Since the rapid emergence of social media as a viable marketing tool for building brands and connecting with consumers, the trusted formula for enterprising has been to grow an active audience across platforms, consistently distribute content, then monetize those audiences through sharing advertising revenue.
Though this proven model boasts countless success stories, cementing the position of many prominent influencers and corporations within pop culture, ownership of these audiences has rested in the hands of third party platforms, not the people using them. As a result, those who’ve put forth the effort to gain massive followings are found forfeiting complete control of their digital business, earning a mere fraction of their worth without any substantial equity in the relationships established.
At the same time, these third party platforms have unlimited access to the real-time trends, engagement metrics and performance reports needed to develop a deeper understanding of consumer behavior. This backend information is essential for shaping messaging, producing impactful original content and delivering custom brand experiences. More notably, such insights are the key to generating wealth in a mobile-driven digital age.
While content still dominates the modern media landscape, big data is the new gold rush for marketers, advertisers, and media companies alike. Each year, record budgets are poured into capturing detailed analytics that allow companies to more precisely track and target their primary demographics. Media powerhouses like Facebook FB +1.33% and BuzzFeed stand at the forefront of this shift, creating new tools and technology to thoroughly analyze audience segmentation, behavior, and engagement. However, even with such advancements in mobile and social communication, there is still a level of disconnect between brands and consumers on a more intimate level. That’s where Ryan Leslie steps in.
Powered by his tech company, Disruptive Multimedia, Leslie is spearheading a definitive shift into the enterprise messaging space, transitioning from a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) model into a Personal Relationship Management(PRM) model. The approach transcends traditional email and SMS marketing, using the personal exchange of data through a mobile phone as the catalyst for building lucrative and expansive businesses.
Having an extensive knowledge of your consumer base eliminates the need to reinvest excess money and resources to retarget people who’ve already proven an interest in your brand or product. SuperPhone has enabled Leslie to independently earn over $2 million in one album cycle with the support of just 15,000 fans. His product and methodology has also served artists like Nipsey Hussle and Rich Homie Quan, each of whom have seen have their revenue increase exponentially since owning their audience and adopting Leslie’s methodology.
You speak to how brands are spending big budgets to reconnect and remarket to the same audiences of consumers who’ve purchased or experienced their products– – why haven’t brands taken more ownership of their audience or adopted your methodology?
When presenting this methodology to my friends, executives at marketing companies and record companies, the pushback I’ve received is largely based on an antiquated strategy that, up until this point, has been working. The pushback also has to do with potential fear of the unknown. It also has to do with the risk tolerance that is necessary to break down these barriers and create a direct one on one relationship with consumers. There is a school of thought which teaches that in order for a celebrity to have mystery, or in order for an artist to have mystery and become a celebrity, there needs to be some distance between them and their audience. I believe the distance is already there, in so much that you only hang out with your fans in person at the meet and greet, and the other 99.9% of the time they’re just voyeurs who watch what you’re doing.
Where does a real relationship between artist and consumer begin or what is the missing piece that turns a fan into a personal member of your network?
The real personal relationship starts with an exchange of data, and that data begins for us at Disruptive Multimedia, with a mobile number. This, I believe, is a concept that has yet to be widely adopted. I believe the distribution channels that currently exist have proven to be successful because they alleviate the responsibility and the technical knowhow necessary to make sure that everyone can have access to the art that someone creates. So, as an artist, you borrow your own distribution platform, or borrow your own payment platform, or borrow your own communications platform instead. I’ve witnessed the artistic community become comfortable with being dependent on third party platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. The caveat is that the audiences are owned and managed by those third party platforms instead of being owned and managed by the artists. I would say many artists and managers fail to see the value in the management and ownership of their audience, because they already have so much on their plate managing and owning the creative process.
Speaking to how these third party platforms monetize an artist’s audience and influence – it would seem that artists understand how the current business model works – what has kept mainstream or independent artists from taking full ownership of their audiences?
It’s really about risk tolerance, the appetite for pushing the boundaries and exploring the possibilities and the potential for revenue generation, or to have this kind of insight around your consumer base. It’s just amazing to know that your number one fan in the world, you know them by name. I know who his cell phone provider is, I have a clear record of every collaboration, every item, every special event or subscription that he supported. More importantly, I’m able to have a dialogue with him knowing that he’s accounted for $4,000 in consumption. That’s just one fan. So, when you multiply $4,000 by 1,000 people, that’s $4 million with just one thousand people. It is possible, in an era of technology, to maintain a personal connection and customer service that is necessary to satisfy, surprise and delight a consumer at that level, even in an industry where our most expensive monetization comes from a $9.99 purchase on iTunes, or a $39 purchase on Ticketmaster. So, for that to expand to $4,000 shows this is the future, this is the model that, when adopted, can provide a pathway for hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands to create sustainable income and actually have a sustainable career as a creator.
You’ve managed to repeatedly crack $1MM in revenue each album with just 11,000 supporters; even earning upward of $2MM with 15,000 – what does that say about the value proposition or wealth potential of owning your network?
It depends on the influence of those true supporters. If you think back to a company like Klout; Klout measured the influence of your supporters so that you could pay attention to the supporters that were most influential. Then, enter a tool like Social Rank that does the same thing for Instagram, and is an incredible tool that allows you to have a clear vision of the most influential followers that you have. There are two points here. The first point: you can use your existing fan base and activate them to become evangelists and grow your base, to the extent at which you consistently grow more followers. The second point: you can focus your attention on winning the respect and eventual collaboration of those who are extremely influential. We see this in Hip Hop all the time – Drake features on Future’s track, DJ Khaled puts together a massive mega-single — these kinds of collaborations are the real way the audiences are being aggregated and activated across many influential personalities and artists. So, for the folks who really want to have the widest spread in terms of audience, they can spend the money to have their music heard and promoted by way of traditional retail channels.
Do you think the two can co-exist – owning and managing a huge brand or platform while maintaining a deeply personal connection to each consumer?
I one hundred percent believe you can co-exist. The reason I know you can co-exist is because Jeff Bezos knows every Amazon customer; over 800 million customers, and he knows them all. He can look them up, and he can look up your purchase history. He can tell if you bought toothpaste, if you bought home goods, he keeps track of it all. The fact that this technology exists shows me that every management company, every digital company in general can truly be the custodians of their own audience, and in doing so, serve their customers better, and secure a more guaranteed future and sustainable career for the artists they represent.
Seeing the ever-evolving convergence of artists, tech and media companies – where does Disruptive Multimedia fit into the fold?
There are a few ways in which I see Disruptive Multimedia adding value to the creative business landscape. First, It’s the collection, organization and analysis of data around consumers of influencers. This is consumption on any level; someone watches a Snapchat video, enjoys your Instagram photo, watched your YouTube video or likes your Facebook post. It’s collection, organization, and analysis of precision data. That allows brands, artists, managers, investors and labels to make more efficient smart business decisions. On a larger scale, it comes down to communication; communication that allows you have to have greater insight into what your consumers really appreciate about your brand. Then, my pet project is just the idea that real wealth is extracted from experiences and this is what I’ve seen time and time again. For example, my New Years Eve party, $1,700 per ticket, and people were willing to pay for that experience. What I’ve found is that people want to, in their lives, have the best experiences. And, how you do that, is by having access to the people that can provide or create those experiences.
What is the next level of data collection or the new metric you see being most valuable and how do you plan to be ahead of the trend?
We are now building a consumer-facing product on the SuperPhone concept that is, instead of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, it’s a Personal Relationship Management (PRM) tool. We are developing the ability for the SuperPhone to actually nudge or send phatic expressions to those that you designate to be very important. Then, you will start to have a science around frequency of contact to business. It’s one part of the puzzle to say I can identify everyone who has purchased my last album, it’s another part of the puzzle to say that of the people who purchased the last album, these are the subset that I have communicated with more than three times this year, and these three have a higher rate of repurchase than those I have not contacted for over a year. These are the types of analytics and questions I would like to answer as we look into the future. The SuperPhone will eventually be the tool that builds and manages those relationships. Whether you have 50 relationships or 500 relationships, how do you extract the most value out of them in terms of experiences with those people that you possibly can extract, and I feel that is one hundred percent contingent upon frequency of contact and personal experiences.
There is still an ongoing dispute regarding the effectiveness and comfort of email marketing vs. SMS – do you feel like artists are really ready for that level of personal communication?
If you were to observe someone reading emails on their mobile device, whether across from you on a train or across from you at the gate in an airport, what is the difference between someone looking at emails and responding to them on their mobile device and someone looking at and responding to SMS on their mobile device? It’s the same screen, same keyboard, and just different applications. That’s it, that’s the only difference. What you may notice, however, is the actual expressions on the faces of those people exchanging text messages – they’re usually laughing or highly engaged, sending a picture or sharing a video. That’s why I believe messaging has exploded the way that it has. Look at the acquisition of WhatsApp, the integration of direct messaging into Instagram. Look at the breakout of Facebook messenger as its own application. That’s why it’s always interesting to hear someone say email is more direct and personal than SMS, because you’re spending more time in your messenger application, and the people that you’ve allowed into your messaging application are people you really want to communicate with on a personal level. When your Uber driver cannot find you, or when they arrive at your address, the Uber driver sends an SMS or calls instead of sending an email, because there is an immediacy around a text or call. I believe that the access to the SMS feed is the beauty of SuperPhone, meaning you will only give someone access when you really care about that person or you really believe that person is going to provide value to you in their communication with you. So, while you may sign up to many email lists, you will still give your mobile phone number to the most important people to you.
What have been some of the biggest realizations or defining moments that confirmed both this methodology and product is perfect for creators in today’s landscape?
When I would say look at my SuperPhone, you can keep in touch with anybody, we would more often than not be approached by smaller artists who would say I only have 500 people, and even if I had all their numbers what does that mean and how do I get to 500,000? That’s when I ask which one of those 500 people is connected to Troy Carter? Which one of those 500 is connected to Scooter Braun? It would be important for you to analyze and assess those people and find out what value they offer, because they follow you and support you, and knowing what can they provide in terms of relationship equity, because that’s what I feel the real currency will be in the future. I remember being at the BET Hip Hop Awards as a guest of my good friend, Ludacris. As I sat there in the third row, there were young people sitting next to me who were for all intents and purposes, seat fillers. There are so many aspiring artists who would give anything to rub shoulders with these artists and executives, or even dream of being at the BET Awards. The discovery moment realizing that the kids sitting next to me were either in the know, from a casting or production company, or they were friends with the Production Assistants. Those PA’s and Casting Directors told them, hey we have tickets to the awards, and you should come. So now those people, who aren’t artists or aspiring music executives, are sitting right next to the most influential people in the room. There were people with no desire to be artists sitting next to me, in the third row, having the same experience. That was an incredible illustration that the power and value of a relationship extends beyond just money; it extends to what kind of introductions can be made. It extends to what kind of experiences can actually be had as a result of those relationships.
With your model, supporters can pledge an amount per song, which comes with different tiers of experience-based incentives that go beyond just giving fans music – what does that say about the value and influence of getting fans more involved in your world?
We have people that give me $100 a song every month, and I text them the song. You can get a song on iTunes for $.99 cents. This is what I feel the new music economy will be built on. It will be built on the kinds of relationship equity you can build at scale with the help of technology with the people who admire and support what you do. When you do that, the current scale can be greatly reduced in comparison to the traditional scale that is necessary to generate the same amount of income and revenue. I believe the enthusiasts that will give you access to their SMS feed are the ones who are looking for a real value exchange. This is real value that can easily get buried on Twitter TWTR +7.20%, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and certainly an email marketing campaign.At any point, you can give your number to anyone in the world if you wanted to, but you’re only going to give it to the people you want to communicate with. That’s the beauty. With email, you give it to the people you have to communicate with for work, or have to communicate for school or business. Your phone number is yours. That’s why I’m rarely on Twitter but always on my cell – the support, the inquiries, the offers, and the exchanges. People felt like if they emailed me, the same way their emails get buried, their emails would also get buried in my inbox. But, when they have my direct number, there is immediacy and personal nature to their message that means it will be taken seriously and it will be received in a different manner than an email will be received.
In an era where your number of followers holds a lot of weight and people are committed to getting as many fans as possible – should there be more of an emphasis on real engagement over simply having a large fan base?
There are thousands of people who have spent a ton of time with me, through following my music, watching my videos, seeing my stories and getting to know me. That forges a deep emotional connection. That’s why people are willing to invest in you, because they’re willing to invest their time in building a relationship with you. The concept of time dictates that we can only have a personal relationship with so many people. Taylor Swift, the most followed person on Instagram, the engagement for her platform on Instagram is only 2.9%. Kim Kardashian has 1.2% engagement. The reason is, when you have that many followers who can interact with you from anywhere, there’s only but so many people who can actually invest the time to follow what you’re posting. If Taylor Swift owned her audience and turned them into subscribers, does that mean she could become a behemoth like Sprint? Now that these emerging platforms are giving artists the insights, tools and guidance for managing their own audience, they can make smarter business decisions. They can partner with the right influencer to make more calculated bets on where to allocate dollars to mix demographics that are perfect, connecting them with the goods and services they would like to promote. This is the excitement for me. I believe that the beauty of the sacredness of the message feed is the real value of the concept.