Find Your Marketing Voice and Be Quiet




Last week I lost my voice. I was silent for two days and barely more than a squeak for about three more. It was comical, frustrating and completely disruptive all at the same time. This has never happened to me before but I think I was long overdue being silenced!

Here are the things I learned about not having a voice that apply in life, business, and especially marketing.


Stop Talking About Yourself!

I help businesses to find their voice. We work together to define their brand all the way from their core values to reaching their target audience, having real conversations, closing deals, and building advocacy.

Each business is different so it makes sense that each brand is different and that their voice will subsequently be unique.

When a business finds its voice it’s tempting to keep yelling “Look at us! Look at what we’re doing over here! We have a great solution!” It’s like a baby discovering their vocal cords but when beautiful bouncing babies draw attention to themselves its magnetic. When businesses do it, it’s annoying.

So what’s the answer? How do you get your target audience to notice you without being needy?

First of all, make sure that what you have to say matters to your audience. When that gorgeous baby chirps and gurgles, it matters to everyone in the room! They stop what they’re doing to applaud and encourage. No noise is insignificant, everything is worthy of praise.

As a business, it’s challenging to cast that kind of spell but it’s not impossible. You have to understand what’s important to your target audience. You have to be able to connect the dots from what’s important to them to how your solution helps them. You have to give them a good reason to care.

Once you understand what they care about and why they care, talk about that. When your conversation talks about them, their challenges and how to overcome them, you are interesting and helpful to them. As you continue to talk about what matters to them, you build a relationship that naturally results in sales.

When I lost my voice I had to choose quickly and carefully what to talk about. I had to focus my energy on using my vocal cords for my audience and what mattered most to them.

Pick your words carefully!

When we’re younger, we build our vocabulary so that we can express ourselves. Quantity comes first and with the right guidance, quality makes an appearance later. Once we’re more mature, it’s expected that we focus on quality over quantity.

In business, quality is a fundamental building block of letting people know exactly the problem your business solves. If your marketing message doesn’t immediately inform your audience what problem you’re solving and for whom, they’ve moved on.

So you have to be economical and find the best words and put them together in the shortest way possible while still adequately explaining what you do. Most people don’t want to know how it works or why it works, they simply need to know that it works for their issue.

That’s not easy! When I had little to no voice, I found myself thinking about how to express myself in the most accurate words possible so that I could speak relevantly and then be quiet. Talking was painful for me and even more painful for those trying to listen to me!

When you give a lot of thought to the words you’re using they become infinitely more meaningful. I found myself eliminating buzzwords and I stopped talking if it was only to prove that I knew what I was talking about. I think I was more efficient, clearer, and honestly less boring.

Listen More Than You Speak!

We’ve all heard this before but it bears repeating. I think it goes something like this. We have two ears and one mouth; use them proportionately. When you force yourself to listen and seek to understand it is logical to think that what you say next will be positively influenced by what you just learned.

Listening is not simply about being polite or to make sure your audience feels acknowledged. It helps you do a better job for your customer. You learn new things. You become more in tune with your target audience. You sell more.

You might learn that they use your product in a way that wasn’t intended but might also be helpful to others. That could open up a new target market for you.

You’ll probably learn the ways it falls short so that your business can decide what they want to do about that. You’ll also be able to tap into features that would make a large number of customers happier and more likely to continue to be repeat customers and potential customers more inclined to buy.

You might learn what kind of support your audience needs so that you can align your content and become the resident expert. You’ll be able to be useful throughout the customer lifecycle so that your customers have no need to go anywhere else.

You’ll also know how you can be more helpful to your target audience so that you put your resources into developing the support your customers want, not the support you think they want.

All in all, my few days of enforced silence reminded me to be more economical, less egotistical, and gave me a renewed sense of who has and should have the power in the relationship between businesses and their target audiences.

Marketing Stories – Reality or Fairy Tales?

I just finished reading Can Your Company Deliver What Marketing Promises?  It’s a good article about how Marketing must be in step with all the groups within a business, and vice versa. It acknowledges the friction that occurs when Marketing tells a great story that the rest of the company can’t deliver.

Why tell stories in the first place? Marketing tells stories to entice and inspire customers to buy their company’s product or solution. In the story, the business delivers a great product and a superior experience. The customer’s expectation then is that the business will deliver what Marketing promises.

Superbly.   Flawlessly.   Personally.   Authentically.   Over and over.

Photo courtesy of GettysGirl4260 (CC)

Photo courtesy of GettysGirl4260 (CC)

As customers, stories momentarily transport us to a different place where we can picture ourselves. We feel the emotions that come with being happy in that place and we psychologically buy that feeling. When that feeling is strong enough, we then turn around and buy that product or solution.

It’s the outcome of purchasing from a company that determines whether we feel like we bought a true story or a fairytale.


Take the Whammy Burger scene from the film Falling Down. While it’s fictional, the point is legitimate. If you’re not familiar with the film, Michael Douglas is in the middle of a full-blown mental collapse when he walks into Whammy Burger. All he wants is breakfast but they stopped serving it moments earlier.

Douglas pulls out a gun and accidentally puts several bullet holes in the ceiling. He then changes his mind about breakfast and instead orders a Double Whammy Burger with Cheese.

When handed the burger, Douglas takes one disgusted look at his “sorry, miserable, squashed” burger and asks everyone in the restaurant, “What’s wrong with this picture?” His burger looks nothing like the plump, juicy burger on the menu. It’s a moment to which we can all relate.

The burger on the menu was a fairy tale. While Marketing was busy telling the story of great customer service and delicious burgers, the rest of the business was delivering something inferior. How can companies make sure that the story Marketing tells becomes reality for the customer?

The best and only way is to get Marketing and the rest of the business to sit at the same table and openly discuss what’s important to the customer and how to make it a reality.

It requires tough conversations, negotiation, compromise in some areas and not in others, but when done diligently and always with the customer in mind, the marketing story and the customer experience match. When it’s done really well, legends are born.

Many years ago I remember being in the car with my Dad on his way to a company dinner. He was dropping me off on the way when he suddenly went white and reached for his mobile phone. It was the 80s so calling it mobile was relative by today’s standards. It was as big as a brick and weighed twice as much.

He was calling the bank and it was 5:28pm. They closed at 5:30pm and this was before after hours call center support. In a mad panic he explained that he was taking important clients to dinner and needed to pay the bill.

He’d just realized that he’d inadvertently paid a large invoice earlier with the same card. If he tried to use the card, he’d be declined in front of his clients and that was unthinkable. I could hear the murmur of the voice at the other end talking.

Finally my Dad exhaled and said, “Susan, you’ve saved me from a very embarrassing situation and I won’t forget this.” As the color flooded back into his face, he hung up and told me about Susan who stayed late to increase his limit and save him from a terrible fate.

He always spoke highly about the bank after that and more especially about Susan (he never forgot her name). When their commercials came on or someone else mentioned them he said that Susan was living proof that the bank cared about their customers, which is exactly how they marketed themselves.

There’s no doubt that the bank empowered its employees to make the marketing story a reality for customers. Doing that means recruiting the right people, investing in training, having the systems to support the story, and measuring employees on how well they deliver the reality every day.

And while this example is a consumer example, it applies equally to businesses working with other businesses.

Today, there have never been more opportunities to deliver genuine experiences to customers on the device of their choice, in any location, at all times, among a jury of their peers. Don’t make your customers shake their heads in disbelief and ask “What’s wrong with this picture?”

Instead, listen to them say “They delivered what they promised.”

How to Market to Buyer Personas

It stands to reason that the better you know your customer the better you can market to them, but what does that really mean?

In a world where shouting louder doesn’t work anymore, marketing must be personal, authentic, and consistent.

I’ll share the approach I use and with which I’ve had success understanding who my clients’ ideal customers are, what keeps them awake at night, what would substantially help them, and how to convey the help you can provide. It’s a 360 approach that puts the customer firmly in the spotlight.

This approach works in B2B and B2C situations. I hope others will share their processes also. These are the 7 questions I ask to better understand my target audience:

  1. Who needs my product?
Photo courtesy of Marc Brubaker (CC)

Photo courtesy of Marc Brubaker (CC)

Let’s use my business as an example. This is a sketch rather than a finished portrait. Broadly, any company needing marketing strategy has the potential to be interested in my skillset. However, I’ve developed a niche working with companies in their early stages and Imarket specifically to them.

I’ve found they fall into four categories, or buyer personas:

  • Entrepreneurs and early startups
  • Small businesses that have run out of launch money
  • Small businesses that have a financial safety net
  • Evolved startups needing periodic support
  1. What is the goal of each buyer persona?
  • Entrepreneurs and early startups – to attract investment dollars, be acquired and make some money.
  • Small businesses that have run out of launch money – to survive, pay their household bills, and grow beyond survival mode.
  • Small businesses that have a financial safety net – to supplement their current income with the intention of ultimately replacing it.
  • Evolved startups needing periodic support – successfully launch marketing campaigns without hiring anyone extra.
  1. What do they look like?
  • Entrepreneurs and early startups – they tend to run very lean and move pretty fast.
  • Small businesses that have run out of launch money – they have no safety net and need to get their business to market now.
  • Small businesses that have a financial safety net – they tend to move more methodically and may disappear for periods of time.
  • Evolved startups needing periodic support – they need high performing and reliable resources that doesn’t want to be a full-time employees.
  1. What are their pains?
  • Entrepreneurs and early startups – they have no money and are often trying to meet all the demands of running a business by themselves or with a lean crew. They have to compete for investment dollars.
  • Small businesses that have run out of launch money – they have no money and are running out of time to validate that their business can be successful.
  • Small businesses that have a financial safety net – they are not able to dedicate all their time to launching their business and making it successful.
  • Evolved startups needing periodic support – they are looking for a seat at the big table but don’t have the budget for dedicated resources to get them there.
  1. What benefits can you offer that solve their pains?
  • Entrepreneurs and early startups – speed, knowledge, experience, and a reasonable fee.
  • Small businesses that have run out of launch money – education. There are some standard marketing tasks that I can teach small business owners to do for themselves. Rather than paying someone to do the tasks, they can spend a total of 4-5 hours with me and then do it themselves for as long as they need to.
  • Small businesses that have a financial safety net – flexibility. I can work around their availability, budget, and needs.
  • Evolved startups needing periodic support – flexibility, speed, knowledge, experience, and professionalism. I can jump in and out as needed and they don’t need to be scared about putting me in front of investors, clients, bosses, etc.
  1. What challenges will you have in selling to them?
  • Entrepreneurs and early startups – getting on their radar screen. They are so overwhelmed they don’t know where to look for help. They also tend to have preconceived notions about marketing strategy.
  • Small businesses that have run out of launch money – getting them to spend money on marketing and helping them become viable before the other shoe drops.
  • Small businesses that have a financial safety net – getting them to commit to developing a marketing strategy.
  • Evolved startups needing periodic support – getting them to venture outside their own team.
  1. What marketing message is about them?
  • Entrepreneurs and startups – You need to get your business to market. You’re wearing too many hats. Let a proven marketing strategist get you the results you’re looking for.
  • Small businesses that have run out of launch money – You need to get your business to market. Let a proven marketing strategist teach you how to get the results you’re looking for.
  • Small businesses that have a financial safety net – When you’re ready to launch your business to market, let a proven marketing strategist get there. One step at a time.
  • Evolved startups needing periodic support – You need marketing help now but you don’t need it forever. Let a proven marketing strategist get you the results you need.

When I go through this process with clients, we don’t fine tune the message until later. The nuggets are often in the nuances that customers share. Overburdening their words with our meaning puts the focus back on the product and away from the target audience.

Not only does understanding what matters to customers make your marketing more effective, it also forces the business and the products themselves to be better. And when your product is better, you sell more!

Does My Small Business Need a Website?

There are very few businesses that don’t benefit from having a website. In fact it took me a little while to think of any. Finally I thought of businesses that satisfy an immediate need at a low cost with a simple product.

Photo courtesy of Gregory Bastian (CC)

Photo courtesy of Gregory Bastian (CC)

Think of the cart that sells umbrellas in the tourist areas of London, or any major city prone to rain. Versus getting wet, buying an umbrella is a bargain. If you leave it in your hotel room when you depart you’re not worried. It didn’t cost much and it’s replaceable.

The product is universally understood and requires no selling of features and benefits. There is little to be gained from a website because no education or explanation is required. This is not a complex sale.

So having eliminated a very small percentage of businesses, the statement that there are very few businesses that don’t benefit from having a website stands firm.

Said another way, the vast majority of businesses must have a strong website presence. That includes small businesses. It’s pretty rare that your small business is too small to benefit from a website.

But to truly benefit from having a website you need to do two things that have nothing to do with the size of your business. First, you need to build a website that closes sales and second, you need to drive traffic to your website.

And not just any old traffic. Traffic that has the greatest potential to buy from you.

For more on driving the right traffic to your website read How Do I Drive Traffic To My Website?  For now, let’s focus on building a website that closes sales.

Regardless of size, businesses need a website for the following reasons:

  • Credibility   Consumers are relieved when they can find you online. You’re a “real” business.
  • Identity   Websites let your customers get to know you and your business. They get a feel for who you are and whether they want to do business with you.
  • Choice   The vast majority of your target audience will choose to interact with your website at some point as they get to know your business. Make sure that choice is available.

How does a business build a website that closes sales?

  • Clarity   In the first ten seconds your visitors will decide whether to stay or go. Make it so incredibly easy for your visitors to see what you do, find what they are looking for, and buy from you that they don’t need to continue to hunt.
  • Education   Give your visitors the information they are seeking. If you are able to make someone better informed after a visit to your website they are more likely to subsequently buy from you.
  • Simplicity   Don’t try to be all things to all people. Focus on what matters to your target audience. That is not the same as focusing on all visitors. Make your website simple and appealing for those that have a need for your product or service.
  • Lifecycle   Fine-tune your content to coordinate with the different phases of your customer’s lifecycle. This means making it just as easy for visitors to find entry level information as it is for those that are closing in on a buying decision and need more advanced content.
  • Ease   Make it easy for your visitors to continue dialogue with you. Contact forms should be easy to find on multiple pages. Visitors are easily distracted. Keep it easy.
  • Feel   Last but not least, think about one emotion you want your target audience to feel when they land on your website. Build everything around arousing that feeling.

One last suggestion for businesses of any size is to use an analytics tool. Google Analytics is free and easy to set up. It can show you where your website traffic is coming from, where your visitors lose interest, when they turn back and when they get immersed. Knowing this enables you to make adjustments to your website and to the strategy you use to drive traffic to your website.

What are you missing out on if you don’t spend some serious energy on your website?

You are missing out on potential customers, promotion of your product by loyal users, and revenue. Bring your website to life, drive the right traffic there, and close those sales!

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!


What I learned about Content Marketing from My Son – 8 Keys to Success

My oldest son starts his third year of studying high school Marketing this year and it has become apparent that he has learned more than I realized about content marketing strategy. Join me on a ride along and experience how this young man nailed content marketing and see how you can too!

Photo courtesy of Shena Tschofen (CC)

Photo courtesy of Shena Tschofen (CC)

I believe that businesses of any size benefit from integrating a sound content marketing strategy into their marketing plans. A well-executed content marketing strategy does not have to be expensive and it will result in sales.

To that end I developed a straightforward but robust list of 8 Content Marketing Steps. This list is not an attempt to address content marketing strategy soup to nuts. It is designed to help businesses get started.

Apparently teenagers who have just received their driver’s license can also utilize these steps to market their desire to borrow your car to go to the school dance:

  1. Know your audience and understand what matters to them.

I applaud planning and value going to bed at a reasonable hour. My son took this into account and introduced the idea of the school dance several days in advance while acknowledging that it ended later than I typically go to bed.

At this time he did not market his solution. He recognized that this was the early engagement stage and that he was simply creating awareness for the dance and his desire to attend. Maybe he’s been listening to me after all!

  1. Identify your business goals to determine your content marketing goals.

My son’s goal was to drive my car to the dance and stay until the dance ended at 11pm. To achieve this he identified that his marketing needed to create an awareness of his maturity.

Suddenly the trash miraculously disappeared on cue every time it was full. I didn’t have to ask him to clean his dishes away after dinner. I was starting to like this!

In a coincidental moment of utter despair, the vehicle in question wouldn’t start when I needed to get one of his brothers to hockey practice. Calmly he said “Pop the hood Mom” and proceeded to diagnose and fix the problem while I switched to our second vehicle. Now I was being drawn in!

  1. Jot down topics that matter to your audience and create a variety of content about them.

It also happened to be the first week back to school. We talked about grades and expectations without any eye rolling. He shared every piece of paper I had to sign. That’s a first. He even mapped out the best route for back-to-school night. I was fast becoming a subscriber!

  1. Build a simple content calendar to help you decide where, how, and how frequently you are going to publish your knowledge.

Again understanding the target audience, my son tamed his tendency to keep asking me the same questions (Can I go and can I take your car?) over and over. Also knowing I don’t like to get bombarded with requests the minute he gets home from school, he started to ask me about my day.

He was very purposeful in deciding where, when and how to discuss the dance. In the natural way of things, after talking about my day, we started to talk about his day. Over the course of several afternoon chats and a couple of texts, I learned about the dance.

He continued to resist the temptation to ask for permission to go to the dance or for the car. He provided useful information at appropriate intervals when I asked and he didn’t rush the relationship-building.

  1. Consistently publish relevant content across the customer lifecycle.

About three days before the dance, he correctly gauged that awareness and engagement had been achieved and there was definitely interest. He chose this time to reinforce that if allowed to go he understood the expectations.

No-one else could be in the car with him, no phone activity in the car, and no leaving the dance unless it’s to come home.

This was incredibly relevant at this point in the buyer’s journey. It’s often the time at which companies start to push their product too hard. He chose to continue to focus on what mattered to me.

  1. Be purposeful in your engagement tactics.

A couple of days before the dance he waited for a good time and asked very politely if he could go? It was a call to action that tested the strength of his marketing. Had I been listening? Was the information he provided relevant? Had he naturally engaged me to this point?

Asking for an indication of intent was the next logical step. He closed the sale with a great offer. He had his own money saved and was planning to pay for himself…sold!

I smiled and said “Sounds great! Would you like to borrow the car?”

  1. Measure, monitor, and analyze everything. Your SEO, your channels, your offers, your social media metrics, etc.   Adjust accordingly.

The day of the dance he went back over the plan. Leave the house at this time. Pick up glow sticks for the dance from this store. Drive to the school to arrive at this time. Be home no later than this time.

He gave me everything I needed to measure success. I said I’d keep my phone handy so that we could make any adjustments if needed.

  1. Make it easy for your audience to move between learning from you and buying from you.

Not only did he make it easy for me to buy from him, he also integrated the last two stages of the customer lifecycle; retention and advocacy. He didn’t drop his target audience like a hot potato the minute he had what he wanted.

Instead he arrived home ten minutes early. Now he has built trust and I am his advocate. We both know this will help him the next time he wants to borrow the car. I am far more likely to buy from him again. Of course it would be nice if he keeps taking out the trash too!

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!



Traditional Marketing and Content Marketing: How They Differ and Why It Matters

Last week I happened to be in several very enjoyable conversations that at some point turned to content marketing. This is a favorite topic of mine. The aggregate of the conversations made me realize two things.

The first is that clear and complete working definitions of content marketing are hard to come by. (Here’s a great exception!) The second is that there is a general lack of understanding about what results content marketing can deliver.

I’m going to try to kill two birds with one stone. My theory is that an understanding of what content marketing is, and how it differs from traditional marketing, clears the path to being able to see what results it can realistically deliver.

Let’s start by comparing and contrasting, at a high level, traditional marketing and content marketing. They share the goal of creating positive brand awareness and driving revenue generation.

They are different in two key respects. There is no right or wrong between traditional marketing and content marketing but one is losing ground. I’ll let you guess which one. The two respects in which they differ are direction and relationship.

Direction   Traditional marketing is aggressive in that it pushes information out to grab the attention of potential buyers. Content marketing is passive, seeking to draw the target audience in and influence using education and information.

The direction of traditional marketing is out and the direction of content marketing is in.

Relationship   Traditional marketing builds a one-way relationship to tell the ideal customers what to buy by promising them the features and benefits of the product. It interrupts with the intention of making an immediate sale.

Content marketing builds a two-way relationship by engaging a specific target market, identified by their behaviors, and enabling buyers to easily interact at their own pace. The communication along the buying journey builds trust, which creates revenue opportunities and subsequently leads to sales.

The traditional marketing relationship is constructed around profiles and the product. The content marketing relationship is constructed around nurturing relevant conversations with buyers.

Photo courtesy of Will Lion (CC)

Photo courtesy of Will Lion (CC)

So why does it matter? It matters because content marketing provides the opportunity and venue to have conversations with your buyers. Once engaged in meaningful conversations, buyers are most likely to purchase from the business that has informed, educated and built a relationship with them.

Businesses are engaged in content marketing because it is directly related to revenue generation. That’s why it matters and ultimately what you should care about.

It matters because of the impact content marketing is having in influencing buying decisions. It has gained enormous traction because we all prefer to be informed rather than told. It is coming of age because we’d rather participate in a conversation than be held hostage by a monologue.

It matters because buyers are typically doing more than half their research online (more for B2B) before narrowing down their options. That means that if your content is not readily available when the buyer is researching, they’ve moved on.

It matters because if you provide irrelevant or, even worse, self-serving content you’ll get deleted. If you don’t give buyers a really good reason and plenty of easy opportunities to connect with your business, you’ll be ignored and skipped over.

Qualitatively, content marketing provides value when put in the right hands and delivers education throughout the buyer’s journey. This improves brand loyalty and is a vehicle for regular communication with your target market.

Quantitatively, content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates three times as many leads for each dollar spent. That’s pretty compelling! Spend less and generate more revenue.

Giving your buyers what they want, not what you think they should want, helps your business deliver more sales-ready leads. Allowing buyers to determine the place, timing and topic of the conversation reinforces brand loyalty.

Additionally, 80% of people like to learn about a business by reading their custom content and 60% seek out more product information after reading related content. It makes sense! For more great insights like these, check out this infographic.

Marketing has changed and will continue to evolve. Harnessing your content marketing objectives to specific business goals such as customer acquisition, retention and revenue growth enables your business to deliver loyal customers and sales. That’s why it matters!

Do you have a definition of content marketing that works well for you? Please share in the comments!

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!