Build It, And They Won’t Come
“Build it, and they will come” is an old product development adage. It basically says that if you build a great product addressing a need that people have which currently goes unmet, then you will have no problems finding customers. They will simply come to you. And occasionally, for truly amazing and novel products, that is indeed the case: fueled by word of mouth and the love of existing customers, the hockey stick growth curve is achieved. Most products aren’t like that, though.
Today, there’s an abundance of software available for all kinds of use cases. There are more than 2 million apps available on the iOS and Android stores alone, and an uncounted number of SaaS and desktop apps. It has never been easier to develop and ship software, so on the flip side, it has become harder for that software to get discovered by potential customers. This proliferation of software also means that many broad use cases applying to large groups of people are already well served. With easy world wide distribution through app stores or the web, it then makes sense to focus on more niche groups of customers, but word of mouth as a user acquisition channel might not work as well for those narrow audiences. In summary, just by building a product that solves a problem people have, you can’t guarantee that those people actually discover and start using your product.
The answer to this conundrum is commonly called user or customer acquisition: the process and practice of getting people to discover and adopt the product. This area is not altogether unique to digital products, of course. Marketing organizations across industries have for decades been working on the question “how do I get people to buy my product”.
Conversion funnels and their challenges
The traditional view of user acquisition is that of a funnel, in which a large number of people are exposed to the product and then an ever decreasing number of people engages more and more deeply with the product until finally some proportion of the people make a purchase. This idea goes back more than a hundred years to marketing concepts such as Attention — Interest — Desire — Action (AIDA). It is also well established in the world of…