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Growth stories from the WordPress ecosystem | Edited by Lawrence Ladomery
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Guide | 8 March 2023

Marketing a WordPress product? Start here

Whether you're a developer, agency or SaaS you need to get the fundamentals right.

This is not an exhaustive guide. Far from it. It’s more of a conversation I would have with a dev over coffee, making the point that it’s hard, complex, and needs time to get it right. Just like code.

Let’s start with the first rule of Marketing: don’t listen to anything Gary Vee says. You don’t know who he is? Good. You do? Unfollow him.

You shouldn’t trust what most gurus share on social media either, nor the high ROIs marketing platforms promise. Achieving 10X growth over 12 months is very hard. Unless you’re starting from zero, of course.

Here’s the thing: your business is different. Your products and solutions are different, as are the challenges they solve for your customers. You need to write your own Marketing playbook.

Start with the fundamentals

When I start an engagement I ask the business owner this:

  • What do you do and how is it different from what others are offering?
  • Who are your customers and what are their pain points. Where do you find them?
  • What does the buyer journey look like and how do Sales, if you have Sales, fit into the process

Listening to answers gives me an idea of how strategic they are with business and Marketing. The two are closely related – without a broader understanding of the former, the latter risks being more miss than a hit.

A good place to start is to map this out on Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas, a one-page framework where you list key aspects of your business. It’s a quick exercise to complete and provides context and clarity to everyone. 

Blank Business Model Canvas

It shouldn’t take long to complete and it t doesn’t matter if it gets messy as you can always refine it at a later stage. Share it with your team, new hires, and collaborators. Everyone will be clear about the what, why and how of your business.

Nail your position in the market

Is your product cheaper better value that the competition?

Do you offer more features?

Is it faster?

The WordPress ecosystem has become a busy place and simply describing what you do will not suffice. You have to stand out. 

With a bit of luck, your product does something better, bigger, and faster. If not, you may want to consider building a point of difference you can talk about.

Whatever you decide to focus on making sure that your messaging is powerful, consistent, and sticks in people’s minds.

An example from the 60s: Avis’ ‘We Try Harder’ campaign. They positioned themselves as second best and made the point that they try harder because of it. It’s considered one of the most successful campaigns of all time.

Another example is Nike’s mission statement:

To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete*1 in the world.

*1 if you have a body, you are an athlete

You won’t find this on their homepage or messaged as part of a campaign, but slogans such as ‘Just Do It’ share the same philosophy.

Check out more examples on HubSpot as well as an explanation of how to craft your own.

WordPress product brands are obviously smaller and don’t have 100K to spend with a branding agency to develop their positioning, but it remains a ‘must-do’ exercise.

I typically cover over one or two sessions with a client:

  • The mission and vision
  • Crafting a positioning statement
  • The brand promise: what your customers can achieve with your solution
  • What sets you apart – 3 x USPs (Unique Selling Proposition)
  • Proof that all of the above is true
  • An indication of what the brand’s visual identity, personality, and tone of voice is

There are different positioning frameworks you can use to help you articulate it all. My advice is to keep it simple and write it all down on a single page so that everyone can easily understand it. 

Brand vs Direct Response Marketing

Before explaining how to develop a Marketing strategy allow me to take a position in the Brand Vs Direct Response debate.

These represent Marketing’s two approaches at the highest level. Comscore describes the difference well:

In my mind, the two strategies differ fundamentally in how they view “time to purchase”. Direct response ads aim at closing a sale or a transaction right here and now. Branding, on the other hand, means investing ad money in building brand equity, which is to say, establishing a brand’s value proposition in the minds of consumers. The return from that investment is probably not going to occur immediately. It may take weeks, months or even years.

A lot of what you read about in B2B Marketing falls into the Direct Response bucket: funnels, ads, webinars, etc… even SEO, where the expectation is that folk sign up for a product as soon as they find and read a blog post.

But if you look at the more successful brands you’ll realize that they have all invested in brand building. Even the smaller ones where the commercial imperative is to get sales through their door. They have done their positioning homework, developed a polished brand and strong messaging, and used that to underpin their lead gen efforts.

The takeaway here is that you need to do both, even if it means spending 20% of your efforts on brand and 80% on trying to get more conversions. 

The 10,000ft view

So, you’ve nailed your fundamentals and figured out your place in the market. You’re halfway there!

Next, you need a Marketing Strategy.

A word of warning – it can become a complex beast if you try to address all your customer segments across all of your channels at once.

I start with a 10,000 ft view (so missing most of the detail) to get a sense of everything that needs to be done over a period of time. Think about your Marketing Strategy as a series of smaller, channel-specific activities that play with and off each other and align with the fundamentals. 

12 month calendar view of Markting activities

There’s enough here for a Marketing team of at least three. If you’re solo or a small team you may need to choose 2 or 3 ‘swimming lanes’ max.

But which ones should you choose?

Go for the quick win. Address a segment and activities that convert well. Consider the investment you need to get going too (aiming to build a process that is repeatable).

If it works, do it again. Perhaps addressing another segment or trying another channel.

Over time you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, both for the short and long term. 

If you can launch something… launch it!

Product launches are a great opportunity to make noise. The market is always interested to hear about something and publications covering WordPress like fresh news. 

A tip: there’s a whole world outside the WordPress ecosystem. If you’re developing LMS functionality there are a ton of news sources in e-Learning space.

Good to have an angle too. You’re more likely to be featured if your product does something unique or there’s an interesting behind-the-scenes story. I’ll write a post separately about launches in the WordPress ecosystem – stay tuned.

What does a Marketing Strategy actually look like?

My approach is to do a ton of research, brainstorm, and collect everything in one big pile. And then makes sense of it. 

The process is linear, though, which is why it works. Here are the deliverables:

  1. A deck covering strategy at a high level, parts of which I have covered above. I go into quite some detail to understand each segment
  2. A doc for positioning and messaging, which is a useful reference when writing content and creating campaigns
  3. A campaign and content calendar so you know what is happening and when
  4. Brand guidelines to help keep your visual and written assets consistent
  5. A “Data Dictionary” – a list of fields to capture all the info you need for each customer, that you will use to set up your various marketing platforms
  6. A list of all news and media sites, communities, influencers, social media channels, awards, etc… for each segment
  7. A dashboard to track KPIs

Purists would argue that only the first two are the strategy. I think of it more like a toolbox. Rather than save these as files in a shared drive I create a Kanban board in Trello or ClickUP for everyone to access and comment on.

If you’re developing a strategy from scratch try to get the first three done. 

Network as much as you can

The WordPress ecosystem is vast but people are all very approachable and happy to help. If you invest time in the community, perhaps even contributing to the project, you’ll form valuable relationships and genuine friendships. 

If you haven’t done so already, sign up for a local WordPress Meetup. Attend a WordCamp. They are awesome!

Form partnerships sooner rather than later

This should be a priority. If you have a great product and are making a name for yourself (brand building) other organizations will be interested in some form of collaboration. Try and make a deal with an established one with a large customer base – this may accellerate your growth considerably.

Expect to get it wrong

I’ll end this post with another warning: beware of the amazing results touted by ‘growth hackers’ on social media. I actually believe most of them, but here’s the thing: for every incredible result, there are 500 failures.

Success is typically much slower than growing 100X over a year. I would also argue that many of those that fail are ones that have followed some playbook they found online and never did homework to find out what works best for them.

Marketing is a learning process that gets you from the big picture to the detail, which is where you find opportunities. For example, when I was working for a WordPress hosting provider, E-commerce was a key segment. But our solution wasn’t a good fit for all WooCommerce stores. We found that we were a perfect match for smaller operations doing a high volume of sales via scheduled campaigns, and didn’t have an in-house dev team. Marketing to a niche is always easier.

Remember this too: Marketing is hard. Even more so in the WordPress/Open Source space where products are free or very low cost, and there is a lot of competition. Be patient: great results compound over time.

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