Over-deliver on Your Promises for Free Advertising

Very interesting to see that Atlassian are going to buy Trello for $425m. Crikey – 19 million users in a few short years is pretty impressive and I’m sure it will be great for Atlassian.

It reminded me of when we adopted Trello at Redgate – it spread like wildfire through the organisation. I don’t know who picked it up first, or from where, but within a week or two there were countless conversations, “You have to check out this new Trello thing – it’s great!”. And next thing you know, everyone’s using it, or at least tried it.

What’s the point – that everyone loves great product? Of course. The point is that, from a marketing perspective, what you’ve got here is people doing your job for you (raising awareness of your product, recommending it) for absolutely free. That’s a pretty good return on marketing investment. And how do they do that? By creating a product that over-delivers on the promises they’re making. When you try it out (which is, of course, very easy on a free version or free trial – you don’t have to argue with a sales rep before you get to see the thing), you’re actually more impressed with the product than you thought you’d be.

We’re all used to the opposite. You hear about a product, or find it through Google, and read the blurb – lots of claims about great functionality, ease-of-use, everything you’ll ever need. Then you try the thing – and it disappoints. Bits of obvious functionality aren’t there; usability is poor; a feeling of being hoodwinked in to something. I’ve rarely found in this situation that I’m willing to recommend that product – certainly not pro-actively, but even when asked “Would you use X?” (I’ve got an example below from this week even). Nobody recommends a poor product because it reflects badly on themselves – you don’t want someone coming back to you in a few weeks saying “Why did you recommend that piece of crap? Don’t you know what a great product is? I’ve wasted hours on it”.

Here are examples of products over-delivering, being about right, and under-delivering:

  1. Over-delivering. Well, I would say this, but a key part of Redgate‘s business model is that the products are better than what we say. Our marketing claims are pretty modest (maybe it’s a British thing), but we consistently find when talking to customers that they are enormously impressed by the free trials. Comments like “So easy to use”, “I kept finding great things that it did!”, “Surprised at how complete the product is”, “You’re going to have to prise this out of my cold, dead hands”. Then separately, when we asked customers last year “How did you first hear about Redgate?”, the number one response is “Recommended by a friend or colleague”. As a marketing department, we couldn’t ask for more.
  2. On-par. I’ve just bought a Chronos – a disc that attaches to the back of your existing watch for fitness tracking etc. It basically does exactly what it says on the website! No more, no less. I’m happy with that (I don’t feel conned). If someone asks whether it’s any good, I’ll say Yes. I’m probably not going to effuse about the thing on social media, but it does what it says on the tin.
  3. Under-deliver. We’re starting to use HubSpot more aggressively at Redgate (more on that in later posts). It sells itself very strongly – essentially a platform that allows you to manage all of your marketing activity in one place, report on success, optimise, send emails, manage and nurture leads etc etc. So far I’ve been nothing but disappointed – and the issue is the delta between the claims and what it actually does. It claims to have a full reporting suite – but it’s severely lacking in functionality. It claims to be easy to set up nurturing programs – it just isn’t. Every area I try, I hit blocks (“Why can’t I do that? Surely I can?”) or usability issues (“What, I need to re-enter those details by hand manually?” or similar).

In the third case, someone asked me this week what marketing platforms I’d recommend. My answer “We’re using HubSpot, but I’m not particularly happy with it – I’d try the market leaders (Marketo, Pardot) first.” So I’m recommending products I’ve never seen, over the incumbent.

HubSpot isn’t completely terrible – to me, it feels like a v1.0, with obvious areas for improvement. We’ll persist and work around it’s faults. But the point is – they’re not going to get free marketing from me recommending the tool, because recommendations are generally based on actual usage, not on advertising blurb.

To finish, there’s an obvious point here that often, as a marketing department, you have the product you have, you may not have the influence to get the product changes that you want, so you’ve got to sell what you’ve got. And you certainly can’t go out with a message “It’s okay I guess. It’s got some quirks and the competition is better, but hey, why not give it a go anyway?”. You’d get fired. But, you should have influence on the product – if it really is a nightmare to use, if it’s really unclear how it works in-product, if the bit of functionality that’s missing is the one thing that all of your customers are asking for – you need to petition to get that stuff fixed. In simplistic dollar terms, is $20,000 spent on advertising worse or better than $20,000 on a UX engineer to fix some of the obvious usability flaws in the product?

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