step should be easy. If it does not directly come to mind right away who the target users of your product are, you do not know the market and/or you do not have a clear value proposition.

When your product already has active users find out as much as possible about them as well. Then compare this to your definition of your “ideal customer”. Are there any differences? What explains the variation? Are these not the type of users you should be targeting (as well)? Don´t forget that the best users are customers who pay for your product.

The better you can describe your audience, the easier the next step will be.

Getting your target users to notice you

Now that you know the ideal user you want to use your product, the next step is to get them to notice you. Think about all the places your users hang-out, both online and in the real world.

You can use this information to brainstorm as many ideas as possible that will get you in front of your potential users. Anything goes, even ideas that do not scale.  Any idea that drives new users to your product is good at this stage. Even when it is just a single user per action. Find out what works and only then figure out how you can start doing more of it.  Anything that is profitable can be done on a bigger scale.

Reach out to the websites potential customers read (if you have something of interest for their audience they will be happy to feature you). Do search engine marketing and advertise on certain keywords. Use social media or content marketing. Find customers one by one and invite them to use your product. You have designed your product or service for the target user described above, so they will be very interested in testing it.

Stand out and invite customers one by one.

Some other suggestions:

  • Reach out to the Twitter followers of your competitors.
  • (Guest)blog.
  • Hand out flyers.
  • Cold call.
  • Post on Reddit, Hackernews etc.
  • PR: get interviews in podcasts, tv-shows or any other media has the interest of your target audience.
  • Personally invite users.
  • Launch targeted campaigns through Facebook, Linkedin or Adwords.
  • Partner with companies who serve similar users.

Eliminate friction

Once the potential user has noticed your company, and lands on your website,  the next step of the acquisition process starts: the activation phase. The objective of this phase is to convert visitors of your website to active users of your product.

To achieve this the first page of your site a new visitor sees (your landing page) has to be great. It has to trigger the potential users interest by a clearly visible value proposition that connects with your target audience and call to action. A rule of thumb is that the amount of visitors you convert to users is equal to the desire you create minus friction.

Test everything, because conventional wisdom is not true in all cases. For instance, in elearning common practice is to let users try content without registration. We tested that for our touch typing course and found out that it was not working out for us. While we did get more people to try our content, they stayed shorter and came back less. In addition, because we had not gotten their email address we could not follow-up with them.

What exactly makes a landing page effective depends on your product or service. Read some of the many books and blogs about landing pages and do plenty of A/B testing to figure out what works best.

Build user acquisition in the product

Product development and user acquisition are not separate activities. You can build marketing in the product.

Users will know other people who can also benefit from using your offering and if they get value from the product they will share it. Make it easy to do this.

The most common ways of enabling sharing are via Facebook or email. You can even offer an incentive to further stimulate sharing  by giving freebies, discounts and other types of recognition.

Some examples of companies who do this well are Dropbox and Spotify. Dropbox users who refer another person to the service get 500MB of complementary storage. Spotify integrated their product with the Facebook news feed. This way someone listening to a song on Spotify automatically shared this with their friends attracting many new users to the product.

Dropbox user acquisition.

When each user on average gets you one, or more than one, new user your product will grow organically. This makes it the holy grail of internet marketing because you will have built a self-sustaining marketing machine!