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The Best Marketing Tool is Already in Your Customers’ Hands

Updated on June 15

The rapper Ryan Leslie has a problem: He doesn’t feel all that attached to the hundreds of thousands of fans he has on Instagram, Twitter, or anywhere elsewhere on social media.

That’s why in 2013 he started a company called SuperPhone, which allows him to reach his fanbase directly via SMS text. Leslie gives his fans his phone number (He claims it’s his personal number, though other celebs using his product can get a separate SuperPhone number. And most people won’t actually ring through, but will get a message that he’ll text them back.) From there, they sign up to let him contact them directly, which he does when he thinks they may want to purchase a new album, concert, or product from his online catalogue. He manages all correspondence through SuperPhone’s web program or app. Over time, SuperPhone helps him analyze the conversations he’s having, and then more specifically target his fans for things like merchandise, or concerts.

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Leslie, a Harvard graduate, spoke about his startup with B. Bonin Bough on Friday at Northside Festival in Brooklyn, N.Y. Bough is the chief of media and ecommerce for the global snack food brand company Mondelez International, and he’s known for his maverick style and envelope-pushing innovations around marketing. The theme of the session was how to connect more directly with consumers through personal relationship management, or PRM.

“We all believed that social media would be the one-on-one communication with customers that we never had before,” Bough said. “But messaging will be the dominant communication that humans will have.”

While it may be early days for PRM, which is in some ways very similar to so-called customer relationship management popularized by Salesforce, research cited by Bough and Leslie indicates consumers spend an average of 5 hours a day using their smartphones, and 85% of their time texting. What’s more, 44% of consumers would like brands to deliver deals and coupons directly to their phones.

So how well are things working for Leslie and SuperPhone? He says 33,000 of his fans signed up for text messages in a beta test on the platform through which he’s currently managing more than 53,000 conversations. He leveraged this fan base two years ago to promote his most recent album. Top fans paid upwards of $5,000 for a premium album package that included a ride in a private jet with him, or some chose to pay $100 per song in an ongoing subscription. The fans also helped generate interest in a European concert tour between 2013 and 2014 that grossed more than $1.6 million.

“I did this outside of the label system, with no label and no manager, just straight off of SMS,” Leslie said, adding SuperPhone also allowed him to promote his concerts, which he says 40,000 people attended.

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It’s not only fans who are taking notice. Andreessen Horowitz founding partner Ben Horowitz also helped lead a $1.5 million seed round in the company this spring. How’d they meet? An entrepreneur fan helped arrange a meeting with Horowitz via text, Leslie says.

Of course, not every business can boast more than 500,000 followers on Twitter and 240,000 on Instagram. Still, Bough said platforms like SuperPhone can give business owners greater insight into the customers they do have by analyzing the conversations they have through texts.

And Leslie said he can now open a direct line of communication with everyone who follows him on SuperPhone.

“I am starting to understand about the science of networking,” Leslie said. “Your idea is only as good as who it is attached to.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with further information from Ryan Leslie on figures related to SuperPhone’s usage.