How Ecommerce Startup Engages Community to Succeed
At 8-year-old ecommerce startup Zivix, customers are more than just right—they’re valuable resources for product development and marketing.
Zivix is a technology music company that built the Jamstik, a “Portable SmartGuitar”, both hardware and software that teaches people how to play guitar for the first time, and makes it easy for music writers and producers to write songs on the go.
Like most ecommerce startups, Zivix has had its shares of ups and downs—from initially disappointing sales to a relaunch on Kickstarter that garnered $800,000 from almost 3000 passionate backers. Much of their success story so far has been built on their community. Here’s how Cannon and his team built their brand, with a little help from their friends.
Find the Right Platform for Your Story
Matt Cannon, Senior Producer at Zivix, knows the struggle of marketing on a limited budget.
There are so many new products that are coming out, you have to find a platform that’s going to do the most for you and amplify your story. Whether you’re a startup with a product idea or a product that’s been moving along…make sure to use the right platforms for yourselves at the right times.
Sometimes it means having the patience to prepare yourself for a crowdfunding campaign, and sometimes it’s about taking the jump into Amazon Launchpad or a program like that. You gotta get yourself out there. We don’t live in a world where you can just throw up a website, pay for ads, and start selling millions of dollars in products.
Discover the Right Target Audience
A lot of the offshoot of [Kickstarter] is high-tech geeks and gadget lovers just browsing for things that might have an epiphany like, ‘Oh! I’ve always wanted to learn guitar. Here’s one that’s kind of made for me.’ So we got a lot of that cross-traffic. And I think that’s what kind of helped us on Kickstarter, and is why we found a great home on Amazon Launchpad, too.
If you pick too many customer targets, you don’t really serve one very well. We kind of struggle with that a little bit, because most of us are musicians and producers ourselves, and we want to make the coolest products that we would use. But then we kind of realized that the secret sauce is…[the Jamstik] is the most intuitive way to get instant feedback and learn how to play. We really did make [beginner guitarists] our primary audience and geared most of our marketing towards them.
But at the same time, we built a product that a lot of us would use—it is one of the first and one of the most convenient ways for someone who actually plays guitar to lay down digital music. To strum a guitar and play a piano sound—that’s a pretty novel experience for a lifetime guitarist, and that’s definitely kind of our secondary audience.
Create the Right Content
I’m pretty sure a lot of new companies like ours with new products…always kind of struggle [with content],” explains Cannon. “You have a meeting and you say, ‘OK let’s plan out the next three months of content. We’ll get it done, and we’ll have a backlog, and everything’s going to be great.’ Then you end up a couple weeks later saying, ‘Oh shoot—we never finished that’.
Use Brand Ambassadors to Tap into New Audiences
That’s the kind of stuff we love to put up on our website too. If it’s somebody from our office [on a video], sure. that’s great. But if we’re talking about our own products, we’re going to be a little bit more biased, and it’s going to come off a little sales-y. But when it’s coming from somebody outside, that’s really where we can establish trust.
Surprisingly, Cannon and his team don’t pay their brand ambassadors to read a script about their product.
We’ll always start off by sending [an influencer] a Jamstik and saying, ‘Hey, no pressure. Just try it out and let us know what you think. If you have any issues, we’ll help you out with it.’ That’s kind of the amazing part; it’s what they come up with. We can’t possibly envision every piece of software they might want to use with [the Jamstik] or every activity they might want to do.
Put People First (Before a Marketing Agenda)
One of the most attractive things about the Zivix brand overall is their refreshing lack of “agenda.”
In other words, not every conversation has to turn into a conversion. The team genuinely loves their product, and they want others to enjoy it too. Even the musicians they could be tempted to push to market the Jamstik onstage.
We’ve got a couple bands using the Jamstik and one of them was in town recently, and had a show, and invited a couple of us out. [We didn’t say] ‘Hey, they should go play the Jamstik onstage—we gotta make sure this turns into a marketing opportunity.’It was literally just to go and hang out, and be backstage and see the show and catch up with the guys. That’s what’s been pretty fun about this—the people we end up working a lot with are really invested in our products. They really like us and what we do.
Make Personalized Customer Support a Priority
Cannon agrees this is a growing pain and mentions the possibility of outsourcing customer support. Right now, Zivix has hired a PR firm that’s expanded their capabilities to handle some outreach.
“But in my opinion, says Cannon, “We’re always going to have a little bit of contact or at least be there available when it comes up.”
Nurture Community & Perfect Your Products
The Kickstarter mentality has stayed with the Zivix team over the years. Their gratitude toward supporters is similar to the way a niche band might view their original superfans.
In the long run, we want to nurture our community and have people get behind us. And I think I’d attribute the crowdfunding to that mentality because running the Kickstarter campaign was all about gaining that confidence and trust with your backers and giving them some of the credit for the reason you exist. We wouldn’t necessarily be here had we not [received] the initial pledges from people who wanted to see this become a reality. We do our best to remain true to that.
A good product should really sell itself, and in the hands of an influencer, that should remain the same truth. Or maybe it’s us being somewhat perfectionists. I don’t want to necessarily have to over-market the product because I’m so aware of where it could be and what it can do—that we’re just we’re constantly striving forward to make it better rather than make the quick sale.
Use Feedback to Improve Products
Be a Perfectionist
We could have waited [to make the Jamstik better] and said you know, let’s just market this one out and sell it as much as we can. But we said, you know what? From what we’re hearing, we need to change this. We had the engineers in-house to do it. So we said we gotta put the effort in; we gotta do this better. And we turned it around as well as adding more features and things like that, and launched the next version with much greater success.
Would it be better if [the licensed music] was in our ecosystem? Yeah, but that could take another 12 months. So we actually got in contact with a third party company and inked a deal for them to do a special version for us that worked with the Jamstik, and we got that done within a matter of months to release to customers.
If You Want to Make it on Launchpad, Be Passionate
Part of the form on your Launchpad application is ‘Who are you?’ You literally have to upload pictures of your main members and your founders, and your marketing people. And you gotta answer, ‘What are the three words that define your product?’ and ‘What was your favorite part of making this product?Amazon cares about brands that are invested and passionate about what they’re making, and it’s showcased on the Launchpad page. It’s not just a product page with some fancy pictures and a little marketing speak. It’s partly that, but it’s also about—who are the people behind this? And that’s what cool about Launchpad. They’re willing to highlight that and let you tell your story.
What’s in the Future for Zivix?
We asked Cannon what he would say to a startup that’s attempting to make a quality product while simultaneously trying to brand and market it Here’s his advice:
You don’t have to have all the answers yourself. [Use] customers…to guide the direction of your next offerings….bounce ideas off them, and get their feedback. And they will be your most important customers. The first ones you get will help you make some of the big decisions as you grow and find your niche. So don’t ever devalue them.If you get a little stressed or worried about where you’re going next…do research. There’s people that will tell their stories, and that’s kind of the only way you can learn. Yeah, you gotta get out there and do it yourself, but go out there and find inspiration where you can, and always move forward. And if you need a break, just go play air guitar.
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