While most of us keep grooving a deep and muddy rut through wage slavery, some veer into entrepreneurial striving.
A few others strike off for even higher ground. This is a story about one of them.
His name is Brad Wirz and I worked for him, once upon a time: marketing work at a big agency network, servicing the bluest of blue-chip brands. He'd been at it a good long while with enviable success, stature in the industry, not too much mileage on the odometer yet, so keeping to the straight-and-narrow would have been the safe route. Especially for someone with actual talent, pragmatism and a bona-fide track record.
He had other ideas. Like taking his proven marketing skills and applying then toward a very personal venture combining his love of reading with a larger good.
“I reached that point in my career where it wasn’t fun anymore. I literally ended up one day in a NYC hotel room curled up in the fetal position. I called my wife and said ‘One year from now I will be doing something completely new and inspiring.’”
Brad left the agency world and started GoneReading.com, an e-commerce venture serving the needs of enthusiastic readers with a variety of merchandise, from the practical to the whimsical.
Its real business model, though, is built around serving bigger needs: 100% of GoneReading's profits go to support reading-related charities and literacy programs, a cause that had fixated Brad and his wife, Eileen. Organizations like READ Global and Ethiopia Reads are the beneficiaries of GoneReading’s success.
Cause-related marketing is on the rise, of course. In 2013, IEG estimated a total spend in this segment of $1.78 billion, up from $922 million a decade before. Some of that is from high-visibility programs from high-visibility brands like IKEA, Nike and others, but there’s a significant share from grass-roots-level efforts by smaller firms and entrepreneurs with a vision like the one inspiring GoneReading.
“Our mission is clear: Use the power of commerce to bring large scale funding to reading related charities in the developing world. A number of great organizations do this work already but they are woefully underfunded. That’s where GoneReading comes in.”
Founded in 2011, GoneReading.com did well enough its first couple of years, as Brad applied what he knew well: the time-tested tools of outbound marketing and P.R.
But well enough wasn't good enough to reach the goals they'd had in mind for sales, awareness, partnerships and, at the end of the day, profits they could reinvest in the lives and potential of others.
The solution? Content marketing.
“After a couple of years of experimenting with dozens of marketing techniques nothing was really working. I decided to stop marketing completely and focus solely on product, i.e. “content”. Sell great products and people will find you. That was the idea. It took a few months to kick in, but then everything started moving. It was like someone flipped a switch.”
Once he shifted focus from outbound marketing to maximizing content, with more compelling products as the crux, Brad saw traffic and sales begin to mount markedly after a single quarter, an upward trend that's continued - sales have tripled each year since the shift - while drawing the attention of valuable prospective partners.
One major national retailer is poised to soon carry GoneReading merch at both its brick-and-mortar stores and online.
What's the lesson for other cause-based marketers, in Brad's mind?
“I’m almost embarassed as I look back on the simplicity of the lesson in retrospect. Simply focus on selling great – I mean really great – stuff. Do great work Make your clients and customers super happy. The digital economy will reward you in the form of shares, posts, customer reviews. Journalists see these things and write about you. Google takes notice and sends you more traffic. And so the cycle continues. But it all starts with great stuff, great services, great work, whatever your field.”
The lesson for the rest of us? Don't be afraid to climb out of that rut. Especially if there’s a way it can serve others.