Go to market with a defined, narrow niche in mind.

Most marketing campaigns target something they call a niche, but it isn't really narrow enough.

When you're building a product, or marketing it- you need to have a narrow niche in mind. A small group of people who would urgently need your product to get rid of a pain.

That's what the Coronavirus did. It started off with a small population in a particular city in China. Here's what its persona looked like:

"Adults above the age of 30 living in Wuhan, China who recently visited a wet market near the Wuhan Institute of Virology".

Lesson: Define your initial niche properly.

The virus has obviously diversified beyond this, but more on that later...

Don't be explicit.

Most product-focused founders believe marketing is shouting at the top of your lungs about your product, then eventually some people buy. It doesn't work that way.

The best marketing is implicit. It provides value to your prospects without being too pushy.

How do you think the Coronavirus reached global brand recognition? By being implicit.

About 80% of infections are asymptomatic. If everyone who got the virus was symptomatic, more people would rest at home and the virus would have no chance to spread.

Lesson: The more implicit your message, the more likely it spreads.

Segment your customers.

Statistics on a laptop
Photo by Carlos Muza / Unsplash

Once you grow, you need to segment your customers. I recommend doing this as soon as you have about 1000 customers.

Look at Coronavirus. It started off with a small niche in Wuhan, but now it has grown its customer base all over the world.

Some of its target market is high-converting, like Italy for example. Some don't seem to care about its product, like Sweden.

Coronavirus recognizes this and doubles down on the segments that care about its product, it serves them more of itself. Meanwhile, segments of its customers like Sweden remain underserved.

Lesson: Identify who your highest paying customers are. Once you've done this, figure out their common characteristics. Are they from a certain geography, demography, or psychography? Once this is done, go all-in on serving the needs of these customers.

Don't romanticize your first target market

Many founders fall in love with their first market, and consequently the product they built for that market. Coronavirus teaches us not to do this!

It started off with the Wuhan wet-market niche. It later found out that they aren't necessarily the highest paying, most engaged customers. Once it was in the market, it learnt "People above the age of 60 who regularly smoke cigarettes in Italy" was probably a better audience. Prospects in Wuhan stop caring about its product and were having pool parties instead.

So Coronavirus switched gears and focused on other segments.

Lesson: Don't be afraid to pivot if there's business elsewhere.

Build and exploit viral loops.

Alright, now you have customers. How do you leverage your current base to get more? Referrals, and viral loops.

The coronavirus blitzscaled its customers by building virality into the product. It had an R0 between 2-3. That means, every customer referred coronavirus to 2-3 people on average... and so on... and so on. That's exponential growth! 🚀

It started off with just about 2000 customers at the end of January, they now boast a customer base of over 65M globally! (we will discuss this number a little later).

Lesson: Have a referral program in place to drive virality. Get every customer to refer as many people as possible. High R0 baby!

Creating a cult-brand

This one may be controversial, but that's the point.

The coronavirus created a cult- mask wearing, worshipping science, blindly trusting models, washing hands for 20 sec. These are hallmarks of cultish behavior. Some of these are correct, some are nonsensical. But again, that's the point. People are divided.

A cult will intermix sensible stuff with nonsense. That way, disbelievers can be shoo-ed away (seemingly) reasonably.

Do this with your brand. Create a cult. Have a loyal base of followers that will support you no matter what, and actively defend your brand against haters.

Lesson: Create a cult following.

Test tubes in metal rack. Concept for science, medical, research.
Photo by Bill Oxford / Unsplash

Rapid Iteration: Test, Learn and Adapt fast.

Coronavirus was evolving its product and its marketing. It kept its "Number of Cases" KPI in mind and wasn't paying attention to anything else.

It responded to market needs. It kept mutating to better achieve its goals.

It wasn't fixating on its growth channels too. Sometimes it spread asymptomatically, sometimes it didn't. Sometimes it spread from surfaces, sometimes it didn't. It tested different methods and doubled down on what worked best.

Lesson: Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.


Okay! Enough appreciating the China Virus' marketing genius. Even the biggest brands make some mistakes. So here are two things it got wrong.

Focusing on Vanity Metrics

We've all done this at some point. So did coronavirus.

It made "Number of cases" its KPI. This meant it only optimized for customers acquired, but never did anything to activate and retain them for longer.

The coronavirus was a failure of a product, despite having many people sign up for a 14-day free trial, only a minuscule percentage stayed back.

The coronavirus team ignored this as they were optimizing and patting themselves on the back for their 65M+ acquired customers.

Lessons: What is the metric that really drives revenue? The one that really makes an impact on your business? Focus on that.

Churn Rate

This flows from the last point. Their product had high churn!

Only about 2% of their 65M+ free-trial customers, unfortunately for them, stayed onboard. The remaining churned out. Their product was not built to retain.

Lesson: Retention is a part of marketing and product, build retention loops.


That's it! If I missed something, let me know on LinkedIn.

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