Episode 250 | 10 Ways to Use Engineering as Marketing

Show Notes

In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about 10 ways to use engineering as marketing. They define engineering as marketing and discuss how it can help generate awareness of your company and product.

Items mentioned in this episode:


Mike [00:00]: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about 10 ways you can use engineering as marketing. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us episode 250.

Mike [00:16]: Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products. Whether you’ve built your first product, or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.

Rob [00:24]: And I’m Rob.

Mike [00:25]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, Rob?

Rob [00:29]: Well, this is my last episode for a few weeks because when this comes out I’ll be in the middle of France or Spain. I’m taking a month with the family and going to Europe before MicroConf Europe in Barcelona in a couple of weeks.

Mike [00:42]: Very cool. Yeah, we’ll have a couple of Gaston for a few weeks until you return but the show must go on and on that note, we are on episode 250. So, I just wanted to say thanks to everybody who’s been listening to the podcast, been going on for around five years now. I think we had the five year anniversary a couple of months ago but 250 episodes is a pretty big milestone so I just wanted to say thanks to everybody.

Rob [01:02]: Yeah, it is indeed. Our five year anniversary was a few months ago but in early days we didn’t put out a weekly show. Yeah, it’s been good to be on there all this time. The other thing I wanted to mention is we have kind of a secret drip project going on. We’re in the midst of the biggest single feature edition that we’ve added since automation last year and automation if you recall was the big game changer that allowed us to pivot from email marketing and the marketing automation. And so, I don’t know that I’m going to be as lame as to say. That was Drip 2.0 and this is Drip 3.0 but it’s cool to embark upon this and sometime in the next month, I think we’ll have a pretty big announcement so stay tune on the podcast for me to talk about it or you can obviously go to [getrip.com?] send it for the mailing list if you’re interested in hearing about what we’re up to. The only other thing I wanted to mention is I just finished up a book called the 8020 Manager and I don’t tend to listen to a lot of management books just because that’s not necessarily something that I want to dive too far into. But, I like books that talk about 8020 even if it’s a little overly used but they talk about how to find kind of a maybe a core competitive advantage or a thing that you can focus on in yourself that will allow you to do things better, and that’s what I like about this is that it wasn’t all about being a manager. There were things about being a leader and there were things just about performing better in your job, in your company. So even if you’re not really managing people, there were some good and interesting suggestions in this book for how to key in on are you a really good networker, do you have a lot of people that know that can trust you then use that as your advantage. Are you really good at like researching, digging things out, then use that as your advantage. And if I recall there’s maybe 10 of them, 10 different suggestions and the author says, don’t try to do all 10, pick one that for you is going to be your 8020 because it’s not going to be for everyone. And then he said master that one, raise your game, and then pick another one. So, I found myself taking a lot of notes as I listen to this book which is typically a sign that I’m getting a lot out of it and so I wanted to mention it here in case folks haven’t heard about it, 8020 manager.

So what are we talking about today?

Mike [03:07]: Well, today we’re going to be talking about 10 different ways you can use engineering as marketing. So let’s talk a little bit about what engineering as marketing is and the purpose of engineering as marketing is to help generate awareness of your company and products and it’s also a way to provide incoming leads. So the basic idea is that you create or build something that you’re going to put out there and you’re going to do some marketing efforts on it to drive people to the tool or website that you’re building and you’re going to get them to use it because it’s going to be applicable and valuable to them. Now, it’s probably not something that you’re going to charge them for, it could be something that’s a bit of a strip down version of something you already offer or just a click little utility that somebody may find some value in but the basic idea is that you build something that it has some peripheral focus around your product. So, we’re going to talk about 10 different ideas that you can leverage to using your marketing efforts to help drive people to your products. So to startup with, the first question that you can ask yourself is, is there a competitive advantage that I have over my competition that I can highlight? What you want to do is you want to find something that your product offers that your competitors either don’t or simply don’t measure up to and then find a way to be able to highlight that to your perspective customers. And the examples I have for that is WP Engine Speed Test. When WP Engine came out with their WordPress hosting, one of the key advantages that they really focused in on was speed and being able to make WordPress faster. So, what they did was they built the speed test application where you could go, you could plug in your website and you go over the speed.wpnengine.com and you can see this example. But you plug that in and it will tell you how fast your website is. And what that does is it essentially helps to highlight how fast your current hosting is versus what they offer. And the basic idea is very simple, it’s very straightforward. They want to show that they are faster than their competition and by focusing in on at speed, they’re also able to highlight other pieces of information that might be relevant to you such as if your website is slow by X seconds, then you’re going to lose Y percentage of people to your website because they’re just going to say oh, this is too slow and they’re going to leave.

Now, in the case of WP Engine, by making your website faster, they’re actually helping you to attract customers and to keep those customers on your site rather than they click through Google, your website kind of hangs because it’s WordPress and it just happens to be slow on whatever current host you have and they say, “Oh, heck with this. I’m going to go back. I’m going to go someplace else.” And what WP Engine is able to do is capitalize on that fact and help you to gather more customers.

Rob [05:42]: And I think there are a lot of opportunities here to figure out if your unique selling proposition really is that you are faster or that you do things better than other people, then getting this free tool out there. Basically, you don’t just build a tool, you allow someone to enter their URL and then you ask for an email address so they can get the results. And I’ve seen this done like you said with WP Engine, Ruben did this with BidSketch where you enter your email and you get like a personalized proposal. And so he’s basically trying to show that their proposals, how nice they actually look and how simple it is and that’s the kind of thing you could customize. If you were on SEO company, I mean you could crawl someone’s website looking for broken links so you could crawl it and just look for SEO improvement opportunities, some things that are kind of low-hanging fruit. There’s a lot of ways to think about building a tool that really kind of captures your competitive advantage and I think if you sit down and give a little thought and you have some engineering bend with, you can put some together.

Mike [06:40]: The second way is to look at your product and see if there’s a free version of a report from your product that you could offer in exchange for an email address and that email addresses will essentially help get somebody into your sales [?]. But an example of this is something like HubSpot’s marketing creater and you can go to marketingcreater.com where you’ll be able to put in your website and they will give you a grade for your website based on all of the internal algorithms that they have and they’ll analyze it and essentially email you a report that shows you what your current marketing efforts look like and maybe some places where you can improve. Now, that doesn’t mean that they need to give you the entire report, they could give you let’s say the top three or top five different things in each of those categories. And oh, by the way, if you want to get all of these different things that you could be doing better, sign up for our service we’ll be able to give you all this stuff on a regular basis. We’ll give you daily reports, et cetera. But essentially, it’s used as an upsell opportunity to get somebody into your sales funnel and then be able to market to them on an ongoing basis and convince them to use your full-fledged product.

Rob [07:40]: Yeah, I actually have several points in my idea notebooks where I’ve gone through this exact exercise for several of my products including DotNetInvoice and the HitTail and Drip and I always find it fun to kind of think of what is something that someone would A like to see about their website but also potentially be like to share about their website, right, or about their business because just getting them to view it as one thing, and that’s cool, but if you have a Twit button or a like button there, and there is even a little bit of a viral thing of like, “Hey, these are metrics. What are your type of thing?” There’s another element there of marketing where you’re not just getting that one person but potentially getting them to share it to. And if you know your product pretty well and you know the most popular reports, it’s not too hard to realize which of these is probably going to be the most popular if there are any that are applicable.

Mike [8:32]: The third option is to see if you can show a demo of your product capabilities. So, if you go over to Pingdom’s website speed test for example, you can go to tools.pingdom.com and there’s a textbox there where you can just enter in the URL for a website and it will go through and it will do a complete speed test on that. Now you can use that for a variety of ways as an end-user but what Pingdom is trying to do is show you that hey, by the way, we can do these things for you and we can help you and drill in and analyze all the different ways that your website is slow, we can alert you when it starts to get slow and help you to make sure that your website is as fast as possible. Now, this is a little bit more generic than WP Engine Speed Test where that was specifically for WordPress hosting versus Pingdom’s options which is primarily intended for any type of webhost.

Rob [09:16]: Another interesting example of this exact thing I’m showing a demo of your product, I’ve seen some SAS apps that have an actual visual piece, maybe let’s say Drips that will opt-in widget where you can enter on a form, you can enter your website and the site reloads with your site in an eye frame and they’ll actually show you what your website is going to look like with that opt-in form down in a lower right or with the light box covering it or whatever. And so it’s a nice way to get someone just one more step involved, and this actually doesn’t require an email opt-in for that one. It’s just a tool to get someone to maybe enter their URL so that you could certainly reach out to someone later if you wanted, but I’ve always liked that idea of kind of showing them how it might feel to be using your product just to get them one step closer. I mean I think realtors, when they’re showing houses, they know that folks are thinking about making an offer when they start to imagine themselves in the house and maybe even start talking between spouses about, “Hey, would the couch go here? Would the table go there?” You start to get the mindset of, “Hey, we could actually be here.” And I think that’s a similar thing. It’s like showing a demo of you using your product and giving you actionable information about your own website, your own business because more value than just talking in generalities like we typically do on marketing websites.

Mike [10:32]: It’s kind of like showing the benefits without forcing the commitment.

Rob [10:35]: That’s right. And it’s reshowing not telling, because you can tell the benefits that my product will bring your more traffic and it will blah, blah, blah. But when you actually show them on their own website, there’s just more value there.

Mike [10:46]: The fourth idea for engineering as marketing is to advertise your product through your own customers, and I think that there’s a really creative way that Rob has actually done this through Drip and they get Drip which is that he put “Powered by Drip” at the bottom of the different email captures and there’s a pricing tier where you can remove that particular branding but I think that it’s very effective and I’ve heard from other people that doing similar things on various website widgets is extremely effective for gathering new customers because anyone who goes and takes a look at that is going to see that powered by logo. So, if they see that and they are interested in any way, shape, or form in doing that kind of thing and capturing that information, they’re probably going to click through that and also take a look at the product that’s behind it.

Rob [11:28]: Right. And there’s a bunch of companies that do this; Olark does it, SumoMe does it, Bounce Exchange. I mean this is a pretty common thing for folks who have any type of UI widget I think Hellobar does it as well. And to be honest, I was at MicroConf a couple of years ago, it was two or three years ago right as Derek and I were building Drip, and Heaton Shaw mentioned this specifically that if you have a visual component, you should mention and have it powered by and I ran back to Derek and said, “Oh man, you’ve been noting this down?” Because I was making notes, and he’s like, “I’m quoting this up already.” Like we were adding it as a conversation because we knew this was a no-brainer to do. And the other thing that I recently did is actually, originally we were the powered by link straight through to the homepage of Drip, but I realized that people clicking on it didn’t want a homepage. They really should get a specific landing page. So if you haven’t clicked on that powered by link in a while, I recommend you click it and kind of see what we did there with the copyrighting and how we couch the landing page and how we approached trying to link up with eth mindset of the person reading it.

Mike [12:26]: The fifth idea is it’s sort of a variation on this but it’s essentially embedding your company name or URL on different reports that come out of the product, and obviously you want to offer a pricing tier of some kind that allows removing this, but this is especially helpful in situations where people are using your products on behalf of their customers. So any product that serves agencies and spits out reports on behalf or their customers, it would be really good to be putting that type of information directly into the product. I’ve seen a bunch of downloadable applications that do this as well. So, when they dump things out to PDF, they embed their own company logo onto those reports and oh if you want the professional version of this product which will cost you an extra $200 or $500 more, then we’ll remove all of that branding from those reports.

Rob [13:10]: And you can see MailChimp does this not with reports but with the actual emails they send. If you’re on their free tier, there’s a little badge at the bottom, that’s a MailChimp badge. I think if you’re sending out any types of emails on your customer’s behalf and you have a free tier or a very, very low-priced like a cheap-mium tier, as [Dormesh?] calls it, where you’re basically charging your cost for the tier, I think that you should have some type of badge or link back or something in emails that are sent out on customer behalf in any type of visual UI component. And as you said, to offer pricing to your folks that want to remove it.

Mike [13:45]: The sixth way to use a microsite and I like microsites because they’re used for telling a story and it allows you to create essentially a marketing angle that for a current new story that might even be publicized or just a general feeling about that people are kind of going through and the example is that if you go over to DontTrack.US, you’ll see that DuckDuckGo has created a microsite that talks about tracking for website searches and they go through essentially what has become a giant privacy issue based on the US governments tracking of all internet communications and intercepting phone calls and things like that. So, they’ve essentially capitalized on this idea that hey, the privacy and security for just something as simple as website searches is important, so let’s create a website, we’ll talk about that particular story and then at the bottom they talk about not just DuckDuckGo but a couple of other sites that they have that kind of revolve around the same type of story but obviously, in this particular case, DuckDuckGo is kind of founded on the principle of hey, we don’t track you and we don’t store information about the people who are searching through our search engine. So it’s extremely relevant to create a microsite around that particular story and publicize that.

The seventh idea is for using a public demo and I think that most SAS applications are going to have probably some sort of a public demo available but the problem with public demos is you don’t necessarily have data to go into them and I like if you go over to demo.baremetrics.com, you’ll see that Baremetrics put together a demo that shows a completely working system and it included their own live data in that. So, this kind of combines two different things. One is the marketing angle of leveraging public transparency but it also shows real live data that’s going into the system and you can see that stuff track overtime and how it changes from day-to-day. And I think some of the issues that some people run into with a public demo of some kind is that demo, the data inside of it tends to be relatively static and maybe it gets refreshed once in a while but it doesn’t change overtime and if you go in today, and then you go in three months from now, that data is largely going to be the same. So it can look pretty barren unless somebody went through a lot of time and effort to make it look like a real functional application that somebody was in the middle of using.

Rob [15:57]: Yeah. I think we’ve largely moved away from the idea of kind of public demos or places where you can click on a demo version and see it all populated and we move more towards these free trial models, that I mean that’s kind of how SAS is done these days. But I think there is still room for public demos in certain spaces. I think that if it takes a lot of time to set anything up, like if the onboarding really is intense and it’s complicated, that I think seeing your app full-fledged working in the flesh can be helpful. Now, there’s also a drawback to it. If your app is so complicated that it’s hard to set up, it might be so complicated that you’re just overwhelmed when you log in and that’s not a good thing. But I also think that if you have any type of downloadable product certainly like a one-time sale piece of software like Perch or DotNetInvoice, then I think having some type of demo to at least be able to click around and feel how it feels, screenshots are good but I think that demo can help especially if you do ask for an email address before people can really click through and try it, you’re going to get the folks who are really interested in entering real emails and you’re going to get the ones who just kind of want to want to poke around. They tend to enter fake email address just do to it, so there’s certainly the roof of it and I think that with Baremetrics, they’re really good example because there are reporting tools. And so having reports that you can see really easily, and kind of explore the product is kind of a no-brainer because even if they just want to hook up to your data, it’s still interesting and relevant to see someone’s data in there and to see all the reports put together. It’s a little harder if you have an app that’s a backend cred app that’s supposed to taking a bunch of data and do stuff with it, and if it’s not catered to your specific data, I’d say it’s less interesting.

Mike [17:32]: The eight idea for engineering as marketing is to implement a referral program of some kind, and you can do this on a variety of ways but the basic idea is that customers who refer other customers get a bonus of some kind inside of the application and I think a primary example that most of us are probably familiar with is DropBox, and if you sign up for DropBox, you’ll get a certain amount of extra free space for inviting or referring other people to use the product. And in addition, that person also gets that free space as well. There should be a cap on it of some kind because you don’t want people running around in inviting everyone under the sun and they get basically the world handed to them for free, but at the same time, you want to be able to use some sort of a viral component to that to get people to share it amongst their friends especially if they’re getting value out of it. And in the case of DropBox, the value of DropBox is pretty evident when you sign up for it and people are encouraged to go out and ask their friends, hey, do you want to sign up for this? This is really awesome. We can both get a benefit if you sign up. I think affiliates kind of fall under this umbrella as well but not as much.

Rob [18:34]: Yeah, and this is less about engineering as marketing and more of a virality I think which is fine but I think anything that contribute to your virality kind of like the “powered by” logo is pretty powerful. Building up a network of affiliates and a referral network, and a referral program actually takes quite a bit of work to do and to manage it properly. I think you really have to have someone that people are stoked to share. But obviously, with something like DropBox which was a kind of a new product and like you said they gave both people the bonus, I think that can work. But I think their numbers also were, they’re B2C product when they started and so, B2C is going to have a better luck with this kind of stuff. I’m not saying it doesn’t B2B but it takes a little bit of I think a longer term to do it and I just think that the viral coefficient is going to be a lot less than when it’s B2C.

Mike [19:24]: The ninth way to use engineering as marketing is to leverage some sort of daily report email and show progress towards the goal and the daily e-report emails can show that progress but the core piece of this is showing progress towards whatever the goal is and for different applications, they’re going to have different goals. So for example, with Kissmetrics, you can get a daily email that shows you some of your KPIS with codeschool.com, you can get a report card that shows you how far along you are in inside of the school and showing you what sort of progress you’ve made. Anything where you’re showing progress towards that goal is something that you’re going to want to be able to highlight to people and use that engineering effort to say, “Hey, you’re making progress towards this goal. Don’t quit now.” And you can go in and implement additional things that look at that and analyze to figure out are they slowing their progress down, or they’re not making as much, are there ways that you can essentially draw them back into the application to help them move forward.

Rob [20:17]: Yeah, I think daily or weekly reports are powerful when like you said with the Kissmetrics I’ve seen perfect audience to a really good job of this. Some of these emails that I get are really irritating and I don’t actually care. To be honest, one that it’s not irritating but I never look at it it’s the one from [?] I just don’t care about the activity. I use it as a tool and I have no interest in it and I should probably just unsubscribe from it but I haven’t yet. Whereas something like Kissmetrics or email marketing software or Perfect Audience which is ads, that type of platform to me it’s a no-brainer and this is in our feature list we trip to actually build one of this but I think having a daily or a weekly report is a really key part of keeping your customers engaged.

Mike [20:58]: And the 10th idea for using engineering as marketing is to essentially leverage the content from your application for SEO, and primary example of this is bingo card creator has a ton of automatically generated webpages that are based on different bingo cards that were created for the application and some of these bingo cards are for either holidays or animals, bingo card creators designed to create bingo cards and from those there were all these different webpages that can be generated to essentially help fill out the website and the larger the footprint for your website, the higher the likelihood is that you’re going to start ranking for some of these very obscure search terms especially if you engineer it in such a way that you’re doing all the right things in terms of the H1 tags and the titles and all the different meta tags that go with it or the URLs, I mean there’s a lot of different things that factor into that. But most of that can be automatically generated especially if you have a large base of content that you can generate it from.

Rob [21:55]: And Bret Palombo also did this with distress pro, and I’ve heard of a few other folks doing it as well. Oh, Zapier, that’s the other one I was trying to think of. They did a good job with kind of linking up all of the things they integrate with. And so if you search for [linktrelo?] with Gmail for the longest time, Zapier will rank number one for that, I don’t know if they still do because they link them and they figure out how to create enough content to link all 150 of their incoming with all 150 of their outgoing. When you do that multiplication, that’s a lot of pages that they spit out and they kind of cover the nice surface area in Google. So, this is definitely something to think about and this is something that you had done I think about a year ago with AuditShark as well. How did that turn out?

Mike [22:36]: It went pretty well. The initial uptake on the traffic was pretty good and then it leveled off pretty quickly and it bounces a lot. It depends a little bit on how much Google is kind of searching around and finding pages that are not relevant for some of those long tail search terms but they are extremely long and most of the pages maybe only get like a couple of visits a month, but at the same time, I mean it does amount to thousands of visits every month because I’ve got I think well over 1,000 pages that are created for that.

Rob [23:06]: And it probably fairly targeted since they’re searching for such a specific thing.

Mike [23:10]: It is, but the problem is that they are searching for that specific thing and they’re not necessarily looking for a product to solve that particular problem. They’re looking more for information about what that thing does. So it’s not quite as targeted as I would like or at least I kind of found that out after the fact it does draw in traffic but not nearly as targeted as I would like, I mean those pages are definitely lower converting the most for the rest of the site but I think that your mileage in that particular situation is going to vary based on what type of information it is that you have.

Rob [23:39]: Right. So for some closing thoughts on this, obviously, it’s reasonable to ask for an email address and email people the results of most of these things. If you let them use the tool and you don’t get an email address in front of that, you’re losing a lot of value especially if you can get it into a system where you can actually tag them as the fact that they did the specific thing and not just dump them into a random list or dump them into a list of people who have used this tool but actually have them in a big bucket and just being able to tag, then you can see who are the people who have never visited, who’ve done this, and who were the people who are already trials and customers who are using and then kind of exclude them from that. It can really see your metrics really well, and then you can engage obviously just the people who have never use their tool that a lot differently than you would if the folks are already familiar with your tool.

Mike [24:24]: And we’re going to link it up in the show notes but there’s a couple of links that you might want to take a look at for additional examples of how people are using engineering as marketing. One of them is over at discuss.tractionbook.com and the other one is over at themarkerscrew.com and they both talk a little bit about engineering as marketing and have some examples there that are a little bit beyond what we talked about here. Some of them are I’ll say are a little bit less relevant in our particular space so they talk about Facebook and Twitter and some companies like that how they were leveraging some engineering as marketing but you still might find it useful and you might be able to pick some ideas out of there.

Rob [24:55]: If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or email us to us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Out of Control by Moot used under creative commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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One Response to “Episode 250 | 10 Ways to Use Engineering as Marketing”

  1. Dear Rob, Mike,

    Hope you are doing well!

    I heard this episode today and found it very useful. As I am launching a new online platform in Mexico (GiftFunder), all these tools and techniques can come very handy.

    Congrats for completing the milestone of 250 episodes and for 5+ years of successful broadcasting.

    I love your podcast because its simple and to the point. In this episode I loved the fact that you spent less than a minute to highlight the milestone you have reached instead of bragging it for an entire episode, like many of the other broadcasters do.

    I wish you all the best!

    Thank you,