Mar 7 2014, 8:48am CST | by Forbes
“Hey you,” I yell to the man strolling in a purple shirt about 15 feet ahead of me. He slows down. I think I’m going to reel him in, but he speeds up again to New York City walking pace. With some gusto I shout, “Hey you, in the purple.” He stops, turns around, and is greeted by my smile.
I should clarify that this wasn’t just any purple shirt; he was wearing a Northwestern purple shirt. As a fellow alum, I wanted to introduce myself. I found out that we lived in the same freshman dorm and both studied economics. He was looking for finance opportunities in New York City, and knowing some people in the space, I facilitated introductions for him that evening.
I love doing this, and I do it whenever I see someone wearing a Northwestern logo. We share a special experience, so the ability to develop a rapport is natural. Moreover, these opportunities present themselves everywhere — from transatlantic flights to the New York City subway.
When it comes to marketing a new product, then, why do so many people struggle getting the word out? In my experience, the key to marketing is to simply start talking — preferably to the people most likely to listen.
When my friend and I launched our first product in high school, EasyBib.com, we postered flyers in our school and even left them at barbershops. We invaded AOL chat rooms (remember those?), and even naively reached out to the Chicago Tribune, which later featured us. Today, due to our efforts, and of course some luck, EasyBib has over 40 million users.
Now, as a Northwestern grad, I can do one better: I can tap into a native network whose members often have genuine interest in what I’m doing. Recently, using Northwestern’s alumni database, we’ve been reaching out to targeted alumni to get feedback and product validation on the beta version of our new product GetCourse. Not only has their insight been helpful, many of these individuals asked to be our initial customers, or recommended others. What more could you want when trying to get initial traction?
We’ve now gone beyond Northwestern. My business partner reached out to his Brown University database. Then we asked part of our team of 35 to become part-time marketers to reach out to their respective databases to get more feedback and cast a wider net. The more we learn, the better the product we can create. And, not uncommonly, those who give us feedback are also truly interested in GetCourse.
Don’t get me wrong. Not every alumni connection is open to providing their thoughts, but the ability to have a material conversation is significantly higher than cold outreach.
In fact, we had some fun and crunched the numbers to see which alumni network was more receptive: 40.6% of Brown alumni talked with us, with 15.4% interested in trying GetCourse when ready. Only 7.8% of Northwestern alumni talked to us, but 75% of them asked for early access to the product. We consider this an interesting snapshot of alumni affinity.
Such outreach doesn’t have to be limited to your alumni network. You could try:
When launching your product, yes, tell everyone. But focus your energies on those groups of people who are mostly likely to engage with you, like your alumni network. More importantly, don’t shy away from saying hello to someone you may have something in common with. It may lead to an opportunity to relevantly promote what you’re working on, which can lead to introductions or new business.
As Wayne Gretsky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Neal Taparia is the co-founder of Imagine Easy Solutions, whose newest product GetCourse enables simple online course creation. Prior to working on Imagine Easy full time, Neal graduated form Northwestern University, and worked at Lehman Brothers but left 8 months before its demise. Follow him @tapneal.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
Source: Forbes Business
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