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.

Writer's block busters: 8 ways to get words to flow again

When I first started blogging, and for several years after, I never used the word "writer" to describe myself. It took me a while to realize that what I was doing actually did qualify me to say I’m a writer. That, and I realized I actually love writing. Sometimes I read something I wrote years ago and I surprise myself by thinking it's pretty darn good. Then other times I've struggled with many of the same issues that every writer I've ever known describes:

  • I have something to say and I know the point I want to make, but I can't find the right words or sequence of words to make my point(s).

  • I don't know what to write about or nothing from my list is inspiring me at a given moment.

  • I feel as if I have nothing new to say that is of value.

  • I just don't feel like writing.

  • I am bored by the topic.

  • I fear what others will say or think about what I'm writing.

  • I spend too much time trying to make a piece "perfect".

  • I don't like how the idea in my head is translated on the page. It's just not right.

The reason for the block matters to an extent, though sometimes knowing the reason doesn't give you more leeway to do something about it. If you've got a deadline, writer's block from the pressure of a deadline isn't going to be easily remedied. Though being tired, bored, overwhelmed, or over-saturated by content creation can all be helped.

Over the years, I've come up with different strategies for those times that my struggles with writing threaten to overcome my ability to get content out. 

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Find a new perspective

Maybe you need to view it from a unique position or a new angle. Change your perspective and see if there's a way to refresh your thinking and present a new-to-you view. A great example of using a different perspective to make a point is flipping good advice around,  like Demian Farnworth did in this post about copywriting on Copyblogger.

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Be controversial

This is also about perspective, but it's about specifically taking on a potentially negative view or a view that may invite controversy - or even a view you don’t agree with. It requires a thick skin if you hit publish, though. Use caution if you decide to go this route.

Go old school and get offline

Do you have an old typewriter? Maybe not, but what about a pad and pen? I bet you have one of those laying around somewhere. Pick them up and give your typing skills a rest. Hopefully, the act of physically writing words will help the words start to flow. A coach I worked with once suggested that I follow Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way methods. Her morning pages are such a helpful way to clear out blocks. And it’s simple to do, but not easy to fit in unless you commit. What do you do? Write 3 pages first thing every morning to get everything out of your brain. That’s it.

Use a different technology

Years ago, I got turned on to OmmWriter and DayOne. OmmWriter is a tool I use when I need to write in my happy, zen place. The music is soothing, mellow, and there are no distractions - no formatting, no font choices, the background is relaxing. It's a refreshing writing experience. 

DayOne is my cloud-based journal. I've been journaling since I was 10 and my mom bought me my first notebook for the purpose. I still have every journal I've ever written in. I go through phases of journaling regularly and phases where I say nothing. With DayOne, I can get out anything that's blocking me from writing. It's cathartic and one day my son will have a pretty comprehensive record of my personal dysfunction. Bonus!

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Find another medium

I've been colouring a lot lately since I got the Enchanted Forest colouring book. It gave me some much-needed downtime from writing that allowed me to get back to working on a book I started a few months ago. Colouring is just one medium you could choose. Painting, knitting, crocheting, tatting, macrame, photography, videography - any creative outlet that fills the need to distract you from words can help your words start flowing again.

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Can’t write? Go read.

Reading is one of my favourite ways to get back to writing. It doesn't always matter what I read - it could be fiction or it could be industry information. But getting my mind off the pressure I feel to produce my own intelligible words by immersing myself in something else is key.

Eliminate distractions

I'm an Apple fan-girl. I have a MacBook Air, an iPad, and an iPhone. I can turn on "do not disturb" and the notifications stop pouring in. I recently even deleted Facebook off my mobile devices! I love being connected, but I'm being more conscientious and purposeful about when I'm connected. 

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Get away from the computer

Just go do something else that allows you to recharge: 

  • Take a walk.

  • Go for a run.

  • Dance.

  • Play a video game.

  • Watch a TV show.

  • Get a coffee.

  • Stop for the day.

  • Plan your next vacation.

The key here is to stop thinking about how hard it feels to write and do something that has nothing to do with writing or creating.

Writer's block doesn't have to stop you from writing. It's just a temporary challenge that you can be proactive about resolving.

Did I miss any good writer's-block-busting ideas? Tell me in the comments!

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?

On the study of writing

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One day recently, I was innocently scrolling through my Facebook feed (possibly procrastinating but we don't need to dwell on that) and ran across a post in a writer's group I'm in.

The post was a slightly ranty diatribe decrying a lack of arduously acquired writing skill through writing courses amongst a group of "so-called" writers the poster had been conversing with.

By the time I saw this post, there were 375 comments. The person who made the original commentary about writers who lack formal training being a scourge upon the craft was expressing a decidedly controversial point of view. (He might have used different words to describe his thoughts.)

I didn't read the comments; I don't really need to. The post ignited an old and tired debate about what makes a writer a true writer. Personally, I like how Steven Pressfield put it:

If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
— Stephen Pressfield

Actually, I'm not sure whether self-confidence is an entirely reliable measure of who is counterfeit, but I get why he makes that assertion. (I was sort of tempted to go find that post and just put this quote in as my comment, but that's probably more effort than the conversation is worth.) 

There are talented writers with zero formal training beyond the required years of writing through school. There are talented writers that make study and practice of the craft a priority akin to eating and drinking through formal instruction. 

What right does anyone have to say that the first group isn't studying, though? Perhaps they read a variety of content from blogs, to literary classics, to scholarly articles. Maybe they immerse themselves with the style they want to focus on and hone. (I'm not a big fan of this method, but to each his own. For me, variety is the spice of life...and words.)

I have personally read books on writing from time to time and they certainly have their value. But I analyze writing everywhere. 

The study of writing isn't a one size fits all journey. There are as many ways to go about learning as there are different styles, mediums, and methods of writing. 

It took me a long time to figure out how much I love to write and the change I made this year in leaving the business I started with Lara has led me to focus more on writing. (Just saying that sets off mental cartwheels - I'm loving it!) 

Later this month...cue me getting really giddy with the mental cartwheels and all...I'm flying down to Chicago to attend the Chicago Writers Conference. All in one place, I am going to have the opportunity to meet other writers, learn more about freelance work, and I'm going to hit some fiction (and maybe non-fiction) sessions too. Because, yes, I totally want to write books as well. I've already started one. 

Do I need to go to this conference to do all the things I want to do? Probably not. Am I going to learn a ton that will help me move forward more quickly? I sincerely hope so. That's why I'm going. (That, and it's in Chicago, and I can visit Gini...yay!)

Is a writer who doesn't ever attend any sort of formal learning event less of a writer? That's not for me or anyone else to decide.

There's good writing and bad writing (trained or not), and there always will be. Bad writing doesn't necessarily mean someone isn't a writer anymore than good writing means they are. I tend to think writers are people who have a passion for the written word and are compelled to contribute their own to the annals of history. 

I don't think the definition of a writer needs to be any more complex than that.

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!