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, thinking 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, starting compelling conversations, and 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.

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.

Grow your audience with guest blogging

If you want to grow your audience and you aren't guest blogging, you're missing out on an important opportunity!

What is guest blogging?

Guest blogging is preparing content that is posted on the blog of a website other than your own. I submit at least one "guest" blog post a month at a minimum as President of the Women's Business Network, because I write the President's Pen which is published at the beginning of each month. I link back to my own site each time, which brings me to the benefits of guest blogging. I occasionally manage to sneak in posts on other sites as well - this is something I want to do more often.

Accumulate backlinks

Your website is your home online. The goal with any content marketing is to lead followers back to your website. Backlinks are links from other sites that lead back to your website. When a site that is linking to yours has greater authority, it gives your site a little boost. Backlinks aren't a one and done activity.

It's important to keep working to get mentions by other sites or use opportunities to be a guest blogger as part of an overall linkbuilding strategy (simply put, linkbuilding is a proactive effort to accumulate backlinks). The better the quality of your backlinks (i.e., links from more popular sites), the more it helps you. Since they have a cumulative effect over time, it's an ongoing process.

New audience

I have a decent sized audience in my own right. It's not huge, but any chance I have to reach out to a new audience is an opportunity to grab the attention of someone I can connect with. It isn't always about getting business. As we all know, the ability to get quality referrals by clearly communicating what you do and who you do it for is every bit as important. Ten quality referrals of clients within my target market are far better than 1,000 cold leads that will go nowhere. 

That's why it's so critical to deliver stellar value when you create guest blog content. There's a delicate balance that you have to achieve between offering valuable information and trying to make a sale. The easiest way to avoid the appearance of trying to sell is not to try to sell. 

Showcase expertise

My dad drilled it into my head growing up. Don't lend money with the expectation of being repaid. Sometimes the loanee just can't seem to get ahead of their financial obligations to be able to repay the loan. Sometimes they just forget, especially if it's a small amount. The point is that if you lend without the expectation of repayment, you will never be disappointed. 

The same goes for guest blogging (and a lot of other content marketing activities, too). Give freely. Give openly. Give without expectation. It's okay if you don't give every last detail of how you do your business - I would never suggest that. But you can give a lot of valuable information away without affecting your bottom line. If you aren't trying to make a sale, the content will resonate more completely with the people you're reaching. 

Guest blogging challenge

I challenge you to write and submit a guest post for another site by the end of April. Will you do it? Don't worry - your post doesn't need to be published by the end of April. Just submitted to the site. This is an honour system challenge. :) 

Try it once. See how it goes and come back and tell me! 

Content creation for highly regulated industries

The most common industries that come to mind with challenges to creating content are those that have strict rules handed down by regulatory bodies, usually because they handle highly confidential, sensitive information: lawyers, accountants and other financial services, government contractors, etc.

I think we can all agree that there are few more regulated entities than the United States White House, right? Look at what President Obama has had to go through to sort of be able to use a Blackberry

It's impressive (if you have an interest in such things like I do) to see how much Obama has embraced and used technology and the internet to connect with the world.  

If the man who is considered the leader of the free world (and keeper of the ominous buttons we hope never get pressed) can have a successful, useful, engaging social media presence, why can't lawyers, accountants, bankers, investment advisors, government contractors, and others do the same?

Think differently

Some might think it's a trite and overused phrase, but it's what's required! Too often organizations focus entirely on what they're selling, pushing out all kinds of sales-y posts that offer little to no real value for readers. 

Here's a quick truth bomb for you (and I may have to do these more often): No one cares about your product and service offerings enough to connect with you and only ever hear about your product and service offerings. Remember the saying "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"? The bottom line of this truth bomb is that all sales and no value (or entertainment) makes you boring, irrelevant, and less likely to be followed. 

Instead of focusing on selling what you do as content (the act of telling), share stories about your industry, give followers a glimpse of your human side and the culture of your workplace, educate them about related industry topics that your target audience would be interested in.

Bust myths

Highly regulated industries, particularly government and professional services, give the world a lot of fodder for erroneous beliefs. We've all heard so many jokes about doctors and lawyers - often around the fees associated with going to one or the taxes we pay. (Well, maybe not so much doctors in Canada.) While the beliefs may be based in factual experiences of some, it's not a given that they apply to all.

How can you combat myths? Within reason, within the bounds of confidentiality and regulation, share the truth of what you do and what goes into your work.

  • Re-certification and ongoing licensing requirements
  • Insurance
  • Professional associations
  • Pro bono activities
  • Continuing education

No doubt every highly regulated industry has a laundry list of mythical stories floating around about how they operate. Where you can, share the truth in a way that educates - defensiveness not required.

Be helpful

Seriously, above all else, be helpful.

There are probably hundreds of topics that elected representatives can create content that educates followers. Besides education pieces, public service announcements, and useful information that apply to your audience are all valuable content that helps. 

People who work in regulated industries get all kinds of questions ALL. THE. TIME. You have to answer them when they come in, so take the ones that you can use to help the masses and use them...to help the masses.

Be original. Be classic. Don't jump on the bandwagon.

Because the bandwagon isn't original or classic. It also gets old pretty fast.

I've started to get meme-fatigued in recent months. I'm also list post fatigued, and how-to post fatigued, and all sorts of other typical kinds of content fatigued. It's not that I never find value in these types of content, because I sometimes do. There's an enormous volume of them out there, though. 

I've gotten away from producing these kinds of posts myself, because I want to focus on ideas and concepts at a higher level. That's not to say I won't ever write a listicle or how-to post, but it won't be a go to source of content for me. Truthfully, it'd be easier if I did. 

Jumping on the bandwagon

The thing is, those kinds of posts are a dime a dozen. They're unoriginal and usually not terribly creative. They serve a purpose, and even if there are 100,000 posts of the same list from 100,000 different sources, there are still probably many people who haven't seen that set of information who could benefit from it. That's where we're at now in this world of constant content.

People like to jump on bandwagons. There's even a book about doing it as a strategic tactic.

One recent bandwagon is the "Be Like Me" meme, which allows users to create lovely passive aggressive internet wisdom in the form of a "funny" cartoon to share with their friends. (Some really are funny, some are dumb, but most are judgey and we can all do without seeing them.

And now, of course, brands have gotten in on it. Because, why not?

In truth, I think the brand renditions of the meme are a mix of the usual combinations of bandwagon-jumping - some lame, some meh, some all right, but nothing really exceptional in that particular list.

The easy path to content

It took me about five minutes to create and save the images in the gallery above. So easy. If I wanted to create something branded it may have taken me 10-15 minutes. Longer if I decided to get fancy about it. Either way, the idea is easy and effortless. It's not particularly strategic because the statements aren't going to tell anyone about my business or what I have to offer. Though in the case of the brand examples in the article above, it was also a mix of vague to blatant. I did appreciate that Firehouse Subs basically created a sort of on-brand PSA. 

In general all of the brand examples felt like forced, unnatural, unrelatable (Maybe Pizza Hut is more woo-worthy in India?), contrived content. Who wants any of those words used about their content!? I sure don't.

Think about how many times brands have been accused of leveraging tragedies or catastrophic events to get attention/make sales - every 9/11 anniversaryHurricane SandyDavid Bowie's death, and I could go on and on.

It's not always a bad thing

When a meme or formulaic type of content serves as a good way to create great content, why not use it? 

There's honestly no reason not to.

But ask yourself:

  • Is this actually great content, or is it easy filler? (There's nothing inherently wrong with easy filler, but consider that it could waste your audience's time and you may lose their attention.)
  • Does it communicate something relevant or important? 
  • Will it be lost in the far-too-similar noise of others using the same tactic?
  • Is there a better way to share this idea or information?
  • What are the chances it will generate positive/negative sentiment?
  • Does this fit the brand I'm building?

Good content is good content

The formula you use to create great content really doesn't matter in the end. And no, not every piece you create is going to be a winner. However, that's no reason to hitch a ride on a bandwagon that's already overfull. We all have the capacity to do and be better than that.