Hacking Distribution

Aug 06, 2012

Table of contents:

  1. Viral Cycle Time and Viral Coefficient
  2. Distribution hacks for everyone
  3. Specific distribution hacks
  4. Conclusion

Distribution. One of the most important, yet most forgotten about aspects of launching a successful product. When creating a new product or website, it is easy to allow yourself to spend all of your time creating the product. It is logical to think that a fantastic product will “sell itself”. But in reality, if nobody knows about your fantastic new product, no one will buy it.

A successful distribution strategy is more important than those extra features, or that final bit of polish. Distribution will literally make or break your product.

So stop spending time agonising over your product or your website’s details, and start making plans for how you will distribute it.

This is a guide to hacking distribution online. I hope you find it helpful.

Viral Cycle Time and Viral Coefficient

I should probably start this post by directing you to a previous post Finding your Viral Coefficient for some background reading. A lot of people I talk to seem to automatically think that their new product of website will become a viral sensation overnight. Let me tell you this my friend, you are not Rebecca Black. Engineering the perfect storm for virality online is incredibly difficult. It will require a huge amount of hard work, investment and a fantastic distribution strategy. It is by no means a quick fix or a sure-fire thing.

Hopefully this post will give you some ideas that will help you to catch the mythical viral unicorn.

The remainder of the post will be ideas and techniques that have been proven to work. The first set will be general things you should be doing no matter what product or website you are launching, the second half will be case-by-case specific examples.

Distribution hacks for everyone

There are a number of strategies to grow your distribution online that can be applied to almost every business or individual. Hopefully these will be incredibly obvious and you are already doing most of them.

Write a blog

If you are looking to build an online presence, or you are looking to earn business online and you are not regularly blogging then you are making life incredibly difficult for yourself. Every business I talk to seems to be completely caught up in SEO and the opportunity to find new business online, but they are not so psyched about actually putting in the hard work to regularly blog high quality content.

In the same sense, releasing any sort of online product, be it a mobile app, an e-book or online software will be much harder without a dedicated blog.

A blog allows you to incrementally build up credibility, respect, interest and most importantly an audience. A blog gives your company or product a voice and a way of distributing value, knowledge and information to people who show an interest. People moan that they launch a product yet no media outlet or blogger will cover their story. How do you expect someone to put time into writing a story about you if you haven’t put the time in to telling it?

If you are launching a product in secrecy and you do not already have a public blog, your launch day will be very quiet. Instead of spending the last hour of your day writing more code, write a blog post instead. I’ve written previously about How to get the most from your business blog.

Value creation

Linked to writing a blog, but not necessarily following the same line, value creation is something that will make or break your success.

On of my 4 myths of digital marketing was, “People don’t care about your business”. This is especially true if you are a new startup.

Value creation is inherent to success. Attention has become a scarce commodity and so you must justify why your potential audience should spend their attention on you. This shouldn’t be strategies to trick traffic into coming to your site or trying your product, you should be going out of your way to give them a reason to become a user.

Value creation comes in many forms, so i’ll touch upon a few specific examples in the second half of this post. Just remember, this is a vital ingredient to a good distribution strategy.

Your product’s DNA

As I wrote in my post on Viral Coefficients, your product’s DNA should inform the majority of your distribution decisions.

If your product is a high value enterprise purchase, it is unlikely that you are going to have much success on Pinterest. Also, if you tack on social sharing, or “tell a friend” features when they go against the grain of your product, you are making a big mistake.

Allow your product decisions to guide your distribution strategy. Think logically about where your target customers hear about news, who they are influenced by and how to provide value for them.

This will be a much better tactic than chasing the latest hot trend.

Specific distribution hacks

Now hopefully you’ve committed to following the above three general rules, now let’s get into some specific examples of how other people have used distribution hacking to supercharge their growth.

Viral video

Getting a video to go viral is about as hard as predicting where lightning will strike. Nobody can know who the next Charlie bit my finger will be. However a couple of companies have proven that you can engineer a viral video with the right investment.


Danny MacAskill’s “Way Back Home” was a huge success for Redbull with over 21 million views on YouTube. This example goes to show that investing in athletes with extraordinary talent will produce video content that people love to share. It also goes to show that you don’t need to shove your brand into the viewers face. Redbull only actually feature in the video for a split second. I think this video also goes to show that companies should not be afraid to invest in campaigns with zero direct return. YouTube views do not automatically mean increased Redbull sales, and it would be almost impossible to track the ROI of this video, but the good will and brand recognition (the allusive intangibles) are worth much more.

Old Spice

Old Spice was a revolution in engineering a viral success from a well known brand. Old Spice took a chance on creating an online video and a follow up campaign to support it. This included targeting online influencers, creating follow up videos and fully committing to full blown online presences on Twitter and Facebook.

Again, Old Spice created a huge wave of online recognition on a platform that is perfect for high Viral Coefficients and social sharing.

Dollar Shave Club

Very much following in the footsteps of Old Spice, Dollar Shave Club created a video that spread like wildfire around the Internet. This campaign was so successful that it actually crashed the company website so they were no unable to take orders. Now that is a distribution strategy.

Of course, these campaigns were probably not exactly low budget and took some expertise to execute them correctly. But the cost of producing high quality video is falling dramatically and everything to host and spread your content is already firmly in place.

If video content is something that is likely to fit well with your company, product and audience, don’t be put off just because you don’t have any background experience.

Tell a friend for value

One of the best growth hacking strategies from the past couple of years came from DropBox. DropBox gives users free space on their account for every friend they introduce. This is effective on a number of levels.

The first really important thing to understand is, DropBox is very much a social application. DropBox makes it easy share files with colleagues or clients and completely gets rid of the need to pass around large attachments via email. When you are trying to send a file to someone, you are naturally going to suggest DropBox as the delivery method, and so DropBox has social sharing baked right into the product.

The other important thing is, DropBox is giving away their product. It is not some cheap sideline, or some feature restricted version. It is their entire product. The more space you have, the more you are going to use the product. By giving away value, you increase the usage. It is a genius tactic for growth.

Many business owners seems completely against giving away anything for free. The DropBox example shows you how effective this strategy could be.

Disruption through low entry and resegmentation

FreeAgent is a Software as a Service Accountancy package that is aimed at small businesses and the self employed. The market is not short of Accountancy software and there are a number of established giants.

FreeAgent aimed to capture their target market by pricing the product in a monthly no obligation subscription.

This then enabled them to create a distribution strategy where current users invited new users to receive money off their subscription. Because the subscription is only £25 per month, this enables many small businesses to effectively get the software for free for the entire life of their subscription just by inviting a few friends.

As you can see, this particular strategy only really works because of FreeAgent’s unique product and offering. If you were going to offer £5 off a £1,000 subscription, it wouldn’t have the same effect.

This is a really good example of creating a distribution strategy that is found from the DNA of the product, in this case the pricing structure and the specific target audience.


Hacking distribution is an incredibly important part in the process of creating a successful product or website. Creating the perfect product is not nearly enough as you need a strategy to get your product in front of your audience.

Growth strategy and distribution are two often forgotten aspects of a product launch. It’s easy to look at successful products and believe that it was successful because they chose all the right product decisions. However, when you really break it down, there is normally a multitude of effective distribution strategies that have really made the difference.

Finally, it is also a fallacy that the best product will always win. This is not the case. If you want to create the leading product in any segment or industry, it is just as much about your distribution and growth strategies, then it is about your product.

Philip Brown


© Yellow Flag Ltd 2024.