When blogging takes ages and ads feel too pushy, build a fishing rod.

How would you feel if somebody you didn’t know, walked up to you in the middle of the street trying to sell you an expensive pen?
Chances are, you might not even lift a finger, let alone, your wallet.
The reason behind this is simple.
People purchase from you based on your know, like, and trust factor.
A stranger nevertheless, has none of these factors.
So how can we make people know, like and trust us?
You provide them with value first.
It’s that simple.
You need marketing that isn’t perceived as marketing.
Unfortunately, most companies get it wrong.

Which is why today you’ll learn about the following topics:

  1. Why the age of ads & billboard is over
  2. The misconception of writing blogs
  3. What is considered real value for customers (and how we did it)
  4. Why creating real value for your customers just works.
  5. The 5 things to consider when building value for customers.

The age of ads & billboards is over.

We are born after the age of Don Drapers (from the Mad Men series in case you were living under a rock these last years).
An age where, people got used to hating Marketers, and for a good reason.
They are known for the people that spam your mailbox or retarget you while sitting in the bathroom (yes, we are talking about you Zalando).
In fact, it turns out that 95% of people don’t like to be interrupted (not only while going to the bathroom) and the other 5% truly hate it.
As web guru Jeffrey Zeldman puts it:
“We hate advertising so much, we’ve trained ourselves not to look at the top or right sidebar on most sites”.
And he is right, looking at the downloads of ad blockers in recent years, shows how much we hate it.
Now, most marketers are smart people.
They know that there is a need to provide value first in order to gain their customers trust (if they don’t, put them in Customer Service for a week).
Nevertheless, the misconception lies when asking ourselves the question: what is real value for our customers?
And here is where most of us get it wrong.

The misconception of blogs

Too many companies still fall in the ‘X-trap’.
A trap where they believe that writing something is better than writing nothing at all.
Resulting in articles that are very familiar to everybody else: “x ways to …, how to x times your sales”.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
Do you really think you are going to get noticed between the 2,527,635 blogs written every day (and those are stats from 2010, imagine what number it would be today)?
Writing blogs, on a continuous base, about topics that are of true value for your customers, is truly an art.
And it for sure doesn’t happen overnight.
But if blogging takes too much time and ads feel to ‘pushy’, is there a way we can reach out to our customers that aren’t annoying to them and still brings quick traction?
Absolutely yes!
You need marketing that isn’t perceived as marketing.
You need to build something that is of real value to your customers, not another blog post about  ‘X ways to achieve AYZ’.
You need to build a fishing rod for your customers.
Huh, wait. Did you say a fishing rod?
Yes, a fishing rod.

Your fishing rod a.k.a Side Project

“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. But if you give him a fishing rod, you feed him for a lifetime”
Because if you serve somebody a fish, you can get a customer today.
But if you can help someone to catch his very first fish, you can create a customer for life.
In the words of Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad:
“The difference between helping and selling is just 2 letters, but those 2 letters make all the difference in business”
That’s exactly what building a fishing rod is all about. We help people before we sell them something related later on.
In other words, you build something of real value (the fishing rod) to your ideal customer that solves a real problem and would even pay money for (eat food). Instead of asking money for it, you give it away absolutely free in order to sell something related later on (in this case, it would be the bait or even a fishing boat).
But the question remains, what is the real value?
There are 2 questions that are of the real essence before making anything:
  1. What is your core product or business?
  2. What kinds of problems are people that are buying your product or service have?  

Case Study 1: Crew

The core business:

Crew’s core service is to match people with high-quality creative work done with the best possible candidate.
This means they have the chicken and the egg problem.
They need to attract high-quality freelancers while at the same time they need to attract clients who have to want their project done.
If a freelancer realizes that there a no jobs posted on Crew, they leave.
If a Project Owner realizes that there are no freelancers on the platform, they are not coming back.
They needed a way to attract one side without spending a huge amount of money on Marketing.

The real value:

They could have invested a huge amount of marketing capital to get things moving.
But they didn’t.
Instead, they thought of what they could build, that would give great value to their ideal customers and help them succeed.
So they created Unsplash.com
A website with free (do whatever you want) high-resolution photos to help their freelancers.
The best part? The website was built on a Tumblr theme, with some of their unused pictures from their shoot and within 3 hours.
And of course, the site generates a mind-blowing 11 million unique visitors a month with more than 100k  email subscribers.

Case Study 2: Worcc

When entering the HR market, the first thing you’ll see is that it’s super packed with competition. It’s a red pulp of people bashing for your attention.
Your industry is probably going to be quiet the same.
When we looked at a certain market, we always think: What can we actually build to help people our ideal customers first?
In our case, we wondered how we could help out people looking for a job, instead of screaming for their attention while sitting on the toilet.
We noticed that there were a couple of problems while creating a CV:
  1. People are spending a huge amount of time creating a CV in Word document, which you still need to distribute yourself.
  2. People are spending a huge amount of money to pay a designer to create their CV, which also, you still need to distribute yourself.
  3. People spend monthly subscriptions fees in order to have their CV created with software, which also didn’t help them land a job. Think about it for a second. The longer you don’t find a job, the more you pay for your subscription. That’s pretty absurd.
We set out a challenge to solve this problem and created Worcc, a CV that helps you land your next job, absolutely free.
 And we build it around 3 philosophies we had:
  1. Creating your CV should always be free.
  2. Your CV should connect you with the right people who help you out landing a job, also absolutely free.
  3. You should never be bothered by a recruiter when you already have a job. You decide when you are ready to make the switch.
In other words, we started building value first before asking anything in return.
This is what we call marketing, that isn’t perceived as marketing. 
That’s exactly what building a fishing rod is all about. We help people before we sell them something related later on.
The best thing of all? The most expensive part was the beers consumed during the process.

Why giving your customers a fishing rod, just works.

We all know what favors are, but what most of us don’t know is this unwritten rule.
It’s a social rule that implies that people give back (reciprocate) the kind of treatment they have received from another
Psychologists call this Reciprocity.
One of the fundamental psychological principles that direct human behavior.
In other words, if you help people first, they will be more likely to help you out.
Now think about the last time a good friend, who helped you out, asked you for a favor.
Did you say yes?
A great example of reciprocity happened in 1985.
On an early morning of 19 September, Mexico City was being struck by an earthquake with a moment magnitude of 8.0.
At least 5000 people died that day.
Luckily, my mother ended up looking at a destroyed house and was being spared of her life.
But what happened next, was something nobody would have predicted.
The next day, a relief donation of 5.000$ was sent by a country that was low on food supply and where an internal war was still going on.
The question remains, why would a country that was suffering this much send a relief donation?
To answer this question, we need to rewind our clock back to 1935.
In 1935, Mexico had sent aid to Ethiopia when it was being invaded by Italy during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War.
So the reason why Ethiopia helped out, was because of the help they received exactly 50 years ago.
This is exactly the reason why giving something of true value will get you to sell something related later on.

5 Things to consider before building your Fishing Rod (Side Project)

We all know how excited we get when a ‘great’ idea pops into our head. Maybe even some sweaty hands come into play.
But we also know the feeling when we wake up the next morning, and the idea is added to our ‘one-of-my-ideas-I-had’ list.
Throughout the years of building side projects for clients and ourselves, we found that there are 7 requirements in order to proceed with your idea.

1. Does your tool solve a (small) problem of my target audience?

The first question you always need to keep in mind is: What problem is our audience having and how is this tool going to solve (a part) of their problem?
Most of the time you are building solutions that happen just before or after the interaction with your product (we always suggest to first look at how to help people before interacting with your product interaction!)
A great example is made by the Hilton Suggest (by Hilton Hotel), which started out as a Side Project.
They are helping out people on Twitter (which aren’t even their customers) with recommendations of places where they can sleep and eat.
Now you might be thinking: why are they paying their own staff to recommend places others then their own to people they know for a fact aren’t their customers?
Yes, that’s true. But eventually, this person is going to be in a different city and will need a hotel recommendation.
And at that point, who is he going to think of first?
Hilton, because they helped him out when he needed it.

2.  Start small, because you will (almost) never hit a home run the first time.

Before starting with our Online Growth Hacking Academy, we didn’t start with hiring a videographer, writing a script and putting massive resources into the project.
You start out with an MVP (Minimum Valuable Product), in other words, the smallest possible way to test your idea.
For example, we started out small and simple by having a look at our Google Analytics.
And to be more specific, we started by looking at which blog posts were actually outperforming, and made a top 3 list.
Out of this list, we noticed that our blog post 24-killer-sales-funnel-tools-every-growth-hacker-should-know was a true winner since people would come back and use it when needed.
We decided to start small and create one simple video coming from this blog post.
Every single time we met a client, we then showed them the video and verified if this was of any value to them.
After getting awesome feedback on how to improve our Growth Hacking Academy, we decided to proceed.
You should always start with an MVP (Minimum Valuable Product), the smallest possible way to test your idea.
In our case, this was a well-written and time-consuming blog post that was of real value to our community.
We use growth sprints internally to bring structure to the chaos and make sure we test it right.
And remember, you are not going to get it right the first time, always listen and adapt where needed.

3. A first version, the MVP, of the Side Project needs to build & tested within a week.

For the simple reason that not all Fishing Rods / Side Projects succeed, you need to able to build and test fast.
Don’t worry if a fishing rod fails, always try to learn why something failed and use this information in order to build something better next time.
Remember that, generally, big successes in growth come from a series of small wins, compounded over time.
Each bit of learning acquired leads to better performance and better ideas to test, which leads to more wins, ultimately turning small improvements into landslide competitive advantages.
In order to test fast, we use Growth Sprints to get from idea to MVP to testing in less than 5 days.
Feel free to get your free Growth Sprints Guide right here.

4. It needs to be able to attract qualified leads

If you don’t know your ideal customer, don’t even start building. You’ll end up wasting tons of resources.
The best advice we can give you is to get outside your building and start talking to people.
As Brian Chesky, founder of  Airbnb would say: ‘In order to scale, you need to do things that don’t scale’.
What most people don’t know about Brain, is that he used to fly over to New York in order to live with his customers and try to truly understand their needs.
If you don’t know who your ideal customer is, you will not have a single clue what to build from them and what is of true value.
If you do understand who your ideal customer is, talk to them and ask them what frictions they have had before or after they used your product.
Maybe they are using another service that connects with yours but ended up spending a huge amount of time configuring it?

5. Use the data you have about your customers to increase the chances of success.

What customers say they want and what they actually do, can most of the times be the complete opposite?
Having a look at your data is a great way to discover what is already resonating with your target audience.
In other words, a Fishing Rod doesn’t need to be something brand new.
In fact, the best way how to build & test your Fishing Rod is to repurpose the content which is already working.

Comments (1)

Interesting and helpful article.

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