Software as a marketing tool

Here in the hearth of Silicon Valley, folks are usually excited about some new company with a disruptive new technology or business model. Yet, it can happen that some companies that commercialize neither, at least initially, a disruptive technology or a game changing idea on a new service; can grow in a crowded commoditized and dominated market.
The art of marketing, and product design therein, is chief in achieving growth in an industry where there are large and dominant incumbents. Here is my view on a well executed case of marketing strategy. I call this “software as a marketing tool” in that  the software itself becomes, or at least is used as, the delivery channel and the mean for product evangelization.


Software as a marketing tool belongs to the larger fabric of freemium ( Is freemium a stable economic model? Why?) marketing penetration strategies. A risky approach that works for some (The workspace for your life’s work ) and is deadly for many others(Which companies have written/talked most about their success and failure with freemium?).
The case I want to discuss  concerns NitroPDF,  a company started in the mid 2000 in Australia and now based in San Francisco, California. The company wanted to enter the highly competitive and commoditaized space of PDF software editors and converters. This at that time, was a space dominated by Adobe, while a multitude of value players would provide copy cut products at a much reduced price. The odds of winning the battle of building a growing and sustainable business  for Nitro were  slim! The next value player in a sea of value players and a large incumbent engulfing most of the revenue.

Getting Known!

Nitro tackled the very first problem in marketing a new product : getting known! They used an interesting approach. Nitro broke up the sub-features of PDF editor and converter and identified 4 features that are widely used world wide. Over 30 M people each month need to convert PDF files into one of the various Microsoft format. Additionally those 30M people do search for PDF solutions on various search engines and their keywords are well known.  Nitro  than started an independent co-branded web portal for free PDF conversion. Conversion was only a sub sector of NitroPDF product offering. While others have attempted to use a piece of software as free service, Nitro execute this strategy really well:

  • Clear and intuitive graphics that helps users getting their transaction done rapidly.
  • Precision and speed in converting and delivery the document.
  • simple and enticing way to capture users emails (the correct ones)
  • A crispy, clear and short marketing message that focuses on the benefits of their product.

While Nitro does not give out completely its product offering for free, by co-branding this miniature software service, as a free service,  it achieves some of the advantages of the freemium model:

  1. Building brand recognition at relatively low cost. 5M visitors + a month.
  2. Educate prospective customers on how to use the product without support.
  3. Getting an opportunity to evaluate potential market niches for new product launches.
  4. Gathering analytics of user patterns to improve and discover product shortcomings.
  5. Identify and nurturing leads for direct B2B sales

Clamping the ladders of the B2B channel from a pro-sumer base!

Once brand recognition is on its way and conversion from free co-branded software to the main NitroPDF software started generating sizable revenue, it was time to tackle the attractive enterprise market. Nitro is executing the penetration of the B2B channel fairly well.


it is worth to dwell on how the company is building on its previous success in the pro-sumers market. Data from the co-branded software as marketing tool, the free online converter, along side with data from various social media are utilized to generate sales leads for the sale force. The beauty with Nitro approach is that they have now a very very large leads generator mechanism that is proprietary. This,  gives the company a time advantage over competitors that require third parties leads generation. (A digital marketing technique that does not assures your company is the only one receiving those leads)

The second leg of the B2B penetration strategy is back on product features. These new features will add productivity and cost savings to medium and large enterprises and therefore will be enticing for organizations of larger size.
To this extend Nitro is now evolving its basic editor converter in a document productivity hub for the enterprise.

Here are some of the product innovation strategy that Nitro is using for the B2B channel:

  1. Any time , anywhere or ubiquitous use: interplay of Desktop/Cloud offering working in tandem. The user can swap from Desktop to Cloud.
  2. Adding a variety of collaborative features, from signing to approve a document.
  3. Ability to collaboratively settings security and other settings in the document

The product strategy is now one of offering a productive experience beyond the original purpose of the NitroPDF initial package. While the initial product launched on the market did more or less what Adobe was doing with a perhaps lower price and better overall customer experience; Nitro today is clamping not only the ladders of the B2B channel but also those of product and service innovation. The company is carving its niche in the document management market world wide.

Harvesting the fruits of the software as marketing tool strategy

At the time of this writing Nitro has become a world wide recognized brand and has achieved tangible results with its initial software as marketing strategy:

  1. A revenue of $40M+ up 150% in 4 years
  2. Commanding the highest price among all Adobe competitors ( this include also other large public companies such as Nuance PDF ).
  3. A world wide brand recognition.
  4. Raises $15M to target integrated document management solution Nitro Gets $15 Million In Series B From Battery Ventures

What’s Next in Software as marketing tool
It is the opinion of the author that the next frontiers in software as marketing tools is the introduction of real time communication and video explanatory entertainment in to free co-branded software services. The times are about right as WebRTC platforms (The New Entrants to the WebRTC API Platform are… Different) will allow for  quick and agile deployment of video, audio and IM tools on to software as service. This create an opportunity for value exchange between prospective users and the service provider:

  • Video explainers with an entertainment spin will both help the user to retain brand positioning and to understand the benefits of the product
  • Real time communication will enhance the value delivered to user who can now instantly communicate the result of an action while, they become evangelists for the same service they are using in a way that is fully embedded into the experience.

available also at Software as a Marketing Tool by

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