TLDR: Slack has leveraged network effects to become the world’s fasting-growing enterprise software. Its application’s slick interface, perfected with customer feedback, has made it spread like wildfire.
So What? Slack’s story shows how building a quality product can be your best marketing tactic. This is especially the case for network products, where growth happens organically, through word of mouth.
In 2013, a failed video game company named Tiny Speck launched the world’s fastest-growing enterprise software: Slack. Although their MMO game was not successful, it did make use of a novel messaging feature which later became Slack.
Almost a decade later, Tiny Speck (now Slack Technologies) now exclusively produces Slack and was bought by Salesforce in 2020. During that time, Slack grew to serve over eight million people, a population the size of New York City.
How did Slack become the ultimate corporate communication tool? It didn’t have to do much original marketing. Because it is a networked communication product, it created its own marketing which spread by word of mouth. All the developers had to do was create the best product they could.
Some strategies that helped include:
- An invite-only methodology (in the beginning)
- Network effects
- Traditional media
- Repurposing ideas
- Embracing feedback
- Explaining features
Slack’s strategy works. It earned over $1 billion in revenue in 2021.
An Invite-Only Beginning
Like many other online subscription services, Slack was invite-only at first.
This limited early adoption to a few thousand tech industry employees and enthusiasts. While this meant slow growth at first, it laid the foundation for better quality growth over time.
Invite-only growth helps start subscription services in several ways:
- It provides a feeling of exclusivity to early members.
- It screens early members for quality, leading to better experiences.
- It gives the service a chance to get used to business and temper rapid scaling.
- It lets the service rapidly experiment with features using a small initial customer base.
Exclusivity creates a sense of value and intrigue to early members. This may encourage them to invite their friends to join, as a way of showing off.
Since the earliest members are the ones most poised to use the platform, this minimizes confusion. Early adopters will be predisposed to enthusiasm.
A small, hand-picked user base is easy to manage and easy to learn from. It provides a strong foundation for future development.
Any platform that facilitates network interactions (like Facebook, Snapchat, or Slack) creates its own marketing by its very existence. To use it, you interact with people. This draws them in if they weren’t already connected.
This is why social media platforms are so eager to access your contacts and help you find friends and connections. The more your social presence expands, the more the service expands.
It’s a lot easier to market a product — especially a network product — when you’ve spent the time to craft a great product, continually iterating based on customer feedback. The better the product is, the more likely users are to reach out and bring others in.
Slack first launched on the back of traditional media, like magazine and newspaper articles. This may seem counterintuitive given Slack represents the cutting edge of technology, but it ultimately makes sense.
Establishing a traditional media presence gives your brand a sense of authority and trust. This is what early-stage tech startups lack. Their technology is so new, they have no reliable track record of success.
Online advertising and social media marketing can go a long way in marketing your brand, but they are cheap and unimpressive compared to traditional media. Traditional media signals a brand has cash and class.
Repurposing Your Best Ideas
Slack famously started as a side project for a video game studio. It needed a better way for MMO players to communicate, so employees designed a slick messaging interface. When their game failed to catch on, they decided to pivot toward selling their messaging app instead.
Sometimes, the best way to achieve your goal is “sideways.” You walk into it by accident. You find your best ideas weren’t your main ideas, but things you came up with along the way.
Slack succeeds because it works well. It has a well-designed user interface, and its functionality makes competitors seem clunky by comparison.
As most of its growth comes from network effects, Slack knows its best bet is to grease the wheels of communication by making its app very smooth. That’s where customer feedback comes in.
Customer feedback is your best tool for improving your product. The more data you collect and the faster you respond to that data, the more value your product will deliver.
Explaining Why Customers Need Your Product
Some companies are so famous (like Coca-Cola, Hershey’s, or Levi’s), they can get away with flashing their logo all the time as a reminder of their existence.
If your brand isn’t well-known or your product isn’t self-explanatory, you need to show why customers should buy. This should be obvious, but many marketing campaigns are waged uselessly without considering a customer’s needs first.
Given Slack is a complex software product with many features, its best bet is to explain its features. It does this through a variety of content formats, including articles and videos.
Marketing Like Slack
Slack is a great example of a product that markets itself. It is a communication platform, so the more people use it, the more people will hear and talk about it: network effects.
With products like this, you can improve marketing simply by improving your product. This will encourage people to use it and encourage them to tell other people to use it.
To improve your product, focus on the customer experience. Embrace feedback and implement any good ideas your customers suggest.
Media Shower helps brands build customer engagement strategies to fit their needs, just like Slack. We’ve helped thousands of technology companies, large and small, which helps us craft a unique plan for you. Click here to take our award-winning content platform for a test drive.