Dominating is a fun, easy and fast journey if you are clear about what you’re after, if you’re a good listener, you have some talent and have great instincts. If your instincts suck, make sure you surround yourself with someone who can drive it. Even if you want to stay the leader, you can listen and learn while doing everything you can to help. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorism, I was a techie and business leader craving a shift in patient care innovation.
Two years went by and the effects of 9/11 were still burning, and the world was my oyster. I was brought in by a loved one to take on the CEO role of a creepy, tiny, smelly e-commerce business that happened to be in the space I passionately wanted to impact, and the name of the company was “Independent Living Products”, which was the actual name of the $100 billion space I was after. That’s 10 times larger than the porn industry!
Okay, I’m sure you would have guessed, one of the first things we did was bring all the inventory to my house and stored it in my backyard to air it all out from the smoky fragrance. I see sales as an engagement of all 6 senses, and smelly inventory can ruin the experience. I got laughed at a little bit, and we don’t know for sure if it helped the launch of our new branding effort, but it certainly made a point! That was step one.
Step two was defining our target audience(s) so we could make a decision as to whether we change the name of the business. While the company had a 12-year history in the segment and there was a great value to all the indexing of that category and the associated content, once we defined our audience, we just had to change the name to better connect with the market.
I felt “Independent Living Products” was a tiny bit depressing, and sounded like we were serving those toward the end of their lives. We wanted to make lives better and cater to a population of BUYERS AND DECISION MAKERS WITH CASH who cared about their own quality of life and the lives around them. Buyers with cash, buyers passionate about productivity and performance despite medical conditions.
Our naming and marketing efforts were geared toward our buyers, not our consumers. We found ActiveForever.com was available, so we snatched it up, and also snatched up Active4Ever.com to avoid shenanigans. (We didn’t care as much about all the other dots…net, org etc.) We also favored names that started with A so we landed at the top of resource lists.
Everything we did from there enabled us to reach an online audience of 500-750,000 visitors/month, and our sales conversion rates broke all industry standards. Most of the visitors were entering in our back doors, but we had over 20,000 searches on our company name per month too. How did we do it? We started by taking a very close look at what our best referral sources needed.
We decided to favor referral channels within our industry instead of marketing directly to our consumers, for customer acquisition cost-efficiency sake. We reached out to our local Arizona medical market as a microcosm and brought lunch in for the medical practitioners who were serving our target audience.
We listened carefully. We educated them in regard to the equipment and devices we had that could make all the difference to the success of their efforts and their patients, and we listened carefully. (We also wrote down all the acronyms and key phrases of course!) We asked lots of questions and let them know we would create whatever they needed to keep the love flowing.
We created an educational print product catalog that was used in their patient care. We were quickly brought right into their patient care process, right into the sacred patient packet because we created something very relevant, useful, and accessible to them for free. Based on what we learned from our microcosm, we tightened our articulations down to a science and won ‘yes’ after ‘yes’.
Our communications were guided toward them, solving, educating, helping solve provider bandwidth issues and help improve patient care happiness and success. Every patient care institution you can imagine wanted our print catalogs and access to our website. THEY were finding US and requesting our catalogs. Specialists were asking for and paying for niche catalogs that best suited their areas of expertise.
Before we knew it, we were attracting the attention of professional athletics, hotels, government agencies, non-profits with grant funds. It all started to flow for us because we were listening and staying valued by our referral sources. Our design was about living life to its fullest, so even the consumers/users were talking about us and bringing our catalogs to their friends, family, doctors…it just mushroomed owing to our high touch, high responsiveness, high energy approach, as well as our content and listening skills.
The demand for our catalogs became so high, and the target audience was so desirable to other ancillary businesses, we quickly attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising dollars from our suppliers and ancillary companies that wanted in. As we dug in, we realized we wanted to cost-justify millions in marketing funds from our surrounding stakeholders, so we leveled up our efforts at video content.
We dominated owing to the way we tied all our channels together. Our print catalog contained video symbols on the pictures of the products. Our video sent people to the specific product page by the way, not to the website home page. We also posted it in a way that made it very compelling and easy to share.
We tagged and wrote corresponding articles with written content and surrounded that video with highly relevant, focused and current content. We also added our branding to hundreds of thousands of our product Owner’s Manuals and posted those on each product page. By the way, everything was about useful content, not professional quality production. (No long intros or time wasters…no fluff…just useful content).
We then had another epiphany. We made it known to our industry partners that we could furnish them ‘widgets’ that they could simply cut and paste the code into their website, and it allowed us to display our content on their website, but we also maintained our ability to change the content from our end without disturbing them or going through any of their approvals again.
But, our communication to them was about how our content could profoundly benefit them! Everything we did was for them! We just stayed there in that spot on their website and we owned it! (This grew to hundreds of thousands of widgets posted!) We created a proliferation machine!! Oh, all of our people were trained WELL and called Counselors.
They also had first and last names and direct phone numbers. They also were on wireless headphones and equipped with network cameras that would enable them to demonstrate how a product worked, or show them how to do something on the website. This video communication required the caller to log into our website too!
By the way, we only created retail stores because people kept showing up, or asking about locations, and we leveraged them as discovery centers/education centers for our referral partners. Before we knew it, we had busloads of people showing up. (Even a busload of Japanese people show up every year and we never knew when they’d show up or who they were!)
…and then we discovered the power of the box. Long story, but we cost-justified the building of our own warehouse and transformed our warehouse business into a profit center by combining a 3rd party logistics model that was a lot like Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) before FBA existed! We also allowed select advertisers in our box and paid promotions from our suppliers that further fueled product sales.
Where there are costs there are innovative and profit-generating opportunities.
• Think about your touch points.
• Define your target audiences.
• Pay attention to your costs and barriers and carefully craft win-win-win profit-generating programs.
• Define how you can be most valued and craved.
• Listen to your market, buzz words, search phrases (find out what your target would search, don’t guess), acronyms…
• Make it all compelling and easy to share.
We were generating over $90 million in revenue, serving over 1 million loyal customers, and breaking conversions rates and other key performance indicators (KPIs) well above industry standards, and we had zero outbound sales staff. Zero. We performed everything in-house and incentivized knowledge building and writing. Every member of our staff wrote content weekly as part of their role. Our suppliers and partners came in and bought us lunch and educated us monthly.
Our team’s knowledge growth was in direct proportion to their professional and financial success with us. We also engaged our community for content owing to the exposure they would get as industry experts, and we’d link back to them of course! We got connected to lots of .edu, .org, .gov…We sold the company and the new owner took only one year to unravel it all. You can fall as fast as you rise if you don’t stay useful, focused, relevant, craved, connected.
Erika, former CEO of ActiveForever helped grow the business at a rate exceeding 200,000 percent and generating over $90 million in revenues. She know focuses on her time on public speaking, mentorship and workshops. Erika is founding partner of Social Venture Partners Arizona, a hybrid venture capital and philanthropic organization.