Tim Ferriss was poised to have another bestselling book, until he left his publisher for Amazon Publishing. Suddenly every bookstore in the country refused to stock The 4-Hour Chef.
Tim called Ryan Holiday for help.
“Millions of people go into bookstores every week [to] discover new books, and [Tim was] locked out of that,” says Ryan, founder of Brass Check Marketing.
So how could they sell Tim’s book without the traditional bookstores?
“I threw out [the idea of using] BitTorrent,” says Ryan. That idea grew into a giveaway, a 750 MB bundle of free chapters, deleted material, videos, and photos that they put in front of 300 million BitTorrent users.
“I think the bundle was downloaded something like two or three million times,” says Ryan. “We know it was directly responsible for moving tens of thousands of copies that first week.”
Tim’s book debuted #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list and sold 250,000 copies in the first six months.
1. You Can’t Think the Ball In
Even the best marketer can’t make a video go viral.
“I’ve been in so many meetings where someone will come up to me and say, ‘Hey we’re glad to have you on board, we really want this video to go viral,’” says Ryan. “Or, ‘Can you make this make the front page of Reddit?’ Like it’s some simple task.”
But if you start thinking about how to go viral after you’ve made the video, you’re already too late.
So how do you go viral?
Start with content creation
Bake virality into your content.
“When you see massively viral things it’s either completely accidental, like it’s a funny child falling over kind of video, or it was deliberately engineered,” says Ryan.
Take Hotmail, for example. Hotmail planned to market with ad campaigns and billboards, until an investor pointed out that it was a bad idea to pay money to acquire customers for a free product. So instead, they put a little line at the bottom of users’ e-mails that said “P.S. I love you and I want to give you free e-mail, sign up for Hotmail.”
“They went from something, like, a few thousand users, to 1 million users within 10 days, into 10 million users within the first year, into something like 40 million users by the time it was acquired by Microsoft for $400 million,” says Ryan.
2. Don’t Fall Prey to Vanity
Chasing after anyone and everyone who’ll buy from you doesn’t bring in very good customers.
“Some people say, ‘Hey, we’re getting all these customers, but only 1% of them are staying, so let’s go get more,’” says Ryan. “Because we judge ourselves based on certain vanity metrics.”
But that’s going for quantity over quality. And it’s an expensive way to acquire customers.
So what’s a better way to get customers?
Make friends with your friends’ friends
Tap your existing customers.
For instance, when Twitter started out, Ryan said they could have asked, “How can we get more people to use Twitter?” But instead, they asked, “How can we improve Twitter so our users will recommend it to their friends?”
“Although it’s less sexy, it’s cheaper to [get] your customers to bring their friends into your service than it is to go out and try to acquire total strangers to give your service a try,” says Ryan.
3. Fly Over Roadblocks
As you grow your business, you’ll inevitably hit some roadblocks.
For instance, Ryan says that Evernote’s customers kept complaining that “they were getting in trouble from having their laptops open during meetings because their boss or their peers or the clients would think that they were screwing around on the computer instead of paying attention.”
This was a huge problem because Evernote was made for note-taking and research.
So what do you do when you encounter a growth barrier?
Turn barriers into opportunities
Treat negative feedback as an opportunity to fix problems that make customers unhappy. Happy customers beget more customers.
Ryan says that to solve their problem, Evernote created a sticker that goes onto the back of the computer that says “I’m not being rude. I’m taking notes in Evernote.”
“It’s feedback-driven,” says Ryan. “It’s about making your existing customers better and happier customers [and it’s] a social object that people would talk about in a meeting. If I see someone with that on their computer, I want to get it myself.”
“Asking “Mirror mirror on the wall, what’s the coolest website of them all?” will lead you astray.” Click to Tweet
“Unless your kid is ridiculously cute, a viral video doesn’t just happen. You have to create it.” Click to Tweet
Written by April Dykman. Production notes by Alex Champagne.