Nine Bootlegger Lessons for Direct Marketers

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GRAPHICMAIL – Electronic theft affects us all — whether you are a musician bleeding royalties from illegal MP3 downloads, whether your bank account has been compromised or whether your contact details are being listed and distributed without your permission.

The piracy vs. freedom of information issue has been a hotbox of debate since Bill Gates first declared, “let there be Windows.” However, there is still a lot that direct, email and social marketers can learn from these dubious practices that go beyond bootlegging and can, in principle, work just as effectively for us white-hatters.

On the high seas of the World Wide Web there exists a content and media syndication network that, if we were able to fully map it, would have tsunami-like reach and influence figures. This is, of course, the immense wave of media piracy that baffles copy-right drumbeaters everywhere.

Although illicit data and media sharing is at the central point of the international movement against cyber-crime by authorities and reputable companies, it is impossible to ignore the astonishing scale and efficiency of how this bootlegging beehive pushes out and cross-pollinates information to its many millions of cohorts 24/7.

As direct email and mobile marketers, we are concerned with how a rapid and large-scale spread of information is achievable and how to emulate these effects to make content-based campaigns flourish virally.

GraphicMail raises the anchors and hoists the colours on electronic piracy principles that can help you spread white-hat marketing campaigns:

The single most important insight observed from the widespread practice of piracy is that on the Internet, few people are willing to pay for content. To succeed in this culture of liberal sharing, content itself has to be a form of trade exchange. In the beginning of any campaign the emphasis is on reach-building activities and metrics (getting lots of views, followers, re-tweets, likes, etc.) but three critical things have to happen before any individual user could and would share some of your content:

1) They have to be exposed to your content. (Through social, email newsletter or mobile subscription sends or RSS feeds to your pages.)

2) They have to actually become aware of that content. (In other words, your feeds need to stand out from the crowd of updates, headlines and other notifications that users are exposed to daily.)

3) They must be motivated by something in that content to share it, or by the action of sharing itself. (Sharing incentive could include having information that puts one “in the know” or contributes to an image of expertise on certain topics or being first across the line to get the scoop.)

4) Content that is shared the most is: articles that shed a new light on topics and allow for a new perspective; multimedia content such as videos, audio tracks and cartoons.

Pushes need to be built on a model whereby you create great, compelling, expertise-drive content and give it away for free, while having reiterative (or “repeat-worthy”) value. Email, mobile and social media has enabled cloak and dagger marketing whereby you can sail under the radar and strike your target market without your competitors necessarily knowing about what you are communicating and how you are encouraging sales conversions.

When done well accomplishing, good ROI is plain sailing; but when not, content mediocrity is always punished: either by poor conversion results or by the market simply ignoring your message entirely — which undermines the whole direct marketing process.

5) Piracy is not limited to recreational ends (i.e. movies, music, games, software packages etc.). Understand what people want to hear, read or see in any given industry and provide for their wants.

6) Don’t keep floating just in the one-and-the-same media puddle. Test the waters; build a comprehensive, integrated marketing/communications strategy that embraces the new and existing channels and cross-integrate these.

7) Create opt-in/opt-out databases and mechanisms to allow people to choose if they want to be part of your communication. Get permission, learn what your readers are interested in and then segment cunningly.

8) Build a push-pull mechanism that pushes content to the targeted stream (which may be 10 people or 10 million) and then calls on them to approach you or return to your business’ website (i.e. it must be interesting to know about your company and its new developments).

9) Your repository of information must contain content that exceeds readers’ value expectations and should be educational, informative, not be purely self-promoting and once again have share value.

Even the best marketing campaigns can never reach a point where they are being consumed by and influencing everyone in every industry. The aim for any organization should rather fall on aggregating a critical mass of influence whereby the main body of your target readers can be reached without any special effort – after the usual toils of honorable network establishment. Today’s channels enable us to reach enough people over time to achieve our communications objectives at a relatively low cost, but you cannot reach everyone all the time, and this is true even for digital piracy.

So viral communication is an art of generating content that is market-relevant while appealing to broader demographics and present sharing value, but can certainly be done without donning an eye-patch and hoisting the Jolly Roger.

Cross-published at the GraphicMail blog.

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