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How Gandi does marketing without advertising

Most marketing efforts are a combination of inbound and outbound approaches. Print, media, and Internet Pay-Per-Click (PPC) are combined with SEO, social media and publicity to make a well-rounded campaign, with hooks to build a community of common interest.

What happens when some of these tools are simply removed from the toolbox?

I work for a company who has actually publicly stated that we will never pay someone to say nice things about us. That is, we will not pay professional bloggers, buy advertising in print or media, or do any PPC.
That’s actually a challenge for an Internet company, especially one selling in an incredibly competitive market like web hosting and domain name registration. How do people even know you exist? How do you generate awareness if you can’t even buy a banner ad with your name and logo? Is it even possible to build awareness in this context?

The answer is that yes, it is possible. But that does not mean it is easy. There are specific approaches that work, some that don’t, and you definitely need to be patient. The good news is that your marketing budget, while not zero, won’t be broken if you do it right.

At Gandi we have focused historically less on publicity and SEO than on building a community, and around making our products appealing in a context of minimal or even zero promotion. A lot of people know us for our tag line: “No Bullshit”. As a pledge of honesty it means, in effect, that we don’t pester our customers with upsell opportunities, sell their data to marketing partners, or otherwise try to leverage the commercial relationship in any way other than providing service in exchange for a fee.

We really believe in the No BS philosophy, and we think many more people would take to it if they only knew we existed. How then to get the word out?

To make more people aware we exist, in the last year we have focused on generating that awareness. This meant that when we released new products or features, we made press releases. We actually had not done that for a couple of years. We re-vamped the front-end of our web site to be more eye-catching, with subtly improved workflow, without actually changing the overall organization. This both gave the customer a better user experience, and generated a feedback loop with our user community. We re-organized the online product documentation to be more easily searchable and SEO-friendly.

We have had some social media presence, mostly on Twitter, for a while. While it was a good, solid base of followers, and an excellent feedback channel, we decided to push the envelope a bit. This past spring we offered to reward followers with free t-shirts. While it’s almost like paying someone to say nice things (are follows nice?), we decided it was actually a kind of giveaway to build the community, and still far enough from actual advertising that we were comfortable with it. That choice did generate some critical questions from users, but a lot of people liked the t-shirts, too, and our follower base increased significantly. The community is now richer for it.

2tshirts.png We combined this with a company Facebook and Google+ page, opening more channels for user engagement and feedback.

One of the more pleasing consequences of the no BS policy is simply that we need to rely more on actually delivering value. We found that when we actually deliver useful, high-performance products with innovative technological approaches, it helps us generate awareness.

People like talking about things that are cool, that take some intellectual effort to understand and explain, and above all work well and efficiently. Intellectually engaging subjects make for good blog posts, and if the products also work well, and solve a problem, then people enjoy using them more, knowing that they have an advantage driven by innovative technology. That makes for satisfied customers, and that is who spreads the word.

I’m leaving out a lot here. Gandi also builds communities through sponsoring non-profits, for example. And of course you can’t have a good reputation without having great support, making your site search-friendly, and adding the features people need in your field, and that your competitors have or will soon have. All that comes with the territory. We are doing all of that as well.

The point here is that not harassing your customer base to buy more, not making claims or slogans in advertising that your real customers know to be misleading, and basically just providing good value for the money without claiming to do more, are all marketing advantages if you can find honest ways to talk about them. You don’t really need outbound advertising in this context, but you do need to use the tools of publicity, SEO, and social media to spread the word.