Apr 30, 2014

How Asthmatic Kitty is Using Email to Redefine Street Teams

When you hear the term “street team,” you might immediately envision college students slinging energy drinks out of the back of a gaudily-wrapped pickup truck. Fair enough. While it’s true that street teams are now a ubiquitous part of Big Brand Marketing, this wasn’t always the case.  The tactics that have now come to define street teams—rewarding your biggest fans for promoting your band, company, or product on the streets—were born out of necessity in the music industry. Independent record label Asthmatic Kitty has been using email to translate the idea of a street team idea to the web.

In the 1990s, with the major record labels in dominant control of the main promotional outlets that drove CD sales like television and radio, scrappy independent labels, primarily in the rap and punk genres, had to find a way to work around then. They did this by reaching out to their artists’ biggest fans first, asking them to hang posters in record stores, call and request songs on the local radio station, bringing friends to concerts. When those street teamers did those things, they’d be rewarded with bonus songs and free concert tickets.

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Now, with consumption of—and conversation about—music having largely moved online, one indie label is using email engagement metrics to redefine what it means to have a street team. Owned by singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, Asthmatic Kitty is currently the home to about two dozen artists. The label uses MailChimp to send a monthly newsletter featuring two or three short pieces of content. But it then relies on segmenting, groups, and reporting data from that to organically build an online street team for a specific artist.

After sending out their regular monthly newsletter, the label team reviews their MailChimp reports to see who clicked on what. If they see a reader has clicked on an item about a particular artist, they’ll add that person to a group within the main newsletter list as a “first catch” clicker for that artist. A few days later, the label follows up with these first catch fans, sending them more information about that artist, like a bonus track. If the same person opens and clicks this second email, Asthmatic Kitty considers them a member of an informal street team for that artist, and adds that person to a corresponding “second catch” group in MailChimp. Those people hear about videos, album streams, and other news before anyone else.

“By doing it this way, we let the street team decide itself,” says Asthmatic Kitty project manager John Beeler.

The label first tried this approach last year when they released the debut album from folk-pop duo, Lily & Madeleine. Around 12,000 people clicked on a Lily & Madeleine link in the main newsletter. When the label followed up with these first catch fans, around 2,000 opened and clicked on that email, qualifying themselves for the street team. Now, when Asthmatic Kitty emails these Lily & Madeleine super fans, they see 70% open rates alongside a flurry of social media activity.

Here’s what a second catch email looks like:

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"We kept these [emails] intentionally non-fancy," John says. "We wanted it too as much like a ‘normal,’ non-marketed email as possible. Because it was. Grey, our album advocate, generated these on her own, and corresponded with anyone that emailed back. So it made sense to keep them simple."

The approach has been so successful that John is hoping  the label can hire someone full-time as an “album advocate” and “fanicist,” essentially a publicist-type position dedicated to communicating with these fans instead of the media. “We can email this inner circle asking for help promoting a new video one of our artists has just released," John says. "Within an hour, we’ll see 50 tweets pop up from these street teamers sharing it with their friends. That’s extremely valuable to an artist and a record label."