You’ve probably heard some marketer say, “The money is in the list.” They mean that your business is only as strong as the list of people who have given you permission to contact them.
A nation is nothing without the action of its people. To be able to inspire any kind of action, you need to know who the people are and how to communicate with them. So whether the nation you are founding is for-profit or not, the same rule applies — the strength of your nation is in the quality of your list and how many people it’s reaching.
Once you know your nation’s vision, it’s time to build your list by conducting a census. Time to put on your tricorne and grab your parchment. It’s strategy-time.
STEP ONE: KNOW THE PEOPLE
If you’re going to conduct an effective census, you need to know the people and where they’re coming from. Ideally, you’re one of them, or one of the key people on your team is.
There are lots of nuanced cultural things that an insider will know about its nation’s people. But for census-conducting purposes, the question we’re asking is:
How do they communicate? How do they receive information?
Whether its by text message, facebook, email, rss feed reader, twitter, or the good old postal service, we want to find the ways that the people are already effectively communicating. To choose how YOU want to communicate (and therefore, what information you need to collect on your census), consider this:
- Value – Make everything you produce a gift (because life is just better that way). How can you reach out to the people in the most valuable way possible?
- Friction – How easy is it for you to send information, and how easy is it for people to receive it? How can you deliver the highest value with the least amount of effort (both your own and the people you’re serving)? This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to produce things that are short and quick. Sometimes the communications with the greatest return take more time and skill. But not always.
- Signal to noise ratio – Internet-renowned marketer Seth Godin said it best, “A whisper in a quiet room is all you need”. Rather than jumping on any kind of bandwagon, think about the context of the communication. Take twitter, for example. Do you have a strong enough signal to stand out in that kind of noise? Or is all of the shouting going to weaken the effects of your effort?
- Regularity – People must be used to receiving information through the channel you’re trying to share it. Are they checking it every day? Is it one of the main ways they get information? How are they feeling when they get information that way? Are they receptive to it, or are they closed off?
Email, and how to get people to read it
Not everyone loves getting email. Let me rephrase that. Everyone HATES getting crappy emails. People have always loved getting fun, personal mail of any kind.
You know why our emails have a 61% open rate while our industry standard is 22%? It’s not because of the fancy subject lines. It’s because they know we send great emails, without fail, every single time. And by “great”, I mean fun. Personal. And with some sort of usefulness built in.
Your emails don’t have to be fun and personal (though humor and personality goes a long way in making a real connection). But they do need to be clearly meeting a need that your people have. That’s why, when all else fails, “How to do X” subject lines work so well. Not because they are super-enticing, but because they clearly meet a need. If the person wants to know “how to do X”, then they’ll open it.
STEP TWO: GIVE THE PEOPLE A REASON TO CARE
Create a compelling list
People are not obligated to participate in your list-building census just because you tell them to. And no matter how compelling you think “Sign up for my weekly newsletter” is, it just…isn’t. There are so many newsletters out there. Even if your nation is clearly meeting a need that I have, I probably don’t want to get its second-rate newsletter.
To make sure the communication people receive when they sign up for your list is compelling, ask yourself:
What are people getting by giving me their email address (or their cell phone number, or their facebook “Like”)?
You can’t just dangle a carrot on a stick and expect the people to sign up and stay around. Yes, giving them some kind of free offer for signing up for your email list will increase your subscriber count (and we’ll talk about that further down), but if the list itself is not compelling, people will either desert you or resent you as soon as they realize how little value its adding to their lives.
Make a list of what people are getting when they hand over their contact information. Make sure that every benefit that they’re getting is meeting a specific need that your nation is designed to meet. If you can do that, you’ll be a long way toward creating a list that people will want to sign up for.
Create a compelling sign-up offer
For your list to be a quality one, you want the people on it to love being on the list. You want them to love getting email from you, even if you were to offer absolutely nothing additional for signing up. But you will drastically increase your participation if you have a free sign-up offer that is so good that it hurts to give it away.
How do you know your sign-up offer is good? If you keep having second thoughts about giving it away. If you keep asking yourself, “Is all of this worth it for something that’s free?” If you feel just a little terrified that people won’t appreciate it enough because it’s free.
THAT’S when you know it’s good enough.
For our current nation-building project with Treacy Mize, we are creating an email series called “11 amazing days”. The people who sign up for this list are going to discover a theory that they have have about a relationship in their life (i.e. “He doesn’t do thoughtful things for me”). And then for 11 days, they are going to be led in an experiment of collecting evidence against that theory until they have successfully disproven it.
“11 amazing days” is a highly effective relationship re-programming tool that can be used over and over again to get real, lasting results. It’s not just pie-in-the-sky “think happy thoughts” thing. It actually works. And we’re giving it away for free.
It’s painful because Treacy has spent so much time (and money) creating the concept behind it, testing it out, writing the content, and making effective visuals for it. It’s painful because people would pay to get it, but we’re giving it away for free.
STEP THREE: CREATE A LANDING PAGE
I love this step. Why? Because people are so relieved to know that they can just get started and not wait until they have a full-fledged website. In fact, it’s better not to wait. Since landing pages have only one choice (ideally, to sign up for the list), they are more effective for list-building than a website with lots of things to see and do.
What to include on your landing page
The rule is simple: include whatever information people need to identify themselves as part of this nation, and to know that it was created specifically to meet their needs.
On a landing page, it’s important to make the benefits clear, but we like to stay on the laid-back side of things. If you try too hard, people might get suspicious of your motives.
Still, there are some things the people need to know:
- What the list is
- What the list’s benefits are (what they are getting in exchange for their email address)
- What the free download is, if there is one
- What the free download’s benefits are
- A clear entry box and sign-up button
If your stakes are higher (for example, if your census is being conducted to immediately sell a product) or you want to get more effective, you can also include:
- Proof that people are getting their needs met by being on the list (you can use social share buttons or testimonials or both)
- Proof of your nation’s credibility (if you’ve been in the New York Times, say so)
- A sample of what they get in the free download
- A compelling video (again that word again; people throw it around a lot, but it’s actually RARE to find something that is truly compelling)
Ready to conduct your nation’s census?
We love the census-conducting process because your numbers give you immediate feedback, and the results are easily measurable. And if the success of your nation is in the quality (and quantity) of your list, it’s one of the most important things you can do. Best of all, you can do it while the nation is being built.
To that end, we’ve created a handy census-conducting worksheet to help you get started. Print it out, scribble all over it, and you’ll be on your way to building an effective list.