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.
I 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?
- Glen Allsop of Viperchill believes in an internal mission statement.
- Chris Guillebeau believes in a 140-character mission statement.
- Devin Hughes of Upstart Nation believes a personal mission statement becomes a necessity in one’s personal brand portfolio.
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!
“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. . 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% die.
- 3% move away.
- 5% develop other relationships.
- 9% leave for competitive reasons.
- 14% are dissatisfied with the product.
- 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.