Distribution Solutions: 5 Great Ways Companies Found Customers Live

By Stephen M Zorio

Content marketers face many challenges, but distribution might be the biggest. It's frustrating to create a great piece of content and have it go unnoticed. What's a marketer to do besides promote and hope for the best? Lots of people have given that question a lot of thought, and they've come up with some innovative answers. We've rounded up five of the best.

Rejection As an Asset

Jonah Peretti is best known these days as the founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, but before that (and before he co-founded the HuffingtonPost), he led R&D at Eyebeam. While there, he launched "contagious media experiences" meant to find creative ways to drive people to websites. And thus The Rejection Line was born.

The Rejection Line let New Yorkers hand out a fake phone number which directed unwanted suitors to a recording that explained -- well, that they had been rejected. 

"It was brilliant because it hooked into an already existing network (single people in NY), used trackable data (phone bill), and spread quickly," Shana Carp, CoFounder at BayesianWitch observed. "Everyone had someone they wanted to reject/knew of someone else that had someone they wanted to reject."

The idea is almost astoundingly simple, which is also what made it so effective. The service took advantage of a common problem (people who you want to avoid) and provided a simple solution.

Obviously Essential

Julian Weisser, Growth Hacking/CMO at GeneGuru, who will be an expert in our Sept. 17 growth hacking chat, shared a great piece of advice:

"I was lucky enough to be invited to a private session with Seth Godin last year. Seth always provides a fire hose of insight, but he was on fire that particular afternoon. 

He gave the following advice to a founder ... about how to gain users for their app: 'You have to make it so it doesn’t work if I’m using it by myself. It just won’t let me do it. That is how you make something viral; it doesn’t work if I use it by myself.' That founder was Max Goldman. His startup is called Directr and it was just acquired by Google."

Directr is an app that helps novices create professional looking videos through a combination of software tools and advice. The app is communal in nature because you have to interact (with the app and with the community) in order for it to be truly useful. 

It's often worth asking: Is this problem being solved from all angles? There are many services for editing video that has already been shot, but Directr discovered a need on the creation side of the equation. Solving problems in unique ways that provide utility and encourage interaction is a surefire way to build an audience.

Making a Mint

The personal finance space is very valuable, but getting younger audiences to it was a nearly impossible task. So the founders of Mint.com (which Intuit bought for $170 million in 2009) tried a new approach. 

"Quite simply we focused on building out a unique personal finance blog, very content-rich, that spoke to a young professional crowd that we felt was being neglected," said Jason Putorti, who was lead designer for Mint.com. In what is clearly a theme in distribution solutions, the company was able to identify a problem and offer a solution. And how did they get that content in front of people? The old-fashioned ways.

The company leaned on content partnerships, distribution deals, PR, press appearances and email alerts that advocated for their readers. The lesson here is that, frequently, there is no magic bullet for distribution. You have to use all of the available avenues, and do so in a manner that is both useful and consistent.

Participation Is Paramount

Twitter is a behemoth now, but it's early days were marked by the gap between potential and reality. The company got lots of attention, but usage rates were abysmal. Josh Elman, who led the onboarding/growth team at Twitter, wrote about the moment when the light went on.

"We dug in and tried to learn what the "aha" moment was for a new user and then rebuilt our entire new user experience to engineer that more quickly," he noted. "It turned out that if you manually selected and followed at least 5-10 Twitter accounts in your first day on Twitter, you were much more likely to become a long term user, since you had chosen things that interested you. And if we helped someone you know follow you back, then even better."

Twitter is not alone in that, sites like Dropbox and Paypal and even YouTube used incentivized participation to drive early growth. Incentivizing participation isn't always easy, but it's something marketers should consider with each piece of content they produce. You need to ask yourself why people will engage -- and what you can do to encourage that participation.

Find a Niche

Go where your audience is rates among the more shopworn pieces of marketing advice, but too often marketers stop at the more obvious destinations. You absolutely should be on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, but those are mass audience plays. You need to dive deeper.

Take the often cited, but less frequently copied Airbnb/Craigslist strategy. When posting to Airbnb, users were also given the option to automatically post the same listing on Craigslist. The approach was successful because Airbnb was able to utilize less heavily trafficked places (Craiglist forums) where people who needed its services existed.

Helping connect people who have a problem with the solution you're offering is not as simple as posting to Facebook and sending out Tweets. Marketers have to obsessively research their specific field and become familiar with the less obvious places their potential customers go. Ignoring sites because their traffic isn't massive is far too simplistic and, ultimately, can prove costly.

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