The Story Behind Popup Zen

I released a new WordPress plugin, it’s called Popup Zen.

It’s a popup plugin for people who hate popups. Basically it’s the popup plugin I wanted to use on my own website, because I didn’t like the other options. You can read more about it on the website.

This post is about my reasons for creating it, and the choices I made. Specifically it’s about why a different product failed, and how this is a big experiment with positioning.

The Back Story

I created a plugin called Holler Box about a year and a half ago. Holler Box started as an idea for a fake live chat, and then it morphed into a full on popup plugin, and I even added a feature for FOMO notifications.

Holler Box was well received, and many people gave me great feedback. It has not been a great commercial success, which I believe is due to 3 things.

Note: Holler Box is still active, this is not a post-mortem, it’s just my honest assessment.

1. It never had a clear direction

Holler Box started as one thing, then I added a bunch of other stuff I thought people would like. It wasn’t really a popup plugin, but I thought “hey popup plugins are a big market, and that’s what people are searching for, so I’ll just call it that.”

Because it never had a clear direction, people were confused about it, and so was I. This does not make for good marketing.

2. My marketing strategy failed

My strategy was to take a small piece of a big pie. The popup market is huge, and I thought if I could just get a small slice of it, I might have something to build on.

That didn’t work.

I’m not entirely sure why, but I figure stiff competition plus my lack of direction were a big part. I think trying to fight for fifth place is a losing battle. The top 3 companies probably have 90% of the market, so that was a poor strategy to begin with.

3. It tried to do too much

Doing one thing well is really important for a product, especially at the beginning.

I added a header bar, footer bar, popup templates, fake chat, FOMO notifications, and small notification boxes to try to do everything. It was too much. There wasn’t one thing that Holler Box stood for, the message was too diluted.

There are other things too, but they are less significant. The pricing was too high, maybe the Pro features weren’t adding enough value, etc.

What to do with a failing product

I had to make a decision. Do I keep pushing on this failing product, or do I try something else?

I didn’t feel like adding more features, or adjusting the marketing would save Holler Box. It had to be something big.

I had been listening to Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout on Audible, and I had an epiphany. The book is about how a product needs to stand for one thing in a customer’s mind. It can’t be two things, and it can’t be the same as a different product.

For example, when Apple went up against Microsoft with their “I’m a Mac” commercials, they didn’t try to advertise a better personal computer. They used the positioning of Mac is cool and PC is not.

When 7up started advertising, they couldn’t be a clear cola, because Coke already owned the idea of cola. They had to be the un-cola.

Holler Box has become just another popup plugin, which isn’t a good position. That spot is already occupied in the customer’s mind, and I can’t de-throne them.

I did not position Holler Box well, but some of the ideas that spawned it still made sense. I needed a fresh start, and a laser-like focus.

I decided to re-position Holler Box in a big way.

Re-positioning a product

A position is not a slogan, it’s a stance. It’s something that defines who you are, what you stand for, and what you stand against.

I hate what popups have become. They are frustrating, ugly, and sometimes downright sleazy. They show up at the worst times, spin and shake, and use tricks to get more opt-ins.

I need to collect emails, but that type of popup goes against the fibers of my being. I think my brand and my site visitors deserve better.

That is my position.

When I looked at this position, and started working on a product to go along with it, it didn’t make sense to just do a new version of Holler Box. The name doesn’t work, and I wanted to get rid of all the unnecessary features.

I decided that I couldn’t just re-position Holler Box, I needed to start something new. So I did.

That’s how Popup Zen was born.

My Plan with Popup Zen

I changed the name to Popup Zen because it went along with my positioning.

Popup Zen is about giving ourselves and our site visitors a more peaceful experience. It’s about choosing to build trust instead of trick people into giving us their emails. It’s about building your brand first, and building your list second.

I want to go up against the titans in the popup industry by being the “un-popup,” the same way that 7up did against Coke.

Will it work? I don’t know.

I like the position, and I like the product. I spent a lot of time streamlining it to be fast, easy to use, and lightweight.

It’s not where it needs to be yet, but my idea is to put it out there and get feedback on where it needs to go next. I don’t want to build it all in a vacuum.

Give Popup Zen a try and let me know what you think.


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