Illustrations by the talented Sous Simonphone.
If an app launches in the app store, and no one hears it, did it really launch?
Today, digital products like apps and sites require marketing. Luckily, this has become easier to do, even a limited budget.
This is also a great opportunity to do market research. Many products fail because they don’t solve a need their customers have or because the customer doesn’t know they themselves have a need for the product. Too often the team gets all the way through building the product to find out they can’t explain the product. Both start-ups and established companies could benefit from a new approach.
Every product has at least one scary question to answer: Is it viable? Does the profit exceed the cost to get customers? It’s not a good sign if you plan to charge $1 per app but your cost of acquisition is $1.50. But how do you find out without building and launching?
Here’s a counter-intuitive idea: Make the commercial first.
Way before starting to code, discover the true value of the idea using tools you probably already have. This article covers techniques to rapidly visualize your idea and get early feedback.
Because digital projects don’t generally have packaging, videos are a good linear storytelling format. You may be tempted to make a ten-minute video that explains every feature, but embrace the constraints. Make the 30-second commercial first. Radical simplicity will help you discover what your true message is.
Marketing is often thought of as something you do after a product is made, but it has a special role at the formative stage of a new project. Teams can often go heads down on building the thing because explaining it is too hard, only to find that they can’t explain it after it is built.
A marketing page is one version of the minimum viable product. This is not a distraction; it forces a team to explain the value proposition and iterate on it. Engaging with potential customers, right from the beginning, and learning what they want is an essential skill.
Why this matters to designers
Designers have a unique skill set. Rather than simply add a UI to an existing product idea, the tools and techniques designers use can be adapted to think through the product itself. Taking on the role of customer researcher also empowers a designer to shape the product strategy when it is the most undefined. This may very well become a standard part of the design process.
Also, it’s fun as heck!
We’re already in a new era of video
Making commercials or demo videos used to be a complex and costly process, costing tens of thousands of dollars, but modern computers and video recording on phones have changed all this. Your computer, or even your phone, has all you need to get started.
There are some awesome demo videos out there with very high production values. That is not our goal, or at least not at first. Ours has to look just professional enough to be believable.
This is easier than you might think.
There are obviously entire industries dedicated to making movies, TV shows, and videos. Those people are the professionals, and do things the right way. But there is another path: Fast, cheap, and personally involved. Like most designers, I don’t have any special background in film and video, but I’ve been fortunate to learn from from talented designers like Hillman Curtis, who explored the boundaries of new media.
Instead of a professional video, the design team can use their own tools and techniques to create with a simple video and evolve it over months. Even if you eventually end up filming a professional spot, you will be much further ahead, having learned what connects with customers along the way.
Both products were extremely successful, but note that neither video is especially slick. That is not necessarily a bad thing; it conveys an honest description of the state of the project.
Here’s an example of a no budget video that got customer feedback for a proposed running app. This was especially important because the key feature to be evaluated was not visual—it had an all-audio interface.
Our goal here is, at first, not sell the product to customers but to learn what works. Instead of speed to market, the goal is speed to learning. In every step, you will launch something you are not satisfied with.
This is a feature, not a bug.
- Get your elevator pitch down.
- Expand the pitch into a presentation.
- Add video, images, music.
- Edit the video.
- Post the video on a simple site with analytics.
- Buy traffic, analyze, revise, and repeat.
1. Create the elevator pitch
It’s tempting to grab a camera or even start storyboarding scenes, but the best place to start is in an elevator. Specifically, polishing your elevator pitch. Despite this being a visual medium, verbal communication is still the best for concepts.
Give yourself 30 seconds to explain the basic idea using only words. Try a few variations of theme and content. Next, record them and play for friends uninvolved in your project. What questions do they have about your pitch? Answer those and get to work on the script.
Imagine you wanted to create a conference about AI-driven design but first wanted to find out if there was an audience for it. Here’s how you might write the elevator pitch:
Artificial intelligence is transforming the world. The desAIgn conference will collect people who want to use AI to redefine design.
2. Expand the pitch into a presentation
When I’ve talked to people about this process, they tend to get hung up on writing a great script. We’re not looking for a deep exploration of emotional development. We’re working on the kind of action movie where the director starts shooting the explosions first and fills in the plot later.
Instead, I suggest you start by making a PowerPoint presentation. You should be used to explaining the product by now, start by writing those points down. If this is new, here are key questions your script should answer:
- Who is this solution for?
- What do they think their problem is?
- What’s not working with current solutions?
- What is your new solution?
- Why is your new solution better?
- Conclude with offer / call to action.
Limits are helpful here. You need to get all this across in 30 seconds. You’ll likely be tempted to draw this out to five minutes. That’s the “explainer” video, where you show all the features in action, with all the cool details you can’t wait to impress people with.
Make that one later.
Your focus for the beginning is your unique selling proposition. (For more, the book Value Proposition Design can be a great help.)
The desAIgn conference is for future-obsessed designers who have heard a lot about AI but have little practical experience. They are excited to try out the new hot topic but lack technical experience. This is the first AI conference focused on designers.
Tone and content
Consider your tone. What is the feeling you want to convey? Professionalism? Fun? It can be helpful to build upon people’s deep memory of standard film tropes. Slight changes to music and wording can have major impacts, as the spoof trailer that turns the classic horror movie ‘The Shining’ into a into a heartwarming story.
Just be careful that the style doesn’t get in the way of the message. There is the temptation to make wacky video in the hopes that it will go viral.
Make that one later.