Test the Quality of Your Business Blog: RATER It

Photo courtesy of K. Latham (CC)

Photo courtesy of K. Latham (CC)

Blogging can be pretty stressful at times. Sometimes you know exactly what you want to write about and you can visualize the one thing that matters most to your audience and how to explain it. And sometimes you can’t.

So how do you keep readers coming back for more? How do you increase your number of followers? And why does it matter? It matters because your followers are those that are more likely to make a long term commitment to you. They are the ones most likely to become customers.

The key to having a blog that attracts and retains traffic from your target audience is to hold the quality of your blog to the highest standard. This may sound obvious and it may even sound a bit boring but if we’re honest with each other, there’s a lot of mediocre blogging going on.

Don’t publish mediocre content; implement a quality management framework instead. That’s a fancy name for making sure that every blog you publish has these five things:

  • Reliability
  • Assurance
  • Tangibles
  • Empathy
  • Responsiveness

Just in case you think I am astute enough to have developed this model, known as RATER, I’m not! But in my defense, I am smart enough to recognize a great framework (developed in the mid-1980s by Valarie Zeithaml, ‘Parsu’ Parasuraman and Len Berry) when I see it.

If you are at all involved in measuring quality or being measured in the service sector, especially healthcare, you are very familiar with the RATER methodology. Originally designed with 10 quality components in mind, it was later distilled to the five you see above, hence the acronym RATER.

Here’s what to look for when you use this system to evaluate the quality of your blog:

Reliability    The key to repeat traffic and building your subscriber base. It is made up of two elements – relevancy and consistency. The purpose of a blog is to engage your target audience with information that matters to them.

Providing relevant information consistently is the incentive for them to subscribe to your blog, share your blog, travel the life cycle path with you, and ultimately become your customer.

Before publishing each blog, ask yourself if what you have written is relevant to your target audience. Then make sure that your blogs are published with a consistent frequency, at least once a week. If you are relevant and consistent, you have met the reliability standard.

Assurance   The ability to convey trust and instill confidence. Trust comes when you nurture a two-way conversation between your business and your target audience. It is built by sharing everything you know about what matters to your customer.

Your target audience has already decided that they want to learn more. It’s your job to give them a reason to learn from you. You have to deliver a certainty that your business knows what they’re doing and you have to be authentic.

As you re-read your blog ask yourself if you actually answered a question a customer would pose. Ask yourself if you did it in a respectful way, and ask yourself if your blog encouraged two-way communication. If you did these things, you met the assurance standard.

Tangibles   The skills the reader walks away with. This means that every blog you write for your business must somehow make the reader better educated, a better decision maker, or better able to do something they couldn’t do before.

A great example comes from this blog about fiber glass pools. No other business selling fiber glass pools dared answer the price question for fear of scaring potential customers away. What this business did was recognize that if price is the driving factor, the reader was not a current potential customer anyway.

By sharing not just the price but the why behind the price, the blog helped to drive over $2 million in sales. It qualified true leads by answering the question. It also gave potential customers the relevant information they needed to make a buying decision. The blog tangibly delivered knowledge.

Prior to publishing, ask yourself what you helped your target audience achieve? If you know they walked away with more relevant knowledge than when they arrived, you have met the tangibles standard.

Empathy   The ability to convey that you know what your target audience is going through. Making a real connection allows you to capture the attention of your target audience and share what you know.

There is no way to fake empathy. Target audiences see right through it and not only do they move on, they probably won’t return. The truth is that even if your blog isn’t useful to the reader at that exact moment but it’s authentic, they are more likely to return than if your blog is relevant but fake.

So what questions should you ask yourself to measure the empathy of your blog? This one is straightforward. Did you write sincerely about your topic of choice? Did you fake any element of your story? The answer should be yes and no to meet the empathy standard.

Responsiveness   Identifying and responding to the needs of your target audience is essential. If you don’t answer their questions, someone else will and they are more likely to build a relationship with your target audience.

Ask yourself if your topics are timely? Am I addressing what matters to my audience right now? And am I replying to questions and comments promptly? If you are, you are meeting the responsiveness standard.

Implementing a quality framework takes discipline and a little extra time but the benefits are real. Engaged followers, subscribers that can put what you share to work, and ultimately customers that trust you. Now you are ready to publish your high quality, incredibly relevant blog!


Why Blogging is Important for Your Small Business

Are you thinking about launching a blog as part of your content marketing strategy? It seems like everyone’s doing it. Before you get started, before you even consider how to get started, make sure you know why you are getting started.

Photo courtesy of Susan Smith (CC)

Photo courtesy of Susan Smith (CC)

Why blog for your business? There are three reasons you should blog for your business. They are authority, visibility, and relationship-building.

Authority   Useful blogs that provide readers the skills they need to get where they’d like to go give your business credibility. What starts as credibility becomes authority. The information your business shares makes your audience more skilled and better educated.

Don’t be fooled! This applies whether you are marketing satellite communications systems or selling coffee. It applies whether you are big or small. It applies if you have one customer or thousands.

Complexity, price, and size do not determine the need for authority. Every audience wants businesses to provide useful information that matters to them. Ultimately we buy from those we trust and we tend to trust those that share their knowledge meaningfully.

Here’s how to use your blog to improve the authority your business commands:

  • Write 3-4 evergreen blogs. These thoughtful pieces lay the groundwork for everything else you are going to talk about. Refer back to them relevantly in future blogs.
  • Write 3-4 blogs that tackle topics that matter to your target audience. Demonstrate your expertise.
  • Write in short digestible paragraphs. Readers are skimming for usefulness and words that matter to them.
  • Deliver one message and broadcast it early and often in your blog. Everything else supports that one message.

Visibility   Your business has competition. It comes in all shapes and sizes.  By themselves, blogs are not the answer, but as part of a well-thought out content marketing strategy, they are a substantial part of the solution.

Well promoted blogs increase your visibility by helping your business rank high in search results. That’s not all. Consistently delivered, relevant blogs also have the power to keep your business in front of your target audience and attract a loyal following.

This matters because loyal followers have a high probability of becoming customers. In fact, Demand Metric found that 80% of people like to learn about a business by reading their custom content and 60% seek out more product information after reading content about the business.

Here’s how to use your blog to improve the visibility of your business:

  • Commit to publishing once a week to get started. You already have 3-4 weeks of content while you work on building more. You’ll get better and faster and then you can increase your frequency.
  • Let your blog content determine the title and not the other way round. Pose a question, be interesting, and remember your title is the first impression. Wow and deliver!
  • Add categories to your blog identifying key words. This helps search engines rank you. It also helps ensure your content can be easily found by your target audience.
  • Add social media Share buttons to everything you can. Make it easy for others to share and promote your expertise.
  • Promote your blogs using social media and publishing platforms. This drives traffic to your website where your target audience can learn more about your business.

Relationship-building   Blogs have the ability to create a connection with your audience. They can be useful and personal which makes them easy to digest. Readers can dip in and out and the more they read, the greater the bond that is built.

Well-written, informative blogs lead to greater engagement from the target audience. They start to trust their source enough to commit to reading their white papers, watching their videos, participating in their online discussion forums, and so on.

This is relationship-building. Without it, sales are transactions and hard to come by. With it, sales flow naturally and are followed by repeat business and referrals.

Here’s how to use your blog to build relationships with your target audience:

  • Invite comments on your blog and respond to them. These are steps in getting to know your audience better. Don’t panic if someone disagrees with you. That happens in the best relationships!
  • Be original, be authentic, be you. Share your expertise freely, answer questions, and offer to help.

Blogging increases authority, visibility, and relationship-building. That’s why it’s important for your business. But you know what’s even more important? Getting started! Dive in and do it today!

How has blogging helped your business?  Thanks for reading and please share your comments below!

Content Marketing and the Customer Lifecycle: Don’t Leave Your Audience For Dead

So you’ve started developing content and the results are trending positively. You’ve got followers and subscribers that are benefitting from your expertise. Now you’re wondering about expanding your content and customizing it to be effective for each stage of the customer lifecycle.

First, let’s take a quick look at the customer lifecycle. Called by slightly different names depending on the source, the five stages of the customer lifecycle are Awareness, Interest, Purchase, Retention, and Advocacy:

Lifecycle diagram

Awareness and Interest are “before” stages. Purchase is the “during” stage and Retention and Advocacy are the “after” stages. Providing content that is relevant to your audience has everything to do with timing it with these stages. Are they in the before, during or after stages of purchasing.

Awareness   In the awareness stage, your target audience has identified a need or desire to learn more to resolve a problem or improve a situation. They are probably casting a pretty big net with their online searches.

The businesses that have the answers to the immediate questions will earn a deeper search of their company website and possibly return visits for more information.

Interest  In the interest stage, your target audience has moved beyond early research to seeking for a solution. They want to make a good decision based on their needs and budget and are more likely to go directly to the websites of the resources they have found helpful up to this point.

The businesses that provide substance and education about the needs of the target audience are more likely to find themselves in the short list of preferred resources.

Purchase   In the purchase stage, your target audience has narrowed down the list of candidates they want to buy from and they’re looking for very specific product information. They will use this information to sell your solution internally.

The businesses that present information in easily digestible but comprehensive forms will be able to quickly communicate the value of their product and earn themselves the sale.

Retention   In the retention stage, your customer has new needs. They want to ensure they are getting the value they expected from the solution they purchased. They are very receptive to associated education and any materials that help them become more knowledgeable.

The businesses that deliver useful information and provide opportunities for the customer to gain expertise are demonstrating to the customer that they value the relationship and want to retain it.

Advocacy   In the advocacy stage, your customer is open to other relevant products and solutions. It is important to remain useful so that customers continue to feel compelled to read, view, or listen to your materials.

The businesses that are consistent in the quality and consistency of their materials will be rewarded with brand advocates. Their advocates will continue to buy from them. They will also bring them new business.

What will this approach do for your business? Customizing your content to each stage of the customer lifecycle makes sense for two reasons. The first reason is that it prevents you from leaving your audience for dead. The second reason is that it shortens your sales cycles.

Does the first reason seem a little dramatic? Maybe and maybe not! If your content is not mapped to each and every one of the five stages of the customer lifecycle you abandon your customer mid-stream. As in, you left your audience for dead.

The most common way businesses do this is by wooing their audience with valuable content for the first three stages until the sale is made, and then disappearing.

The final two stages are post-purchase. Delivering relevant content to your target audience during these stages enhances the customer experience, builds brand loyalty, and enables repeat purchases.

And it allows your business to continue a relationship with a group of people that already trust you and love your product. To abandon them part way through the lifecycle is the same as saying,

“I’d rather continuously convince new customers to buy from me to replace the existing clients that already liked my products…”

The second reason customizing your content to each stage of the customer lifecycle makes sense is that it shortens your sales cycles. Here’s how.

Your audience learns to expect that your business will provide the information and education that matters most to them at the very moment it matters. You are there when they need you before, during and after the sale.

This advances the sales process by defining the next steps your audience will take. Consistently providing content that addresses what matters to the audience ensures that your audience won’t see a need to deviate from the path.

It is true that buyers are more likely to purchase from the business that builds a meaningful relationship with them. Worst case scenario and they don’t buy from you? They are still your brand advocates and have the power to influence others who will buy from you.

Content marketing doesn’t stop when your target audience first learns about you or you make the sale. It works hard for your business at every stage to nurture long, healthy, profitable relationships for you and your target audience.

Start cataloguing your existing content according to lifecycle stage today and you will be able to identify your gaps and start filling them in!



Is Your Content Marketing Appealing?

Photo courtesy of Miss Hask (CC)

Photo courtesy of Miss Hask (CC)

I recently became the unsuspecting victim of my 16-year old son’s TV watching habits.

I’ve never been much of a TV watcher. I attribute this to growing up in a country where an entire channel was dedicated to broadcasting the riveting affairs conducted in the Houses of Parliament.

Somehow though, I unwittingly got sucked into watching Ink Master. Perhaps it was the relatively frequent “Mom, can I get that tattoo? Not that one? How about this one?” that finally pulled me in.

After saying about seventeen times “When you’re old enough to no longer need my consent you can get any tattoo you want”, I finally looked up.

Ink Master is described as a “Tattoo Competition Reality Show”. Here’s why I would typically object to shows like this:

  • Reality TV seems to be the furthest from real you could possibly get
  • The endless build up to announcing who’s getting kicked off is infuriating
  • Bad behavior seems to get glorified

Have you seen this show? It has just enough drama and a good handle on reality to avoid the sins listed. It doesn’t feel staged and while it’s not going to change your life, it might change the way you think about tattoos. There is so much work that goes into designing and inking a beautiful tattoo. I had no idea.

What really piqued my interest was how expertly the producers used 4 of the same rules that apply to content marketing to keep the show appealing.

  1. Start with what matters most to your target audience  

In this case, the target audience either watches because they have a real appreciation for the art of tattooing or because they like the drama of the competition. Or both.

Each episode quickly reviews who’s left (drama) and gets straight into a flash challenge (a blend of tattooing and drama). The flash challenge is a teaser to the big challenge of the episode. It’s very similar to a teaser in content that builds to the promise of something that will be revealed later.

  1. Let your content achieve one objective

Ink Master has an overall objective to drive viewers and ratings just as businesses must drive revenue. The objective of each episode is to entertain and build a relationship with the viewer that brings them back in for the next episode.

The objective of each piece of content is to relevantly connect with members of your target audience and keep them coming back for more. Ultimately consumers of your content invite you to the table when they’re ready to buy if you’ve engaged with them meaningfully.

  1. Deliver the way audiences consume

Each episode tells a story. The story is about who is going to pack up their machines and leave in 40 minutes. Each episode can be watched without having seen any other part of the story, or it can be viewed as part of the series.

In the same way, all content should be served in easily digestible chunks. Not long paragraphs or wordy monologues without pauses. Content is best delivered in snacks, not 3-course meals.

  1. Connect on a human level

I was rooting for Tommy. Not because he was the best tattoo artist, even though he was fabulous, but because he was the better person.

Content that involves and makes the audience feel part of the story connects people authentically. Whether the cause is to see someone win a challenge or educate about a topic that supports their business goals or resolves their problem.

I’m not suggesting that you have these guidelines tattooed on your body. But I am suggesting that escaping mediocrity and producing consistently appealing content has everything to do with following them. Start today and watch your content attract the audience it deserves!

Is content more appealing to you when compared to things you are already familiar with, like a TV show? Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


Content Marketing – What’s Your Relationship Status?

Are you in love with your own content?

Photo courtesy of Shimelle Laine (CC)

Photo courtesy of Shimelle Laine (CC)

That might be a problem!

This could be the one time where a status of It’s Complicated is good!

Why would you want to be in a complicated relationship with your content?

The answer is this. If you are infatuated with your own content, there is a very real danger that you are writing about what matters most to you. You need to write about what matters most to your audience. And to do that you must know your audience intimately. That’s content marketing relationship rule #1.

The content you create must matter as much, if not more, to your target audience as it does to you. If it doesn’t, your audience will move on quickly and may never return. They’ll break up with you because “you just don’t understand me”.

Being in a complicated relationship with your content is not as conflicted as it sounds. It means that you are putting energy into the relationship. It means that you are listening to your audience. It may mean that you don’t always understand at first what you are being told.

But you value the relationship enough to keep asking relevant questions. This is ultimately how you learn what matters most to your audience. As the relationship evolves and circumstances change, what matters can change too. So you don’t ever stop asking relevant questions.

You have to stay engaged to keep your audience engaged. Pun intended!

Let me illustrate with a great example.  I recently came across a business that has figured out the relationship between knowing their audience and providing them content that matters.  They also nailed how to deliver it in a way that is meaningful to the audience.

The owners of a local fly fishing shop knew they weren’t marketing effectively to women. They conducted some research and informally surveyed their existing female customer base. They found there were stereotypes that were making fly fishing unappealing to women.

It’s boring.

If I catch it I have to clean it…and that’s ikky.

It’s a guy thing.

They also learned that lots of women had fond memories of fishing with their Dads and several wanted to learn to fly fish to be with their husbands. But most of them did not want to be taught by their significant others. They wanted to learn in the company of other women.

So the business owners started to offer a free introductory class targeted at women. The agenda? Practice casting a line in the pond outside, learn about bugs, tie a knot or two, and watch a fly fishing fashion show.

All while nibbling on snacks, encouraging one another, laughing, and generally reveling in the company of other women.

What the business did was create a fun situation where women could ask their questions, raise their concerns, admit their fears, and learn more about fly fishing without having to make a commitment.

Giving a class is one example of great content marketing. This business made it their mission to know what mattered to their target audience.  And then they used the information to forge a personal and authentic relationship through education, entertainment, and good advice.

They created a situation where attendees don’t even consider going to a different fly fishing shop as they continue to grow their interest.

The cost? Two hours from each of the three hosts, a plate of nibbles, a pitcher of lemonade, and a raffle prize. There was no selling, no sign in sheet, no demand for personal information except first names. Just an exchange of relevant information delivered in a fun, knowledgeable, and relaxed way.

As business owners, we have to ask ourselves over and over, why would someone reading, watching, listening, and engaging with my content care about what I am saying? If we cannot answer that question confidently, we may need to renew our efforts to know what matters most to our audience.

We can be in love. But it must be with our audience, not our content!

What great examples of delivering content that matters have you come across?


Is Your Small Business Capable of Creating Content?

In a previous post Does My Small Business Need Content Marketing? my mission (and I chose to accept it) was to convince you of two things.

The first was that businesses of any size benefit from a sound content marketing strategy and second, as a business owner, you are capable of mapping that out and getting started by following 8 steps.

I also committed that we’d explore each step more thoroughly in subsequent posts. So let’s dive into creating content that matters to your audience. I’m eager to tackle this one because many of the businesses I chat to feel overwhelmed and under-qualified in this area.

My mission this time is to show you that your business is more than capable of creating content. You may choose to delegate or outsource creating some or all of your content but that doesn’t mean you’re not capable of creating it.

Before we delve into the steps needed to create meaningful content consistently, we need to tackle a myth and a pitfall. The myth is that businesses often think they must publish a new revelation every day to be successful. No wonder so many businesses feel discouraged.

Let’s dispel the myth! Relevancy and consistency are the long term strategy for growing your business using content marketing. Better to publish your content once a week to get started and say something relevant and intelligent than to publish flimsy content multiple times a day. Build your frequency later.

Photo courtesy of palo (CC)

Photo courtesy of palo (CC)

The pitfall turns out to be good news. When reviewing content for a variety of businesses I often find that they have jammed 5 years of knowledge into a lengthy post. Or they speak so fast to make 6 points in a 3-minute video that it’s impossible to understand what’s going on.

So what’s the good news? The good news is that within that lengthy post or crazy fast video there are several pieces of relevant content. Avoid the pitfall and be disciplined by tackling one topic per publication. This discipline will be your friend because it will allow you to explore topics properly.

You will also have a steady stream of deliverable content that builds and expands for your audience. If you’re concerned that you might run dry of new material, you will be pleasantly surprised when you break out your content into smaller digestible chunks.

So without further delay, I present to you the 10 steps of content creation:

  1. Commit an uninterrupted hour to jotting down topics that matter to your audience.
  2. When you have 25 – 30 topics organize them in order of importance to your audience.
  3. Take the first topic and decide the one thing you’d like your audience to know about it.
  4. Say it. Write it. Video it. Diagram it. You choose.
  5. However you choose to transfer your knowledge, be authentic. Be you!
  6. Let your content rest overnight and return the next day to refine and finalize.
  7. Edit purposefully and cut more than you add.
  8. Choose a compelling title with a punch. Questions work well.
  9. Publish it! Now! Don’t over-think it!
  10. Consider how you can adapt your content to other media and publish it again!

Creating meaningful content for your business will do several things for you. It will establish that you are indeed an expert (and it’s good to remind yourself of that!) It will also enable you to improve quickly, and it will allow you to build your personal brand, which is essential to growing your business.

As unlikely as it may seem when getting started, creating your content gets easier and faster with time and practice. If at first, your audience doesn’t seem to flock or grows very slowly, don’t give up.

It takes time to nurture a reputation for great information delivered consistently. Relevancy and consistency are the long term strategy for growing your business using content marketing. Get started today!

What are the tips that have helped you in creating content for your small business?

Does My Small Business Need Content Marketing?

Photo courtesy of Andrew Becraft (CC)

Photo courtesy of Andrew Becraft (CC)

I’m a Small Business. I don’t need content marketing.

Do I…??

Simply put, yes you do!

The great news is you are probably already practicing content marketing and may not even know it. The even better news is that if you aren’t, you can launch your content marketing campaign with relative ease. You can stop chasing and start drawing in your target audience.

Don’t think you know the first thing about content marketing?

But you do! You know the most important thing to getting started with your own content marketing. You know who buys or has the propensity to buy your product. Knowing who your audience is and what matters to them is the first domino.

Are you afraid you’ll invest time and effort into this content marketing fad only to watch it fade quietly into the night?

There is no doubt that content marketing will continue to change and evolve, but as far as it going away, it will continue to thrive for two reasons. First, it works! Content marketing is a methodical approach to connecting your knowledge to your target audiences.  When you relevantly connect your knowledge, you ultimately connect your business.

Second, thanks to demand and technology, content marketing just got easier. Businesses can now get content into the hands of their target audiences quickly and in the channel of their choice. In other words, where they are, how they want it, and when they want it.

It’s said that Benjamin Franklin introduced content marketing with Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1732. The purpose of content marketing is to engage, inform, and educate your audience with relevant information that drives profitable business growth. That is exactly what the Almanack did.

This is exactly what your small business can do too! Marketing your content must be planned and have a clear strategy to be successful. You may be one of the lucky ones that goes viral but even then you have to have a plan to sustain your rise to fame! (Let me know if you go viral. I want your autograph!)

I’m glossing over the details so let’s get a bit more specific.   The following list is not an attempt to address content marketing strategy soup to nuts. It is my attempt to convince you of two things.

The first is that businesses of any size benefit from a sound content marketing strategy and second, you are capable of mapping that out and getting started by following these 8 steps.

I can delve into each more thoroughly in subsequent posts:

  1. Know your audience and understand what matters to them.
  2. Identify your business goals to determine your content marketing goals.
  3. Jot down 30 topics that matter to your audience and create a variety of content about them.
  4. Build a simple content calendar to help you decide where, how, and how frequently you are going to publish your knowledge.
  5. Consistently publish relevant content across the customer lifecycle.
  6. Be purposeful in your engagement tactics.
  7. Measure, monitor, and analyze everything. Your SEO, your channels, your offers, your social media metrics, etc. Adjust accordingly.
  8. Make it easy for your audience to move between learning from you and buying from you.

Content marketing is not the holy grail but it can efficiently and effectively get you in front of your target audiences. Presenting your knowledge as content ensures it works hard for you and makes your life as a small business owner infinitely better!

What would you add, edit or delete from this list?