Seth Godin wrote, “The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.”
Three years! Even before the product is made the marketing engine has to be humming. And Seth’s advice goes beyond book publishing. Almost every product or service can leverage his advice.
Building relationships early and often is the difference between creating demand for your services, and competing for existing customers. It’s the difference between always having enough sales, and struggling to keep your funnel full.
Creating demand versus servicing demand
Google is an extremely powerful marketing tool, because it connects companies with active shoppers. If you’re in the path of search you can generate solid leads. But being in the path of search is not generating demand, it’s servicing it. These are customers with a clear need, and they are looking for their options.
On the other hand, if you want to build demand for your services you’ve got to initiate customer relationships far sooner. For example, if you’re introducing a new product or service to market, you can bet customers aren’t searching Google for you. They don’t know your service exists yet. They may not have even considered your solution before. The only way to connect with customers in these situations is to build awareness and educate your market so they know to look for you.
Find your Point of Sharing™
The challenge of building demand and connecting with your customers three years before they need you is what to talk about.
Traditional sales and marketing messages will not work on a non-buying audience. If your target customers aren’t buying, they’re not listening to your marketing. To break through the clutter find a Point of Sharing™ with your market.
A Point of Sharing™ is a shared interest, a shared experience or a shared value you have with your prospects and customers. It’s the connective glue that helps you build a relationship three years before there is a buying need.
For example, supporting and investing in a cause is a way of using a shared value to connect with your market. Your company may be passionate about green energy or greening your business, and can leverage that interest and expertise to connect with like-minded professionals. Instead of marketing your services, you connect and communicate through a Point of Sharing™ that allows for new relationships to form and grow.
Relationships accelerate the sales process
When you connect and build a relationship with your customers before they need you, they’ll seek you out when they’re ready to buy. Relationships accelerate the sales process. When the time is right, your customers will call you because they know who you are, they understand and relate to your values, and they like you. That connection will help you rise above “selling” to them, and enable you to work with them to solve a problem.
Start the process now. Invest in your community and invest in your relationships, because it will come back to you in more opportunities and better customers to grow your business.
(Image credit: Tim Caynes)
Social media marketing is very different from other marketing platforms. Traditionally marketing is campaign driven—a tradeshow, an ad, a promotion or an event. Each of these activities has a clear beginning, middle and end. Social media on the other hand is endless.
Social media is driven by the here-and-now. A post made on Facebook or Twitter a day ago is lost. Users’ social streams are constantly moving, and each piece of content has a very short shelf life. And in some sectors, what was said an hour ago is old news. This means companies have to keep adding and participating in social media to stay relevant and visible. They can’t stop feeding the content beast, or they’ll get lost.
Showing up day-after-day to be present and active in these platforms requires a different mindset. Marketing campaigns are like a sprint, while social media is like a marathon.
Prepare for the marathon
Preparing for a marathon can take months of training. It’s not like you can get up and run 26 miles if you’ve never run before. You’ve got to build up the capacity to handle running that far.
Social media is similar. It’s not like you can dive in and build a community if you haven’t done anything else in social media before. You’ve got to build up to it. You’ve got to establish processes.
Social media is process driven. Focus on building one competency at a time. For example, you might start with listening and monitoring to get a pulse of what’s happening in your industry. This is a great way to learn and get educated before you move into publishing. Once you’re comfortable with listening add another competency and master that. And continue to add new processes one at a time so you don’t burn out or crash.
Share the workload
Asking one person or department to drag the organization along in a marathon is a recipe for failure. The operative word in social media is “social.” Companies don’t win at social media with a command and control style. The companies that succeed share the responsibility.
The more people in your organization you can empower and get involved in your social media processes, the more impact you can have. Share the responsibilities beyond marketing, and incorporate the tools into product management, customer service, sales and even accounting. Every department can benefit from these tools.
Sharing the load also lets you do more with less. There’s only so far one person can run. When an organization works together they can cover so much more distance.
It’s clear social media is here to stay. Over 90,000 people registered to attend Dreamforce ‘12. The focus of the conference this year was on the social enterprise, and there were hundreds of vendors presenting on the growth of the space.
Social media is growing in leaps and bounds, and marketing departments are already well aware of its influence. The challenge is refocusing the marketing department’s budget, resources, processes and metrics to commit to the marathon—because it’s going to be a long one.
(Image credit: Jim Larson)
Creating demand (or leads) for your brand has two fundamental components: attraction and engagement. Each on its own is not enough. You’ve got to put them together to make your brand more findable, referable, memorable and desirable.
Attraction: Stand out
What differentiates your firm from the competition? Do you have a unique approach, or unique capabilities? Are you cheaper? Do you provide better service, or a broader product selection? What is that thing that makes you stand out in your industry?
The first step in demand generation is to be able to stand out in your industry like an orange tree in an evergreen forest. If you look and act like everyone else, then you’re going to get lost in the clutter. The brands that draw in the most new customers are easy to find, easy to refer and easy to talk about.
The challenge is attraction does not originate in marketing or sales. It’s strategic, and it’s an executive responsibility. True differentiation is drawn out from the business model, culture and values of the organization.
Marketing plays two key roles in attraction. First, they are responsible for packaging and communicating what makes the firm unique. And second, they can help lead and encourage the organization to bake marketing into the fabric of the business.
Be a brand ambassador, and get everyone on your team working towards making your firm stand out like an orange tree in an evergreen forest.
Engagement: Be the first choice
Once you know what makes your firm unique, you’ve got to communicate it. But more importantly, you’ve got to use it to build relationships.
At any given time only 3% of your market is buying, the rest are not. Your market is made up of customers, prospects and past clients—these are the companies that can and will buy from you. And this is the group you need to purposefully engage so they call you first when they’re ready to buy.
I use the term engagement over promotion, because the goal is to connect with your market early and often—the earlier the better. I try to seed relationships with my prospects upwards of three years before they need my services. This helps me to develop a relationship based on like and trust so when it comes time for my prospects to buy, I can focus on solving a problem versus explaining what makes us better.
Creativity separates the men from the boys
Ultimately good content drives effective demand generation. Keyword laden, promotional content is not effective. It’s spam. But content and experiences that attract and engage your market will drive sales.
It comes down to three key questions:
- What makes you unique?
- What kind of relationships are you building with your market?
- How will you engage your market even when they’re not buying?
The final question is dependent on good creative. If 97% of your market isn’t buying, then you’ve got to have good content and experiences that will speak to your market whether they’re buying or not. Good content that resonates with your market will drive far more leads than promotional stuff.
(Image credit: Royce Bair)
The growth of the Internet has proven to be a double-edged sword for many companies. For all the positive influences the Internet, social media and mobile technologies provide companies, they also make marketing far more complicated.
I had an opportunity to share some of my thoughts on the double-edged nature of digital marketing in yesterday’s Globe & Mail. Paul Brent, the journalist, quizzed me on how sales has changed in the past decade, and what it means for companies to stand out and compete in the digital age. The topic got me thinking, and I wanted to expand about the two sides of the sword in this post.
The Positive: Democratize marketing
The growth of digital communications has leveled the playing field. Social media is free, if not virtually free. Anyone can setup a Twitter account or Facebook page, and connect with their prospects and clients. Anyone can write an article, and post it on their blog. Anyone can record a video, and share it on YouTube or Vimeo. The ability to create and publish content is remarkably easy. The only barrier is yourself.
The openness of creating and sharing content is very different from twenty years ago. Prior to the Internet, the primary channels for a company to connect with a mass audience was through TV, radio or print. They were closed networks, which meant the companies with the deepest pockets reached the most people.
Today it doesn’t matter how much money you have. If you have a clear purpose, engaging content and the will to connect with people, you can grow a substantial platform and build a highly recognized brand.
The Negative: Information overload
The problem with democratizing publishing is everyone has a soapbox. Instead of tuning into a few platforms to access information (TV, radio and print), we are inundated with channels. And worse, even more brands are vying for our attention.
Look at your Facebook stream, and notice how many people are trying to get your attention. Then scan the screen, and look at the ads and sponsored posts that are competing to get your attention too. Then flip to Twitter, email, Google, your corporate Intranet, TV, radio, iTunes, and every other place you access content. Everywhere you turn someone is trying to share something with you and capture your attention.
From a brand context, the competitive forces for marketing have exploded. You aren’t competing with companies in your backyard anymore. You’re competing globally. And you’re not competing to get your message heard amongst your direct competitors. You’re competing with everyone to capture a tiny piece of your target market’s fractured attention. It’s a cluttered mess.
What do the two sides mean?
The sword cuts both ways. Some companies are making huge strides with social media and digital marketing, while others are finding little to no benefit to the tools. What do these mixed results mean?
The more I chew on the question, the more I come to the classic consultant’s answer, “It depends.” It all depends on context:
- Who are your customers?
- How do they want to engage with you and your company?
- How can digital tools (platforms and channels) enhance and support your customer relationships?
- What are you trying to achieve?
The tools are just that, tools. They can work for you, or they can hinder you. But no matter how you slice it, the growth of the Internet, social media and mobile will influence your business. It comes down to timing and your clients’ expectations. For example, in 2000 having a website was optional, but in 2012 you’re not a business without a website. The tools are here to stay. And you can guarantee they’ll keep evolving, and the clutter will keep growing.
What’s your take?
(Image credit: Masahito Oku)
Your content is the foundation of your digital brand. The content your company produces drives social media, influences your search rank and feeds your website. It builds your company’s credibility by demonstrating your firm’s capabilities, personality and values. And it builds relationships by engaging your prospects, clients and centers of influence. Without a steady supply of content your digital brand is dead in the water.
Keeping up with the relentless demands of new content is overwhelming for many firms. Who has the time to blog everyday? Not many. At least not many without dedicated marketing and writing resources. And on top of blogging, who has time for the ongoing content demands for social media, newsletters and video? A well rounded content marketing program that drives sales results is a big endeavor.
What is a firm to do? Many people complain, “I don’t have enough time to write and create all this content.” That may be true, but time is not the issue. The issue is money.
If you’re serious about building your firm’s brand online then you’ve got to invest in content marketing, and that requires time or money. You can create the content yourself, you can hire staff or contractors to create it, you can outsource it or you can use a combination of these tactics. Whichever way you create content there will always be a required investment to drive the content machine.
Time is money
There’s a hard cost for investing strategic staff and management resources for content creation. You’ve got to determine if that’s the best use of their time, and if they’re the best people for the job. If it makes strategic sense for key members of your team to create content then by all means make it happen. If not, then value the effort and get it off their plate.
There are oodles of excellent writers, videographers and other content creators available in the market. The challenge is developing a strategy for how you’re going to engage your targeted constituents online, and determining the appropriate types of content to build those relationships. Once you have the strategy you can identify the resources to develop and distribute the content.
Avoid cheaping out on content creation. Linkbait, keyword laden, SEO-style content does not sell. It’s obviously promotional. It may bring a visitor to your website, but it doesn’t readily demonstrate capabilities, build relationships or convert into sales.
Content is the heart and soul of your digital brand. It’s what your prospects, clients and centers of influence are interacting with online. So set the bar high. Your online experience should reflect the offline experience. Your content should demonstrate what it’s like to work with your firm so people have a comparable experience no matter how they interact with your business.
You don’t have a choice
You can’t avoid content. No matter how you approach marketing online it always ties back to content. Accept it and invest in it. And it’s ok to acknowledge you don’t have the resources and capabilities to create the content inhouse. Focus on what you do best, and budget accordingly in content creation to drive your sales funnel.
(Image credit: Charles Strebor)
Digital marketing is important, but don’t forget about the real world too. I’ve been shocked recently to see a number of B2B companies abandon their offline marketing and focus exclusively online.
It’s easy to focus your marketing resources online: social media, search engine optimization, pay-per-click, blogging, newsletters, webinars, you name it. Marketing online is fast and cost-effective. You can engage thousands of prospects and customers for not a lot of money.
Digital is also the hot topic. Shiny, new objects are far more interesting to understand and implement than the tried and true. At the same time there’s also the pressure not to be left behind.
It may be easier to market online, but it’s a risky move to focus on it too much. We live the bulk of our lives in the real world.
Focus on the relationship
Rather than following the trends and copying what others are doing, look at your customers. The best way to find the optimal marketing mix is to cater to the relationship.
- Who are your customers?
- How do they prefer to interact with your brand and your people?
- What are your prospects’ and customers’ expectations?
- How can you establish rapport so they like you, trust you and choose you first?
If you’re clients would prefer a handwritten note over a Tweet then it’s time to work on your penmanship.
Mix it up. Change it up
Relationships change, and expectations change. Email newsletters were very popular 5 years ago, but then everyone jumped on the bandwagon and filled up our inboxes. Don’t get caught up on one communication platform, because it used to work.
I find a mixture of communication programs to be the most effective. Email works for some, but not others. The same can be said about events, lunch-and-learns, social media platforms, and so on. There’s no one size fits all.
Follow the numbers, and don’t be afraid to mix in new marketing options every now and then. I like to experiment with a new communication stream every 6 to 9 months. I track my numbers, and if it works I keep it. If it doesn’t, at least I learned something. I use the same process to decide what to drop. My goal is build relationships versus committing to tools and technologies.
Offline is the new hip
Another way to look at offline marketing is it’s the new hip. Digital marketing is common place. Throw an event or two. Get out and shake some hands and build some relationships. You will stand out by being a little retro.
(Image credit: Jessica Petersen)
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