More and more businesses rely on the freemium models. You offer the basic product or service for free and make money with the premium upgrade. The advantage of this model is clear: it’s much easier to get a free user than a paying one.
This model, however, also has one major drawback: you have to pay (with time, effort or money) in order to get free users onboard. This is problematic because whether it is through producing content or buying traffic, you are paying money to get users that won’t necessarily pay you back.
This is why this model requires a different marketing strategy, one which brings the most amount of users, for the least amount of money, and in the least amount of time.
In this guide, I’d like to first describe the challenge we faced and then explain about six best practices we used to meet the challenge.
The Challenge We Faced: Winning in a highly competitive and saturated market
We were a small WordPress company, with a big challenge. Even though we had a small and loyal audience that loved our themes locally, we were completely anonymous worldwide. We were about to release an entirely new brand name called Elementor to an audience who haven’t heard of us before.
The second element of the challenge stemmed from the fact that the WordPress repository includes roughly 50K WordPress plugins. From those plugins, only about 280 plugins have passed the 100K mark. This is ~0.005, or half a percent of all plugins. This means that 99.95% of all plugins don’t get noticed, and remain obscure.
Moreover, most of the plugins that have become popular in WordPress, and reached the top half percentile, have been around for years. By gradually building a userbase, they managed to reach this status. These plugins include Yoast (2010), Contact Form 7 (2009) and UpdraftPlus (2013). To enter a brand new plugin into the top list within a year is a formidable challenge, achieved only by a handful of plugins.
To make it even more difficult, the page builder market we were entering was a well saturated, with at least 4 other popular page builder plugins already dominating the market for several years. Because some page builders were based on shortcodes, this meant that the websites they powered were closed circuits. Even if the users wanted to migrate to our page builder they were sometimes trapped in, and the only way to do it was by starting the whole site from scratch.
We knew our page builder offered a considerable advantage, but because of all the factors above, our job of convincing users to try our solution was made all the more difficult.
Step 1: Focus on specific benefits of the Product.
Your marketing should always start with the product itself.
If you are facing a competitive market, that product must have clear-cut benefits over the competition. Otherwise, your potential audience won’t even consider trying it out. Your product has to include a WOW factor that will cause your audience to try it themselves, and possibly share it with friends and colleagues.
Facing our own deeply competitive market, we had to launch a product that was exceptional, and this is why we spend a full year before deploying it.
How do you create an exceptional product, you ask?
It has to do with focusing on core product advantages, affecting both the marketing standpoint and the product development one.
Focusing on a limited set of product advantages is a crucial part of having an edge over competitors.
If you don’t focus, you risk creating a mediocre product that chases current trends and ever-changing user requests for new features.
We decided to focus on three main factors: speed, live editing, and professional design.
I won’t go into detail about how we decided on these three points, but I will emphasize the crucial importance of this focus for keeping us on track when developing the plugin.
Focus VS Customer Requests
Keeping the focus on these key features presented a challenge in many situations, and more than any when it collided with customer requests and feedback.
When you release a product to the public, there’s bound to arise a conflict. It is a well-known fact that listening to customers is a crucial factor in any business growth. This is the core strategy that helped Slack grow its userbase.
While it is true that listening to clients helped us tremendously in improving Elementor, there were times we had to politely reject user feature requests, so we can stay on focus on our three core values.
This was really hard. You get messages from early adopters, the people that are most important for the success of your product, telling you they simply have to get a certain kind of feature.
Rejecting their suggestions had not been not easy, and had not always been received with acceptance. The number of requests we received from users was tremendous.
Nevertheless, there has to be a balance between features you add to help your users, and features you add because it’s a part of your focus. Eventually, we managed, and still manage to hold the focus on our 3 main focus points that we set out to lead with early on. I think this plays a vital role in why people adopt our plugin in the first place.
Step 2: Focus on marketing channels
OK, so you know which benefits to market. Now, you still have to figure out where to showcase those benefits. There’s Facebook Ads, Adwords, email marketing, social media, content, podcasting… The list is endless.
This is one of the major challenges site owners and startup digital marketers share: figuring out how to spend your sparse money and your sparse time to gain as many users as possible.
Avoiding the X/100 effort
You have X amount time and money, and to be able to make the most of it, you have to figure out how you are going to spend it, given that you can’t do everything.
If you decide to do a bit of everything, spending X/100 of your resources on each channel, you will most likely miss the mark. This is because every channel will get a miniscule amount of resources, not enough to really take off.
For example, if you spend X/100 of your time and money on creating site content, this would probably mean you will only end up writing one blog post every month or so, causing your site traffic to stay null. This I think is the no.1 mistake most commonly done by site owners, and that’s why you see so many company blogs with 1 entry from last year.
I recently read a lot of marketing advice in the style of “how to 10X your marketing”. I think it is much more important to figure out “how to not X/100 your marketing”.
We Digital Marketers Are Busy Enough as it Is
A lot of companies, such as my own, only have a single marketer at best. This marketer has to manage the work of at least 5 people: taking care of the website content, PPC ads, outreach, YouTube, Social marketing and so on.
When you start working on a new marketing project, it is easy to fall into the “I have to try every marketing channel” trap. It is a natural inclination to want to try every channel, and that inclination can actually ruin your marketing efforts.
The strategy of trying and testing every channel is quite a popular trend these days. It is even recommended by some marketing schools and books. “Try a bit of every channel, test it and stay with the channels that work best”. While that sounds like a great plan, it’s not realistic. It falls under the proverb: Grasp all. lose all. To understand why that is so, we need to think about the Psychological concept of Decision Fatigue.
Decision fatigue refers to the fact that choices deteriorate in quality after a long session of decision making.
“The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing.” NY Times
This is the closest concept to what I am trying to explain here. Again, it comes down to focus. If you are not able to focus your efforts on a handful of marketing channels, then your efforts stay diluted, and you have to constantly shift your attention to keep juggling all the various channels.
I remember a Sumo guide I read a while back, 130 ways to get traffic. This was an interesting read and tempted me to try every one of the ways. Luckily, It eventually dawned on me that it wasn’t necessary to follow all 130 ways, I could and should do only a handful of them in order to succeed.
How I Had Finally Chosen My Marketing Channels
So eventually I reached my big takeaway regarding choosing marketing channels: You have to pick a few channels, it doesn’t really matter which ones.
You heard me, it doesn’t matter.
The truth of the matter is that most marketing channels work, as long as you don’t choose too many.
You can put your focus on social media, or content, or Facebook ads, whatever… Every channel has the potential of delivering a large relevant audience if you use it right.
In a recent Podcast, I heard Noah Kagan state that there was no specific reason why he chose to do a podcast. He could just as easily have chosen to do something else. He chose podcast because it seemed fun and he wanted to do that. I think that’s an excellent example of what I mean when I say it doesn’t matter.
For Elementor, I eventually decided to focus on what I already knew and try to broaden my knowledge bit by bit.
There were several channels I worked with, including Adwords, Facebook Ads, YouTube and more, but the main focus on the first few months was getting featured in as many Design and WordPress sites as possible.
Step 3: Invest in Branding through investing in your assets
Branding is not something reserved for big brands. Every business, big and small alike, should take it into consideration.
This isn’t an empty and pompous term. If you maintain a consistent and professional level throughout your product and assets, it will make your product much more alluring for potential customers.
While brands like Starbucks can pay top dollars for branding agencies, most small businesses can’t afford such expenses. Instead, what helps small companies maintain their brand is investing time and close attention into every asset that they release.
For us, this meant having a strict policy about everything we published. Everything had to go through a designer before publication. This included screenshots, video tutorials, landing pages etc.
I think this is a factor that is ignored by most small businesses and freelancer. I come across many websites, for instance, with very interesting and well-crafted article, but a poor page design.
This is really a shame. They spent so much time creating the article, but the article itself doesn’t look good because the screenshots are off, or the spacing is flawed.
“We’ll take care of the design later” is something I heard on more than one occasion throughout my career as a digital marketer.
By remaining consistent and uncompromising with the design of our product, with our website and essentially with everything we did, we set our brand apart from alternatives in the minds of our users. This also helped us eventually draw the audience we were most interested in drawing.
In the first few months, people using Elementor were not the best designers, to say the least. I love them, they are our earliest and most loyal users, and I owe a lot to them, but their web design skills were… let’s say rather lacking.
Fast forward a few months, and we get top notch designers creating stunning templates with Elementor like this one. I think this wouldn’t have been possible if we wouldn’t have put so much focus on the design of our product, our website and everywhere that included our online presence. Everything had to be designed consistently as well as have a strong visual appeal.
My advice is this: produce fewer assets, but make sure every asset is well crafted. This is true with regards to landing pages, banners, blog posts and any other piece of content or product feature that you release into the world.
Step 4: Make Sure Your Free Offer Is Better Than What Is Currently Offered for Free by Your Competitors.
Consumers nowadays are being bombarded by marketing messages from everywhere. This has made people hesitant and unwilling regarding adopting new products. Getting users to pick your new brand over the larger more established competitor is extremely hard.
This is where the freemium model comes in, and it is growing to become a necessary strategy for new businesses, no matter which industry.
The most important best practice I can share regarding launching a free product is this: Try to 10X your competitor’s free offer.
That’s what we did, offering a stock of helpful benefits, and a level of design and premium quality that had been only available until then on premium page builders.
For a freemium model to work, you have to have the best free offer in your market. When you market a new product, it is likely that there will already be some competitor offering a free version of their own. If you want your freemium model to take off, you have to offer a free product that surpasses the other free alternatives.
Check out QuickSprout’s free online marketing course. I am sure it took a long time to write, but even now a few years after publication, I am sure it still brings in customers.
Getting through the initial customer concern, that you are a crook that is out to con them of their money, is something every small business encounters. The free model is the best way I know to counter that initial customer suspicious nature. Once you show them you have real value to offer them, they will be much more willing to pay for your service.
Step 5: Don’t Take Hostility and Rejection for Your New Product Personally. Be Persistent, Bordering on Pesky.
People have an innate reluctance to change. This is why you are most likely to come across at least some hostility when you present your new product to the world.
The only cure for getting rejected is by not taking it personally, moving on, as well as keep trying persistently. If someone rejects your product one week, they might accept it two weeks later. Today I am happy to say that some or our best and most loyal users, affiliates and bloggers are the same ones that were hostile to us when we first started.
It is highly likely that people will not only ignore your product, which is hard enough. You may also face hostility and anger. It’s hard to pinpoint why new products raise hostility. Maybe it’s because people want to stick to what they know and are familiar with, and are resentful of you changing what they are used to. Whatever the case may be, as a marketer, you have to develop a thick skin, and keep persistently trying to spread the word about your product, regardless of the hostile reaction you get.
For myself, the worst reaction appeared during the first couple of months after we launched. I was either ignored, patronized, dismissed and sometimes attacked. In most cases, the negative reaction came from people who didn’t bother to even try the plugin. It wasn’t easy to accept this reaction, but it was necessary. I managed to do it strictly because I truly believed in the product.
Luckily, once Elementor became more popular the negative reactions subsided. This was also a factor of time since we no longer were considered simply “the new kid on the block”, and people understood we had some real value to contribute to the user.
Step 6: Pamper the People That Help Grow Your Community
I know it’s cliche, but we really couldn’t have gotten to where we did without the help of the active community that formed around Elementor.
Helping us test the plugin before launching a new release, translating our plugin, giving us feedback and feature requests, answering other user questions, sharing our content and so on.
This is one of the clearest edges WordPress has over its competitors, and I recommend you nurture and develop your own community, no matter how small it might be.
So how is this done?
Every community that forms around a business includes 2 types of members:
The silent majority of users who just want to read and maybe ask questions
The involved members, who want to participate, help and contribute to others.
My recommendation is to focus on the involved members. For us, these were a variety of members:
- Bloggers who created video tutorials and blog posts.
- Developers who made add-ons and themes around Elementor
- Designers that used Elementor as their main tool and thus kept a close eye on every bug and feature request.
When we launched our affiliate program, it gave us the chance to give back to these individuals, rewarding their contribution in spreading the word about Elementor. The affiliate program took a while to build, so until then our reward was the extra care and VIP attention these community members received from us. We also gave them credit for their contribution whenever we had the chance.
Giving that kind of attention is not necessarily something intuitive. You are starting a business, investing your time and money, with great aims of reaching millions of users. On top of that, the entire weight of building your business sits on your shoulders. Clearing time to pay attention to one developer who wants a deeper understanding of a certain product feature can be easily swept aside. You need to act against all instincts and spend the needed time because that programmer is the first person that decided to use your product, most likely from sheer love of new technology.
One small thing we did for contributors was to be sure to mention them on our release blog posts:
Reaching 100K users is just the beginning for us. Next year will present even larger challenges, but the first year is always the most remarkable. Starting from anonymity and getting to recognition is something incredibly elaborate, and I don’t claim to even remotely understand how it happened.
If you are just starting out and need help building your business, I recommend you start off with free plugins like Sumo and Elementor and follow the steps I have depicted to reach the top. If you’d like to continue to follow our page builder’s progression and journey, I invite you to subscribe to our blog and get updated with our news and upcoming features.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.