If you're launching a new product and don't have an existing audience, or if you just want to reach a new, relevant audience, then using other people's networks might be an appealing strategy.
The concept comes from finance, where "other people's money" refers to gaining financial leverage by using borrowed capital from banks to increase one's potential returns.
Marketers use this approach to tap into other people's or companies' audiences to get exposure in a relatively cheap way.
In finance, this strategy is a double-edged sword. If an investment levered with other people’s money turns out to be profitable, then the profits are magnified by the effects of the leverage. If it goes wrong, then the losses are amplified by the use of other people's money.
In marketing, if you choose your target right, there's only upside to this approach.
Whose audience should you leverage, then?
Three main aspects you should consider when choosing a target are:
- size of their audience
- relevance of their audience to your product
- their reputation
The larger your target's audience, and the more relevant to your product it is, the more reach and better performance you can expect.
If you choose a well-reputed target, being associated with them will automatically build your credibility as well.
Let's go through some tactics and real-life examples.
MasterClass piggybacking off of celebrities' audiences
To best explain this approach, let's consider what MasterClass is doing.
As Adam Keesling explains in his write-up:
Borrowing social capital is easier than creating it. MasterClass took people who were already famous and gave their fans even more access to them (without much burden on the celebrities). It’s tricky to create a world-class talent. The MasterClass model skipped the line of building a large audience and lots of credibility and instead, they purchased under-monetized social capital and made delightful educational content out of it.
When a new course launches, celebrities share the news with their fans and MasterClass gets tons of exposure they'd otherwise have to pay big bucks for.
To celebrate the launch of my @masterclass, I put together this NBD / Best Trick Challenge with some of the best vert skaters. Videos will drop today through Saturday, and then you can vote for your favorites on Sunday. Vert’s not dead; maybe you just weren’t paying attention pic.twitter.com/jx0UzyREvo— Tony Hawk (@tonyhawk) June 24, 2020
An extra benefit to securing a celebrity on their platform is that when the big name announces their masterclass to their audience, the press easily picks it up and MasterClass gets even more exposure.
But of course, this is specific to MasterClass' product. Let's take a look at some other, more universal examples anyone can try.
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Invite well-networked guests on your podcast or webinar
Using the fact that people share what they're up to on their social channels, you can make them share your content if you invite them on your podcast, webinar, or interview.
Lemlist has been using this strategy with success, hosting webinars with people such as Rand Fishkin, Aaron Ross, or Tim Soulo. They're not only providing great value for their own users but also exposing Lemlist's brand to their target audience at low cost.
And their guests help them with promoting this content.
If you don't run a podcast or webinars and don't plan to, you can get featured on someone else's. Reach out to relevant hosts and offer your input making sure it's aligned with their audience's interests.
Deliver value using your own product
In an Indie Hackers thread, Ahrefs' Tim Soulo suggested that the founder of a video editing app creates videos for popular podcasts with the hope that the hosts will share them with their audiences (who will then see the 'made with' watermark).
Create an analysis of how a company is doing something right
Praising someone's work appeals to their ego which increases the chance of them sharing the analysis with their audience. It's like with getting an award - wouldn't you boast about it with your network?
A good example here can be Appcues' side-project, ReallyGoodUX, where they break down different products' UX and say what they do well.
When Harry Dry from Marketing Examples wrote a piece on how Refactoring UI uses pricing well, followed by Steve Schoger recommending his newsletter on Twitter, Harry's email subscribers jumped from 8k to 13k within 24 hours.
Peter Thiel spends 6 months writing down everything he knows about business. His book sells for $10.— Harry's Marketing Examples (@GoodMarketingHQ) September 3, 2019
Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger spend 6 months writing down everything they know about design. Their “book” sells for $79.
Believe it or not, both prices make perfect sense. pic.twitter.com/tjhEBRcbZc
After creating a new report on a trending topic, Dru Riley shares it on Twitter, tagging the people mentioned in the report. Being included in the report means recognition, so people retweet Dru's tweets which means more reach for his work.
Thanks for the mention in your reliably amazing newsletter, Dru. So many good things in there, it’s a treasure trove. 🤩 https://t.co/YhDRomBtT4— Arvid Kahl (@arvidkahl) July 16, 2020
Create a case study about another company
Tom Hunt from SaaS Marketer writes super insightful case studies of how successful SaaS companies have grown to where they are now.
Some of the well-networked founders, after seeing the quality article, share it with their audience as they're proud of what they've achieved and they're happy to let others know how they got here.
Of course, getting his content shared by these founders isn't Tom's main objective but definitely helps in getting more eyeballs on it.
Airbnb's Integration with Craigslist
It would be unfair not to mention Airbnb's ingenious tactic to leverage Craiglist's (immense) user base.
Airbnb offered users who listed properties on Airbnb the opportunity to post them to Craigslist as well—even though there was no sanctioned way from Craigslist to do so.
They emailed everyone who posted a listing on Airbnb that they can increase their earnings if they repost their listing on Craigslist.
What made this tactic even more effective is that Airbnb reduced friction to a minimum - users could repost in one click.
Basically what they did is they used Craigslist as their distribution channel, for free.
The idea is simple - find a complimentary (but not competing) product and do a mutual shoutout to both your audiences.
For example, they could promote your resource to their subscribers and followers, and in exchange, you'd share their resource with your audience.
Or, if you want to use your collective data or expertise and make the resource even more relevant, create co-branded ebooks or reports where both companies will promote them to their audiences and share leads.
If you're in for a longer-term partnership, offer bundles. Package your product, or some part of your offering, with a complimentary one and offer it at a discounted price.
Bundles are commonly used by media companies, e.g. The New York Times (here's a solid analysis of their bundling strategy by Rob Litterst from ProfitWell), and recently also newsletters - Divinations and Superorganizers joined forces to create Everything.
Probably the most commonly used way of borrowing an audience is guest posting. When you get your content published on a respectable company's blog, your benefits are threefold:
- they take care of distributing it to their audience
- if you're starting out, their higher domain authority means a better chance at organic traffic
- you get a credibility boost by association
When Oli Gardner didn't have an audience yet and was getting Unbonce up to speed, he 'was blogging like crazy and guest posting everywhere' to get exposure. This was one of the main ways of how they got early traction.
Summing it up
Piggybacking off of someone else's audience is a smart shortcut to getting the exposure you wouldn't get without having a significant following or paying for it.
There is always someone who's got your desired audience, so it's just a matter of choosing your target right.
Over to you - whose audience will you tap into?
PS: If you found this useful and want more actionable growth ideas, check out Scrapbook, my database of over 250 tactics for every step of the funnel.