Growing a vast customer base for an online product is a complex process that encompasses marketing, product development, and luck. However, it is possible to stack the odds in your favor and to make the best of your marketing dollars by creating a product experience that fosters the organic growth cycle.
The Organic Growth Cycle
For all products, new customers are generated through a combination of paid and word-of-mouth marketing. In some cases, the majority of a product’s new customers come from organic, word-of-mouth marketing. While traditional marketing such as online advertising requires a constant input of resources, word-of-mouth marketing can essentially become a self-sustaining system, requiring little or no support—a sort of marketing Turing machine. Such a well-tuned organic growth cycle can help to grow a large customer base for any web product.
The key to creating a self-sustaining organic marketing and acquisition loop is enabling and encouraging word-of-mouth promotion buttressed by an outstanding experience that will compel customers to champion the product. Getting to the tipping point where each personal recommendation leads to more than one new customer and more than one new customer recommendation involves fine-tuning multiple facets of this growth cycle.
Fueling Viral Growth with the Organic Marketing Cycle
Creating the conditions for viral growth requires optimization at the customer adoption, engagement, and organic marketing stages.
At the customer adoption and engagement stages, optimization means ensuring that prospective customers are effectively converted to active customers, and that the product excels to the point that those customers will take the time to champion it to people they know. Beyond that, to get to organic product proliferation, the customers’ affinity for the product must be captured via easy-to-find and easy-to-use channels that enable promotion to their friends and family. The following is the outline for the facets of fueling viral growth through organic marketing loop:
- Encourage Adoption.
- Help prospective customer become familiar with the product.
- Clearly communicate the value of the product to the customer. Give them compelling reasons to buy or try the product.
- Make it very easy to buy or start using the product.
- Meet customers’ needs with the product.
- Increase Engagement.
- Meet and surpass customers needs and expectations.
- Get user invested in using the product.
- Keep evolving and improving the product.
- Enable and Encourage Proliferation.
- Meet and surpass customers needs and expectations.
- Create tools that enable and encourage organic, social marketing.
A product’s growth cycle starts with generating potential customers through traditional or word-of-mouth marketing. In either case, the end result is a pool of people that have some interest in buying or using the product. However, marketing does not generate active customers; it generates prospective customers that need to take steps to become active customers. The key is compelling those people to actually buy or use the product—adoption.
Adoption begins with a prospective customer becoming familiar with the product. For physical products this may extend to packaging. For most web products this includes such things as the homepage of a web site, other accessible areas of a web site, the product description page of an iPhone application, and so forth. The critical step is converting a person’s interest in a product into its usage or a purchase.
In order to optimize the progression from interest in a product to a purchase or usage, the migration process needs to be simplified and freed from usability errors. For example, if the web product can be purchased, the buying process has to be made simple and user friendly. Overall, optimizing adoption means:
- Clearly explaining the benefits of the product and showing the prospective customer what the product does and how.
- Creating a straightforward and fast buying or registration process.
- Ensuring low barriers to everyday usage.
- Getting rid of any usability problems.
By enacting the above points, more prospective customers will become active customers.
Of course, just because someone buys or uses a product doesn’t mean that they will advocate it to their friends and colleagues. In fact, the opposite might be true; they might turn their friends away from the product if their experience with it is poor. It is, therefore, critical to ensure that customers will fall in love with what they are buying or using. This simply means developing an amazing product.
Customers will love the product if it efficiently and elegantly meets their needs. This means ensuring that the product is designed with the users’ needs in mind, that it is easy to use, and that it looks, sounds, and feels good. The fields of user-centered design, usability engineering, graphic design, and industrial design can enhance their respective elements of the overall product experience.
In addition to creating a great web product, one can create systems that can further engage the customer through the use of goals, games, and community. Game-like models create a compelling experience for the customer. For example, reputation points on a web site can encourage users to write reviews, and thereby, make the web site more interesting and valuable for others.
A community component can also engage customers by giving them the opportunity to form valuable social networks within the context of the product. Allowing users to connect with others within an iPhone application such as FourSquare, for example, makes them invested in the application because they create a valuable community that is not readily available elsewhere.
Some popular ways to create greater customer engagement include creating:
- A reputation system.
- Community involvement.
- Game-like systems such as earning points for user’s activity.
An engaging product experience leads to greater customer loyalty and impetus to advocate the product to their real-world social circles.
Enabling and Encouraging Proliferation
Once customers grow to love the product and have a strong desire to advocate it to those in their social circle, it is important to empower them to do so by developing mechanisms that make it easy to do so. Beyond true word-of-mouth advocacy, there are numerous other ways that a product’s fanatics can champion it, and consequently there are many systems that facilitate those varied forms of advocacy such as the ones below.
- Enabling customers to invite friends via email, messaging, or social applications to use or buy the product.
- Enabling customers to broadcast their affinity for the product on social applications and sites such as Twitter.
- Communicating the customers’ use of the product via social web sites and applications.
- Enabling customers to easily submit your product to bookmarking services and review web sites and applications.
- Incentivizing customers for their advocacy via distinction, special products, special treatment, or other rewards.
Creating and optimizing organic marketing systems such as those above will ensure that more of the customers’ affinity for the product will be transformed into action. Of course, all this work would be in vain if the customers do not love the product in the first place. That is why fueling the organic growth cycles necessitates optimizing adoption, engagement and proliferation.