Brad Hargreaves | Building Things

Brad Hargreaves on entrepreneurship, community and life

Your Product Chooses Your Community, Marketing Scales It

with 5 comments

Great businesses are known and grown by the communities that use their products. Apple’s brand was reinforced by the hip designers and musicians that used it through the company’s worst days. Facebook’s initial band of affluent college students proved more sustainable than MySpace’s crowd. Entrepreneurs have noticed, and I’ve seen many try to carefully architect the initial community that uses their product and comes to speak for their brand. This is absolutely the right intuition, as great communities reinforce great products reinforce great businesses.

Unfortunately, I see many entrepreneurs go about this in the wrong way, attempting to curate a seed community by limiting user acquisition channels to only those with a similar brand or a “premium” audience. In addition to being unsustainable, this strategy hamstrings the business and opens the door for competitors.

Your brand’s community is chosen by your product. If you have crafted your product to speak to the community you want, you need not resort to user acquisition jiujitsu to keep the good crowd in and the bad crowd out. If you are relying on targeted marketing rather than a great product to build your community, you are resigning yourself to a giant game of whack-a-mole as you try to stay ahead of the wave of “bad” users which will inevitably descend if you have any aspirations to scale. Good products shuffle bad users away from the spotlight, a “clean handling” that keeps the quality of the core community intact. Great products extract business value from bad users all the same.

Once your product and your community jibe, user acquisition marketing can be a powerful tool to grow the business. But user acquisition at scale is a messy game, and without smart product decisions it can end in disaster. MySpace had brilliant email acquisition marketing run by some of the best in the business, but users acquired through these channels are the kind of users that will set fifteen music videos to auto-play on page load if you let them. By letting them — that is, by not making the product decisions that elegantly handled these types of users — MySpace blew it.

Don’t blow it. Choose your community through your product; scale it through user acquisition marketing.

## A note: Some folks from the old-school advertising world may be a bit confused here. Some decisions traditionally in “marketing” — logo, colors, fonts, name — actually go in the “product” bucket in many web- and mobile-focused companies, and this is the way I classify them in my writings. Here, “marketing” is more specifically “user / customer acquisition”.

Written by Brad Hargreaves

August 12th, 2012 at 10:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

  • Trevor McLeod

    Great points here, thanks Brad.

    Wondering how you think Quora built their community so well? How much of it was great product design vs. a strategic plan for acquiring their seed community?

    They clearly did both well, but are there specific lessons to learn from their success so far?

  • jonathanjaeger

    I like your MySpace example. For the artists/musician, it would benefit them to have their music auto-play so they know someone will listen to it. For the user this is a poor user experience, so the interests aren’t aligned. MySpace needed to make the correct decision not their most vocal users.

  • adamslieb

    Great point Brad. I thin its tough for entrepreneurs to turn customers away, especially early on. I’ve found having a really well thought out brand that identifies “who you are for” and “who you are NOT for” can help make this easier. 

    Not all users are created equal. 

  • essaytopics

    I can say that such position is the position of future! It’s a good idea to make such things

  • msinsheimer

    Agree totally – get to a product/market fit and then scale.  That’s what we’re doing at Flash Purchase.  We are building an entirely new user driven platform and we will learn what communities value what we are doing and then move to scale.