Rapid List growth: How we helped Bill Taylor grow his email list by 5,000 subscribers in 1 week

Bill Taylor is a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur who cofounded Fast Company magazine. We worked with Bill on the launch of his book, Simply Brilliant. The strategies we used when building Bill’s subscriber list illustrate some key factors that are essential in content marketing:

  • Traffic: How many people are seeing your offer?
  • Opportunity: What is the opportunity for interacting and engaging those visitors?
  • Execution: How effectively are you maximizing your opportunity?

In Bill Taylor’s case, all of these elements aligned perfectly. Here’s what happened:

Part 1: Identifying and creating Content

We began working with Bill on the launch of his book about 9 months before the release date. This gave us 3 months to identify and create content that would work well for marketing, and at 6 months from release we would start the campaign.

We began by reading Bill’s manuscript to identify opportunities the content provided for list building as we approached the book launch window. Our goal in reading the book was to think creatively about how we could use the content and generate some ideas for how to leverage the book. We identified 3 opportunities that we wanted to use throughout the preorder campaign:

  1. Book excerpts
  2. Case studies
  3. Leadership Types Quiz

1. Book Excerpts

Through the pre-launch and launch phase of a book, you want to have valuable content to share to increase anticipation and build excitement about your upcoming project. We identified 4 excerpts to release over the course of the launch, to let subscribers get a preview for the fascinating content and build excitement for the book.

2. Case Studies

In his book, Bill included case studies of organizations that were doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways. They are fascinating and capture the message of the book in a great way. Pulled from the book, each case study was about 10 pages,  so we started by editing them to about 1/3 the length. We then pulled out interesting statistics, numbers, and facts to create visual elements like icons, charts or numbers. The last page of each of the case studies contained information about the book, with links to preorder from online retailers.

3. Personality Quiz (Leadership Quiz)

This was the most successful item we created, because it was truly interactive. We distilled 4 leadership profiles from the book and created a 16 question assessment that would match assessment takers with their leadership style2. Quiz-takers provided their email address to view the results, and then received an email with a summary of their leadership type, and a follow-up with a free excerpt from the book.

Part 2: Content + Outreach

Creating content is the first part of this process, but sadly, it’s often where most people stop. If we had created the content and stopped there, we would have been able to do some effective inbound content marketing, but the list growth would have been directly correlated to how many people were passively visiting the site. Here’s where outreach comes in.

Enter Harvard Business Review and a well crafted offer

Obviously, the co-founder of Fast Company is a pretty brilliant guy. When I talked to Bill about how we needed to get these tools in front of people, he came up with the idea to write a post for Harvard Business Review1 about the 4 leadership types he’d identified, and provide a link back to the website so readers could take the quiz. He disclaimed that an email was required to take the quiz.

Part 3: Content + Outreach + Permission

The purpose of the quiz was to build his permission asset (email list), so our goal was to get as many quiz takers as possible. We were not disappointed.

In the first 2 days, we had 3,000 quiz takers. There was such a huge response to the quiz that it became one of the most popular HBR posts in the next few days, which meant it was listed on their home page and emailed out to their subscriber list as a popular post.

By the end of the week, Bill’s list had grown by 7,000 subscribers.

But that wasn’t all

Two weeks later, Bill wrote a post on HBR about one of the companies featured in the book and provided a call to action for readers to download the case study summary we had created for that company. We used our Membergate plugin (which puts resources behind an email subscription gate) for this opportunity and the list grew even more.

When we created the content, we set up a “Resources” page on Bill’s website where we would continue to add interesting and compelling content around Simply Brilliant. The case studies and other resources continued to convert visitors into subscribers.

Later, the quiz was picked up by a few other blogs, and we saw that reflected in our referrers as well. The additional value here was that not only did Bill’s list grow, his traffic in this time frame was also surging. Because of this traffic, this made inbound list building tools much more effective–the resources section, which required the email of new visitors to access most of the resources, effectively converting interested visitors into new subscribers. These resources (including the quiz) are still working to build Bill’s list and grow his following.

Why is list building so important?

Building an email list is one of the best ways to build following and build a relationship with your followers. Social networks are very difficult to penetrate in any significant way with an offer. When you have a time-sensitive offer (pre-ording a book for example), it’s important to have an audience that already knows you and is interested in your work. By building this list ahead of time, we were able to start our pre-order campaign and share our offer with a far larger group of subscribers.

Keep in mind that when it comes to outreach, results vary. However, this is a good example of how connecting the right offer with the right audience and maximizing your opportunity for growth can make a tremendous impact.

We know that identifying the right opportunities and executing on them well can be challenging – if you’d like to talk about how we can help you maximize your opportunities, just get in touch.


Bill’s Article for Harvard Business Review
The Simply Brilliant Leadership Quiz

Joseph Hinson

Joseph Hinson is the president and owner of Out:think Group, a firm that helps authors build their platforms, connect with readers and sell more books.

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