Marketing requires businesses to be prepared to go the distance

Marketing requires businesses to be prepared to go the distance

One of the most discouraging things I see happen in my work is organizations that want to use all these shiny “new” tools to grow, but think the results will be immediate.

That has never been true for any form of marketing, though there are occasional exceptions. Most businesses need to ignore the exceptions. Statistically, they're outliers and the results aren’t likely to be replicated. The stories about them should all include disclaimers that say, "results not typical."

Web marketing, web presence, digital marketing, internet marketing, social media, new media, content marketing - they're all phrases that essentially represent the same thing: Using web-based tools to build content that builds relationships, increases brand awareness, sales conversion rates, and has a positive impact on an organization's bottom line.

Whatever word or phrase you use to describe it, the activity is marketing and no matter what medium you're using, it's going to take time, effort, and commitment to see results.

If you set up a social media account or website, it doesn't mean people will immediately come and buy from you - or engage with you. It's important to remember that every person, every business starts out with zero followers.

However, compared to large corporations, small businesses start out at a disadvantage. A well-known brand name company will grow an audience fairly quickly. A new small business has to work to build an audience by consistently reaching out to other social media users, start conversations, and begin offering value. 

Evolving to modern marketing practices in 2019 is very different than starting out 5-10 years ago. It can be frustrating and take time to show a return. But for the companies that make the effort to do it well, the pay off will come.

Do you know what you're doing and why?

There are many, many really interesting and innovative ideas for marketing out the world right now. From really clever, to outlandish, to stunt-worthy, there’s a lot to pick through. Ultimately, though, it's all just marketing. And marketing tactics have to be a right fit or they're going to fall flat. 

Kind of like me trying to do ballet. (Splat, for sure.)

It's fun to watch the videos, look at the pictures, and read the stories, but is it right for you as an individual or your organization?

The answer to this question comes down to brand and objectives.

I recently found myself catching shiny object syndrome when I heard about a cool idea someone used to get attention for a particular purpose. Because I had a similar end goal, I thought I could use the tactic in a way that fit me. But something held me back from actually implementing the idea for myself. It wasn't that the tactic wasn't something I could do. It was definitely within my personal skill set. However, the more I tried to dream up how I wanted to go about the implementation, the emptier that giant blank canvas got in my mind. The idea didn't resonate with me. It didn't make me uncomfortable, but I wasn't comfortable with it either.

Eventually, I let the idea go and went in a completely different direction that felt right and good and comfortable. But the experience made me think hard about whether I truly knew what I was doing and why in the first place.

"We should do <insert newfangled tactic>. Wouldn't that be cool?"

I hear this every now and then from people I know: clients, associates, etc. I have a lot of respect for people who are brave enough to jump in and try out things that they may not fully understand. That takes an adventuresome spirit.

Hopefully, these brave souls have someone around who is willing to ask some questions before they agree:

1) What do we want to accomplish by using this tactic?

If there's no purpose, there's no point. Whenever the answer to this question is, "I don't know. Everyone else seems to be doing it. I thought it would be cool," there may not be a need for further discussion. But that's not the worst starting point for hashing out the viability of a tactic. Maybe with some creative and critical thinking a clear purpose can be defined that would make the tactic worth pursuing. 

The important first step is identifying a goal or objective - and it should contribute to achieving the overall organizational goals and objectives. At a bare minimum it should fit the organization's mandate. The second step is that your goal needs to be measurable. 

2)  How will we measure what we're doing?

No measurement, no success. Choosing to implement inherently measurable tactics is the only way to be certain that what you're doing is having an impact. It starts with a measurable objective (see #1). That cool tactic may require you and your team to stretch your creative muscles to find a way to measure its effectiveness, but it's worth it to know whether or not it works. But if you don't measure, you won't know if what you've done is effective. Maybe it was a success, but you don't get to call it a success without proof.

There are a plethora of tools that allow you to track and analyze behaviours on websites, social media, in apps, etc. Use these tools to help you measure where your audience is coming from, going to, whether they're sharing your content, etc. There are even ways to incorporate digital calls to action into non-digital campaigns - QR codes are the first tool that comes to mind, but augmented reality is another tool that's gaining attention.

3) What do you do with this information?

Act on the results in real-time and for the future. When you implement any marketing activity, take time to monitor the results while it's in progress. You should know before you execute what you want to measure. This allows you to make tweaks as needed to give your campaign a boost and maximize the impact. When it's all over, evaluate how it went start to finish.

Factor in any feedback you receive from your audience, and look at the data critically. What questions come to mind when you look at the data? What are the potential answers? Was the overall effort a success based on the data and impressions? Was there success, but not as intended?

The post-mortem of any campaign or project is typically one of the most valuable discussions for future growth and success. I love looking at data and finding the story it tells about the work I've done. Identifying the strengths and opportunities opens the door to apply those lessons learned to the next campaign so it's even better. (Don't forget to add comparison data to your tracking once you have enough instances to compare!)

Hopefully, as you start to see the value of measuring data, you'll be the person in the room asking the critical questions about what everyone hopes to achieve and how to know it works!

Clarity in copywriting: Stop confusing your customers

Every touch point you have with a customer is an opportunity to market your value to them. And why should you market to customers? Because they've already bought from you and they're the most likely to buy more or upgrade. You already have a relationship with customers, but there's a certain level of trust that you're still trying to build with the people you haven't sold to yet. 

Unfortunately, I see businesses - especially in the software subscription area (*cough* money-related stuff *cough*) - make their help files so confusing you just want to bang your head against...something. For businesses that aren't in the software space, there are many examples of confusing copy - in physical locations and on the web.

When help files don't help, how long do you think people will keep using a service when there are other options available that can meet their needs?

It's a great time to be in business in some ways because the number of options we have is staggering. But it costs time and money to switch. It also costs time and money and stress to be aggravated by confusing copy all the time. That's why it's so important to make sure what you're saying is clear. 

A friend of mine recently shared some copy from a vendor site where they were doing research to get answers for a client who used that particular vendor. I can't tell you how bad I wanted to paste that copy in here to share with you, but it's the web and you can trace it back to them, so I resisted.

Instead, I decided to share a little advice that will hopefully filter its way back to some of the people who have sites with the confusing copy. If I can make a difference for anyone on this, I've succeeded.

Before you hit the button that sends that help copy out into the ether, remember these things:

1) The people using your software aren't experts in your software.

If you use specialized terminology for everything in your software, you can't expect people to know what you're talking about, especially if they're hiring a third-party or only occasionally access the system. Think about all the different ways your software is used and the complexity of the information. If it's Facebook-level, your copy is going to be pretty easy to make understandable. But if you're talking about bookkeeping/tax software, for example, that's far more complex. It's going to be hard work to make sure that users can understand and still cover all the legal bases that are inevitable in highly regulated spaces.

It's worth the effort. Remember, the better your users understand, the more you're differentiated from your competitors. We marketers like differentiation - especially when it comes to those regular touch points with customers.

2) Step-by-step screenshots are essential for complex UI.

I'm gonna brag on a company I've been using for almost 9 years. This website you're looking at right now is built on Squarespace (and if it isn't, someone has scraped my content - shame on them). I use a separate domain registrar that has a confusing-as-heck domain manager. Actually, that might be a requirement of domain registrars - making the DNS settings user interface (UI) illogical and incomprehensible. Then they change their UI every 6-12 months to keep you on your toes.

I've built many Squarespace websites and, without fail, I can go to a page dedicated to my (major) registrar that has step-by-step instructions with up-to-date screenshots of everything I need to change to connect my domain. Squarespace help is one of the many reasons I stay with them year after year. They make painful processes easy to navigate. That, my friend, is truly helpful. Because I don't have time for complicated explanations and neither do you.

3) Every piece of copy about your product leaves an impression.

Don't you want that impression to be a good one? If your copy inspires an experienced, knowledgeable professional to post it to social media because it's so incomprehensible, you're missing the mark. Your bad copy is literally costing time and money. In this instance, research time that - if it wasn't being billed back to the client (quite possible) - was actually costing a small business owner money. Do you really want to be known for that?

There's a simple solution, but it takes a commitment from you - the software maker - to spend the extra time it takes to clean up your copy. Microsoft learned this lesson back in the late 90s when they overhauled all of their MS Office help files and people noticed the difference. 

Build checks and balances into the process

You've got teams of really smart people, all with varying expertise. The product people know the product intimately, but they may be too close to it to edit themselves when it comes to producing help content that's easy to read and understand. For that, you have to tap into people who aren't experts on the product or the nuts and bolts of the regulations.

Ideally, find writers who can dig in and ask the right questions so your highly technical explanations can be simplified. And don't confuse "simplified" with "dumbed down." They aren't the same thing. Simplifying content is about taking out jargon, industry-specific terminology, and fluff. What's left behind is useful, to-the-point, and easy to digest.

Stop confusing your customers and start taking the extra time to help them instead.

Storytelling gone wrong: When I can't relate, you lose me

I was doing some research for a blog post recently and came across a post that - based on the title - had exactly what I was looking for. I was trying to find practical advice for storytelling in a particular context. I eagerly started reading the post, curious to see what the author could add to my research.

The post was written in a storytelling format, offering up examples of how the author had used the tactic they were writing about. But I was lost by the second line of the blog post. 

Why?

The author was writing about how they explain the difference between two different things. I think they were describing their own products. But only the customers and users of these products would be able to relate to this blog post. 

The irony? It was a post helping others relate.

I've talked about the idea of selfish communication before and reading this post reminded me of why it's so important to avoid creating content that creates confusion. 

There's a bigger picture to content marketing

With every piece of content I create, I think about:

  • How it will be perceived by someone who doesn't know my work
  • What value I'm giving to readers who click through
  • Whether there are applications beyond my niche

You see, if you tie content too closely to your products, you're automatically limiting the audience who will be interested. You're also limiting the story you can tell about your business. 

There's a better way.

1) Focus on the problems you solve

When it comes to content, it really doesn't matter what your product does or how it works. What matters is the problem you solve. Most businesses have a big overarching problem they solve for clients and customers. 

But there are also related problems - big and small - that they solve. Talk about those problems. Talk about solutions that don't have anything to do with your products.

Assert a philosophy that fits your values and point of view. Have an opinion about what works best and why.

All of these things build a case for why you're so good at what you do.

be-so-good-they-cant-ignore-you.jpg

2) Give away all the knowledge

Don't worry about losing business because you share the what and the how of your solutions. If this is your fear, remember:

  1. People who take your content and use it on their own aren't your ideal client.
  2. Or they might not have the budget...yet.
  3. Others may ignore your content; they're also not your ideal client.

The point of showing your expertise through content is that your ideal client has a better chance of finding you. It's the marketing equivalent of the impact of compound interest. You put the regular effort in and it adds up over time.

3) Go back to the beginning of the story

You're really smart and you have a ton of knowledge about a specific subject. The audience you want to attract does not have your knowledge, which is why they need you. 

So, don't open the book in the middle and start reading as if they know what's happened in the first half. Always set your audience up to understand your message by giving enough explanation of anything that's specific to your business or expertise. 

The picture is complete when there are no more questions

Will all the questions ever truly be answered? I sure hope not. But in each piece of content, you can answer all the questions.

You'll know you've been thorough when you've accomplished the goal of the piece, there's no lingering clarity questions about the content, and you've provided value that isn't exclusively aimed at your customers.

Don't be selfish with your communication

Have you ever known someone that couldn't explain a concept to others?

They probably knew it backwards and forwards, but when they start talking and it sounds like they have their own private language.

This is an example selfish communication - not that it's done intentionally! - but it's important to be aware that how we share ideas is as important as what the ideas are.

I really like the term "selfish communication". It makes a critical point about the words we use and when. 

The truth is, we've all communicated selfishly at some point. It happens most often when you know a topic so well that you forget that others aren't as up-to-speed as you are. 

Talking to someone who neglects to take that giant step back can feel a lot like opening a long book in the middle - you've missed so much of the story that you're completely lost. 

How do you ensure your communication isn't "selfish"? 

The first step is opening the book on the first page. Set a foundation and then start building the structure of your ideas and information from there. Keep these four tips in mind:

Be audience-focused.

Put yourself in your audience's shoes. Would you understand what you're sharing with them? Unless you know differently, assume people don't know what you know.

Avoid jargon.

Industry-specific terms and acronyms could leave your audience cross-eyed and head spinning. It might sound impressive to your colleagues but your colleagues probably aren't the people you're trying to reach. 

Write conversationally.

Social media is meant to be a two-way conversation. Using this style makes it easier to take a step back and give context and critical details to topics you have expertise in. 

Ask for input.

Ask someone you trust to read your content and give you their honest feedback. 

Selfish communication isn't an overt act. It just happens out of habit. The people we work and collaborate with usually know the background. So, it's easy to forget that we need to start at the beginning with others. 

These are simple steps you can use to make sure your content speak to your audience on the right level about any topic.