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.

The shoes and handbags theory of building an audience

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I like good quality items.

I remember growing up and, when my dad told me that he spent $300 on his dress shoes, I thought that was a fortune! We weren't a rich family - how could we afford so much money for shoes? (Especially when me and my brothers always got ours from the discount stores.)

Dad explained that he spent that much and then wears them for many more years than he could ever wear less expensive shoes. (And since my brothers and me were all still growing, there wasn't the option of wearing shoes for more than a year.) For Dad, the fit and comfort were better and they would more than make up for the cost given how long they'd last.

Sometimes you choose quantity, sometimes you choose quality

I've never personally gotten to the point of paying premium prices for shoes because I like shoes. A lot. I like rotating them often. However, several years ago, I took the plunge and bought my first very expensive premium brand handbag. (Ahem...well, it was on clearance during a massive store sale, so I didn't pay nearly what I would have at full price, which made it easier to do.)

Months after the purchase, my premium brand handbag - unlike most I've previously purchased (and I always thought I was paying a pretty decent amount before) - was still in immaculate condition. There were no frayed edges. The leather wasn’t cracked even a little bit. It barely showed any wear at all. There were no seams pulling apart in the lining. Previously, at least one (sometimes all) of these things happened within a few months and that lovely bag I thought was so cute was not nearly as appealing anymore. That first purse has been joined by some other friends in the four years or so since. And the quality is unquestionable - even that very first bag.

What's the best kind of audience?

If a business focuses solely on quantity in building an audience - Twitter followers, Facebook likes, blog subscribers, and others - you end up always wanting more. The ten new followers you just got may not be quite right for your product/services, but seeing that jump in numbers feels so good!

Growing a large audience shouldn't be the primary goal, though growth is certainly important. Growing an audience that fits your target market and is engaging with you is a worthy goal.

Which would you rather have?

  • 10,000 followers, with 20 people who buy from you.

  • 200 followers, with 50 people who buy from you.

Personally, I'd always go with the second option.

Small and engaged wins in social media

I really enjoy my shoe collection, but it's a lot like having 10,000 followers that aren't great quality. Shoes get added and taken away, but they don't stick around long because they aren't right for long-term use.

On the other hand, that good quality handbag I got is going to be around for years and years, with fewer competitors for my attention. The more I think about it, though, the more I’m considering a shoe evolution.

So, before you ever think I "only have ## followers", first look at whether those followers fit your target market. If they do, then congratulate yourself for generating good leads and get to work engaging with them! 

What are some steps you take to grow a quality, targeted audience?

Does what you share reflect you?

It's so easy to whip out your phone at any given moment of the day and share your thoughts and feelings about anything and everything that's going on in your world. 

In fact, plenty of people seem to have the view that if it's not on social media, it didn't happen. So, some of us get it on there as quickly as possible: 

Remember these early memes from back in the day?

Remember these early memes from back in the day?

I don't give much thought to what other people choose to say online. I can control what I see from other people no matter what tool I'm using. If someone I follow decides they want to say things that I find objectionable or offensive, they're within their rights to say those things. I sometimes respond with a different view, but I'm picky about when I share. (Sometimes it's better to just leave it alone and that's all I'm gonna say about it.)

Who do people see through your online self?

I don't want to get into the B-word ("brand" in case you were wondering) in this. Yes, this could definitely be part of a conversation about that word, but let's skip that particular discussion.

There is an old saying, "you are what you eat", which I think could be re-tooled for social media to tell the masses that "you are what you say". In a way, I really hope that's true for the vast majority of people. Even for those unflinchingly honest types that let it all hang out, I can respect a genuine opinion or reaction.

What happens when your online self isn't really you?

Several years ago, I wrote a recap post about a conference I attended. In the post, I said something about not working with brands. When someone asked me why I said that when I mentioned in the same post that I had driven a PR vehicle from a big car company to the conference, I realized I hadn't really made myself clear.

This lack of clarity was completely unintentional. I should have said I don't really seek out opportunities to work with brands as a blogger, though I've enjoyed it the few times I have. However, that is not now and likely never will be a major focus of my blogging. Will I work with brands? Yes, if the opportunity is right.

My unclear statements could have led some to question my credibility and integrity if they witnessed me posting content about working with brands on a regularly on social channels. That wasn't a concern, though, since my content shows I don't.

Does the sum of your content add up to the real you?

Some people consciously choose not to share certain topics that are near and dear to their hearts. The reason doesn't matter. The choice not to share is valid. So, of course, the pieces of our lives and thoughts about the world that we choose not to share create a variable in the equation. That should be the only variable, though.

The parts we do share are telling. They give our friends and followers small glimpses that they use to form an overall impression of who we are. (Still not talking about the B-word.) 

  • The friend that shares daily news and opinions about politics cares about what's happening in the world.

  • The friend that posts stories and pictures about their kids every day has an unwavering devotion to family.

  • The friend that has a "tragedy" at least once a day is unhappy.

  • The friend who posts vague statuses and never replies to comments clearly wants attention.

  • The friend who complains about work and family is overwhelmed and frazzled.

But what if these aren't entirely true?

  • Political friend is also an avid gardener and runner, but it's hard to tweet when they're elbow deep in weeding and planting or pounding the pavement.

  • Family-focused friend has a demanding, interesting job they can't talk about online. Family is a safe topic.

  • Tragic friend is actually a pretty happy person, but social media has become an outlet for those moments of chaos in life and they haven't noticed that they mostly only post when something goes wrong.

  • Vague friend is a lot like tragic friend.

  • Complainer friend wouldn't know what to do if they were less busy. They find the hectic moments entertaining to share, especially family shenanigans.

Share your truth.

I've gone through phases a couple of times when I have turned into excited friend. Everything is wonderful, fabulous, and amazing, even when real life isn't actually going all that well. When I catch myself in these slightly disingenuous moments, I re-evaluate what I'm saying. The world may not need to know what I'm dealing with, but I don't want to be misleading in the positive OR the negative. 

Take a look in the mirror.

Go through your social media profiles and see what you've been posting. Try to look at yourself as if you aren't you. What words would you use to describe your content? What assumptions would you make about your life?

You’re basically looking in a mirror: Do you recognize the person you see?

The dating game of web content

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Do you remember what it’s like to be mutually “in like” for the first time? You click with the person so well that you want to see and talk to each other all the time. The connection is so strong that you feel like you’ve found a kindred spirit, or maybe even THE ONE!

Fast forward a few months and things are still somewhat rosy, but you’re starting to see the not-so-perfect side of this human being, but it’s okay because they have so many positives you can overlook it. Besides, humans are imperfect.

Time moves on and things change. The tarnish really starts to show. Maybe they change. Maybe you change. Maybe you just get to know them better. Either way, you hit that stage where staying together becomes a conscious decision you have to make.

Content marketing tools evoke similar emotions in marketers and business owners who use them to grow their business. We’ve fallen for what they can do for us and somehow expect that the tools will never change. Then they do and we scream and cry and fight for things to go back to the way they were in the good ol’ days.

Raise your hand if this story sounds familiar: Facebook actually invited us to move in, gave us free room and board, and then cut us off when we they didn’t have the money to pay the rent and utilities. How dare they make us pay for the milk!? And after they gave it to us for free for so long – now what do we do?

This is where too many are getting it wrong. If your content isn’t reaching people anymore, there’s a good reason and it’s highly likely you won’t like the answer. (Your audience possibly just isn’t that into it.) Knowing this is the best possible thing that will happen to you, though. Because it will give you the freedom to experiment with new, different and better content thatwill reach your audience.

Break the co-dependency

Tools will come and go, but over-reliance on them is simply not healthy for your reach or your content. Focus on your content first and use the right tools for promotion and building relationships. The tools are where you make the pick-up. Now that your audience is interested, take them somewhere nice that has the right vibe they’re looking for - like your website.

Be realistic with your expectations

Not everyone’s going to see your “come hither” looks from across "The Twitter". Facebook probably feels like a meat market where no one is paying attention anymore. But if you don’t show up, you might miss your perfect match. Of course, you have to look your best once you’re there. Looking good online is about creating great content. When people see it and check you out even further, they’re going to be attracted to how useful your content is to them.

Content needs to be better than ever

If your content isn’t written for your audience, you won’t attract them. If the content isn’t valuable to your audience, you won’t engage them. Yes, they need to be able to see you, but first they have to want to. You’re competing with over a billion other people and many, many millions of pages on Facebook alone. The numbers across the social web are staggering. Why should anyone give their time and attention to you?

There are plenty of other networks in the sea

Some people like being in a crowded, noisy room filled with potential. Others like to go to a quiet café to find someone who likes obscure everything. It’s nice to be where everyone is, but sometimes you just want to go where everybody knows your name. That’s where smaller networks like Instagram or Pinterest may be more valuable. But don't let the bigness of Facebook and Twitter stop you from building a small, engaged community there. (Even big cities like Toronto have lovely small, tight-knit communities.)

Focus on quality, not quantity

Dating a bunch of different people at once is hard work. Eventually, it gets so overwhelming, you have to just break it off with most of them. Getting to know someone as friends makes it easier to know if you want to take that next step. By the same token, getting to know a network’s value through research first can keep you from getting spread too thin. That means you’ll have more time to create stellar content!

It’s time to let go of all the ways the tools are letting you down and focus on trying new ways to communicate and build content that will make the tools work for you.

Don’t be a complainer. Be creative. Be courageous. Be compelling. You can create brilliantly awesome content!

A version of this post originally appeared on Feedblitz.

Your website is home - don't rent space somewhere else

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I visited Canada for the first time in 1995, the summer after I graduated high school. I went on tour with a singing group and for three months, we toured and performed throughout the Northwest United States and Canada. For the first time, I got to experience Canadian retail. I went to Eaton's in a mall in Vancouver, and saw three Gaps, three Guess, three of everything it seemed, at West Edmonton Mall. (I spent most of our day and a half of downtime at the mall hanging out with friends in the amusement park being amused.)

Fast forward 5 years and I moved to Canada. Eaton's, which hadn't impressed me all that much in in Vancouver, was a brand trying to revitalize itself and become known as the premium mainstream department store. When they re-opened at the Rideau Centre in Ottawa, the store was gorgeous. I had portraits done at the photo studio with Matt right after our wedding in 2001. 

But ultimately, Eaton's went away. They couldn't survive for reasons that don't matter to this analogy. They were a tool for consumers to get things they wanted or needed and nothing more. When not enough consumers consumed, the stores closed. It's happening over and over in Canadian retail these days.

Aren't you glad you got your shopping done and took your purchases home?

It seems like a strange question, right? But think about it. What if you bought things and rented space in the store to keep them? What happens to your stuff when the store suddenly shuts down? 

Content is your digital clothing

A few years ago Facebook increased the maximum number of characters in posts to 60,000. Someone figured out that is equivalent to several of the first few books of the Bible - just to put it into context for you. One of the digital marketing service providers I followed at the time decided to shut down their website because they were moving everything onto Facebook.

I stopped following them, because that one decision made me distrust their advice in other areas.

Your website is your home online. You own it. You control it. You decide what goes in the closets. You get to put out the fun and funky accessories. You get to dress it to suit your brand. You get to decide whether to stay or leave. 

Your website is a home. Your social networks are rentals.

In personal finance, the decision to buy or rent is far from simple, but when it comes to your web presence, always BUY. Do not make the mistake of renting space on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (a perfect example given recent changes), LinkedIn, Tumblr or anywhere else. Why?

Because, just like Eaton's, Target and others have shut down and left people without a tool to get what they need and want, so can any and every social network fall to the whims of change or shut down. Changes can temporarily short-circuit your efforts to reach and grow your audience. A shut-down means starting all over.

Social networks are tools

You share content to social networks to drive traffic back to your website. That's the goal. Here's why:

  1. Your website shows the real you with no interference from Facebook, Twitter, or other social network elements. It reflects your brand (or it should).

  2. Your website is usually where your service offerings live. It's the place that prospective clients can peek in your kitchen drawers to find the right tools or ingredients to cook up what they need. Or - at the very least - it's a starting point.

  3. Your website is owned by you. As long as you're paying the mortgage (hosting) and maintaining your site, it isn't going anywhere. Even when the power goes out, it will come back on because it's yours.

You don't own Facebook, Twitter or any of the other hundreds of networks you use as tools for promotion. Renting is fine when you need physical shelter, but it's only a tool when it comes to your web presence.