The 5-Part Recipe for Profitable Unpopularity

image of book cover for Unpopular

There are days (not the good days, the other ones) when social media marketing feels a lot like high school.

There are the cool kids everyone wants to be like. They have a ton of friends (in this case, hundreds of thousands). Of course those aren’t real friends, but still, from the outside it looks like it would be pretty awesome.

On the not-so-great days, we get carried back to those painful high school memories when we were the geeks, the dorks, the outcasts. And that seems like a problem.

But Erika Napoletano wants to slap a little sense into you on that topic … to let you know that your geekiness, your dorkiness, your weird way of looking at the world can be the source of your success.

If you’re strategic about it.

So forget about the so-called cool kids for a few minutes, and let’s talk about what it means to be productively unpopular.

Unpopular is the name of a new book by Erika Napoletano, who’s otherwise known as the chief redhead at Erika’s an SEO copywriter, a business strategist, and a dispenser of unpopular (but useful) advice.

She also curses a lot. A lot of my friends curse a lot. I’m not sure what that means.

Why it’s not such a bad thing to be unpopular

Most of us marketing online tend to be seduced by numbers.

We want to reach some magical number of followers on Twitter, or Likes for our FaceBook page. We want traffic to sweep down onto our sites like hordes of starving locusts. We want clicks and eyeballs and page views.

But numbers can only get you so far.

Yes, when it’s just you and your cat reading your blog, you have work to do.

Yes, you need a certain critical mass — what Brian Clark has called a minimum viable audience.

But that critical mass is a lot smaller than some of the “popular” sites might make you think.

Erika’s recipe for unpopularity

Is there a difference between being Unpopular (in Erika’s terminology) and just plain old failing?

In fact, yes there is. Out of her years working with companies to create more effective marketing strategies, Erika has put together a “recipe” of five key ingredients for unpopularity.

This is the kind of unpopularity that builds fierce loyalty with the customers who are right for you … and lets the rest move on to something else. In other words, the kind that builds a great business that makes plenty of money and gives you a lot of joy along the way.

Rather than try and paraphrase Erika’s recipe, I’ll quote it for you here:

  1. Personality: Your brand is a who and never a what. People do business with people.
  2. Approachability: If you haven’t created a personality that lets our audience know they can talk to your brand, you need to rethink the personality you created.
  3. Sharability: Your brand personality along with the welcome mat you put out for your audience dictates how, why, and how often people whare you with the people in their lives (also known as your potential customers).
  4. Scalability: Every unpopular brand pays attention to infrastructure — if you’ve spent the effort on creating an approachable personality that makes your audience want to share your brand, growth is inevitable and you must be able to deal with it.
  5. Profitablity: You’ve invested in the who and put out the welcome mat. Word’s gotten around, and you’re growing. You’ve built the infrastructure to support the growth. Now, how do you make sure you remain solvent and keep on track so that you can point your brand toward generation revenue? The emotional and practical impliations of profitability.

So is it just about being a jerk?

(Erika uses another word, but I’ll keep it family-friendly here.)

It would be easy to think Erika is advocating being offensive for its own sake, or tearing down what’s popular in order to attract attention.

But Erika’s too smart a businesswoman for that, and she knows very well that attention for its own sake will never make you rich. (Or happy, for that matter.)

Anyone can be a train wreck. Unpopular isn’t about being a loudmouth or even (necessarily) a contrarian — it’s about how humility, courage, and purpose can lead you to create something much stronger than any of your “Me-Too” competitors will be able to conceive of.

Who should read Unpopular?

You should add Unpopular to your shelf if you’ve had trouble coming up with a unique business identity that feels real and compelling.

You’ll also get a lot out of it if you ever go through periods when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels as a business owner, working harder and harder without getting any traction.

You should not pick up Unpopular if you’re not willing to think of what you do as a business. (Even if it’s just you and your computer, working three hours a week because that’s all the time you can carve out right now.)

You should also avoid it if you have an issue with “salty language.” Erika is on the Blazin’ Buffalo Doritos end of that spectrum.

And finally, you should pick up something else if you want “quick fix” techniques. While there’s plenty of tactical advice here, it all works in a context of a larger strategy. Without the strategy, the tactics won’t do much for you.

Why strive to build an unpopular brand in the first place? Because …

Above all, unpopular brands are loved. Adored. Not by everyone and not by just anyone — but by the right people.

We’ve got two free copies to give away!

Erika has kindly given us two free digital copies of Unpopular to give away.

To enter your name for the giveaway, just click the handy Tweet button a few lines down to retweet this post.

We’ll pick two names at random in an entirely unscientific manner, and our lucky winners will get a copy in either Kindle, Nook, or Google Books format — your choice.

Or if you’re the impatient type, you can go grab the book here.

How about you — has taking an unpopular angle ever benefited your business? Let us know about it in the comments.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. She welcomes your salty business insights on twitter.

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Reader Comments (55)

  1. says

    Hi Sonia, just want to say that the most frustating thing we as marketers sometime under go is the unpopularity tag that we are trying to counter it. To avoid the High School syndrome when identifying unique business ideas, we should define our personality, attitude and values of our brand identity. Man i love this book. Thanks alot.

    • says

      Bill – thanks for the kind words this morning. And I’m glad you dig the concept! Props to Sonia for eloquently distilling 200-some-odd pages that help us get past that high school mentality and INTO our businesses :)



  2. says

    Such an excellent point! Popularity is seductive. Exciting.

    One of my favorite clients is unpopular. Their following on social media is laughable. What isn’t visible from the surface is that their followers aren’t even all that technically savvy. Most of them don’t use social media. They “follow” by email. And yet this little “unpopular” client does 7 figures a year. I know, because I do their marketing.

    We’re not in high school anymore. It’s not so much about being the cool kids anymore. It’s about finding our tribe and not being another “me-too!” Great point – thanks for making it!

    • says

      Seven figures…how VERY unpopular :) Awesome point, Linda — and thanks for stopping by today. And I don’t know about you – I’m not looking for seductive. I’m looking for successful.


  3. says

    I think this is really another way of thinking about market segmentation. Companies don’t have to serve everyone and make everyone happy and by narrowing their focus down to their most attractive segments, they might turn folks in the other segments off. That’s totally OK. Smaller companies in particular would do well to focus on being popular within a smaller community and stop worrying about having everyone love them.

    • says

      Spot on, April. What’s baffled me is that people think that saying “I want moms” is REAL market segmentation. Smart brands know what kind of moms they want AND take the time to understand what’s important to them. Solid segmentation goes WAY beyond naming names. It’s getting in there and living with them, too.

  4. says

    Erika is one of the few blogs that I read religiously. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of Unpopular…but as I’m a cheap bastard I figured I’d go for the free one first. :)

  5. says

    As another redhead who happens to have a knack for being unpopular, I can’t wait to read this. I’d order it on Kindle but this is one I actually want a tangible copy of (I still buy CDs from my favorite bands, too, if I REALLY like them — it’s all about keepin’ it real, yo).

    One of my mottos is “If you’re not pissing anybody off, you’re not doing it right,” and I stand by that to this day. Not that I advocate pissing people off for no reason, but while “disruptive” seems to be the buzz word du jour these days, it’s only those of us who truly are disruptive, those of us who are impatient with everybody else and just naturally ruffle people’s feathers, that seem to “get it.” Ironically, it’s usually those who preach “haters gonna hate” that are the biggest haters. When you get under their skin, you become the itch they can’t seem to scratch, and it’s wonderful.

    What they don’t teach you in high school is that the minute you walk out of high school and into college and/or the “real world,” you’re just walking into another version of the same petty behavior. Now, thanks to the internet, it’s a lot easier to see that kind of douchebaggery on a much more exacerbated and amplified level. But like I learned in high school, you just gotta walk away from the douchebaggery and not stoop to that level. Do your own thing, and for every “hater,” you’ve got at least two people who are glad you’ve got the cojones to say what they’re afraid to.

    Keep up the good work, Erika. Can’t wait to read the book.

    – @damnredhead

    • says

      Thanks, lady — and you’re 100% right about the ‘real world.’ No one in it cares if you were the prom queen, homecoming king, or threw the game-winning touchdown pass. They care about whether you can produce results, repeatedly, and do it in a way that keeps people coming back for more :)

      Great to see you here this morning — and looking forward to hearing what you think about the book!

  6. says

    I enjoy Erika’s blog and on the days she posts, my days are just that much brighter. (Erika – your new site rocks, too!)

    Would love to read the book! And yes, it is cool to be unconventional!

    • says

      Well, aren’t you just complimenting me when I should be thanking YOU for reading and being the reason I get to do what I love? Glad to see you and it’s a honor that anything I do can brighten someone’s day.


  7. says

    Dang. ANOTHER dose of reality from Sonia. I love it.

    Interesting how the most successful tips and concepts are the ones that take us out of our comfort zones.

    Looking forward to reading more reality checks in Erika’s book.


    • says

      Thanks Brent – I agree. Sonia hit the Paris Hilton doll right on the small dog — spot on. And thanks in advance for reading the book and stopping by today to check out what the Copyblogger folks had to say about it :)

  8. says

    In reference to Unpopular:

    “A brilliant concept, powerfully delivered. I’ve already ordered six copies for my closest friends.” ~Seth Godin

    Once again that jerk nails a better soundbite than me. One day, I tell ya, one day … 😉

    • says

      HAH! Do you know why this is funny? Because I pushed out a Facebook event for the book yesterday and offered people solutions on getting the book based on 3 levels of patience. You’re definitely a Level 1! (Thank you for your purchase…truly. I look forward to your thoughts!)

    • says

      Ahhh…sweet music. Chris, thank you. I hope that you’ll share your thoughts with me and Amazon as you read it. Thanks for being the best part about what I get to do for a living. :)

  9. says

    This seems like a really interesting book, if only because it’s the exact opposite of the norm.
    I’d definitely be winning to re-think how I run my business (not sure I can really call it that yet but I will anyway), and I’m also geeky and dorky so this sounds like the book for me!

    I have a hunch I’ll be buying this on Amazon if I don’t win a copy 😉

    • says

      Hey – don’t sell your business short. I’m betting it’s DEFINITELY a bonafide business. And I’ll bet that you’re closer than you think to finding the people and resources to make it go kaPOW :)

    • says

      Chris – Sonia got my book down to a tee in her review, no argument there! And glad you dug the Whiny Little Freelancer post…it seems to be an audience favorite :) You guys at BlueGlass put on one helluva conference every year — I can’t stop hearing all of the good things about it. So nice work and way to make that audience work FOR YOU!


  10. says

    I think being unskilled and unprofessional in your profession is the new black these days…more-so than being unpopular.

    Just look at all the latest unskilled actors and musicians out there now.

  11. says

    If I had taken the popular route, I’d still be working in retail. To achieve anything meaningful in this century, you can’t be afraid to be unpopular.

  12. says

    Popularity is A-OK for general awareness, but unpopularity seems terrific for actual sales. Thanks for the thoughtful post! (It makes me feel so much better about high school too…)

  13. Joe says

    Interesting stuff.
    Many times I get the feeling blog commenters are sucking up to the popular kid in hopes someone will notice and click on their url.
    Sucking up won’t make you popular or get the job done because it sure doesn’t give you a personal brand for readers to trust. Trying to implement the latest hype in social networking or SEO won’t get you eyeballs that stick either.
    Embracing the concept of Unpopularity can feel kind of liberating. I like that.

    • says

      I like it, too. And I don’t know what you think, but I always feel I can sense when someone’s leaving a comment in earnest or just dropping a mindless platitude. Great point.

  14. says

    Telling customers “Your video is god-awful – but it’s only X to fix” works for me, and has built a business that earns. That doesn’t make me beloved. But it does pay my mortgage. We have 100 likes on Facebook, but every single customer has rehired us.

  15. Miss Piggy says

    We were talking about exactly this kind of split in social media in the office today.

    I was reading one of my favourite bloggers, Marc Randolf (off of if anyone wants any insight into how venture capitalists think) and he wrote a great piece about how to pitch to a VC and what they don’t want to hear.

    It got 11 tweets.

    Meanwhile, I’m unfortunately in the beauty business so, sadly, read a lot of blog reviews of nail polish which regularly get a bajillion retweets.

    Seriously? Nail polish?

    • says

      But here’s what I’m betting — those 11 retweets of Marc’s blog were targeted and READ/clicked. Not so much on the nail polish side, methinks. But this is the beauty of it all: there’s an audience for everyone, and if a brand has built a shareable brand — no matter what you sell, people will share. And the RIGHT people at that :)

  16. says

    One other aspect of being unpopular – I was in high school, is that you learn compassion and people resonate with compassion. People want to know you care. Thank you for this post – the book looks interesting and helpful.

    • says

      I can’t agree with this more. We learn to respect people for being people instead of the superficial things that just add color. “Things” can come and go. People? Those have staying power.

    • says

      I just tested it and it looks good to me, there might have been a momentary blip? Let us know if you’re still having trouble and I can add your name manually (you would still need to confirm the opt-in, of course).

  17. says

    So true. A lot of us tend to be seduced by numbers that we tend to forget who we are really trying to reach are.
    Let’s face it, not all people would be interested to buy our product and services.

    I’ve found that we don’t need to be popular to be successful. That the key to successful marketing is by doing it without spending too much time with people who’s never going to buy. That we only need to be damn sexy to the people who matters most – our customers.

    Great review Sonia. Would love to read the book!

  18. says

    I think that being popular on the web consists of writing mostly kind of dumb posts. Sorry, but it’s true. People are searching for the basics and if you can deliver that, you’re the king. However, those people often don’t want to pay for products. So, focusing on those who want to work on themselves, their skills or whatever will bring you profit. At least, that’s how I see it. I’d rather have a small fan base than having massive amounts of readers who don’t engage.

  19. says

    Thanks Sonia for your book recommendation. I think this book will sell well considering that there are too many people out there that are unpopular but want to be successful under the radar. I also agree with the personality aspect when building brand is really vital. When we meet blog or anything, we will feel more welcome if we read articles that can really talk to us personally.

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