Word Of Mouth Starts Before Launch

A week and a half ago I wrote about the on-going debate between mobile and web and which is the better platform. I wrote that we need to think about web as two separate things: one is the browser interface, the customer-facing component and the other is the back-end technologies that tie devices and users together seamlessly. I got in a conversation with Michael Mace on the topic and he said the following:

This subject takes me back to a conversation I had a few years back with a successful web developer who also had worked on mobile apps for years.  He said the ideal way to design a software business was to make it a mix of mobile app and PC-oriented website, because each was better at some things.  The web was great for customer acquisition, because it’s so open and there are so many ways to get viral.  Mobile, he said, was best for deepening user loyalty once you’ve acquired customers, because it’s so personal and immediate.

At the end of the day, for any small company, customer acquisition is the hardest part. If you can position your product the right way then mobile is incredible for acquiring customers. But customer acquisition is so much more than getting people to download the app.

I heard someone talking about the mediocre impact of PR. He called it the Techcrunch effect (or being fireballed from John Gruber’s Daring Fireball blog). It drives up page views for a few hours. That’s it. It didn’t drive logins. It didn’t drive paying customers. It just drove page hits.

This time of year always reminds my how over-saturated with advertising we are culturally. I am literally getting an email every day with some deal from MLB.com, REI and Performance bikes. Every day! Who can take advantage of that? Or would want to? It’s insane.

The only way to make a product go, then, is to get people to talk about it. Yes, PR could be a part of that and the use of email marketing is a component of that, but without word of mouth by every day people, it’s all moot.

Back to Mike. We were talking this morning and Mike commented on Guy Kawasaki’s new book. (An ebook on developing ebooks. How meta!) Two weeks ago Guy sent out a request for people to read his new book and Mike agreed. A day before the book went live at Amazon, Guy sent out a request for reviews. Mike thought he’d surprise Guy and go up there at midnight to review it, figuring he’d be the first. He got there at 12:30 and there were already 15 reviews. In the morning there were 30 and in 24 hours there were over 100. Guy’s book shot to #1 in its category.

It isn’t PR that made Guy Kawasaki’s book a success. It was his contacts and the word-of-mouth that group created for him, especially ahead of launch. Maybe the real mobile v. web debate should center around how easy it is to develop pre-launch and post-launch word of mouth, rather than the technology itself. In the end, we’ve got to have a good product. But without marketing no one will know about it.