marketing

Building an Email List for Fun and World Domination

“Dad, I think that’s the guy from Shadow of Whales.” We were standing in line, waiting to get into the venue to see Catfish and the Bottlemen and Green Day. My daughter pointed over to a red haired guy holding a clipboard and walking alongside the line.

She had her phone out and was swiping through a year’s worth of photos before I could even ask, “Are you sure?” She pulled up a photo of him standing next to her from June 2016. We had seen Shadow of Whales open for Marinas Trench at a bar in Austin over a year ago. Neither of us had heard of them before, but after their set, the bass player wandered through the crowd talking to people and my daughter got a picture with him.

My daughter stopped him as he approached and asked, “Are you in a band?” Yes he was. “Is it Shadow of Whales?” Yes again. He was excited she’d recognized him a year later and introduced himself as Jeremy (@jeremyboyumsow). The three of us talked a bit, then he asked a small, but very important question.

*****

Noah Kagan (@noahkagan) was an early employee at both Facebook and Mint.com and is now an entrepreneur. He has founded a couple of companies focused on business promotion and growth.  On the side, he blogs, podcasts, and makes videos on entrepreneurship, marketing, business promotion, sales, etc.

Noah often advocates collecting emails to create a connection with customers and improve sales. I like to believe I have a pretty good understanding of business and after hearing and reading Noah’s ideas and advice, I thought I understood the business imperative behind email lists.

I didn’t.

*****

I am a huge fan of Ryan Holiday’s (@ryanholiday) books. All of them. Whether it’s about marketing, Stoic philosophy, or creating lasting art, Ryan packs about three lifetimes worth of wisdom into each book, yet makes the topics understandable, applicable, and practical.

He is also a voracious reader and has a monthly newsletter where he summarizes all the books he’s read lately. In a presentation at the launch of his latest book, he mentioned that he started this newsletter well before writing his first book as a way to collect email addresses and build a following. He figured people who like to read (i.e., potential customers) would find the newsletter valuable and once he’d published a book himself, he would have a way to directly reach his customers. His plan seems to have worked: over the years, he’s grown the list to 80,000+ subscribers, while becoming a best-selling author.

Again, I thought the idea was pretty cool, but only in an abstract way, not in a here’s-something-I-need-to-do way.

I was wrong.

*****

It’s easy to forget that bands are really small businesses. They sell products (music) and services (concerts) to their customers (fans). In the Revolver Magazine article The Youth Are Getting Restless, veteran metal vocalist Randall Blythe discusses how technology and competition have greatly reduced the barriers to entry and made it very difficult for new bands to get a foothold. (Sound like what’s going on in other any other industry? Maybe in every other industry?)

He makes the comment, “I encourage everyone to play music – it’s great fun and good for the soul – but I’m never going to lie and say your chances of actually making money from it are anything other than dismal.” In the age of file sharing and freemium streaming music services, bands today make almost no money from selling their music.

Think about that for a minute. Imagine having a business where your primary service or product is not – and never will be – your primary source of income. So, if music sales aren’t profitable, how do bands make money? Randall goes on discuss what he recently saw a few new bands doing right: “They all worked hard to gain new fans, which is how you sell merch, which is the key to making a living as a band today (honestly, that’s it – I am really just a glorified black T-shirt salesman.)”

There’s the formula: Gain new fans + sell t-shirts = $$

But how do you gain new fans? How do you build an audience?

*****

Jeremy asked, “Would you like to get our new EP in exchange for your email address?” My daughter enthusiastically agreed and he passed her the clipboard to add her name and email. We said goodbye and he continued working his way down the line.

In an era when music isn’t profitable but building a fan base and merchandise sales are, Jeremy was out in the hot Texas sun talking to everyone who would listen about his band’s music and trading their music for emails.

*****

I’m pretty far from anything resembling an expert in email marketing. My only qualification is enjoying the work of actual experts like Noah and Ryan. Even though I’ve heard them both discuss the importance and approaches to capturing email addresses as a way of building and selling to the customer base, I realize now that I only understood it at the intellectual level. I didn’t really get it before, not truly.

To really understand it I had to see it at the most real of levels. A guy and a clipboard with the hustle and initiative and dedication to approach strangers and build an email list one conversation at a time.

That’s what he’s willing to do to grow his business.

How about you?

Advertisements

the three guaranteed new secrets of ancient best practices

Some days it’s all about the headlines isn’t it? A catchy, grabby declaration meant to attract eyeballs and wallets. There is so much content – so much content competing for your time and attention – that the headlines have become formulaic in their attempt to stand out.

“The”. We humans like to know there is definitive certainty. No wishy-washy possibilities or discussion here. This article is all about chiseled in stone absoluteness.

“Three”.  We also like definitive numbers. It tells us right up front that there is only a certain amount of info being discussed. Interestingly, the number is either single digit or a fairly high double-digit. Seven is fine, sixty-three is fine, fourteen just doesn’t work.

“Guaranteed”. Who doesn’t love a good guarantee. This is proof it works right? Um, sure. The most relevant legal definition from Law.com is: a promise to make a product good if it has some defect. Most often, if something you purchase doesn’t work, the guarantee would be for money-back, repair, or replacement. How much did you pay for the blog post? If it doesn’t work, how much recourse do you have? Yep, zilch. I guarantee it. A great, sounds good, but meaningless word.

“New”. Yep, none of those old ideas for me, thank you very much.  What? You mean I shouldn’t be a complete jackass as a manager if I want people to care about their jobs, I shouldn’t eat more than I burn off if I want to lose weight, and I shouldn’t drive like a teenage boy late for a first date if I want to save fuel? I know that already (even if I don’t do it, like, ever). No, tell me something new. And make it a…

“Secrets”. This goes right along with “new”. There will never be a blog post, article, or book titled, “Common Sense Stuff That Everyone Already Knows”. And the secrets must be either so hot off the press that the ink smears, or they better be…

“Ancient”. Yep, old. Been around for years and recently recovered from the mists of time. But not twenty years old, more like 200+. Bonus points if you connect it to a revered, yet mysterious people from: a) a long time ago; and/or b) far, far away. Tibetan monks, Peruvian priests, Spartan warriors. Tailored to the topic of course. “Leadership Secrets of the Viking Berserkers” would sell like water in the Sahara, but “Human Resource Secrets of the Druids” might not work so well.

“Best Practices”. This is the greatest term ever invented for selling ideas, because it looks buzzwordy, businessy, and authoritative, yet is essentially meaningless. It sounds like it means cutting edge, but it really means status quo. “Best practices” is more eye-catching than “currently fashionable ideas” or “the stuff we’re doing today that seems to work OK, but we’ll look back upon in fifteen years and face palm ourselves in sheer embarrassment.” Interestingly, these best practices can contradict other best practices in the same site or magazine and no one seems to notice or care.

The best part is the topic at hand doesn’t matter. Not a bit. It’s common across every professional, enthusiast, and tabloid subject I’ve seen. Unfortunately, using or not using these secret (ha!) headline best practices (ha!) is no guarantee (ha!) of quality. Some great articles use them and some don’t. Some horrendously vapid and vacant articles use them and some don’t.  But the trite articles trending through the interwebs? Definitely.

 

the one question HR misses

We all have one question hammering away at the front of our skulls whenever we’re faced with something new or different. You’re asking yourself the question right now as you decide whether to continue reading or not. It’s a simple and straight-forward question that HR often misses: What’s In It For Me?

Phrased that way, it sounds crass and selfish, yet we are all seeking to figure out how we will benefit. We want to know what pleasure we’ll gain or what pain we’ll avoid. We want to know What’s In It For Me?

Sales and Marketing 101 tells us to focus on the benefits, not the product or service. The customer can plainly see the product, so we need to help them understand all that they will gain. They know the tangibles, so what are the intangibles?

A car’s just a box with wheels, good for hauling people and stuff from point A to B. Yet car ads focus on the unmeasurable intangibles of cool, intelligent, adventurous, unique, practical, sporty, sexy, thrilling, rugged, safe, ecogreen, patriotic, etc. etc. A house is nothing more than some walls and a roof, but we know that. Real estate ads show happy, safe, secure kids, and proud responsible parents; they show lifestyle, status, and image; and the American Dream (with a capital “D”).

There is not a single human alive who wants to diet. Yet, at any given time there are millions and millions of people dieting, buying diet books, watching diet shows, reading diet blogs, spending money on diet plans. Why? Because of what we think it will get us; because of what’s in it for us. My absolute all-time favorite diet book title is: 6 Weeks to OMG: Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends. I know nothing about the book but love the title because it’s so eye catching. There are a lot of reasons to diet, but forget dieting for health, physical performance, longevity, or fighting disease because this book knows its audience and its audience loooooves the ideas of being skinnier than their friends. The title immediately lets them know What’s In It For Me.

This is where HR can learn big from sales and marketing. HR tends to announce new programs and services by talking about the program and service. It seems reasonable, but even the most hack salesperson knows you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle. HR forgets to sell at all. We think just putting it out in the world is enough. We don’t mention the benefits, we don’t help people understand why they should care, we don’t show them What’s In It For Me?. And then we’re surprised when the response is a collective yawn from the organization. We’re shocked that people aren’t using it – that they keep using the products or systems they are familiar with rather than the new ones they’d have to learn. We’re appalled that people don’t appreciate all our hard work and efforts on their behalf. We wail, They just don’t understand! [sob!]

The best products and services in the world are irrelevant and worthless if people don’t know about them or use them. I wonder how much adoption rates will jump when we learn human psychology from sales and marketing and answer one simple question for our customers.

What’s In It For Me?

flashback friday: fear of a human business (the freak flag advantage)

[This was originally posted on May 27, 2012. Enjoy!]

Business is run by humans for humans so why is the business world so, so scared of showing their humanness?

With rare exception, corporate social media policies shout: “We’re terrified our customers will find out that actual people work at this company!” The policies are very clear that you should never, ever associate yourself with the company. Don’t reveal that you have opinions, actual thoughts, passions, dreams, hobbies, families. Don’t give customers the opportunity to appreciate each individual’s uniqueness, good and bad. Assume customers are so easily offended that they will boycott the company because of what an employee posted on a social media site. Give no one the benefit of the doubt.

It’s so sad, it’s funny. There’s so much good that comes from recognizing humanity and individuality. It makes companies and their products real and relevant. Companies (marketers anyway) want us to have a relationship with the brand, yet don’t realize that no one develops attachment to faceless, soulless, neutered, beige vanilla sameness.

One of the easiest ways to differentiate your company is to let your humanness shine. But few get that. They miss that the root of differentiation is being different. And that celebrating your authentic differences and actually standing out is daring and wonderful.

Yesterday, though, I came across a magazine advertisement for the Jaguar XF that blew me away. The company not only got it but made it the absolute core of the entire ad campaign!

At risk of plugging products I know nothing about, let me describe the ad. Maybe you’ve seen it: two page spread with three electric guitars and amps taking up almost the entire space, in the lower left is a small picture of a sports sedan, in the lower right is a small and understated  Jaguar company logo. The headline is: “Some of the other machines our designers play with.” It goes on to brag that the lead design of the new car is the “spike –haired, head-banging lead guitarist of his own band, Scattering Ashes…” and describes how he brought that amped up rock passion to designing this car.

Wow! An ad that gets attention, an admission (no, a celebration!) that they have passionate-not-quite-mainstream employees, and a darn good looking car. A great, eye-catching ad that takes a risk and shows commitment to shattering old images and shaking up the status quo. Then it gets even better. There is a QR tag to hear the music. Whip out your smart phone and you’re taken to a youtube video with a tongue-in-cheek opening warning and a Scattering Ashes song playing while three Jags make lurid slides around the tarmac.

Wanna see?

Some of the commenters on youtube mention that the song isn’t all that good and it seems out of sync with the Jag image. Yeah, it’s not the greatest song ever. And, yeah, it runs counter to an image of  traditional, stodgy, understated, quiet class. Cleary, Jag is looking to aggressively redefine their image. It’s an electric scream against the what you think they are and an overdriven invitation to join them where they want to be.

But wait! This isn’t a neon colored hatchback with extreme graphics being sold to the fast & furious crowd. This is a luxury sports sedan being marketed to people that can drop $50 – 70k+ on a car – you know, uptight, conservative folks in suits and ties. Shouldn’t you be telling them how much status the car will bring them, or focusing on safety, or winking at how sporty you’d like them to think it is?

Sure, you could. But then you’d be just like everyone else. Or you could celebrate the glorious passion and humanness of your employees, crank your company culture up to 11, and actually differentiate yourself by actually being, well, different.

Don’t know if the car’s any good or if the campaign will be successful, but I love the bold stance. Anyone could have done it, but only one did. Unfurl the freak flag and rock on!

fear of a human business (the freak flag advantage)

Business is run by humans for humans so why is the business world so, so scared of showing their humanness?

With rare exception, corporate social media policies shout: “We’re terrified our customers will find out that actual people work at this company!” The policies are very clear that you should never, ever associate yourself with the company. Don’t reveal that you have opinions, actual thoughts, passions, dreams, hobbies, families. Don’t give customers the opportunity to appreciate each individual’s uniqueness, good and bad. Assume customers are so easily offended that they will boycott the company because of what an employee posted on a social media site. Give no one the benefit of the doubt.

It’s so sad, it’s funny. There’s so much good that comes from recognizing humanity and individuality. It makes companies and their products real and relevant. Companies (marketers anyway) want us to have a relationship with the brand, yet don’t realize that no one develops attachment to faceless, soulless, neutered, beige vanilla sameness.

One of the easiest ways to differentiate your company is to let your humanness shine. But few get that. They miss that the root of differentiation is being different. And that celebrating your authentic differences and actually standing out is daring and wonderful.

Yesterday, though, I came across a magazine advertisement for the Jaguar XF that blew me away. The company not only got it but made it the absolute core of the entire ad campaign!

At risk of plugging products I know nothing about, let me describe the ad. Maybe you’ve seen it: two page spread with three electric guitars and amps taking up almost the entire space, in the lower left is a small picture of a sports sedan, in the lower right is a small and understated  Jaguar company logo. The headline is: “Some of the other machines our designers play with.” It goes on to brag that the lead design of the new car is the “spike –haired, head-banging lead guitarist of his own band, Scattering Ashes…” and describes how he brought that amped up rock passion to designing this car.

Wow! An ad that gets attention, an admission (no, a celebration!) that they have passionate-not-quite-mainstream employees, and a darn good looking car. A great, eye-catching ad that takes a risk and shows commitment to shattering old images and shaking up the status quo. Then it gets even better. There is a QR tag to hear the music. Whip out your smart phone and you’re taken to a youtube video with a tongue-in-cheek opening warning and a Scattering Ashes song playing while three Jags make lurid slides around the tarmac.

Wanna see?

Some of the commenters on youtube mention that the song isn’t all that good and it seems out of sync with the Jag image. Yeah, it’s not the greatest song ever. And, yeah, it runs counter to an image of   traditional, stodgy, understated, quiet class. Cleary, Jag is looking to aggressively redefine their image. It’s an electric scream against the what you think they are and an overdriven invitation to join them where they want to be.

But wait! This isn’t a neon colored hatchback with extreme graphics being sold to the fast & furious crowd. This is a luxury sports sedan being marketed to people that can drop $50 – 70k+ on a car – you know, uptight, conservative folks in suits and ties. Shouldn’t you be telling them how much status the car will bring them, or focusing on safety, or winking at how sporty you’d like them to think it is?

Sure, you could. But then you’d be just like everyone else. Or you could celebrate the glorious passion and humanness of your employees, crank your company culture up to 11, and actually differentiate yourself by actually being, well, different.

Don’t know if the car’s any good or if the campaign will be successful, but I love the bold stance. Anyone could have done it, but only one did. Unfurl the freak flag and rock on!