by Gabriela Pereira
Marketers and business owners run online challenges all the time. The Simple Green Smoothie ladies run a smoothie-a-day challenge. Nathalie Lussier and PJ Van Hull each run their own list-building challenges. And then there’s the famous writing challenge that takes place each November: NaNoWriMo. I knew challenges like these were smart marketing strategies, but I never realized just how powerful they are. Until now.
To test out this strategy , I created a challenge of my own called Conquer the Craft in 29 Days (#CTC29). The concept behind the challenge is simple: one writing exercise sent daily to an email list of interested subscribers. That’s it. In online marketing terms, this challenge is a glorified series of auto responders and a hash tag on Twitter.
The results have been staggering. My overall mailing list has increased by more than 40% in just a few weeks, and the challenge alone (a subset of the overall list) has 550 writers signed up. And counting. These numbers got me thinking about why a challenges like this are so successful and why business owners should consider giving this strategy a try. Here are four good reasons.
1. You get to create something AWESOME for your people.
This is the biggest reason for hosting an online challenge. If you’re not itching to create the content for the challenge, then don’t do it. Seriously. Putting a month-long challenge together is a TON of work, and the challenge itself is a free opt-in so you have to create it out of love. Yes, the potential payoff can be massive but you must take on this project because you’re super-excited about the material, not because of possible sales down the road.
I started #CTC29 because the concept for the challenge grabbed hold of me and just would not let go. I wanted to create something amazing for my subscribers and I wanted to see them getting results. The latter is especially important. Creating an online challenge is not just about making something cool, but making sure it gets your subscribers concrete results. I LOVE that every time I go online I see tweets from writers about how #CTC29 is helping them. Those messages make the project worth it and totally make my day. Which brings me to the second reason.
2. It’s is a great way to learn about your audience.
The interactive aspect of an online challenge is so important. You build camaraderie with your subscribers and create a sense of community around your business. Online marketers are always using buzz words like “engagement” and “traction” but what does that really mean? I’ve learned that it’s the quality of the interaction that really matters and an online challenge is a great way to forge strong connections with your audience.
The challenge becomes a context for you to interact with subscribers and potential customers. In the case of #CTC29, writers doing the challenge have been posting their progress on Twitter with the hash tag. I do my best to respond quickly and connect with these writers on a personal level. I’ve learn about their struggles, their goals and their desires. And what I’ve discovered will help me serve my people even better in the future.
3. You and your potential customers are on the same team.
Sometimes sales can feel like a “me vs. them” equation, like you’re foisting your wares on anyone who will listen, hoping against hope that someone will make a purchase. If not well-crafted, sales can feel icky and self-promotional. An online challenge aligns you side-by-side with your subscribers, not head-to-head. The challenge is a obstacle that you must conquer together, and that means that you and your potential customers are on the same team. You’re allies.
When it does come time for you to share a product, you won’t be forcing it on an unwilling audience. Instead, you’ll be giving your people an option to take what they got from the challenge and go even deeper. This perspective shift can make selling feel more genuine. Remember, though: you can’t go into hosting a challenge counting on future sales. But, if you lead from a place of service and create something awesome, an online challenge can become a win for your customers and for you. Here’s why.
4. You’re building a targeted list.
If you design the challenge to solve a specific problem for your potential customers, you are creating a targeted list of people who are ready and excited for your next product. These are people who have chosen to receive content from you on a daily basis for an entire month, or longer. These are people who are looking forward to hearing and learning from you.
The key to building a challenge that leads to sales is to reverse-engineer the challenge content from the product you want to sell. If your product solves a problem for your customers, you want the challenge to prepare your customers so that they’re ready for your product’s solution. In my next article (September) I’ll share details about how to design and develop an online challenge so that your product becomes the logical next step in your sales sequence.
Gabriela Pereira is the Instigator of DIYMFA.com, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Master’s degree in writing, and she holds an MFA from the New School (New York, NY). While undercover as a graduate student, she learned the inside scoop on MFA programs, invented a slew of writing tools all her own, and discovered new, more effective ways for writers to learn their craft. Now she wants to share what she learned and help writers around the world get the “knowledge without the college.”
Before founding DIY MFA, Gabriela taught several writing courses in New York City at organizations like 826NYC, Everybody Wins, EHTP, and a local writing workshop she built from the ground up. More recently she has shifted gears to teaching exclusively at DIY MFA but continues to speak and lead workshops at national and international writing conferences both online and off.
Her favorite thing to do is come up with new dastardly plans and innovative resources for DIY MFA. When she’s not working, Gabriela loves to write middle-grade and teen fiction, with short stories “grown-ups” thrown in for good measure. She is represented by Jeff Kleinman at Folio Literary Management and is currently working on a book on writing.
Gabriela lives in NYC with Lawyer-Hubby, Little Man, Lady Bug, and a trifecta of feline critters. You can connect with her on Twitter (@DIYMFA).