Of all the questions we get at The $100 MBA, I’d say about 80% of them concern marketing.
In one way or another, everyone is asking the same thing: how can I build my brand to the point where buying my product is a no-brainer? Companies have been asking this question since the dawn of commerce, but recently the answer has changed. Gone are the days of “blasting” information about your business into the public sphere and hoping for the best.
Marketing is different now. It used to be a speech; now, it’s a conversation.
The internet created incredible new marketing opportunities, as email, social media, and the web opened countless avenues by which to reach consumers. But for a while, marketers still used outdated strategies: blasting info into the digital space, sending countless (mostly unwanted) messages to anyone they could reach.
These were the days of “spray and pray” marketing: just yell your message as loud as you can, and hope customers hear it.
Now, that strategy (or lack thereof) will get you nowhere. If your marketing isn’t intentional, strategic, and precisely aimed at the right niche, you won’t last long.
It takes work, but intentional, conversational, 2-way marketing is very doable, no matter how small your business is. It’s just a matter of finding your specific audience, and doing the one thing truly great entrepreneurs always do first: listening.
Ideally, you start marketing before you create your product. Yes, you read that right. Your product should be influenced by your marketing efforts, not the other way around. That’s because conversational marketing is about giving consumers what they want instead of what you want to give them.
Now, if you already have a product, it’s not too late. You can still market the right way, and you can align future improvements to your products with your marketing insights going forward.
The Strategy: From Stranger to Customer
2-way conversational marketing isn’t some radical outside-the-box strategy. It’s the proven method, used by businesses big and small.
It’s often referred to as “inbound” marketing. Whatever you call it, the general principle is the same: replacing a company-centric approach with a consumer-centric approach. Stop trying to convince people to buy what you’re selling. Instead, show people what you can do for them, and let them decide to reward you for it.
Different marketers divide the stages of this approach to their liking, but generally, it looks like this:
- Identify consumer problems you can solve
- Offer consumers free valuable content
- Engage consumers in a conversation
- Educate consumers about your solution to their problem
Let’s take a look at each stage.
First things first (and this is why we recommend you start marketing before you actually produce your product): get to know your audience.
In conversational marketing, listening is just as important as speaking. Join social media groups focused on your industry niche. Ask questions. Engage. Interact. Become a part of the community you want to serve, if you’re not already.
One exemplary trick is to use Amazon as marketing research tool. Go to Amazon, and search for books on the topic of what you want to sell. For example, if you’re a weight-loss coach, look for the most popular books on weight loss. Then — and here’s the crucial trick — read the reviews.
Skip the 5-star reviews (they’re not likely to mention any “pain points,” which is what you’re looking for). Skip the 1 and 2-star reviews (they’re likely just on the “hater” end of the review spectrum). Focus on the 3 star reviews. These reviews come from people who found some value in the instruction, but still have needs that aren’t being addressed.
That’s where you come in.
If you can identify a problem that isn’t being well-addressed by others in your industry, that’s your niche. You’re looking for an opening in the market, a place where you can help in ways that others can’t, or won’t. Maybe all those fitness books lacked good advice on working out while traveling, or eating well on a budget.
Whatever it is, it’s there somewhere.
There are other ways to engage in the “listening” part of conversational marketing. Create surveys on social media (easy, fun, and invaluable for gathering info on people’s pain points). Host a strictly Q&A webinar — no pitching, no persuading, just make yourself available to consumers with questions.
Set a timeframe for the listening phase. After a few weeks or even months of gathering intel on what your audience wants, you’ll have an idea of where to steer your product development and your marketing.
Offer Valuable Content
Content marketing is increasingly popular, almost standard procedure at this point. That’s because it’s the absolute best way to engage with discerning, picky, consumers who insist that you demonstrate your credibility before they’ll consider hearing a sales pitch.
Blogs, videos, podcasts, webinars: they’ve all got a single purpose. Your content should be a gift to consumers that builds trust, credibility, and good will.
Of course, you can’t just “spray and pray” your content, either. Don’t write a hundred blogs just to write a hundred blogs. Don’t clog YouTube with video after video just because you can. As in many things, quality beats quantity.
Or in the case of content marketing, specificity beats quantity.
No one cares about your general musings on weight loss, or horse training, or baking. What consumers want is help. You have to produce valuable, useful, applicable information and insights that make consumers feel informed and empowered. That means addressing the specific problems you identified in the listening/research phase.
Build your content library thoughtfully. Take a month or so, and devote yourself to producing a solid amount of blogs and other content. Then, commit to a regular content schedule. The more content you produce, the greater your reach. The more useful the content is, the greater your credibility.
Never sacrifice quality for quantity, but balance both.
Whatever medium you choose — video, podcast, etc. — don’t forget to blog. Blogging not only forces you to articulate your message thoughtfully, it’s the key to growing your reach and bringing traffic to your website via SEO (Search Engine Optimization). For now, search engines still rank sites primarily by the written word, so get writing!
Remember, you’re going to need practice producing great content. Writing, recording, and otherwise producing the good stuff isn’t something you learn overnight. Personally, I can’t listen to the early episodes of The $100 MBA Show, or read some of my first few blogs, because they’re simply awful.
Really, just awful.
Once you’ve put the content out there, it’s time to hear back from your audience. You listened in the first research stage. You responded in the content creation stage. Now, it’s the audience’s turn to take the next step. That’s where CTA (Calls to Action) come in.
CTA’s are the entire point of content.
If your blog, video, or podcast doesn’t include a next step for the consumer to take (sign up for a newsletter, download another content offer, etc), then you’ve wasted your effort producing the content! Use links, buttons, oral instructions; whatever’s appropriate and available to you given the platform. Get the reader/listener/viewer to move the conversation forward by taking action.
The most important aspect of this stage is collecting email addresses. We’ll say it ‘till we’re blue in the face: email is the most effective marketing and sales tool online.
When you send an email, the recipient has to engage on some level, even if it’s just to delete it. That means you always have at least a chance to keep them interested. A quality email list will ultimately be your primary source of revenue.
Of course, you’ll have to give the consumer a reason to trust you with their address. Again, we rely on content. It could be as simple as asking people to subscribe to your blog, podcast, or channel. Or, you can offer exclusive content that’s “gated,” accessible only to those who opt in with their email address.
Once you have that address, you have the power to continue the conversation. When they get your emails, it won’t be the digital equivalent of a flyer stuffed in their physical mailbox. It will be something the consumer asked for and has ownership of.
That’s the biggest advantage a marketer can have: engagement by choice.
Educate, Help, and Sell
Now that you have a conversation going with your audience members, it’s time to really give them a reason to trust you. Your job is to educate them on the benefits of your product or service, so that they take ultimate ownership of the decision to buy it. This is where you really demonstrate your value, before asking for a sale.
It’s critical at this stage to be specific — you should not be sending the same emails or making the same offers to everyone.
Instead, you’ve got to tailor your emails to the recipients based on how they opted in. For example, if your blogs on equipment-free exercise caught the attention of people who travel often for business, they may have opted in by exchanging their email address for an infographic on, say, strength moves you can do in a hotel room.
The people who opted in for that particular piece of exclusive content have different needs than people who opted in to get, say, an e-book on nutrition. Therefore, those two groups should not be getting the same follow-up emails and offers.
Even if you’re ultimately offering both groups the same thing — a free trial of your fitness coaching service — you should appeal to their specific needs.
Fortunately, pretty much every CMS (Content Management System) and email platform out there includes the ability to track opt-ins. Your website, CTA’s, and email systems should be integrated such that you always know what brought the consumer to you, why they opted in, and therefore, how you can help them.
In fact, “How can I help you?” may soon be a barely-remembered phrase from the distant past, because modern online marketers aren’t like floor salespeople talking to strangers. Modern marketers already have an idea of how they can “help you,” because the consumer already told them!
Whatever your industry, whatever your talent, whatever your product, remember to have a conversation. Listen, learn, and be responsive to your potential customers. That will get you a whole lot further than shouting into the wind.