Distribution is marketing, sales, advertising and business development, and it is key to every business. It’s the engine that makes the car go. Regardless of how great your product or service is, if no one knows about it, it is not going to sell.
If you don’t sell, you’re dead.
At my company I fill every role except that of designer or programmer. There are people with great engineering skills handling those areas. I am sales, support, marketing. Business development is on me. Coming up with advertising copy, and finding opportunities to advertise also falls to me. It’s my job to hack away at distribution approaches and opportunities until we find things that work, and enable us to hit our goals for sales, position and growth.
The School of Hard Knocks
A story I like to tell is of my first foray into small business. I started selling computer parts online. I spent 6 months coming up with a business plan, building a website, etc. When we finally launched on Dec 2nd 2002, it was a dud. I hadn’t considered how anyone would find my store and so I had zero converting traffic until around Dec 22nd when I got my first sale.
Nearly 20 days without sale after launch is enough to shake anyone’s confidence in what they are doing. It really shook mine since this was my first business, and I didn’t know what to expect. My biggest mistake might have been not having sales expectations, as I was so focused on just getting to launch status. If I had sales expectations, I might have asked myself, “Where are these sales going to come from?”
You need it, You want it
Everyone needs distribution whether they are blogging, trying to find a new job, or running business of any size.
Earlier I said that distribution is marketing, sales, advertising and business development but it’s really much simpler than that.
Distribution is about getting your message (about your product, your firm’s market position, your public relations, testimonials, endorsements, media mentions) out to the right people. So really it is all about promoting and sharing relevant information.
When it comes to distributing your message there are many popular and well understood channels available to you.
- Press Releases
- Inbound Marketing
- Print, Radio and Television Advertising
- Direct Mail
- Search Advertising
- Organic Search Traffic
- Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest)
- Phone (telemarketing, cold calling)
- Word of mouth
- Client referral
- Video Marketing
- Question and Answer sites (Quora, Yahoo Answers).
- Mobile Applications
- Integration with compatible platforms and client bases via API
- Partnerships with compatible brands and organizations
- Live Events
- Content Marketing
- Email Marketing
These are only some of the better known ways to get the word out about your business, and each one is probably worth at least several hours of research before you can start.
The channels listed above are great, but they aren’t niche specific, and every niche is different. If you want to compete in a mature market, you will need to know what the bigger players are doing to get their message out. They’ve probably already done the hard work, and found channels which are effective. You can copy that hard won knowledge by simply following and emulating what they do.
If your market is less mature, or you feel you need an edge, that’s where you can start what I like to call, Distribution Hacking.
There are no Rules
Don’t limit yourself when it comes to distribution channels. There is nothing to stop you from creating a unique way to get a point across to the right people.
The first thing we want to look is for cohorts, and the best place to look for cohorts is in your business analytics. A cohort is “a group of people banded together or treated as a group.”
In this image, you can see cohorts by traffic source. This information was pulled from the Google Analytics statistics for a content marketing campaign. I’d like you to notice that we have multiple websites driving us traffic. These are cohorts.
Within these cohorts may be even more cohorts. Specific groups, posts, links or pages driving traffic to your website.
Your job is to investigate these traffic sources so you understand which content is being distributed AND driving traffic back to you. Who is sharing or posting it? What content are they favoring?
Once you’re able to better understand these traffic sources and their effect on your business, you’re now able to start distribution hacking by distributing more of the content which gets you positive results, through the channels that have emerged as your best performers.
If You Wish to Pass by Me, Answer Me These Questions
Another distribution hack you can do is surveys. When I was pre-launch at CommunitySEO I did a survey of my mailing list, getting insight into which groups of my readers used Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter etc. Another survey question asked them to declare their role in the market, whether they were a publisher, advertiser, agency representative, service provider etc. Cross referencing these answers, I could know which groups preferred to be reached through which social channel, and I have directed my efforts based along those results.
Surveys can be done very cheaply. SurveyMonkey has a free plan that is enough for small tests.
Qualroo (formerly KISSInsights) is also a great service which offers persistent surveys on your website. They have a free plan that can get you started collecting valuable feedback from visitors in under 5 minutes.
Regardless of which option you choose, if you do surveys, try to remember that shorter is better, and that open-ended questions will get you the most insightful results.
Oh, and did I say shorter is better? Let me say that again. Shorter is better. Ask one or two questions that give you insight, don’t abuse the respondent by burying them in a multi-page nightmare.
Test, Test, Test
If you’re going to do any distribution hacking, give yourself a chance to measure the results. That means making sure you have Analytics installed.
That also means setting up proper campaign tracking. Learn to tag URLs in content that you distribute so you can follow which source is sending traffic for which piece of content.
Make sure that you’re able to measure how many people open your emails, how many people stay on your site, how many people complete actions besides ordering (like registering a profile).
If your business is going to thrive, you will need to solve distribution. Having a great product isn’t enough. People have to know about it.
It’s never too early to start marketing and building relationships. Hack distribution.