Early adopters carry no baggage and come with no preconceived idea of what your product should or should not do. They are the best at breaking what you have built, and giving you honest feedback on what you are doing right and wrong. They have no skin in the game; therefore, they will give you something worth its weight in gold: the honest truth.
If your product succeeds and impresses an early adopter, that person also becomes your company's biggest asset. Now, you have someone who has taken the leap and tried your product, put it to use, and (if you're lucky) will be vocal about their experience with their trusted peers. That word-of-mouth endorsement is the most powerful form of marketing money CAN'T buy.
In the early stages, when the idea is still coming to fruition, and the product is only inching towards version 1.0, the priorities usually lie within product and business development, as they should. For a seed-stage or bootstrapped startup, resources can be scarce, so time and money have to be allocated in the most essential areas. One area that usually comes much later is marketing. After all, why spend a significant amount of your early investment capital or revenue dollars on marketing a product that isn't fully realized or actually ready for the market itself?
This is where the gap needs to be bridged. Those early adopters, the ones who have kicked the tires, can be easily morphed into your initial marketing strategy. Before you start spending significant dollars on a full-fledged marketing campaign, first take a look at who has been utilizing your product and be strategic in how you communicate and interact with them. If properly executed, a startup can harness its group of early adopters and leverage the feedback and suggestions they offer for a number of creative marketing opportunities.
Who better to sell your product than those who already use and love it?
Don't sit and wait to hear how the user experience is being perceived. Seek it out, and be strategic with the results you extract. These early opinions can become testimonials that prove you are on the right track, with customers and investors. Engage everyone who is using your product on a personal level. This will not only improve your product itself, but it will lay the groundwork for your marketing collateral in the early stages. Taking this hands-on approach, and letting these users know you truly care about their usage and involvement, will establish relationships that will certainly pay off in the future.
You can find excellent examples of this in many of the success stories from Kickstarter. But it is not limited to crowdfunded ideas in the least. The concept of building community around a product launch is the key takeaway, as it builds momentum and interest across the board. Startups need to take a similar approach, by developing a dialogue not with their “backers” but with their “users.” It can be done on a budget, and on a schedule, which will allow minimal resources to be allocated while the majority of focus is still on product and business development.
Tools like Google Hangouts, Branch, and Quora are a few creative avenues that can be explored when looking to engage these types of users. But they are just a starting point. Get creative, and be extremely proactive with your dialogue among your early adopters. Bring them in as part of your strategy to develop and grow your company. In many ways, they will define the ultimate success or failure of what you're creating.
As an entrepreneur and cofounder of Dallas-based Fancorps, guest author G.I. Sanders has a passion for startups, social media, and digital marketing strategies. He is a music and fitness enthusiast, frequently merging the two with the latest mobile technology. His primary goal for Tech Cocktail is to bring much-needed exposure and attention to the vast number of startups and entrepreneurs in the southern United States, particularly central Texas. Follow him on Twitter @gisanders.