Distribution is as important as Innovation

… and no, this is not about distribution as a middle man.

In 2012, I built Career Geek Blog and it did well; I sold it in 2016.

Feeling on top of the world in 2017, I started Jobbuddy – a web app to manage your job search. I shut it down within 6 months.

Being bitten by the maker bug, In 2018 my wife started Halal Gift Box, a niche gift store for Muslim women.

And through that, I finally learnt something about making things I hadn’t thought of before.

me thinking

To make good ideas work, “distribution” is as important as innovation and / or customer interviews.

And yet, it is something that is missing from a lot of new ventures I see even today. A good distribution strategy.

Distribution = how you will get your shiny toy into the hands of your customers.

distribution channel for your toy is important

It does not matter whether you are a startup, a corporate, working B2C, B2B, B2B2C, P2P, and whatever other acronyms are out there. You need a distribution strategy. For the rest of the article, I will stop sounding like an MBA-infused human, and drop the word strategy. Here onwards, we’ll call it distribution.

So, as I was saying, you need to have worked out your distribution.

Why is working out distribution important?

If you are a new venture, building an app, service, or whatever, you have innovation at the core of what you do. And you expect folks to flock to your idea. That won’t happen.

The mantra, “build it and they will come”, is long dead.

man built a palace in a desert

You have to find ways of getting your idea into the hands of your customers. You could call it Marketing / Sales / Promotion, it doesn’t matter. I put all of these under distribution.

Different ideas have different distribution models. And knowing the right model for your idea / product / service is one of the most important things you can do even pre-launch.

Let’s use an example

The usual tactic would be to think of the following,

  • Facebook marketing (that isht is now expensive)
  • Instagram (can you even buy from there bro?)
  • Google ads (really? No)
  • I will share on Facebook (your friends want a discount, not your products)

All of them suck more money in than a petrol-guzzling pick-up truck.

A better distribution model would be to build the community before you launch (or even build) your niche gift store. Start a Facebook group, or a slack group, or a blog. Anything that connects you with your future audience. Build rapport, start getting ideas, feedback, and most importantly – trust and anticipation from your potential customers. This goes further than just an ad.

Because when you do this, you have a dedicated group to distribute your product to.

For example, when I think about reaching the audience for my blog, I decided I wanted 10 focused readers than a thousand meh readers. I wanted to build a community. It’s another reason I don’t do keyword SEO – I am not building for the masses. I am building for those who want to read what Faizan says. If 10 people read each one of my articles, I have reached my goal.

Build distribution into your product

… or service, it doesn’t matter. The point being – build distribution into your core offering.

a car driving your shiny toy

In this instance, distribution can be thought of in terms of growth hacking as well. However, the difference is that Growth Hacking is a separate activity and not necessarily baked into the core product.

By building distribution into the product, you design a product that encourages distribution from day 1. It isn’t an afterthought.

A simple way of building distribution into the product could be inviting users who sign up to a product, or customers of your gift store to join a Facebook group or slack channel. Something exclusive. This can be done via a follow-up onboarding email. And in that community, you can share exclusive discounts that are not available elsewhere or offer pre-order of products not on the gift store yet. Nothing too technical.

This is all time consuming, no?

Yes, it takes a lot of effort to work out your right model. But it isn’t extra work. Look at it in a way that displaces all the effort you would have to put into figuring out why no one is buying your product. By getting to those answers earlier and faster.

Distribution is over-arching

I don’t even know why I used the word over-arching there. It isn’t just making soft nudges. Sometimes, for a startup, a creative distribution model can be altering the whole business model of the industry!

A note for startups – if you are being “innovative” but have the same distribution model as the 100-yr-old company you are trying to disrupt, you will be stuffed.

Startups in the B2B space specifically, need to work out their distribution model early.

But that isn’t my concern at the moment. I am still trying to work out the distribution model for Halal Gift Box. Yeah, I decided I will put all of my engineering skills to good use by trying to figure out a good distribution model for the niche gift store.

In conclusion

Work out your distribution strategy early. If you are working on something now, write out your distribution strategy. Distribution does not offset innovation. They are on equal footing (this could be controversial, but what the heck, I am the author).

A good resource to use when thinking about distribution, even though it is not explicitly used for it, is Harry’s site Marketing Examples. I’ve subscribed to the newsletter and find the examples and the actions from them super useful.

What do you think of distribution? Agree or argue with me on LinkedIn or Tweet me, if you’d like.

If you liked this post, you may also like this other post I have linked here – Before you build a new service or product, learn to empathise.

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