Startup marketing is about purchase intent

I’ve been thinking about channels a lot recently – where potential buyers/users come from, what were they doing when the ‘showed up’ and how did they even start thinking about making a purchase? When it comes to practical execution I find that understanding about purchase intent is a great way to cut the chase and efficiently decide on marketing actions that will result in either sales or learnings with data on what didn’t work.

By purchase intent, I mean the moment when a potential customer expresses interest in paying for a solution to a problem.

For a startup, there are at least two critical moments when you want to ‘exploit’ a potential customer’s purchase intent: a) when the person is forming purchase intent and b) when a person is expressing purchase intent. (I don’t like the word exploit, but it gets the point across.)

The funny thing is that now that I’ve run marketing at two different startups, I’ve found that the exact same channel could be in the formation phase for one company and at the expression phase for another.

For example, at my last company national press would drive a large number of new users into our purchasing funnel. Small business owners would read about us on a respected news site and decide to give the service a try, with many of them putting down their credit cards to begin using the service. Choosing to read an article about, say scanning receipts, shows that a person is already interested in the solution; nobody reads articles on b2b solutions for fun! Formation is triggered when the title the of the article is read “hey I have this problem,” and leads to purchase expression when the reader clicks to OfficeDrop’s website “this sounds like a great solution!”

At Boundless, national press does drive a lot of visits, but doesn’t covert in the same way. This is because students don’t make textbook buying decisions based off of news articles; students express intent during specific times of the school year. While they may be intrigued by an article on a way to save money with Boundless textbook alternatives, reading the article only helps them form purchase intent. It doesn’t directly lead to the expression of purchase. Instead, they (hopefully) remember to check out Boundless at the start of the next semester when they are looking for books. So news articles help the potential user form the desire to try out our solution when the time is right, but won’t directly lead to purchasing.

Supporting both sides of purchase intent is important. The Boundless press helps with branding (hard to measure) but also drives increased on page and in funnel conversion (by providing third party proof of quality.) So we can quantify the benefit beyond the hard to measure branding and awareness. However, my main point is that the exact same channel influenced different parts of purchase intent for two different startups. And if you don’t measure your channels you’ll never know if you are positively impacting anything, so careful tracking is critical to success.

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New TEDx Talk by Boundless CEO

My team at Boundless put a lot of effort into helping Boundless CEO Ariel Diaz prepare for his recent TEDx talk on inverting the curriculum. What he’s saying is that students are typically taught the details and inner workings of a subject up front. This requires memorizing physics formulas or cellular structures up front – which can be intimidating or overwhelming. What Ariel proposes is to show the big picture first – inspire the student prior to getting into the details. For example, imagine if an intro biology course started with lab work to give students an understanding of ecology before memorizing what an endoplasmic reticulum does. Students would grasp the beauty of biology from the start, and appreciate the small details more when they understand the big picture. Check out his talk below, and if you think it’s good give it up a “like” on youtube!

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Cool quotes on how to run your startup

I found this slideshare over on GrooveHQ‘s blog, and thought that some of them were really smart. I think David Karp’s of Tumblr is probably the one that resonates the most with me, but Tawheed Kader of ToutApp’s is most inspiring – “They can copy what we have. They can’t copy what we are going to have.”

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Another great Boundless infographic

I continue to be impressed with my design and copy team here at Boundless, and we’ve recently released this great infographic on saving money on textbooks. The infographic strategy has been working well for us, as we now have a network of friendly edtech bloggers who will repost our infographic, and we post theirs. If you note at the bottom of our post on how to save money on textbooks, you’ll see that we use an embed code that makes it really easy for other bloggers to embed the graphic, plus provide optimized links back to Boundless.

How to Save Money on Textbooks Infographic
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Signs that a PR strategy is paying off

It’s a lot of work to keep your startup in the news. One of my primary press goals is this fall was to make sure Boundless appeared in important press pieces about saving money on textbooks. This means, beyond having some complicated google alerts set up, I am measuring how well we are doing with the important outlets – basically an on base percentage of how often we make it into mentions that cover or list ways college students can save money on their books.

ss 2013-09-03 at 4.31.05 PMI’m really pleased with how we are doing with this now. For example, we were in a TechCrunch piece called “If You’re Buying Textbooks This Week, Get Educated, Not Schooled.” While we know the reporter, we didn’t actually pitch this piece – but she knew about us from previous conversations and pieces. So she decided to write a post on our industry, in a way that actually drove visits for people who were customers, and this all happened because we built a relationship with her.

There have been other recent articles on saving money in textbooks where we’ve experienced similar success, such as this piece on Kiplinger, one on a radio station and a great on on PC Mag on how to buy textbooks.

Besides the relationships we’ve developed with reporters, which drove several of these other articles, we have also been releasing a steady stream of news over the past few weeks (keep in mind this is our busy season, so all B2C marketing we do has to really be compressed.) Besides our big back to school push from a few weeks ago, we announced a big update to the Boundless iOS app and are in the process of getting ready to put out an infographic that we hope will keep us front and center with various reporters.

Anyway, press is a lot of work, and keeping score of how my startup is performing in general, customer-centric industry pieces is a way to bring some measurement to a aspect of marketing that is pretty hard to track.

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