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Brains on Fire Book Revisited - Part 5: Barrier of Entry

As we dig deeper into the Brains on Fire book and revisit the lessons learned three years later, we come to one of my favorites – the barrier of entry. It’s probably one of the most overlooked and counter-intuitive pieces of community building that there is. This lesson has not only survived the test of time, but creating a barrier of entry is even more important today than it was three years ago. There are so many more choices for where customers can spend their time and attention, so much more noise and so many more brands saying, “Sign up now!” or “Come join!” that one of the ways to cut through the clutter is to ask the customer to put some skin in the game.


Allow me to explain.


When building out short or long-term marketing programs that embrace your customers, it’s quite natural to want to make everyone feel special. Because when people feel special, then they spread the word about that experience. Makes sense, right? But here’s the thing: when you try to make everyone feel special, no one feels special.


We, as marketers, are so very afraid to set the bar any higher than “create a user name and password” or simply “click here to join.” We’ve been brainwashed into thinking we need to make it as easy as possible to allow customers to sign up – and in the case for newsletters or email alerts, that’s great. But for creating a community that reaches out to those passionate customers in your industry, that’s not the best way to go about it.

By putting a small barrier of entry in place, we are, in fact, testing the willingness of someone to be an active participant in our program. Whether it’s telling us in one sentence why they want to join or filling out a lengthy questionnaire, when programs are built with a barrier of entry, we see a 30+ percent engagement rate, versus a less than 10 percent engagement rate when it’s a cattle call.


On top of that, there’s an opportunity to make that barrier of entry remarkable and word of mouth worthy. For example, to join Grey Poupon’s Society of Good Taste, your “taste” is evaluated to see if you’re snooty enough to become a member. For one program, we chose the first few members by hand and gave them a limited number of invites to share with others in their passion circles. These are word of mouth talking points in-and-of themselves. Because when you’re a part of the secret club, you naturally want to tell others (that you deem worthy) about that secret club. So give them a reason to share.


As I mentioned, the concept of a barrier of entry is one of my favorites. It flies in the face of how many Facebook “likes” we can get or amassing large numbers of followers. It’s deliberate. It’s effective. And it truly ignites a group of passionate advocates. Give it a try and see how it works for you.

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