Many, many Internet years ago, a few companies established websites chock-a-block full of different types of content. AOL, Yahoo and the like perfected what was then called a "portal." It meant exactly what it sounded like.
The portal circa-1998 was the Internet user's "way in," the first thing she passed through on her way to wherever she was going on the Web. It went by other names such as "home page" or "start page" or "launch page."
The word "portal" fell out of favor fairly quickly, even though the concept has been essential all along, for example, to Yahoo's ability to survive. In fact, if you said portal out loud during a meeting today, in a serious way, you would be laughed out of the room.
Yet, in a funny way, Facebook’s recent introduction of Home validates the strength of the portal concept. Different device this time, but same intent – you must “pass through” Home (or “suffer through,” based on the early reviews) to get to where you are going on your smartphone. From what we understand, Facebook executives did not use the term “portal” – lest they be bum-rushed off the stage.
Now, a couple of weeks post-launch of Facebook Home, we learn that a half-million people downloaded the “launcher app” (at least the word “launch” is still considered cool). On an absolute basis, that is a “wow” number. But relative to the 1 billion Facebook members, it is a “bow wow” number (0.05 %, if you are keeping score at home).
Which takes us to the second “way” of the portal alluded to in our headline: Facebook needs to get its user base to the Home portal/door. To accomplish that, it needs to give substantially more “ways in” to the “way in.”
This is the forgotten “Place” of the “4 Ps” of Marketing. Many think of it only as communications touch points. But Place also includes distribution – the method for physically getting your product in front of potential consumers.
The initial distribution of Home via pre-load on HTC hardware is a strong first step. Making it generally available as an Android app is a weak second step. It essentially equates to a “hit and hope” strategy, dependent on spreading via word of mouth.
Ask any of the hundreds of thousands of mobile app developers how likely that is.
A distribution strategy is essential for any product launch. You can try and build your strategy over time, but you will find many of the portals – your “ways in” to reach prospects – will long be closed off.