Before growth: How we test digital product ideas in Kenya

Growing the user base of digital products is the biggest challenge of all – but it’s not the first.

Before growth: How we test digital product ideas in Kenya

Our first idea for a premium mobility platform failed – but we moved on.

Growing the user base of digital products is one of the biggest challenges – but it’s not the first. Before your app, platform or service should be rolled out and promoted with a long-term digital marketing campaign, you must be sure that your product meets a valid market need and has gotten early traction in your target group:

“One of the cardinal rules of growth hacking is that you must not move into the high-tempo growth experimentation push until you know your product is must-have, why it’s must-have, and to whom it is a must-have: in other words, what is its core value, to which customers, and why.”

Sean Ellis. “Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success.”

Getting to this point is hard. First, founders should do proper user and market research and develop a deep understanding of the problem and context they want to build a solution for. For those working on B2B business models, we recommend the book Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez. Insights collected during this research stage will inform your early-stage product prototypes and Minimum Viable Products. However, here is where digital marketing already comes in!

In this post, I’m going to explain how we set up product validation experiments using digital marketing tools, test digital product ideas quickly, and get client feedback in real-time. After our typical setup, I will share two examples of how we once ran into a low-potential idea, improved it, and turned it into something that got traction.

How we set up product validation experiments

Because many of our projects target consumers or small business owners, we usually reach our test audiences through Facebook. Following the lean mindset “fake it until you make it”, we create a Facebook page and run a local or country-wide ad campaign for the product we are testing.

The Facebook campaign report is our first indicator of how relevant our idea might be for the target group. The Click-Through-Ratio (CTR), a figure calculated by dividing the number of ad clicks by the total number of times people had a chance to click (impressions), should be above 1%. This value, however, varies with the target group and industry. In our projects, it has ranged from 0.74% to up to 2.96%. Facebook’s average across all their campaigns is 0.90%. From our experience, it is safe to say that a CTR above 1.5% is a good indicator that you are working on a hot topic.

Please note that you should consider running different ads and ideally A/B test them to rule out an ineffective or wrongly-configured campaign.

Create a landing page

The Facebook ad should link to a landing page where the test audience will learn more about your digital product and make a measurable decision on whether it is interesting for them or not.

The landing page should outline the problem you are solving, the value proposition of your solution, and provide a tangible, visual idea of what you are offering. Make sure that every single sentence is based the market and customer insights you collected prior to building the page. We recommend checking out this guide by Julian Shapiro

Landing page we designed for a Zambian logistics company using Webflow

We normally use Webflow to design and build them, but there are many other no-code tools that also do the job (e.g. Squarespace, WordPress, MailChimp…). If you design for users in African countries, you should keep in mind that most – if not all – visitors of your landing page will view it on a mobile device. Although this sounds obvious, it is easy to forget while designing a landing page from a bigger PC screen.

Our call-to-action joker: “Chat in WhatsApp”

We recommend a WhatsApp-CTA for early consumer landing pages

To measure how many people are interested in your product, it is advisable to compare the number of visitors to your landing page with the number of people who triggered your “Call-to-action” (CTA). Typically, the CTA is a button such as “Sign up”, “Contact us” or “Order now” and will be pressed by users who are curious or ready to engage with your product. From our experience, especially in the early stages, the CTA should be as engaging and convenient as possible, so that you get in touch with your audience without making it too hard for them.

That’s why we experimented a lot with a “Chat in WhatsApp”-CTA. In Kenya, where many small businesses operate on WhatsApp, consumers are already fairly used to this channel. Also, it is easy to count the number of people who reached out on WhatsApp vs. those who clicked your Facebook Ad (conversation rate).

More importantly, WhatsApp allows us to TALK to our audience immediately as they contact us. This way, we can collect feedback on our product and incorporate further learnings into the landing page and product design. This method is superior to other CTA’s, considering that quantitative data alone hardly help us to figure out what went wrong.

Example of a failed startup idea

Landing page for a failed premium mobility platform idea

How do we know a product idea failed? Let’s have a look at our mobility platform project Drivas back in 2019. After interviewing drivers in Nairobi, we found out that many would like to do more “offline” trips where they act as personal drivers for those who require more flexible driving services. Hence, we designed a landing page that positioned the platform as a premium alternative to A-to-B-ride-hailing with hourly or daily rates. We ran a Facebook campaign and got plenty of requests. However, those we talked to via WhatsApp weren’t our new premium customers, but instead drivers who wanted to enjoy the fair pricing model of our platform.

Example of an idea with potential

Having learned that drivers like the model, we refined the demand side. Instead of private premium customers, we focused on commercial clients and local business people. We adjusted the landing page’s design and value proposition with features relevant to businesses. Of course, these decisions were based on learnings from more research interviews in between.

Because our target group has now become more niche, we narrowed our Facebook audience and additionally posted our landing page in a local group. The results where phenomenal! In a short time, 29 people visited our landing page and 41% of those contacted us through WhatsApp.

Before growth

Digital growth objectives require strong evidence of your product’s market need. However, as we discussed in this article, that doesn’t mean digital marketing tools and methods aren’t helpful in the early stages of digital product development.

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