It’s difficult to imagine in this day and age, but it’s true:
Some of the greatest writers in the history of the English language -- writers like Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe -- were all-but-unknown in their own time.
Only seven of Emily’s poems ever saw the public eye during her lifetime, and Poe spent most of his days desperate to make ends meet.
They were both brilliant writers, but they suffered from a critical failure to market (among other things), and their works -- pieces of literature that form the foundation of many language classes today -- languished in obscurity.
Fortunately, the age of the internet has taken power out of traditional publishers’ hands and put it back into the individual’s control, allowing creators to shape their own paths and make names for themselves on their own terms.
There’s never been a better time to be a creator, and avoiding the fate of an undiscovered great is easier than ever before if you’re trying to break into the market by selling digital downloads.
Which is where this article comes in. Today, we’ll walk through a four-step system for promoting your digital downloads, so whether you’re putting a new ebook on the market or selling creative assets, you’ll land your first customer -- and many more like them -- in no time.
It starts, of course, with figuring out exactly who that customer is.
Step 1: Research your audience
Part of the beauty of the internet is the ability for like-minded but distant people to come together in digital pockets.
Unfortunately, with a population that’s pushing eight billion, those pockets are harder and harder to narrow in on.
But if you’ve already prepared a product, don’t worry: you can still market to your future customers effectively, you just need to put in a little homework and find them.
And it does have to be in that order. While blogging and SEO can draw customers to you, if you’re a first-time creator, you’re going to have to find them first.
Now here’s the good news: someone else has already done the work for you.
In fact, finding your audience is as easy as finding your competitors. Known as competitive analysis, you can scope out your rivals with a quick Google search.
Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you have an idea for a product that will help other entrepreneurs manage their time -- maybe it’s a printable planner. You’re passionate about maintaining a healthy schedule and want to help others do the same.
You start with heading to the trusty Google homepage and typing in a relevant keyword string -- make it something specific to your idea like “digital planner for entrepreneurs” -- and then look at the top results.
(As an aside, we’re actually pretty big fans of that third one, and she’s a big fan of saving $1,200 a year with Podia.)
How do you know these are your competitors and they’re worth a look at?
Because they’ve done the legwork to compete for the same keywords that your prospective customers will use to find you, and whatever they’re doing, it’s working well enough to send strong engagement signals back to Google.
You won’t find subpar entries in the first ten organic entries on Google’s search engine results page (SERP), I guarantee it.
The higher ranked the page is, the more you can bet that:
- It has a ton of backlinks pointing towards it from other websites -- there’s a reason backlinks are one of our quick-wins for search traffic.
- The website/page’s user experience (UX) is smooth enough to encourage dwell time.
- The content is comprehensive, and in most cases, over 2,300 words.
All of which is both great news and a challenge for you. It’s great news because it means you can look at what they’re doing well and follow their audience to find your own, while it’s a challenge because it means your competition is well-entrenched in your niche.
Fortunately, you only really need to focus on the first three entries on the SERP. 55% of all clicks go through those, with each lower ranking receiving less and less user attention.
But, let’s set aside the intricacies of page ranking and get back to your audience.
Start by following the first link on the SERP. In this case, it’s a list-style article for paper planners.
Now, scroll down to the bottom of the page where the comments section is to find a treasure trove of audience information.
Just a preliminary sweep of the comments gives us a lot of actionable insights about the audience:
- They want something aesthetically pleasing.
- They identify as planner addicts.
- They want to be able to see the layout of the planner before committing to a download.
From here, go back to the SERP and look at the comment sections on the other two top-ranking pages. Do you notice similar themes? Are people voicing their frustrations and identifying challenges that your product can help solve?
Be sure to check out the social profiles of the websites in the first three slots, by the way, for even more audience insights.
Then, use all of that information to create audience personas (if this is your first time, you can find a step-by-step guide to putting together your first persona in our previous article about marketing strategies for online products).
However, a small caveat is necessary here:
While personas are an important step, they can’t be the only one -- and they can’t be used in lieu of real customer and audience interactions.
Designing anything, whether it’s a product or promotion, in a vacuum is much like that saying about putting monkeys in a room with a typewriter.
Yeah, you might get Shakespeare out if you wait long enough, but it’s not scalable or predictable.
You have to talk to the people who will be in your audience to fill in the gaps and challenge your assumptions, which means joining the conversations they’re already having.
The easiest way to do this is with a combination of social listening and hashtag tracking relevant terms with a tool like HashAtIt (check out this article on choosing and validating a membership idea for another detailed walkthrough of how to use it).
Is it more work than dreaming up an ideal customer from the top of your head? Absolutely. Is it worth it?
Building personas with real audience data and shaping their promotions around those personas helped the Adecco Group “wake up” around 90,000 leads they wouldn’t have otherwise reached.
Combine that with the fact that 66% of marketers say they struggle to understand their audience and 39% of professionals say that improved understanding of their customers is their top priority, and the answer is clear.
It’s not just worth it to research your audience and build actionable personas, it’s critical for success.
It’s also an absolute necessity for moving onto the second step -- the packaging.