Last week I showed some results from using a free software tool for marketing. Now if you haven’t done this before, you’re probably wondering “How can I make sure it’s done effectively?” or even “Is this something I should do?”.
This isn’t easy to do well… after all the web is full of crappy software that no one wants. So what do you need to make sure you do it the right way and stand out?
The great thing is that if you pull it off you will have a resource that people keep coming back to and sharing. Writing content will bring people to your site and they might even bookmark it and come back (but really, we’re all busy and rarely get time to return to our bookmarks). But when you create a useful tool people are much more likely to use it repeatedly and pass it around, getting constant reminders about what your business can do for them.
1) Understand what your customers need to do frequently. Preferably something that annoys them, or takes a lot of effort. You want a tool that they will really value and a simple way to determine that is if the lack of that tool causes pain.
Nothing promotes your business better than something that they see and use regularly. If it’s a one-off tool you are much more likely to lose visitors unless you have extremely strong referral mechanisms built in (like a file sharing tool or anything else that involves sending something to other people).
For example many companies that provide SEO software have free tools that have less functionality or only allows you to check a limited number of websites. People who are doing SEO need to use tools like this frequently so they will bookmark these pages and return often. Eventually some of these users upgrade to the paid version.
2) Figure out how to save them time in a mostly automated way. This means anything that can be done with a simple rule, or needs to be done many times without much variation. Anything that involves calculating results, looking up information, or formatting the final result can be a good candidate.
This needs to be something that is really useful to your target market. A sign that you’re solving a real problem is that your target users are already doing something about it, they just aren’t doing it well. If you help people do something they have never done before they may not be interested. But if you help them do something that they already struggle to do every day they will be excited about that!
One useful tool I saw was a free PDF invoice generator for freelancers. It automatically applied nice formatting to the information they entered. This was created to promote an online invoicing service so it was a natural next step to sign up for the paid service and get more features. Another idea could be to have a tool that will look up all the comments on a blog post and randomly pick a winner for a contest if you want to promote something related to social media.
Even if your service is normally done manually, you might be able to automate the first few steps to create a promotional tool. And if this helps you save time when someone signs up as a customer too that’s even better!
If you see something that your competitors sell as a paid tool, you might be able to offer it as a free tool to attract users and get more market share.
3) Check how it fits with your business. If your business is selling cakes and you build a tool that does backlink checks for SEO, it won’t help you much unless a bunch of hungry marketers use it! Now that doesn’t mean the tool needs to be a part of your main offering. In the case of the invoicing tools mentioned earlier, it was almost a “light” version of the main product.
You could choose a different approach and create something that is separate from the product or service you sell, but still useful to your typical customer. This has the advantage that using the free tool doesn’t prevent them from buying your product. It’s not hard to come up with a lot of things that your customers need to do. This is a standard practice already for content marketing where you want to understand every topic that relates to the problems your customers face. If your product serves startup founders, something that helps them with hiring is always relevant and interesting to them.
4) Make it easy to get started. While your usual sales funnel includes critical steps such as getting someone’s email address or having them pay, those are barriers that make it harder to get started. For a free promotional tool it’s generally best to remove every barrier you can.
Take steps out of the process and remove unnecessary delays so someone can get a useful result quickly and with minimal commitment. For example if you can display the result on the same page the visitor is more likely to see it. If you can show a result instantly without even requiring them to a click a button, they can hardly miss it. And someone who gets a good result from your tool is more likely to come back or to share it with others.
4.5) Make it easier to get started by pre-loading information. When someone arrives at a complicated web page with a bunch of empty form fields, it can be hard to motivate them to stay. Instead you can fill in sample information in the form fields and already have the results showing on the page. That way the visitor will get it immediately and be curious about what happens if they start to change the information.
Curiosity is a powerful motivation and when it’s combined with a desirable result you will have a very sticky page. This is the approach I took for my experiment. As soon as you load the page you see an example of information you could put in and the results that information will give you. Change any number and the results instantly update! Unless you can read peoples’ minds it’s hard to get any easier than that.
5) Give them an incentive to upgrade. This doesn’t apply to all promotional tools. For example if you made a fun game set in a world related to your business, you probably don’t want to spend time selling a longer version of that same game. But if your tool is actually a feature from your full product you want customers to have a reason to upgrade.
Here you need to start making things more difficult. The key is to make it easy to get started, but harder to do more advanced things. For example if your tool never saves the user’s information they might want to subscribe to a paid plan to save time when they return. Or if if produces something they send to other people, they might pay to have the software send it for them and even collect responses (for things like proposals or invoices).
Where do you start? This is a lot to consider. Ideally you can analyze each step to come up with the perfect tool that your prospects will love. As a starting point it helps to think through the activities your customers do on a typical day and where you could automate something to save them time and remove pain.
You might need to brainstorm this with your team and even talk to a few customers if you don’t already know from your market research. This should give you a short list of possible tools you could create. At this stage you may be able to guess that some are more difficult to build than others and narrow down the list a bit.
Once you have this list you can start evaluating each option more closely. What will it take to build? Does it need to be updated after you create it? Does this solve an important problem that the customer thinks about all the time? Figure out the best tool you can create and get ready to leap past your competitors!
What ideas can you come up with for a promotional software tool?