A lesson in marketing from Jay-Z

Until I met Dre, the only one to look past, gave me a chance,
and I lit a fire up under his ass, helped him get back to the top,
every fan black that I got, was probably his in exchange
for every white fan that he’s got, like damn, we just swapped.

– Eminem (White America)

Over the past year I’ve started to really take an interest in the strategies companies use to distribute their product. One of my favorites is a sub-set of co-promotion that I’ll call the “Network of networks” strategy whereby a single product brings together a couple small but passionate groups. Rappers do this extremely well by featuring many artists into each song. Each artist comes with their own small but passionate group. Each group is strong within its own social network, but nothing on a macro-level, when they come together they can bring a product to its tipping point.

“Social” startups are trying to take advantage of this and are starting to make it work. This or That, for instance, runs contests where one networked group competes against another networked group. Each group feels compelled to mobilize their group to get votes and thus build a user base for the company.

The next time you sit down to think about your own strategy, think about how you can build this network effect into the model.

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A lesson in marketing from Jay-Z

Immediate Differentiation: A lesson from being foreign

Look at my sales, let’s do the math, if I was black, I would’ve sold half,
I ain’t have to graduate from Lincoln high school to know that

-Eminem (White America)

One of the lessons I focused on during my recent trip in South America was differentiation. Most of us spend our entire lives trying to fit in and be accepted and yet those that differentiate are the most successful. While not new, it fascinated me that my foreignness drew curious people towards me and got me preferential treatment at bars and restaurants.

All it took was saying a few sentences in heavily accented Spanish and they’d be interested in a conversation. Where are you from? What are you doing in Argentina? The fact that I was different, made me interesting immediately, and they wanted to engage. I did nothing to hide my American accent, actually I did the opposite (much to the Chagrin of my embarrassed brother).

So the question I ask myself is how does Card Gnome create the same sense of differentiation. How can I get people to immediately feel that we’re special and take steps to engage with us. To me, it comes down to three areas:

Visual Branding: Use bold stylistic cues that are different than one would expect from your industry. House Wine, has done this well by taking a completely different take on wine labels. You may not like it, but you won’t miss their bottles when you stroll the aisles. Steve Lowtwait has done an excellent job giving our logo the same special treatment.

Informality: Companies have traditionally used buzz words and conservative language when communicating with customers. We decided a long time ago to talk with our customers as if they were our family and friends. Our informality helps them to feel comfortable having a conversation with us. We already see the fruits of this labor in an active artist community that is willing to give us candid feedback and refers to us by our first names. Consequently all company updates come from “Chad and Joel” never from an anonymous no-reply email address (thank you Holly Hamann for leading the way on that with the BlogFrog video updates)

Trust people: Don’t be overly-protective with your product. Let customers touch it, feel it and play with it. Have you ever felt welcome in a store that prominently displayed signs that said “you break, you buy” or that has metal detectors? No. Websites that force you to sign-up before a purchase or into onerous sign-up processes are the virtual versions of these unwelcoming environments.

What methods have you found for differentiating your product?

Immediate Differentiation: A lesson from being foreign

How I got a 60yr old to sign-up for Twitter

“We know you got a brick but sell ’em twenties til they tired”

-Jay-Z “1-900-Hustler”

I had dinner last night with a friend’s father who “didn’t see the point of social networking” but is otherwise a very progressive and intelligent thinker. After hearing his thoughts, it was clear that it wasn’t that he didn’t “see the point,” but that no one had ever showed him how it could fit into his already extensive information gathering routine. I decided to change that.

My key point was that Twitter could help him get news from his trusted sources faster and enable him to interact with the influencers he’s followed for years. It was also important for him to see that he didn’t need to divulge private information to gain access to the system.

The first order of business was demonstrating that all his news sources (like Car & Driver) were tweeting the same news he read in the paper and magazines in real-time online. Then we found a couple influencers (Mario Andretti) that were tweeting with fans, and giving exclusive information on what they were up-to. He exclaimed “I love to hear that he presented Sebastian Vettel with an award in the UK, thats great information.”

At this point it was already obvious that he was interested, so to finish off the debate I explained how FlipBoard works. The fact that he can get all of this real-time information in the same lovable magazine format that he already uses, put it over the top. Boom, I saw his eyes light up as he said “ok, I’m starting to get interested.” Which for a 60yr old guy is about as close as you are going to get to an affirmation that you’ve convinced him.

How I got a 60yr old to sign-up for Twitter

Distribution is the only obstacle

Hi, my name is, my name is
(What? Who?)
My name is Slim Shady

Ahem, excuse me
Can I have the attention of the class
For one second?

– Eminem “My name is”

Distribution is the ability to get a product in front of its target audience. Hopefully most of the people in it. This is the hardest obstacles for startups, and plenty of companies build amazing products but fail because they lack distribution.

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to do it successfully. There are plenty of examples that entrepreneurs can adopt and tweak to their own unique needs. Over the past year we’ve seen a lot of strategies, but most of them fall into a few high-level categories:

The PR machine – Constant attention from traditional and non-traditional media. Constant new “events”, “deals”, “scandals” keep the companies name in popular discourse and bring in a steady stream of new users.

The Social Virus – A product that by its very nature, or through added game mechanics, incentivizes you to share it with your friends. Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Groupon and Zynga have exploded into public consciousness through intelligent use of this strategy. You’ll find some of the top minds in the tech startup world, from Dave Morin to Tom Higley amongst many others, are working on mastering this new strategy.

We’re Mad Men – You can pay someone else to give you millions of target market eyeballs on your product. Its expensive, but if you can successfully acquire customers for less than you make from them in the lifetime that they are a user, then keep spending money.

The Partner – The idea here is to find a partner that has the right eyeballs, but wants additional ways to monetize them. The startup offers the company a cut of its profits in exchange for help getting them to adopt the new product.This is one of the most popular strategies, because it normally requires less up-front costs and improves a new company’s brand.

Word of Mouf – It needs to be included, because nearly all new companies think that if they build a cool product people will instantly get the word out. The truth is that most startups take time to get product/market fit during which time their product isn’t something groundbreaking. Its an avenue for growth, but companies will normally run out of money before it gets them enough traction.

At the end of the day, the right distribution method will likely be a combination of a few of these strategies. Have you used any of these strategies? Have any pros and cons you can share? We’d love to hear what you (our awesome readers) think.

Distribution is the only obstacle

There’s still time to order Christmas cards!

Looking for an AWESOME Christmas card and waiting until the last minute? You still have time to order one of our independent artist created greeting cards and have it delivered before Christmas! Just order by Sunday, December 19.

Want to hand deliver the card with that special present? No problem… just select “send to myself” when you’re personalizing your card and we’ll deliver it to you with an extra envelope. Or you can have us deliver the card directly to your loved one… and as always, shipping is free!

View all of our Christmas cards at http://www.cardgnome.com/holidays/christmas

And don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!

There’s still time to order Christmas cards!

How we plan to scale up our artist base

This past week, Chad and I implemented the ability to purchase premium greetings on our site. The site’s basic monetization engine and minimum viable product is finally complete.  We’re ready to test our assumption that consumers are willing to pay for artist created greetings. We need artists to post and promote content, so we’re ramping up our artist recruitment process. This isn’t new for us since we’ve been recruiting artists for our alpha testing since day 1. We largely understand our value proposition and the basics of our pitch. Now we need to do more of it, better.

Starting this week my design hours will start to decrease and my hours of artist recruitment will increase. At this point we’ve been relying on good ol’ fashioned networking to find artists.  That won’t suffice now, its time to branch out and see if we can convince people who have no social obligation to hear us speak. We expect a lot of rejection, but we think that is a good thing. It will help us hone our message and fix issues with our product. Here is our strategy to deliver a good pitch to artists and continually improve it.

1 – Focus on the 2 benefits that our site brings to the artist (Money and Publicity)
2 – Track each and every potential artist in a recruiting dashboard, keep notes about the features they like and request.
3 – Never give up. Return to artists that rejected us when we’ve added features they wanted or overcame their concerns.
4 – Give them a one-page pitch document they can look at while we’re talking.
5 – Put a big smile on our faces and enjoy the ride even if we get rejected.

After we’ve proven that the basic assumption works, it will be time to scale the process by adding a “refer an artist” feature to the system and finding a charismatic artist manager to help recruit talent.

A lot of you have gone through this process before, any advice for us?

How we plan to scale up our artist base

How #boulderfire changed my perspective on twitter

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the world of Twitter yet, using a hashtag (#) before a word is a way of creating a topic in Twitter. By putting a topic like #boulderfire into a tweet, you are actively joining the conversation. Twitter users can filter on that word and see every tweet about that topic.

I initially joined Twitter because that’s what all the cool entrepreneurs in town were doing. Most people I met were die-hard “tweeters.” While I saw its usefulness, Twitter was never a necessity for me. However, that changed on Labor Day when a forest fire started in the hills above Boulder. By checking Twitter, I was able to identify the source of the smoke above my house. As the fire spread, my close-knit community literally came alive on Twitter, with everyone joining in the conversation using the tag #boulderfire. People tweeted important information about evacuation orders and offered assistance with food, housing, and legal advice for those already displaced. One person even tweeted the contents of the police scanner so people were up to date. There is no other communication medium that can enable this sort of community support network.

Even the emergency management system relied on Twitter. When the reverse 911 system—which is intended to alert residents to evacuate their homes—failed, the police department requested that people use Twitter to alert those in the affected areas! Seriously, Twitter just saved some lives. I hope an app I’m involved with will one day do that.

These last few days, I’ve thought a lot about the firefighters risking their lives and the adversity our community is facing. And perhaps it seems strange, but the last few days have also opened my eyes to the true value of Twitter. Twitter isn’t just for self-proclaimed internet marketing experts and Justin Bieber fans, Twitter can literally help a community organize, communicate, and respond effectively and rapidly to a natural disaster. Normal citizens can provide invaluable information, resources, and support to those in need (or to those who are just plain curious). We, as a community, wouldn’t be able to do that as quickly or as easily without Twitter.

How #boulderfire changed my perspective on twitter