18. Platform Strategy: Building Skyscrapers on Land We Own
Until We Own a Large List, We Don’t Own a Company
Imagine being a real estate developer and building a skyscraper on land someone else owns, and that the landowner has the right to change the price, the rules, and the terms of the land use at any time. That’s insanity. Why would any sane developer invest so much time and money building that skyscraper when the landowner will eventually change the terms and destroy the investment? Yet, that’s what nearly always happens when we build our businesses to be dependent on digital platforms other people own. In this episode, I’m going to share a story of how Harry’s, the men’s grooming company, built an email list with more than 100,000 subscribers in a week prior to their launch. They did this as part of their strategy to build their skyscraper on land they own, along with other great stories and secrets about platform strategy.
How Harry’s Built a 100K Email List in a Week
Jeff Raider & Andy Katz-Mayfield, co-founders of Harry’s, a men’s grooming company, wanted to make a splash when their website launched. That’s why they began a strong campaign to grow their email list before they even had much information about their new company out.
Harry’s used a strong referral campaign to grow their email list. Instead of launching their company’s website, they had a simple two funnel. The landing page invited the visitor to sign up for their emails with the words “Be the first to know” above the box and “step inside” instead of the usual “confirm” or “submit” button. These word choices created a sense of urgency and intrigue.
Once the visitor signed up to receive emails, they were brought to the second page of the website, which was all about their referral program. This page contained a unique URL that the visitor could share with their friends and family. Then it had a tracker to show many people you had shared with. Harry’s gamified the referral process by setting up nice prizes for how many referrals a visitor made.
Referring 5 friends earned you a free shaving cream.
Referring 10 friends earned you a free razor.
Referring 25 friends earned you a free premium razor.
Referring 50 friends earned you free shaving for a year.
These incremental prizes were a great method for convincing visitors to share their referral codes with their friends and family. Plus, it built excitement over the company finally opening its doors.
This campaign led to Harry’s receiving 100,000 email sign-ups in just one week. Raider shared that 77% of the collected emails were referrals (Source: Viral Loops). This massive email list allowed Harry’s to ensure that when they finally opened, they weren’t just making their opening to crickets. They had an engaged and excited audience for when their products were finally available, which helped them become highly successful.
Harry’s successfully built their skyscraper on land they owned, their email list, instead of on land someone else owned, such as shelf space at big box stores. They now own the relationships and can contact their customers at any time, something that would be nearly impossible to do with a big-box distribution strategy.
Platforms Can Give and Platforms Can Take
Years ago I worked as the Chief Revenue Officer for a company called Family Link. Family Link had created a Facebook app called We’re Related that allowed users to connect with family members and show those connections on Facebook. During my first 12 months with the company, the app was wildly successful and we were able to add $5 million in revenue. The app became the 4th most popular on Facebook and had 90 million installs.
Facebook saw how popular our app was and decided to create much of that functionality into the core Facebook offering. And not only that, they removed our app from the user’s main profile pages who had already installed it. Essentially, Facebook decided to compete and then made it extremely difficult for us to compete. It was kind of like the landowner changing the terms of the deal after we had built the skyscraper, and it was perfectly legal because our app was built on their platform. We had built a metaphorical skyscraper on land they owned, and they could do just about anything they wanted. It is unwise to build businesses under these types of circumstances where we are not the masters of our own destinies.
Facebook isn’t the only platform that does this. As another example, Amazon encourages third-party vendors to sell on their platform. However, in many cases when they see a highly profitable product, they create their own version of the same product and compete.
“Facebook and other social media platforms seem like a shortcut because they make it appear easy to reach new people. But the trade-off is that you’re a sharecropper. It’s not your land. You don’t have permission to contact people; they do. You don’t own an asset; they do.”
– Seth Godin, Best-Selling Marketing Author
Building a List We Own
This doesn’t mean using social media sites is a bad idea. The lesson I learned from the Facebook experience was the importance of building our own lists. An email list full of customers and potential customers that have already shown interest in our products or services is one of the most valuable assets a business can own.
Joe Pulizzi, the founder of Content Marketing Institute, explained it perfectly when he said: “An email list is critical because you can’t build your content on rented land. So many brands and companies build their audiences on Facebook and Google+, which is fine, but we don’t own those names — Facebook and Google do. If we are thinking like real media companies, the asset is in the audience.”
That quote was obviously from back when Google+ was a viable platform, but it illustrates that building our businesses to be reliant on other platforms can also go out of business, and we lose all of the investment we put into building our presence on that platform.
Does this mean we should avoid using social media platforms or other company’s websites? Of course not. They are still a great source for growing our reach. The point I’m trying to make here is that the end goal of our platform strategy must land outside of these platforms. We need to control the relationships and communication we have with our customers and potential customers. That means we’re building our email lists, gathering phone numbers and mailing addresses, and doing anything that will allow us to contact people off of the platform we found them on.
“The most effective tactic is the use of email marketing to drive a real return. The reason it is effective is that people may engage and share on social, but they will buy from a sequence of emails that educate first and sell second.”
– Jeff Bullas, Social Media Marketing Strategist
LivingSocial Collects the Email of Every Website Visitor
Here’s another example:
LivingSocial is a coupon company that recognizes the importance of capturing the contact information of prospective customers. They recognize that consumers who love coupons are usually willing to give up their contact information in exchange for coupons. That’s why LivingSocial requires the email address of any of their website visitors.
That’s right. Every single visitor, if they want to see what coupons LivingSocial has to offer, must exchange their contact information to see the company’s website. This is an aggressive campaign that wouldn’t work for all audiences. After all, most visitors need to experience some value before they’re willing to give up their email addresses. LivingSocial has found that it works for their unique customers though.
One of the keys to LivingSocial’s success is that the emails they send have great value to their ideal customers. For example, one of the emails the company sends out is called Instant Deals. The idea behind this is to help people find a spot to eat lunch. Right when their customers are beginning to think about what they’ll eat for lunch, they receive an email with instant deals that can save them money on their meal and give them ideas for where they might like to eat.
I love this example because it shows how well LivingSocial knows their customers. Both the manner in which they collect contact information and the information they send in their emails demonstrates that they know their ideal customers well.
Each business has its own unique audience with its own unique desires and preferences. We need to build our platform on that. The better we know our audience, the better we’ll know what kind of email capturing will work best for them and what kind of plan we should implement. Then we’ll be able to provide them with effective emails that will transition them through the buyer’s journey.
Becoming an Influencer
Authority occurs when someone takes the right steps to combine standout, trustworthy expertise in his or her field with the kind of high visibility you might often associate with a celebrity. When that happens, the expert’s name becomes synonymous with the field he or she works in — Adam Witty and Rusty Shelton, Authors of Authority Marketing
Most business leaders have the expertise, passion, and knowledge that we can share with others. When we share that expertise, passion, and knowledge on our own platforms we can often become an influencer in our niches.
We can become an influencer and thought-leader by writing a book, speaking at events, hosting a podcast, creating YouTube videos, writing blog posts, sending an email newsletter, and more. As we provide our followers with useful and engaging content, they’ll want more and more from us and we’ll begin to build a true relationship. One of the reasons this works so well is because we’re providing value before we ask for anything in return. Once we’ve established our expertise and created a loyal following, we’ll be able to market our products and services in a way that is authentic and credible.
Again, it’s important to recognize that as we’re building our followings on social media, we need to find ways to build a list of our followers we own and can contact off social media platforms. The more we can encourage our followers to visit our sites and sign up for our email lists, the stronger our foundation will be. Then we’ll be building our skyscraper on land we own.
Here are some of the top takeaways that stood out to me from this episode:
1. We need to build our metaphorical skyscrapers on land we own. This means growing a huge email list, membership site, or other platforms where we own the customer contact information and permission to contact customers and potential customers directly.
2. Our social media efforts, when we’re using someone else’s platform, should focus on getting our customers to come to our platform, gathering their contact information, and gaining permission to market to them.
3. The asset is the audience. In other words, the lists we build will become one of the greatest assets of our companies.
4. We can leverage our platforms to become influencers when we share our knowledge and expertise. Becoming an influencer can give us more control over our destinies because we cannot get de-platformed. A platform then cannot block us from contacting our own followers.
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