Talking Startups with Jason Sadler – T-Shirts, Social Media and Promotion
You might know Jason Sadler from his wildly successful business IWearYourshirt.com. Or maybe you heard about him because of his latest publicity feat, selling his last name for $45,000. He’s now called Jason HeadsetsDotCom. (It’s a move that Headsets.com garnered $250,000 in just two months and nearly $6 million in free advertising).
Or you may have heard about him from his 700 mentions in news outlets just in 2013. Even if you’ve never heard of Jason Sadler you should get to know him because here’s a 30-something guy who built an entire empire out using great ideas, creativity and a whole enormous amount of promotions and marketing. We caught up with Sadler and asked him some poignant questions about using the quintessential promotional product the logo-emblazoned T-shirt and social media marketing to turn his startup into a going concern.
1. Define promotion. What’s the difference between promotion and marketing?
I’d argue that promotion and marketing are incredibly similar. At least, that’s how I view them. When you promote or market something, you do it because you believe in it, you want to showcase it, and you want more people to know about it.
2. What are the three most important things a startup needs to understand about promotion?
Be genuine. Stand out from the crowd. Be creative. These three things should be the foundation for anyone’s marketing plan, promotion strategy, etc. Companies aren’t successful by luck; they’re successful because they establish a strong foundation of being honest, unique, and different. Oh, and tons of hard work doesn’t help either!
3. What defines a promotional campaign success in your mind?
Not just people buying a product, but people talking about a product. To influence purchasing decisions you have to tap into psychology, supply/demand, etc. To influence sharing and conversation, you just need to do something noteworthy. If people are listening, interested, and you have a plan to influence purchases, you’re successful.
4. What were the three key things you did to successfully promote your business?
The first and hardest thing was realizing I wouldn’t be an overnight success. This idea of overnight success doesn’t exist, it never happens, and hard work always pays off. After I realized I’d have to put in a ton of hours, I started by contacting all my friends and family in my address book. I sent personalized e-mails, sharing the idea of IWearYourShirt, not pitching them to buy, but simply asking for feedback. This was my first big move and it helped get my business off the ground. When the chatter from my 200-300 contacts died down, I continued to do manual labor, searching keywords on Twitter like ‘T-shirts’ and ‘marketing’ and ‘advertising’. I jumped in these conversations, tried to be engaging, and most often was speaking directly to a brand who was a potential customer (but I never actively pitched them).
5. How did you get from 10 followers to 1,000 followers and beyond?
It’s funny, I can remember being so excited about hitting the 100 follower mark. That happened a couple days before January 1, 2009 (when IWearYourShirt officially started) and I was psyched. After that, I had a strict regime of searching different keywords, going through followers of friends (and people they followed), and trying to talk to 50-100 different people each day. Sometimes, I followed them; most often I just jumped in conversations and tried to be humorous or creative with my responses. Early on, I also did some random giveaways, before this was popular, and that helped bump my followers every so often. It took me three years to get to 30,000 followers, and in that time I was on almost every news outlet imaginable. There was no follow/unfollow secret, no gimmick, no automated tool, just being myself and trying to engage as much as possible. Go through my 50,000+ tweets, especially early on; they’re mostly @ mentions, not updates.
6. Can you give a five step plan to building a social media following?
Have a unique offering. Be yourself. Setup a loose content calendar. Don’t be afraid to jump in conversations. Don’t worry about the numbers (most important step).
7. What makes t-shirts a good form of promotions and advertising? Why did you choose t-shirts?
When I thought of IWearYourShirt, I also thought of IWearYourAd, IWearYourLogo, and a few other different names. I knew, however, that the majority of companies in business had printed t-shirts at one time or another and it was a pain-point for my daily life. Not many guys know what t-shirt they’re going to wear every day. Usually we pick from a random pile, and using t-shirts would take half the guess work out of getting dressed each day. If a company didn’t already have t-shirts printed, I knew they were easy and quick to print and who doesn’t look at what shirt people are wearing?
8. What kind of ROI do you give your clients? Why do you choose your method of promotion?
For the first three years, there was no ROI given. Seriously. The idea of IWearYourShirt was that you were paying such a NOMINAL fee to have social media content created, what could you really expect in return? That being said, some people had incredible success, spending very little money. A few books shot up the rankings on Amazon when I wore a shirt for them. Multiple companies had record days of sales, while only spending a couple hundred dollars. And if you were lucky, I was featured on a press outlet like The Today Show, CBS Evening News, etc, while wearing your shirt. I never promised any results/impressions/sales, I simply told people I’d wear their shirt, take a photo or two, film a short video in the shirt, and post that content on Twitter, Facebook, and IWearYourShirt.com.
Obviously we had to make a shift and offer reporting as we grew, but it was merely a calculation of social media reach. I do believe it’s good to track marketing efforts, but I think you always have to take into account “you get out what you put in.” Some people have insane expectations while spending $100. Some people will spend $5,000 and expect nothing. We promise only to make unique and fun content, and introduce you to our community that’s been building for almost five years. If you only want to see a sales increase, we’re not the promotional vehicle for you.
9. What was your biggest promotional challenge and how did you overcome it?
I’d say keeping people interested in what I was doing every day. Luckily, I get bored easily, so I’m always doing different stuff, going to different places, and trying new things (I still won’t skydive). As the years have gone by, social media has become overcrowded with marketing and promotional messages, and it’s a constant battle to stand out. We fight every day to do different things to stand out.
10. If you could recommend one book to a startup what would it be? Second or Third choice?
First book: The Art of Start by Guy Kawasaki. Second book: Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk. Third book: Purple Cow by Seth Godin.
11. If you could only impart one piece of advice to a startup about promotion what would it be?
Focus more, do less. I live by this motto and it works for all aspects of business (and life). Do something REALLY well and then move on to the next thing. You have to focus, give something time to succeed, and work your ass off.
12. How did you incorporate promotional activities into a company’s social media campaigns?
It’s all about strategy. Come up with a 1-week, 1-month, 3-months, 6-months, 1-year, etc strategy. You don’t have to stick to these things explicitly, but you need to at least think about a plan of attack and sticking with it. With each piece of promotion, you should have expectations and realistic goals of what you want to get out of it. Unless you’re reinventing the wheel, someone has probably done/sold what you are trying to do/sell. Learn from them and make it work for you. If you’re doing something completely new, just believe in what you’re doing, don’t be afraid to make mistakes (and learn from them), and remember the basics: good design, good writing, good SEO strategy, great employees, and HARD WORK!