For years, the Greek chorus shouted, get me 100,000 fans! There existed no rhyme or reason for this arbitrary number, only that it felt like they had arrived. They had something to show venture capitalists or a vanity metric to tout in their bios, because when I asked why this number, why this many fans, they did the equivalent of plugging their fingers into their ears and screaming, I CAN’T HEAR YOU.
Reason 1,454,232 I no longer work on performance marketing or social media projects. But I digress.
Personal finance advisor, Ramit Sethi shares a story in his Zero To Launch course about how a site contacted him to promote his articles. They strutted out their 400,000 subscribers to show they meant business. He notes,
And they were gonna send it on a Friday morning. I still remember it was Friday morning at 11am. So I’m sitting there really excited, watching my stats, clicking refresh. And at 11:01, 11:04, 11:20, I don’t see any difference and so I sent them an email, “Hey did it go out?” and they said, “Yeah the email went out, it’s all been sent out by like 11:04.”
I knew this email was good. I knew that the CTA (the call to action) was strong because I had already seen the data on my own list. Guess how many people came to my
site and opted-in after 400,000 emails went out? Any guesses? 15 people. They had a list of 400,000 people. We sent a really good email to them and only 15 people opted-in.
Welcome to the quantity over quality game. We have candy here. The cult of more tells us if we have more fans, followers, subscribers, visitors, we will be successful. But I’m here to call bullshit on this down to the bone. I’ve worked on influencer marketing campaigns where creators with seven-figure follower counts converted three-figures in sales. Back in the day, people promised my work exposure and then I got crickets.
And we’re so busy building, sales-funneling, and converting that we fail to consider a simple, fundamental question — are we serving our customers? Are we nurturing our lists? Cultivating relationships with prospects so they become loyal evangelists, shouting about us into their megaphones. Are we afraid to make mistakes or fail because we don’t want to ripples on the surface? Are we forgettable, interchangeable? Do people care we exist?
Listen, I’m not naive enough to think consumers are cuddling up to brands like little throw pillows and fuzzy bears, but the point here is:
- Recognition: Do they remember us when they see us? Are they ambivalent when they see our name in their feed or inbox, or do they anticipate what we share and say because they know it’s relevant and benefits them?
- Differentiation: Do they know how we’re different or better than every other pony in the stable? That this difference will solve their problems, answer their questions, and quell their pain if they give us a shot? Have other people validate this via testimonials and social proof?
- Impact: Are they aware of the impact we make beyond our bottom line? And do they trust us because we’ve showed up and demonstrated we’re not a garbage brand. We actually want to do good for profit.
Quantity-focused tactics alone don’t achieve this. I’ve seen people obsessed with growing their numbers and when people arrive to the party, brands, freelancers, and consultants have nothing of value to offer. The numbers game has replaced customer experience, connection, authenticity, and your ability to be agile and fail forward.
Do you want to bring people to a party that has all the pigs in blankets, fancy-pants wine, entertainment, and goody bags? A party where everyone is made to feel welcomed and cared for? Or are you inviting them to a pit with stale chips and maybe half a keg of lukewarm Schlitz? And the host hangs back in the corner getting baked with their friends, ignoring your where’s the bathroom requests?
Ask yourself — do you want to be a party people remember and recount to their friends and connect with you after (the former) or a punchline to a joke in the group chat (the latter)?
I’m here to tell you that you can have a lucrative business without the vanity metrics. You can make sweet coin off an email list of 2,000 people who actually care that you’re in their inbox. Instead of accumulating, focus on things that don’t scale. Start caring about:
- Being authentic, transparent and real: Are you a brand or a bot? Treat people like humans instead of attributable revenue. Show up and tell honest stories and admit to your fuck-ups instead of architecting cover-ups. Don’t be afraid to bring your whole self to your work — weird quirks and all. And stop trying to be like everyone else on the block because that will land you a one-way ticket to the land of interchangeability and irrelevancy.
- Building trust & relationships with your customers: Do you actually respond to people when they comment or email you back? Do you go the distance to make sure their experience is first-rate even if they never slip a dollar into your coffers? Do you actually listen to their feedback and make changes that center your customers instead of yourself? Show up consistently, deliver value, answer questions, solve problems, offer solutions, empower them with quick wins and possibilities, and give them the attention they’re giving you because they don’t have to give it to you when there’s always an alternative.
- Being okay with failing forward: I see people so obsessed with preserving their brand like an Annabelle doll in a glass case that they miss when other brands leap ahead of them. Don’t be afraid to audit your people, process, and technology to make them better. Don’t be complacent with what’s worked because it will stop working at one point or it won’t be as shiny as it once was. Don’t be afraid to try new things and make mistakes. When I left my digital agency in 2013, I could’ve easily churned out digital marketing plans to infinitum because that’s what I was known for. Instead, I shifted my offering completely because brand-building and storytelling are the things that light me up, it’s what I can do best, and people started to pick up on that.
I’ve never cared about how many, rather, I’ve concerned myself with how deep, how often, how memorable, relevant, and impactful. I don’t tout vanity metrics because that’s about me, not the people I serve. If you really have a standout offering, point-of-view or product, people aren’t stupid. They’re going to figure out you’re the real deal.
Prioritize relationships, value cultivation, and iterating what you do and how you do it and the numbers will follow. And the numbers will mean something because they’re people who are invested in your product or service instead of a hollow number you brag about at dinner parties and in bios. The numbers will drive a higher customer lifetime value, lower cost of acquisition, and deeper loyalty.
Lead with quality and quantity — deliberate and organic — will follow.