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This article was published on November 4, 2013

The psychology of influence: How to create value for unknown products

The psychology of influence: How to create value for unknown products
Dana Oshiro
Story by

Dana Oshiro

Dana Oshiro is the Senior Analyst and Publishing Strategist for NetShelter where she helps more than 200 properties develop blogging best pr Dana Oshiro is the Senior Analyst and Publishing Strategist for NetShelter where she helps more than 200 properties develop blogging best practices. In her spare time she writes for her personal blog Villagers With Pitchforks, tweets from @danaoshiro and "pluses" from

Does anyone remember the I Am Rich app? Priced at $999.99 in the App Store, the application was a featureless troll that lured at least eight unsuspecting consumers into purchasing a completely useless app back in 2008.

So why did people actually buy the app? Was it a status symbol, or were they made to believe the app would pay for itself with bountiful features? After stunts like these, it became difficult for new companies to generate leads and members without offering a product demo.

Unless you’re Apple or Samsung – companies that have built credibility around their brands – it can be extremely challenging to offer a new product with a nondescript name. Why would anyone want to give their contact data or credit card info to a stranger offering a mystery product?

Nevertheless, it happens. Today, thousands of startups succeed in persuading new users to sign up for products — in some cases, sight unseen. We talk to executives from successful, young startups to see how they’ve been able to influence potential customers to take the plunge.

Create the message that resonates

Flickr co-founder and now Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield subscribes to the belief that simple is better. “Write a headline with the minimum number of words to convey the one promise you have and tap into something people care about,” Butterfield says. “For us, that headline was, ‘Be Less Busy.'”

With 8,000 companies signed up in the first 24 hours of the August 2013 launch, Butterfield knew he’d hit on a simple and convincing message. While his reputation for shipping quality products precedes him, he also recognizes the importance of strong messaging in getting people to try a product.

“People don’t care about your product. They care about what it will do for them,” Butterfield says. One way to get right into the customer’s heart? “Focus on conveying that in an emotional way.”

Anyone can write a value statement, but only a few companies find the one that is both painfully obvious and resonates with their target audience. After all, don’t we all want to “be less busy”?

Tap the hive mind

If you’re familiar with Launchrock, then you know the product started as a simple landing page for new and mainly social products. Startup companies create an attractive splash page and capture email addresses from early adopters without inadvertently breaking their own PR embargoes.

For those companies that launch with LaunchRock, the product value isn’t spelled out on the splash page, but rather value is inferred through speculative blog posts and snippets of leaked insider info. People register for access to share in the secret and perhaps secure a vanity handle.

In this case, exclusivity is one of the salient product features. Startups looking to grow their pipeline simply have to find quality third party influencers and validators to vouch for the quality of their product. Think of it as a sports endorsement deal but the endorsers wear skinny jeans and horned rimmed glasses. You might not personally like it, but the majority does, and majority rules.

Tout the merchandise

Years ago, the PayPal mafia of 500 Startups’ Dave McClure, HVFLabs’ Max Levchin, Yelp’s Jeremy Stoppleman, and Yammer’s David Sacks spoke about their experiences at PayPal at a Startup2Startup dinner series. The four laughed at the fact that many of the early shopping experiences were designed with registration placed before the browsing experience. This meant that even before knowing whether the site’s inventory was valuable, users were asked for their credit card information.

Today, with subscription luxury retail company Gilt Groupe, users register fairly early in the process in order to access the browsing function. Nevertheless, the service separates front door email capture from credit card capture and ensures that a fair number of the live merchandise is displayed as a preview on the landing page.

Gilt’s method influences customers to believe they are getting a lot without giving up more than their email address. This delicate balance adequately expresses the service’s value, while maintaining the exclusivity of the service itself.

Value in the content

Inbound marketing company HubSpot’s CMO Mike Volpe says his team’s been using content as a lead generator since the organization’s inception. The HubSpot blog has more than one million unique visitors per month and the content team produces marketing and sales resources to both help their customers and further establish thought leadership.

In recent weeks, the company has offered its users regular articles, benchmark reports, and even free stock photography. Because of the calls to action throughout the site, HubSpot generates a significant number of leads from their blog each month.

Volpe suggests that producing great content is a fantastic way to show the value of what you’ll be providing. He adds that startups should also use progressive profiling in their intake process to avoid asking prospects the same questions on multiple visits.

How do you establish value with new customers?

Learn how to persuade your customers to click, buy and subscribe. Don’t miss our online TNW Academy class Persuasion Profiling: Make Your Customers Click!

Image Credit: Zurijeta/Shutterstock