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Case Study: How Startups Can Acquire Customers for Disruptive Products

By Stephanie HawkinsJan 16, 2015

startup-customer-acquisitionAs someone who is getting married in 2015, I’ve made a few observations recently about the state of the wedding industry; namely, that it’s ripe for disruption. The whole setup seems like something that might have worked a decade or two ago, at a time when people got married while they were still in college and could meet with caterers on their breaks between Stats 101 and Intro to Art History.

Now, though, it’s a bit frustrating to see wedding vendors acting like brides and grooms have tons of time on their hands. Bridal shops, for example, close at 5 p.m., aren’t open on Sundays, and are booked every Saturday two months out. Caterers want to have an introductory phone call and an in-person meeting with you (also on Saturdays) before they even let you taste their food or give you a price quote. Without any reason to change their ways, most wedding industry vendors continue to operate as if it’s still 1979.

Amazingly, in the midst of all these outdated business models, I have found some companies challenging the status quo with industry-disrupting products and services. One such company, Postable, solves the everyday inconvenience of collecting addresses, writing thank-you notes and addressing envelopes. How? With a selection of gorgeous cards designed by indie artists and an app that lets you type your message right into the card using one of their realistic-looking handwriting fonts. The best part? They mail the card for you!Screen_Shot_2015-01-15_at_11.59.20_AM

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? We-ell. Not so fast. I still had some barriers to entry before converting as a Postable customer, which leads me to my next point: Just because you’ve got a new product offering in a market that sorely needs it doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to acquire new customers. “If you build it, they will come” is not a customer acquisition strategy; rather, a customer acquisition strategy needs to overcome the following stages/mindsets in the customer journey:

  1. I have no idea this product exists.
  2. I don’t know what this product does.
  3. I’m not sure I can trust this company.
  4. I’m scared to try something different than the norm.

Before I knew about Postable, I planned on writing my thank-you notes the old-fashioned way. And even after I discovered the brand, I wasn’t immediately sold—it took me about a month to convert as a paying customer. In the end, thankfully, Postable’s customer acquisition marketing worked on me, saving me from developing carpal tunnel syndrome or, worse, succumbing to the dire fate that befell Susan. How did Postable do it, and what can other startup marketers and growth hackers learn about customer acquisition from Postable’s success?

How to Acquire New Customers for a Disruptive Product: 6 Tips for Startup Marketers

Postable’s most striking success in my eyes was how accurately it predicted my buying journey, and how well it stayed with me throughout the entire process. Here are six tips for startup marketers looking for a foolproof way to steadily acquire new customers after the initial product buzz starts to fade.

1. Be where your customers are.

Here’s how I first encountered Postable: on Instagram. A wedding blogger I follow had commented on one of Postable’s posts, and Postable replied to her. The original photo the brand shared was of one of its cards, which, while beautiful, was just enough to catch my eye and nothing else. The comment the wedding blogger left was something along the lines of “Good looking card!”, and it was Postable’s response—”And we mail it for you!”—that got me to click through to the website.

So, a few takeaways here: Be where your customers are, and insert yourself into the conversation. Lead with your best assets: images of your product and your value proposition. If you can get those two things into conversations already happening, you’re one step closer to letting your future fans know you exist.

2. Win them over with your website.

You’ve invited a complete stranger over to your house. They’re a bit shy and uncomfortable. How do you get them to stay? By showing them unmatched hospitality. In the marketing world, we do that with a beautiful website featuring thoughtful UX and delightful, share-it-with-your-marketing-friends copywriting.

When I first clicked through to Postable’s website, I immediately felt welcomed by the cheerful design and comforting, mind-reading homepage that delivered exactly what I was looking for. The tipping point for me, though, was the brand voice, which ranged from friendly, to witty, to kind of hilarious. Exhibit A: This answer from the FAQ.Screen_Shot_2015-01-15_at_5.21.57_PM

I also love:

The "company timeline"Screen_Shot_2015-01-15_at_5.26.05_PM

The sample address book filled with TV characters from the '80s and '90s.Screen_Shot_2015-01-15_at_5.27.29_PM

But I digress. Back to the tips. Which brings me to...

3. Address the elephant in the room.

One thing I was concerned about before committing to using Postable for thank-you notes was etiquette. Wedding planning is littered with etiquette issues—who gets to invite a “plus one,” who pays for what, who sits where at the reception—and I had an underlying fear that typing rather than handwriting my thank-you notes would be one of those etiquette faux pas. Not that I run in any kind of circle where someone would ever call me out for something like that, just that, well, wedding planning makes crazy thoughts like this run through your head.

From a customer acquisition perspective, this etiquette faux pas was the elephant in the room. It was the one obstacle that might have made me turn back at the penultimate moment, sigh heavily, and say, “I guess I should do the right thing and handwrite these; millions of brides before me have written thank-you notes until their fingers bled. Why should I get off so easy?”

So how did Postable overcome this challenging stage in the customer journey? With the brilliant move of using a quote from Martha Stewart Weddings at the top of their website. The quote, which has since been pulled, said something like, “Finally, a thank-you note shortcut that even Emily Post would approve of” and featured a “Martha Stewart-approved” badge. This one thing alone was enough to soothe my (albeit minor) fears and move me along the sales funnel.

4. Reduce uncertainty.

So you’ve got the customer right where you want them: ready to take the plunge into early adoption. If you really want to seal the deal, make sure you do everything you can to obliterate every ounce of uncertainty from your buyer’s mind. How? With a really great FAQ.

Postable’s FAQ is one of its top-level navigation items, making it super easy to find. I initially clicked on it hoping to find an answer to the question of how much postage costs when you mail cards through the program. My question was answered, along with a bunch of other questions I didn’t even know I had.

5. Get your product in their hands.

Initially, I signed up for Postable to get the free address book app, which I used right away. I had vague notions of potentially using the website for my bridal shower thank-you’s, but I hadn’t committed to the idea yet. And then, one day, a real live Postable card appeared in my mailbox! 

Right away, I was impressed. The message inside was pretty adorable and served to remind me how friendly the brand is. Plus, seeing the card in 3D was a game-changer. The quality was excellent and handwriting font looked more real than I expected. I showed the card to my finance and we both agreed: this was the way to go. We were sold.

6. Follow up to see how things went.

So, dear reader, I converted. I’m one of those suckers who followed the customer journey just like the evil growth hackers planned. Totally unoriginal. And yet, once I made the commitment and started using the app for my thank-you notes, it actually wasn’t as seamless as I expected it to be. There were a few hiccups. For example, the way the interface was designed made it difficult to flip back and forth between your draft messages and the option to write a new message. Twice, I thought I lost the six or seven painstakingly worded notes I’d already written. Turns out I hadn’t, but the interface design made it look like I had.

Here’s the one place Postable could have improved its customer acquisition marketing: someone could have reached out to ask me how my initial experience went. It would have been nice to know they cared about the usability of their product and were on the ball with fixing even minor glitches. Yes, I could have offered up the information myself, but hey, I’m busy planning this wedding and everything. This, however, is a minor complaint in an otherwise seamless, creative and delightful experience from start to finish. For other companies, though, following up is a nice touch. It shows you still care even after the conversion and you’re committed to continuous improvement.

So there you have it: the story of how I adopted a disruptive product. If you’re a startup marketer, hopefully it gave you some insight into what your customers are thinking. And my thank-you notes? They turned out great. I even got a text message from my best friend that said, “Loved your thank you note...and your handwriting is AMAZING!” Thanks, Postable!

The Buyer's Journey




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The Author

Stephanie Hawkins

Stephanie is a Strategist at Kuno Creative and writes about content marketing, buyer persona development and inbound marketing strategy for Brand & Capture. She lives and works in Raleigh, NC. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn and Twitter!
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