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4 Simple Growth Strategies Any Breakthrough Blog Can Learn From Pinterest

This guest post is by Mike Holmes of the Simple Strategies for Startups blog.

You don’t need me to tell you about Pinterest do you? I’m pretty sure you’ve heard all the media outlets singing its praise:

  • the fastest growing site
  • its user base is mostly female
  • its breakthrough rise from obscurity
  • how marketers are using it
  • how marketers CAN use it
  • how its a step forward in the evolution of social media
  • …and etc.

Pinterest LogoI mean we’ve talked about it over here too, haven’t we?

But what else can we as bloggers and businesspeople learn from this recent phenom? Namely:

1. Have a greater purpose

When CEO Ben Silbermann created Pinterest, he did so with the purpose of making something “timeless.” Like most great entrepreneurs, he created the company out of his own interests, passions, and purpose.

Throughout history, truly great companies answer these question: Who are we? And what are we about?

In fact, purpose is the catalyst for all great companies and organizations.

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple he came back to a mess: little to no market share, declining revenue, and a business almost on the verge of bankruptcy. He turned the company around simply by focusing on what the company had long overlooked: its core purpose.

According to Jobs:

“Apple was in serious trouble. Apple had to remember who Apple was because they’d forgotten who Apple was.”

We all know how that ended up!

Companies like Wal-Mart, Southwest Airlines, Charles Schwab, and BMW are all purpose-driven. In fact, John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, repeatedly stresses the importance of companies having a core purpose. These entrepreneurs make money (in fact, they make a ton) but they set out to “change the world” in some way or other.

I know this sounds like some touchy-feely-cry-me-a-river-nonsense! I understand that.

But purpose is anything but nonsense. It’s a viable business strategy—an immutable law. And those companies, entrepreneurs, and bloggers that practice it always rise above the crowd!

2. Have a great product

Not an okay, good, or not-too-bad product. But a great product!

From the very few interviews there are with Silbermann, you can feel his obsession with the quality of the site:

  • He and his team spent a lot of time agonizing over the site’s five-column layout, producing almost a dozen fully-coded versions before settling on the one that is live today.
  • According to him, he’d rather spend time working on the site than giving interviews. The site is incredibly addictive because he obsessed over every detail.

For the blogger, this boils down to writing epic content (thanks again, Corbett Barr!).

But maybe that’s not for you. I mean, you could just follow the crowd, make an okay product, and write ok content.

You could do that.  You won’t get noticed that way, but you could do it. It’s totally up to you!

3. Forget the mainstream: go after those who want it!

Pete Cashmore noted early on that Pinterest didn’t take the mainstream route to success:

“The web-based pinboard, which launched almost two years ago, barely got a mention on Silicon Valley news sites until six months ago, when early adopters suddenly realized that a site with millions of monthly users had sprung up almost unnoticed by the tech press. That’s because Pinterest didn’t take the usual route of Web-based startups: romancing early adopters and technology journalists before attempting to cross the chasm to mainstream adoption. Instead, Pinterest grew a devoted base of users—most of them female—who enjoy ‘pinning’ items they find around the Web.”

That was totally unheard of. And yet this strategy produced better results than a thousand press releases.

It was the strategy used by early hymn writers. While the majority of church attendees didn’t see the value of the songs, the hymn writers focused all their attention on those that did. Ultimately the majority came around.

It’s the strategy used by great salespeople, startups, and game changers. For instance:

  • When an unknown author named Tim Ferriss decided to promote his book, he focused his efforts. He called successful authors and asked them how they promoted their books. They gave him two answers: radios and bloggers. Since radio was losing its influence he decided to rely on bloggers. He went to a blogger event, met the ones he wanted to meet, established relationships, and then asked them to do a review. They did. And with the book becoming the #1 New York Times, the #1 Wall Street Journal, and the #1 Businessweek bestseller, the rest is history.
  • When Mel Gibson decided to market The Passion of the Christ, he focused his efforts. When he approached movie executives about producing the movie nobody wanted to go near it. So Gibson decided to fund it himself using $30 million of his own money. Not having much money left to marketing (it usually costs $40 million for marketing, he only had $15 million) he tried an unconventional approach: letting pastors see it for free.  They started small–showing only a few pastors, but it grew exponentially. One of the final screenings was at Willow Creek Church. After the showing, Bill Hybels took the stage and spoke for the 5,000 pastors in attendance: “All right, what do you need us to do?”  And with $611,899,420 in gross sales, the rest is history.
  • When a Baptist preacher named Rick Warren decided to market his book, Purpose-Driven Life, he focused his efforts. Years before he wrote his first book, Purpose Driven Church and followed it up with a website: Pastors.Com. The membership of the website grew to 85,000 pastors who saw Warren as trusted advisor. He enlisted their help with the PDL book–asking them to conduct the “40 day campaign” in their churches. And 1200 agreed to it. He gave away copies of the $20 book for $7 to churches and congregations that agreed. Within two months, those spokespeople pushed sales to $2 million, then to 30 million copies by 2007 … and the rest is history.
  • When an pop artist by the name of Lady Gaga found success it was through focus. She did everything she could to break through: schmoozed the music execs, performed wherever she could, had doors slammed in her face, begged to have her music played on the radio, was cut from a label, and was told she wouldn’t make it. But the turning point for her was her acceptance by the gay community. Once they accepted her, they championed for her, and she championed for them. And the rest is history.

Why do we spend the bulk of our time trying to get people who don’t like us to like? And in the meantime turn our backs to those that love us?

  • Rick Warren didn’t market to atheists.
  • Mel Gibson only showed screenings to conservative Christian and religious groups (even refusing to include those that initially criticized the film).
  • Timothy Ferriss didn’t go after those interested in a nine-to-five lifestyle.
  • Not once did Lady Gaga try to win over those who adamantly opposed her. She focused all her attention on her “monsters.”

It doesn’t make any sense does it?

Well, with 20 million users and a $1.5 billion valuation, it’s evident Silbermann understood the power of fans.

4. Remember: service is the best form of marketing

In the beginning, Silbermann said he personally wrote to the first 5,000 users, gave them his cell phone number, and even met many of them for coffee. He asked them questions, listened to their concerns, and went above and beyond for them.


Sometimes in the middle of our social media, SEO, and direct marketing efforts we forget that great service is still the best form of marketing.

There are six primary reasons people stop doing business with a company:

    1. 1% die.
    2. 3% move away.
    3. 5% develop other relationships.
    4. 9% leave for competitive reasons.
    5. 14% are dissatisfied with the product.
    6. 68% percent go elsewhere because of the poor way they were treated by employees of the company.

Case in point: when Patton Gleason went live with his online startup, the Natural Running Store, he outhustled his competitors in terms of service:

    • He created personalized videos that thanked customers for their purchase.
    • He created videos that told customers their shoes were on the way.
    • He put handwritten notes in the shoe boxes.
    • He sent follow-up emails asking about his or her training plans.
    • Instead of having an FAQ page, he sends out a two-minute video answering the customer’s questions.


    Because of this, Natural Running Store receives a ton of organic traffic, customer referrals, and endless praise.

    And this is with Gleason admitting he doesn’t know how to sell.

    You’ve all heard the story of how the Blog Tyrant became a true fan of Darren? You didn’t? For shame! “What happened?” you ask. Well, I’ll just let the Tyrant tell you:

    “I once sent Darren Rowse an email telling him that I was having problems leaving a comment on his site. I told him not to worry about it too much as it was obviously working fine for everyone else. He replied in about ten minutes telling me that every single one of his readers were important to him and then tried to problem solve the issue with me. Instant fan for life.”

    My friends, we’ve entered a new paradigm: marketing is the new selling and relationship building, engagement, and delivering new and innovative content is the new marketing.

    High five for Silbermann!

    What can we learn?

    Right now we don’t know what’s in store for Pinterest. Right now, they’re flying as high as a Facebook IPO. They’re on top right now.

    But if history has been any kind of teacher we’ll find more lessons in their story as the days go on. Good or bad.

    What do you think? Are there any other lessons we can learn from Pinterest, or other startups like them?

    Mike Holmes is an author, speaker, and serial entrepreneur who leads a small movement of world changing startups. You can find out more about him on The Simple Strategies for Startups Blog

    About Guest Blogger
    This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
    1. I think the strategy that Ben used is one of the core elements that Social Media should portray.

      Instead of trying to get as many people to contact with, try to form much less of a following but with better connections. I think that is a better strategy and am really surprised that Pinterest followed that route and is the prime example of following that principal.

      The purpose talked about in the article should a bottom line of every business. Far too many companies are trying way to much to follow so many routes and not follow the main cause.

      Excellent article and thanks for providing more evidence of using social media.

      • Thanks Samuel I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

        And I agree with you: quality trumps quantity any day of the week. That was the strategy that Ben used …and though it took time…it really did work out in the end.

        Thanks for the great input!

    2. This post has truly motivated me.

    3. Pinterest simple reversed what was popular to create something new. Originally, you create text content splashed with pictures so people comment and share. Pinterest focused on the actual images, which is followed by some text in which people comment and share. That’s basically what it is when you look at it (no pun intended). I still don’t use Pinterest on a daily basis, but my wife practically lives on it.

    4. That’s astonishing that 68% take their business somewhere else because of they way they were treated! Oh my gosh, businesses need more than social media… they need to understand service. (and it needs to filter down to employees)

      • Karen,

        I got those figures when I worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. They were extremely big on customer service. They worked hard to make sure that every customer was EXTREMELY SATISFIED. It was a rewarding experience.

        And you’re right companies don’t need social media they need service oriented leadership. And that leadership filters down to employees

    5. No doubt that Pinterest has created a lot of buzz among the people. I have even heard people taking about it at work. So no doubt Pinterest is a great creation. Making connections, commenting are the best strategies over there. Engagement is the key.

      • With my last job it was the ladies who were really big on it. I must admit that since I don’t have original photos I’m not very active on it. It seems like to have any level of success on it boils down to building a great community…no surprise there!

    6. Pinterest is brilliant – I love using it and have been finding a lot of new traffic from it…

      • Surminga,

        I checked out your Pinterest profile and I can see why…your original pictures are really great! I hope you see a lot more success with it!

    7. Michael –
      I love how you break down how the various entrepreneurs/artists described in your post found their own path to success by going outside the normal channels. This should motivate everyone to “think different” (thanks to Apple for the great slogan). Great post!

    8. Joshua,

      Thanks I appreciate it. Josh, I’ll share a secret with you: I don’t consider myself an expert…I’m just a guy who studies experts and dissects their methods :)

      And regarding the “think different” slogan: if you do what everyone else does…you’ll get what everyoen else has!

      Thanks again Josh.

    9. Christian Kinsley says: 07/02/2012 at 11:11 pm

      My experience with pinterest:

      I have used pinterest to improve my site’s ranking and it has improved from page 7 to #3 spot in 3 weeks time.

      I found that the seller named “pinterest”, which ranked first when you search “pinterest” at Fiverr, has produced the best results on my websites. The seller pins my site with 75 different people, not sure how he did this, but it has improved my SERP’s ranking. I’ve tried 5 other sellers who offer similar gigs on Fiverr but they can’t improve my site’s ranking. I don’t know why. Maybe he has magical trick. lol.

      Some benefits of pinterest for seo:
      – Google loves social media signal.
      – Links and images from pinterest are dofollow!
      – Each pin is considered as 3 inbound links.

      • Christian,

        I should reached out to you before I wrote this post lol!

        Those are some great stats there. What is the name of your site?

    10. Aye, Aye on pinterest! Really clever move.
      I usually get a chuckle when my usually tech savvy friends ask me to describe
      what pinterest is and what it can do for them.
      Recently one asked – Can I read the news on it?

    11. Good service is an excellent way of marketing your brand and landing prospective clients. Companies should show how well they deliver services without belaboring the point with advertising and self-promotion.

    12. Pinterest has really become a large part of our online marketing. I personally don’t use it, but my wife and our web mistress are on it all day long. Interestingly, I have been pushing our staff to take customer service to the next level and it seems to be paying off. People are commenting about the fact that our staff put hand written thank you notes in packages, take the time to photograph and e-mail detailed pictures of products and reply to any and all e-mails and comments made on our blog or Facebook page. Like you said, service is the best form of marketing- too true.
      Back to Pinterest, how are they going to monetize the site so they can stay in business?

      • You have a wife and a web mistress? Not too shabby… ;)

      • Monetize? They’ll find a way. There are too many people invested in their success for them NOT to find a way. It was thing with Twitter a while ago. Everyone was shouting: “How will Twitter make money? How will Twitter survive? How will Twitter pay its bill?”

        And they’re doing fine now. Pinterest will be alright.

    13. I personally have never used pinterest and to this day I am still not sure what it is about (hangs head in shame…) But for me, point 4 of your article is my primary focus, because after all there is no business like repeat business!

    14. Thanks for the mention man! Great article.

      • Uh oh! The Tyrant himself!! No…thank you sir for all the great and mindblowing content that you constantly put up. I mean the stuff that comes off your keyboard…kinda make me jealous. And yes…this is me sucking up…but…this is also me paying homage.

    15. Amazing post Mike, the relationship and great service or great product is the best marketing there is.
      And you mentioned a lot of examples that are really inspiring.
      We can also learn from Pinterest that being unique is the best way to gain success and happy users.
      thanks for sharing this great post.

      • Thanks James! To be honest,this post took a lot of weeks of work. I was trying my best to bring home as many examples as possible. I’m really big on studying the successes of other people. And when you study a lot of them…you see a lot of similarities. I’m just glad it came out in a cohesive way.

        Thanks again!

    16. Pinterest understands what social marketing is all about. Being social!!! So, they set up a system to utilize that key feature.

      When a person has a key grasp of the direction he/she is going and maintains their focus; they become unstoppable.

      Look for Pinterest to challenge Facebook!!!

    17. Pinterest has really rocked up blogging. It’s quite a unique way of social media which is easy to understand and has great potentials.

      • Absolutely! It’s doing it right now. I recently checked the alexa 500. It’s nowhere near a Facebook right now…but its presence is still being felt.

    18. Conntent is the king for blogs
      Customer service is the king for business

    19. I think the two P’s are the most important, purpose and product.

    20. Great article, now I have few news ideas.

    21. I really dont think I’m making the most of Pinterest, I must!

    22. I never tried pinterest before, but some of my friends said this is a great place to promote our business. any tips to speed up my campaign using pinterest ?? thanks

    23. This “Pinterest” sounds completely new for me, thanks for spreading the word out, gotta try it :D

    24. Thanks for this Michael, I really need to look more into this Pinterest social platform. It seems like a lot of bloggers are very happy with Pinterest!

    25. Yes content is always the king no matter on-page or off-page seo is carried out. SEO is always secondary. Its a good article.

    26. I recently have learned about Pinterest (through my mother in-law). I’m looking into how to start using it more. I really like your statement, “purpose is the catalyst for all great companies and organizations.” If we find our purpose, great things start happening.

      • Absolutely Dan!

        That’s why your blog is so popular. It operates on the purpose of creating leadership. Thank you Dan for everything you do.

    27. Hello! As a new reader to your blog I was impressed with this post. I went to pin it for later and realized that it doesn’t have an appropriate pinnable photo! Please consider adding them in the future; I would really love to spread your content! Thanks!

    28. Oops, I have just realized that you are a guest blogger here (I clicked through to this post from a Twitter link and went straight to the content). Suggestion still stands though, I would happily pin this article…

    29. i was impressed by the amount of useful information in this post
      truly beneficial, thank you so much

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