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“My users don't like ads”
I often hear this from startup founders, especially when the startup’s target audience is very technical: DevOps, data engineers, software developers, etc.
They are concerned that ads will not only fail to generate revenue, but actually hurt their brand: They are positioning themselves as the cool, young, PLG startups, and ads is something that their old and boring incumbents do.
This is a valid concern.
When done wrong, ads can antagonize technical audiences, as is well known to anyone who ever tried to distribute generic ads in Reddit and received dozens of hate comments. This is not something you want to have associated with your startup.
Yet, as a startup founder, you simply can't afford to give up on paid ads. They are simply the most time-efficient way to reach your target audience, and in startups, speed is critical.
This means you must find a way to make paid ads work. From my experience, the best ad campaigns for technical audiences rely on two pillars: Community and product education.
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Technical people don’t like ads, but they do like hearing about the experience of other technical people with tools. That means that community-focused content makes great assets for ads.
These can be influencer videos about your product, success stories of customers, a talk your CTO gave at a conference, etc. Re-package these materials and distribute them via paid ads.
When they suck, ads try to sell you something. When they are executed properly, ads teach you how to do something
So, instead of advertising your product, teach how to use it. Create hands-on tutorials - video or blog post - on achieving something with your product (“How to find underutilized Kubernetes nodes”) and distribute it with paid ads.
If this is done correctly, your audience will barely even consider those to be ads.