5 Startup Marketing Strategies (Borrowed from the launch of Hey.com)

Having your marketing strategy dialled is one of the best ways to set your startup on a growth curve. This post has 5 marketing strategies that the genius co-founders of Hey used to generate a huge amount of hype for their product launch.

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A header image showing the Hey logo

Hey.com officially started accepting users (only by invite) this week.

It’s a new email platform, they don’t like to be called an email client though, similar to Superhuman, that was built because “Email deserves a dust off. A renovation. [To be] Modernized for the way we email today.”

Hey is the product of the team at Basecamp, specifically David Heinemeier Hansson (@dhh on Twitter) and Jason Fried (@jasonfried on Twitter).

Their pre-launch and launch day were excellent examples of marketing done right. Here’s how they did it, and how you can use these tactics too.

Strategy 1: Have an Opinion

Hansson is a master at this. He loves to have an opinion, and voice it. By leaning in on something, he went hard on email privacy, for example, you are making a stand. A line in the sand. Which team are you on? Mine, or theirs? Also, tell me why.

You get a feeling for the narrative of each, and you let your potential customers tell you all their problems without knowing it. You’re crowd-sourcing the build.

One side is arguing for email privacy: What email privacy features do users want? One side is arguing for marketers: How can we compromise to keep the marketers happy, and are we going to do that?

Another example of this is their “Manifesto.” No “About” page here, no sir. That’s way too boring. We’re changing the game, we’re revolutionizing email. That requires a manifesto.

From the HEY.com Manifesto page.

And it is a manifesto. It’s loud, it calls out the enemy (Gmail, Outlook, etc.) and it presents itself as the savior. Manifestos FTW.

What you can learn

Make outlandish statements. Be polarizing. People will either passionately agree or disagree. Build your product using that feedback.

Strategy 2: Clever Pre-Launch Tactics

Hansson was the main driver of this, through some cleverly positioned pre-launch statements. Hey jumped on the back of a contentious issue to create some pre-launch interest.

The founders started chiming in about data privacy, email privacy specifically. It’s a contentious topic. They were punting Hey as the answer to pesky pixel-tracking read/open software and putting privacy back in the hands of the user.

We know now that although user-privacy is a great feature of the software, it’s not by any means their entire value proposition. Hansson & Fried chimed in on a conversation that is controversial and makes a lot of noise. They stuck their noses in right where they’d be noticed.

What you can learn

Don’t sell features. Sell a different way of doing things. Sell a story. Go to where your customers hang out and poke the bear. No publicity is bad publicity.

Strategy 3: Copy Ain’t Dead

If you take a look at the HEY.com homepage you’ll be struck by one thing immediately, no stock photos here, only text.

They’ve taken a book out of those spammy long-winded landing pages which sell you an online course “valued at $9997 but discounted to $97 for today online” which will “teach you to get rich online in only a few days” and has a “90-day buyer guarantee.”

I’m making fun of them, but the truth is, they work. There’s a reason they’re a hit with marketers. If you can capture the attention of the reader, there’s nothing more powerful than some strong copy.

The HEY.com landing page.

Hey has nailed this, too. Think about their target audience, people who spend a lot of time in their inbox. What are they prone to do? Read.

Notice the copy here, too:

  • Short sentences.
  • Short paragraphs.

The structure of it:

  • We’re talking about email.
  • Remember how it used to be great.
  • Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, Apple made it bad. It’s their fault. They’re the enemy.
  • Paints a picture of what you can do with email: Connection, earn a living, etc. Email at its core is good, you just need the right platform.
  • Hey is the solution. We’re the savior.

It’s a copywriting masterclass.

Rather than stuffing their landing page with fancy artist illustrations of cartoons on computers, they’ve filled it with copy that’s going to resonate with their audience, and evoke an emotional response that no stock-image can: Yeah, I am sick and tired with Gmail and having my privacy compromised. I want in. The only thing is you can’t get in, just yet.

What you can learn

Words are powerful. They evoke emotion. Use them.

Strategy 4: Scarcity

On the back of the scarcity tactics that Superhuman has used so successfully in forcing a product-market fit, Hey is only accepting users who have an invite code, and on a limited basis.

Fried said they’ll be letting in 200 people at a time on a drip-basis to keep things running smoothly and make sure nothing breaks. What this has also done is made it something that most people don’t have. Right now, to get in, you have to be part of the inner circle. And who doesn’t want into that?

Everyone wants to be part of something new, exciting, and fresh. It’s like flashing the new iPhone when it’s launched. Scarcity is an extremely great tactic for creating hype. Here’s a self-perpetuating flywheel, which if you get spinning just enough, can become a powerful launch tool:

This was multiplied by @dhh and @jasonfried’s riff on Apple.

Nothing about “You should download our app because it’s great and can help you do x, y, and z.” Get the app because soon it might (probably won’t) be gone. Not because it’s good. Scarcity.

Strategy 5: Leverage Distribution and An Underdog Story

A skeptic might look at the Hey vs Apple saga and sniff a bit of a PR stunt. And they’d certainly not be all the way wrong. Hey has even gone to the extent of making a page on their website: hey.com/apple where they detail the Apple saga. It’s a classic David vs Goliath play.

The underdog takes on the behemoth. People love an underdog story.

And Fried and Hansson are singing that sweet anti-Apple melody at the top of their voices. Hansson says we’re “taking on Google’s stronghold of Gmail” like it’s Google’s fault that Hey decided to take them on. He says in another tweet something to the effect of, I’ll burn this house to the ground before I let Apple win this fight. Dramatic, no?

You’d destroy a company that clearly has something going for it, which you’ve built over a period of two years, rather than take a 30% revenue share agreement with Apple on only some of your sales? That argument aside, the tactics are sound.

So, what have they actually done here? Well, people love Apple. They have a huge following of customers. It’s one of the largest companies in the world, and a large chunk of their customer-base overlaps with those people that Hey are trying to target.

So when a little company out of Chigaco (with only $25 million annual revenue according to Forbes 2017) kicks up a big fuss about anti-trust and bullying tactics, everyone sits up and listens. And what happens? The press latches on:

From HEY’s own website.

Suddenly, HEY’s in the mainstream media. Nifty, right?

What you can learn

Craft a narrative. People love a story. Make sure it's a genuine one, though.

Leverage the distribution of other channels. Where are your customers? How can you use someone else’s network to reach them?

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