Imminent Death? Or Ultimate Growth Hack?

When people want examples of amazing growth hacks, they usually reference tech companies. Some of the canonical growth hacking stories come from Airbnb, Dropbox, and the classic example of Hotmail adding “Get your free email at Hotmail” tagline to the end of every email.

Sure, those are all good examples of growth hacking, but I’ve begun wondering why growth hacking only gets associated with tech companies. I’d argue some of the best growth hacks come from non-tech companies.

In today’s post, I want to offer an example based on an experience I recently had with Lexus.

I’ve owned a Lexus for eight years.

Every month for the majority of those eight years, I’ve received a glossy postcard with a picture of a shiny new Lexus and incentives meant to entice me into my local dealership for a test drive of their latest models.

Every month, for the past eight years, I’ve tossed those postcards into the trash recycle bin without a second glance.

However, about six months ago, I began receiving thick envelopes from Lexus with “URGENT SAFETY NOTICE” stamped on their fronts and postcards with giant red exclamation points.

The messages were related to a massive Takata airbag recall that’s been ongoing for the better part of a decade.

What struck me as odd about these recall notices was how persistent they were. Usually companies don’t want to encourage consumers to take action on recalls because the repairs cost them lots of money. But not this time. The more I ignored the letters, the more I felt like Vernon Dursley trying to stop Harry Potter from getting his Hogwarts invitation.

That’s right… I made a Harry Potter reference… I’m not ashamed.

Anyway, I eventually decided: “Clearly I’m going to die if I don’t get this fixed,” so I called my local Lexus dealership and scheduled an appointment.

Within a week, my “Lexus service concierge” was showing me how to work the nav console of a brand new, “complimentary” loaner car while explaining that my spouse is “allowed” to drive the car so long as we’re on the same insurance. I remember thinking, “I’m not sure why my spouse would need to drive this car in the next five hours while you fix mine, but whatever.”

A few hours later, I’m grading papers and waiting for the dealership to call when my wife comes home. She sees the shiny new Lexus in our garage and immediately asks: “Can I take it for a drive?”

In that moment, everything became clear. I was being growth hacked.

Lexus was using the recall — threatening me with the potential for serious injury or even death — in order to get me into the dealership for a test drive.

It worked. Plus, not only did they get me, they even got my wife whose lease is ending in the next few months.

No, I wasn’t mad. I was wildly impressed.

As someone who’s spent the past 15 years in the sales and marketing industries, I’m usually pretty good at sniffing out sneaky sales tactics, but I completely whiffed on this one.

I’ll admit it: I wasn’t expecting Lexus to use the potential for death to get me in for a test drive, and, as a result, it worked perfectly.

In retrospect, the tactic makes a ton of sense. While someone can easily ignore a bunch of postcards with pictures of new cars, they’re going to have trouble ignoring the constant threat of death.

By sending dozens of letters convincing me I needed to get my car fixed as soon as possible, Lexus also guarantee I’d test drive a brand new car. The tiny cost of the repair was easily outweighed by my potential value since I’m someone who’s already bought one of their cars and they know my car is getting old.

If you don’t believe their tactics were intentional, how’s this for proof…

When I picked up my car later that afternoon, on the passenger seat I found a letter from the dealership with a faux-check representing the value they were willing to give me on a trade-in for a new Lexus. #GrowthHacked

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I teach in Duke University’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship program and founded RocketBolt. I write about startups, pedagogy, entrepreneurship, engineering, and poetry. They’re all related, I promise.

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  • Snuck into the back of today’s @dukefuqua Program for Entrepreneurs kickoff event. Maybe if I attend enough classes I can convince someone to give me a free #MBA 😁
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#p4e #entrepreneur #startup #entrepreneurlife #freeMBA
  • I’m hosting today’s @dukeinnovation “Lunch & Learn.” I’m talking with my colleagues about #socialmedia and trying to convince them to take it seriously, so I made them take a group photo for me to post.
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In related news, doing this kind of thing is why I’ll probably never get #tenure
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#entrepreneur #startups #lunchandlearn #mycolleagueshateme
  • Today, I lead the first meeting of a @dukeinnovation faculty committee about creating a methodology for teaching #entrepreneurship that can apply to any type of #venture.
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Mind you, by “lead the meeting” I mostly just mean I was lucky to be in the same room with an amazing group of #scholars and #entrepreneurs who didn’t need any help from me to have a fascinating debate about how to accomplish a nearly impossible task.
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But at least I got to take a picture from the head of the table 😁
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#mycolleaguesarebrilliant #innovation #entrepreneur #wholetmein
  • Brought my daughter with me to watch my @dukeinnovation students graduate. She got to see dozens of examples of the kind of person I hope she becomes: brilliant, kind, thoughtful, articulate, talented, caring, confident, and really good at producing high quality work despite a propensity for procrastination 😁
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Thanks, #duke2018 #graduates for making me love going to school every day. I hope your journeys beyond @dukeuniversity take you into jobs as amazing and rewarding as mine.
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#graduation #innovation #entrepreneurship #classof2018 #bluedevils
  • Drinks at the @thelakewooddurham with the @dukeuniversity Junior Faculty Association to celebrate the end of another great semester.
  • Congrats to all my @dukeinnovation seniors who gave their final Capstone presentations yesterday.
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No more #homework. Now it’s time for the #realworld.
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#duke2018
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship
  • Threw an LMOC (Last Monday of Classes) party in my #learningtofail class.
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The students had to convince their friends to bring food, and they earned points based on how many calories they got delivered to class.
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Lots of cookies and candies. But the winner was the student who convinced his friend to deliver 30 pounds of flour. 🤣
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #startup #ldoc #partytime
  • Asked my #learningtofail students to sell a @jollyrancher for $100 today. For the first time ever, everyone #failed.
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In related news, I heard a report from a campus tour guide that dozens of prospective students and their families were continuously being solicited to buy absurdly expensive candy during their campus visits.
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What a strange coincidence. Must have been someone else selling candy today, too...😒
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #sweettooth #collegevisits
  • Finally had a freshman discover the Duke-sponsored free lunch opportunity.
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I forgot to ask Julia about the most important thing she’s learned in my class, but she’s taking another one with me next semester, so I feel like that’s a good sign she’s not just using me to get free food ☺️
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneruship #socialmediamarketing #teaching #freelunch
  • The end-of-semester FLUNCH parade continues... this time with Thomas, one of my soon-to-be-graduating seniors in the @dukeinnovation capstone who’s heading off to work @txinstruments.
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When asked to share the most important thing I’ve taught him about #entrepreneurship, Thomas had trouble coming up with an answer. Sounds about right 🤔
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#entrepreneur #innovation #teaching #freelunch #duke2018
  • “When you go into a company, whatever you decide to do, you want to be closest to the money. That’s the safest place to be in every business.” - @cleithe, VP of Sales for @adwerxre, who I conned into speaking to both my @dukeinnovation capstone classes.
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#sales #marketing #startups #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #innovation
  • Doing a little FLUNCH with @adam_kershner,  Ben Lee, and Adam’s freshman roommate who was just there for the free lunch ☺️
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Adam says the most important thing I taught him was: “How to think differently and approach problems in an unorthodox way, and how that approach to problem solving is one of the most valuable lessons from Duke.”
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Honestly, I don’t think I taught him that. I think he already knew it when he showed up as a freshman in my very first class @dukeuniversity. Now he’s a graduating senior in my @dukeinnovation capstone, and it’s been a privilege to watch his Duke journey. I’m sure he’s going to do great things, and I look forward to following his post-college journey via Instagram.
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P.S. Adam, tell Ben to follow me here so I can keep tabs on him, too 😉
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