Hunter McKinley is a multidimensional guy.
From design to marketing, clothing brands, chatbots, agencies, apps; you get it.
Our first contact was through his work with BAMF Media, and then got to know him better from his work with SoFriendly.
I knew from the first moment that I wanted to learn his take on things that torture a lot of people out there.
While 15, Hunter started this whole entrepreneurship thing out of his backpack so he would sell candies and sodas.
Eventually, he moved on to clothing.
There was a local brand, and they were starting to get some recognition in the community and so he started making t-shirts for them.
He bought a shop screening machine and started his own company, called Dopsm Clothing.
That’s when he really started getting into marketing because he realized that while people were getting wristbands from his competitors- from other students, they were willing to take them off (that they got for free) and buy his for 3 or 4 dollars.
Although the talk inevitably went to referral marketing, milestone campaigns & Messenger Bot Giveaways (Hunter was involved in more than 20 viral campaigns), the key takeaway is his views on entrepreneurship, planning, and execution.
The main factor that people choose something to pay, rather than a free version of it.
Most of the times the only real difference between a paid product and the free version of it, is the way you market it.
The values that you bring to the table, are very important. And your marketing should be revolved around those values. You shouldn’t be in it to make money.
In order to be an entrepreneur, you have to fail many times. You just need to fail really fast and take a value-based approach.
Most of the times we need to remind ourselves:
"Listen, I'm not looking to make a bunch of money, this is me and I stand for this, this and this."
You can tell from a mile someone who is just in it for the money, VS someone like Tom’s who is actually giving back to the community, and when you have that value proposition on top of having a better design, you actually win; because better design equals better quality.
It just seems to make sense, and that’s what was happening.
In the case of the wristbands, there really isn’t much difference between a $0 wristband and a $3 wristband, except the design was little different.
Really it was just the marketing, and the approach was like:
“Hey guys, I’m not here to smoke, I don’t think that’s cool, I think what’s cool is like just doing the right thing, doing well in school.”
It felt real because it was a real thought.
When you’re an entrepreneur and you have your truth/values, you have to surround yourself and partner with people that are associated with it.
The “value-based approach” also comes to branding. So if you want to build a brand with a specific angle, you need to be really authentic if you want to make it really good.
Sometimes people say “OK lets put some values in our product to make our marketing better”, but if these values are not the values that they truly believe in, it won’t work out.
Who Hunter McKinley is at the moment & what he does.
I am working as the Head of Marketing at SoFriendly, a design & development company.
The focus at the moment is on building the enterprise section, as we’ve been working with startups for the last 3 years, but really now we’ve built up the reputation at the point where we are now launching apps for big enterprise.
I can’t list the one that we’re talking about right now, but we’re working on a really major contract with a few major hotels like Hilton and Marriott.
We also work with the guys over at Google, so now we’re actually in the transition period and that’s what I’m focusing on as primary role right this second.
On the side I'm also building something like ProductHunt for digital marketers- I don’t know if you are familiar with Dribbble or ProductHunt.
Right now as a designer, the whole industry shifted, every single place asks for a URL with your portfolio.
A lot of my friends that are digital marketers, and they all asked me to help them make their websites. They are challenged, when it comes to making a website design, development.
They just don't have those skills.
So I’m building the same thing for digital marketers, cause right now there is not a solution for digital marketers to show what they’ve done. Just like what you guys did for Viral Loops by template-izing it and build something pretty straightforward.
So these are the 2 main focuses other than freelancing right now.
Why did you choose Word of Mouth?
I've used Gleam in the past so I had a little bit of an idea of how this worked, but what we found that worked really well -and what they introduced me to, was the milestone campaigns.
I dove head first into that.
I did all the research I could, and I saw you guys had a post about Harry's. It always helps a lot when I find blog posts like this.
In addition, I am a huge Product Hunt fan, so when your Milestone Referral Template launched there, I had to try it.
It’s trial and error. We just tested all types of referral campaigns and found that the milestone campaigns is what we wanted/needed.
I really didn’t even know about it up until a year ago when they were starting to test out different ways of going viral.
Josh was consistently posting, you know, viral Linkedin Posts and they were getting featured in all those magazines and they said: “Hey Hunting World, looking for somebody to help us with our viral campaign and these things are new and we are just trying them out”, and we did over 20 of them and it’s really amazing!
Why the milestone concept works better than more traditional referral campaigns, e.g. Dropbox-like?
It provides clear goals for the end user.
It’s not like Dropbox’s referral program; it rewards just you.
What’s so great about the milestone campaign is that it’s kinda like “gas on a fire”. If I get $5 every time someone shares, I’m gonna be sharing more about the product.
Product Hunt had some sort of golden kitty or something- just really exclusive stuff. That’s what works well.
Also, I draw a lot of same similarities between the way that the Viral Loops’ Milestone template works and Kickstarter.
It would be one thing for me to donate $5 to a Kickstarter, but it’s another thing to be able to donate up to certain brackets to get those bigger prizes.
It’s just that the milestone campaign has a different feeling. It’s just totally different from a lot of things that I’ve seen online.
What should people take care of when they run a milestone campaign?
Not long ago, I published a very detailed checklist of what people should take care of when they run a milestone campaign.
When I first started at BAMF Media about a year ago, we had some early successes.
We had 2 really good campaigns that we knew that worked, and I didn’t build this checklist up until twenty, or so, campaigns in.
When at an agency there’re so many different people involved. From different designers, different developers and obviously we’re not doing just one campaign at a time- we’re doing multiple campaigns, so we just needed a way to take all that we knew that worked and put it into one document.
That one resource that the strategist, or whoever is running the account, can look at it and say: “Here’s what first, here’s what comes next, here’s what comes next”.
No matter who touches the document, it should be the same result every time.
But inside the document, when I give the example, let’s say for the number milestones, that doesn’t mean that you have to stick with it. That’s just insight from all the campaigns that we looked at, that we just aggregate and said “you know what? When we have 4, that’s a good number, that’s just what we know works”.
You can always tweak it however you want, but that document was after months and months of testing everything, from different types of campaigns, from different pricing, and what we know that works or doesn't.
The document also includes some extra things from other campaigns, like building up the hype and, you know, message your friends and family beforehand.
So this just ensures that no matter who you are, you can touch that document and you can have your whole team on board and there’s one central place to look at, because otherwise, things get lost, you know, Skype or Slack.
⚡Note from Savvas:
Quite a few of Viral Loops’ customers struggle to engineer these campaigns and make them successful. Something that I see all the time, is that people think that, “OK, we’re going to build a landing page with a referral marketing campaign, even with a milestone, we’re gonna put it on our website and then we’re waiting for the campaign to take off”.
What they don’t understand a lot of times, is that this is when the real work starts.
What are your tips on how to distribute Referral Campaigns?
There’re 2 ways of distribution; There’s paid and organic.
From a paid perspective, if you’re already paying for advertisements it just makes sense to put a Facebook pixel on your pages, because when you retarget it’s just gonna have much better results than if aren’t doing that.
So obviously, you can go the paid route and expand a bit on it.
I get the feeling that Viral Loops is more for startups. Startups are companies that tend to not have too big of a marketing budget when they’re launching a new product.
The best organic way to do it is messaging your friends and family, letting them know.
If you go on Letgo, they always say the first people to buy something are your friends and family; it’s the same thing for a Viral Loops campaign.
For the most likely they help you share it. They might not be in your target market, but they’re at least gonna spread the word out for free.
So letting them know and giving them an opportunity to help you, even though it doesn’t cost them any money, is always gonna be the way to go. And I actually got that from Harry’s; I think you guys said that they got over 100K subscribers.
Well, we tested that out ourselves and it actually does work. So that’s one way to promote your campaign.
Another way is Facebook groups.
It really hasn’t have to be on Facebook; it just has to be some sort of niche, whether that’s a Facebook group, or you talk to a specific slack group.
I know some people have things on Skype or Discord, or on Reddit if you get the right niche.
But finding that niche of people, messaging them and giving them incentives, that really helps a lot.
In many occasions we had some clients getting a couple thousand just from a few people dropping the link in a Facebook group. You never know where it’s gonna come from, but you just need to find that niche and you be able to provide it to them and really pitch it as like “Here’s the grand prize, you have to bring that many people in order to get it”.
Upworthy; the viral news aggregator, and mentioned that when they started they focus totally on Facebook and they got the first 1000 Page Likes by just asking their friends and networks to like their page.
They managed to get 1000 people like their page. So it’s really difficult to get, let’s say the first 100 people to join your campaign, share it with their friends.
A lot of companies miss that and it’s a really simple step to start taking off.
How would you combine paid advertising with a referral marketing campaign?
If you notice on the checklist- I think on page 1 or page 2, we write about the benefits.
What we found early on was that every campaign should focus around at least three benefits.
Other campaigns will have more, but if you have 3 main benefits and you work in tandem.
Basically what you can do is have your friends and family do all the organic posts; post about it on social media, post it to maybe some Facebook groups and Reddit.
Then you can retarget all those people that have visited your site. That’s gonna definitely dry down your cost and you can retarget with either the benefits, you know like features or benefits, logic or emotional based.
So If you don’t have a large budget for Facebook advertising, that’s a good way of getting in front of people and knowing that every dollar you’re spending is people that already have been to your site.
You can let them know by saying “3 days left”, or you can give another benefit and say “here you can get this”. There’s also the option to leverage your milestones, so you could say “Hey you’ve earned this” and “Here’s the grand prize, keep sharing”.
As a designer, what are the lessons learned when building a landing page optimized for getting more referrals?
You have to have your Call To Action above the fold, and you have to remove all navigation.
I believe Shopify put out a study that said that when you remove navigation- you know the top bar navigation from a site, you get 100 percent more conversions.
It’s called the attention ratio; you just wanna make sure to have one Call To Action on your landing page, and that is to Sign Up.
If they don’t sign up above the fold and you have testimonials or some sort of social proof like publications strips, then right below you need to make sure you’re basically "selling it" with the benefits I talk about above.
So, my number one tip is definitely that you have above the fold as much as you can focus on and the Call To Action which is, of course, the Sign-Up.
What are the core metrics you measure constantly and are super important for a referral campaign?
I always focus on the referral share rate.
It’s great to be able to spend the dollar and get, let’s say one person to sign up, or put an effort to get one person to sign up. But what I’m always in favor of, is measuring every minute or dollar; every single ounce of effort that we put in order to be able to scale into 10 or 20 people, not just one at a time.
So I always measure- on Viral Loops, there’s a thing called the referral share rate, based on that.
If it goes above 100% it means that every person that you get to come to the site is actually going to share it with their friends.
So all of our most successful campaigns were always over 100%, and that’s a really healthy sign that the campaign is working.
If it’s not over 100% then it’s just a regular email capture page, which is great, it’s just not “viral”.
What’s your take on chatbots? Have you ever tried building one?
I actually started a chatbot company about a year and a half ago called Bot Sauce.
We’re still doing things here and there, and we’re actually working on a Non Profit right now as we kinda found a niche on Non-Profits.
They don’t usually have a lot of money and they don’t wanna build whole apps so they’re always looking for bots. It’s an easy way to get in.
Chatbots are pretty huge. The only downside about them right this second is that they keep changing. The majority of chatbots are on Facebook, and Facebook keeps changing how much data you can access etc.
But it’s really just a booming industry.
I’ve loved it and honestly, I used Motion.ai at the beginning which was a year and a half ago, and they’ve already been bought out.
Marketing-wise, the best use of a chatbot that I can think of right now, is actually for advertisements.
I was working with a chatbot expert- he put the bot together and I made the creative form.
When we put the two ends together they just outperformed everything else, and I think it’s just because they’re so engaging and there’s this unique ability to speak to the customer the way that they can speak to each other.
That’s something that you really can’t do in any other platform. It’s a really interesting space.
Do you think that referral marketing can be incorporated into chatbots?
We actually tried it!
We tried incorporating a Viral loops campaign with a Manychat integration. It’s a little clunky using Zappier, but you can use a little bit of a JSON.
We tried to make it work but it wasn't clean.
I would absolutely love to see the viral campaign through messenger.
That would just knock it out of the park, cause people are already sharing. I’ve got 4 group chats at any point for messenger and it would be absolutely insane if we could get that.
At this point, I informed Hunter that we’re about to launch Viral Loops for Messenger, so I will give you their dialogue about it.
I have a small surprise for you!
We just launched a prelaunch campaign for Viral Loops for Messenger, and we’re starting with a Giveaway template that is completely integrated with Manychat.
We provide users with a Manychat template that they can install to their accounts, and just tweak the messages.
They can also create their own flows with the Viral Loops API token inside their Manychat account, and it’s done.
There’s no need to use Zappier or any other 3rd party tools.
WOW, good for you man, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear!
The next step is to create the milestone template integrated with Messenger, so after the first launch of the giveaway template, we’re going for that!
Wow, let me ask you; can you automatically message everybody that’s subscribed and say you know “You have 2 days left”, “3 days left”, “1 day left”, “Today is the last day”; anything like that?
We don’t have the expiration date yet.
What we offer at the moment is that you can type let’s say "entries", and the bot responds to you with a number of entries that you have collected for the giveaway.
Or you can type “I want my invitation”, and then the chat bot responds with a card that you can share with your friends.
We’re doing more stuff so this is a very good idea; to automatically send people with how many days are left.
A Chatbot working with Viral Loops!
I think that’s a home run because it takes a lot of things that could go wrong out of the equation. And the best is that as soon as they are in the chatbot, you can retarget them with Facebook ads.
Yeah, I can give a link to give it a look and then starting next month I can give you early access.
I’d love that!
Awesome, great, Hunter!
Thank you so much for your time! I think our readers will benefit from your value bombs!
It's been a pleasure!
Want to run viral giveaways directly in Messenger?