Building a new business is tough. These strategies will help your startup succeed without a big investment.
As many of my readers know, I usually write about strategy, innovation, and leadership. But recently I’ve been asked a lot about how I helped establish Praxie.com as a destination website for hundreds of best practice digital tools and templates using growth hacking strategies. That’s because it’s incredibly hard to cut through the noise and establish a new brand, website presence, and business model in today’s increasingly cluttered competitive world.
So, here’s what we did to build a brand and drive tens of thousands of visitors to our website each month, all without any significant marketing investment. Anyone who’s focused, methodical, and willing take the time can do it.
1. Create Expert Content
Content is king. You can create it yourself or provide a platform that encourages users to contribute content as part of your business model. Content drives the brand and engages customers. Plus, Google and other search engines index and prioritize pages with solid content, so your specific webpages with noteworthy content will get a boost in SEO rankings and see increased traffic over time. Content comes in many forms: articles, blog posts, listicles, white papers, templates, and videos.
2. Syndicate Content to Grow Backlinks
Backlinks are the lifeblood of SEO. The more that reputable websites link back to your website (or sub-pages on your site), the higher you’ll rank will be in search engines. And the higher your rank, the more organic visitors you’ll receive. Whatever you’re doing or providing as part of your business, position yourself as the expert. Become a source of knowledge and insight for the press, get interviewed on podcasts, write articles for other sites, or do anything else that gets your name (and backlink) out there on the net. This strategy also builds your brand.
3. Become a Video Star
Content isn’t just about the written word. YouTube is now the number-two search engine in the world, right behind Google. Video content highlights your expertise. It gets shared. And it drives traffic to your website that can convert to newsletter signups, subscriptions, and product purchases. Be sure to include keywords in the titles and descriptions of your videos. Also include a plug at the end of the video for where the viewer can learn more (e.g., your website). Re-purpose your videos on social media and embed videos into your website to further reinforce your content expertise.
4. Build Email Relationships
While just about every email inbox is cluttered with spam these days, when someone gives you their email address, they’re essentially giving you permission (opting in) to connect with them. While the same principle applies to social media, email is still a unique, higher-touch, form of connection-making. As compared with social media, email is like pinning a flyer up on someone’s front door versus hoping they see one that has been posted on the corner telephone pole as they walk by. So, create easy ways for people to sign up for newsletters. Connect with others on LinkedIn, where most profiles include email addresses. Focus on building a list and providing high-value communications that use expert content to connect with your audience versus just trying to sell them your product. Many free or inexpensive tools can get you started like Mailchimp and Constant Contact.
5. Measure Everything Using Dashboards
The only way to gauge progress is to measure it. Use Google Analytics to track your most important metrics, like the number of visitors, landing pages, conversion rates for your newsletter and purchases, and more. Use free tools like those provided by Moz and Similarweb to benchmark yourself against the competition. Connect social media metrics and advertising into a dashboard that provides a holistic picture of the business. But don’t spend too much time cobbling together data. Keep it simple so you can get a quick read on how you’re doing while spending most of your time doing the things that grow your business.
6. Test, Retest, and Test Again
Google recently introduced a great tool called Optimize. Optimize allows you to quickly run tests on your website or individual web pages. By creating A/B tests that serve up different page headings, product prices, button colors, etc., you can gain insight into what works and what doesn’t based on what you’re trying to achieve. Track which market positioning statements result in the most newsletter signups or which price model delivers the greatest revenue. Running tests should be an ongoing activity which essentially means you’re taking the winning formula from your A/B test and then running another A/B test using that as the baseline. Connect your tests to your data analytics to track what works (and doesn’t) over time.
Most small startups don’t have big funding. That’s why growth hacks are so important. Use a little elbow grease, coupled with savvy customer engagement strategies, to build the basis for market traction. You might need to give it a little time to yield results, but that’s also what’s needed to create an enduring business.
Image Credit: Getty Images (acquired by Soren Kaplan)
This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.
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It was recently announced that Amazon.com would be acquiring iRobot, the maker of the Roomba vacuum cleaner. There are still some “hoops” to jump through, such as shareholder and regulatory approval, but the deal looks promising. So, why does Amazon want to get into the vacuum cleaner business?
At least not for the purpose of simply selling vacuum cleaners. What it wants to do is to get further entrenched into the daily lives of its customers, and Amazon has done an excellent job of just that. There are more than 200 million Amazon Prime members, and 157.4 million of them are in the United States. According to an article in USA Today, written by David Chang of the Motley Fool, Amazon Prime members spend an average of $1,400 per year. Non-Amazon Prime members spend about $600 per year.
Want more numbers? According to a 2022 Feedvisor survey of 2,000-plus U.S. consumers, 56% visit Amazon daily or at least a few times a week, which is up from 47% in 2019. But visiting isn’t enough. Forty-seven percent of consumers make a purchase on Amazon at least once a week. Eight percent make purchases almost every day.
Amazon has become a major part of our lives. And does a vacuum cleaner company do this? Not really, unless it’s iRobot’s vacuum cleaner. A little history about iRobot might shed light on why Amazon is interested in this acquisition.
iRobot was founded in 1990 by three members of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. Originally their robots were used for space exploration and military defense. About ten years later, they moved into the consumer world with the Roomba vacuum cleaners. In 2016 they spun off the defense business and turned their focus to consumer products.
The iRobot Roomba is a smart vacuum cleaner that does the cleaning while the customer is away. The robotic vacuum cleaner moves around the home, working around obstacles such as couches, chairs, tables, etc. Over time, the Roomba, which has a computer with memory fueled by AI (artificial intelligence) learns about your home. And that means Amazon has the capability of learning about your home.
This is not all that different from how Alexa, Amazon’s smart device, learns about customers’ wants and needs. Just as Alexa remembers birthdays, shopping habits, favorite toppings on pizza, when to take medicine, what time to wake up and much more, the “smart vacuum cleaner” learns about a customer’s home. This is a natural extension of the capabilities found in Alexa, thereby giving Amazon the ability to offer better and more relevant services to its customers.
To make this work, Amazon will gain access to customers’ homes. No doubt, some customers may be uncomfortable with Amazon having that type of information, but let’s look at this realistically. If you are (or have been) one of the hundreds of millions of Amazon customers, it already has plenty of information about you. And if privacy is an issue, there will assuredly be regulations for Amazon to comply with. They already understand their customers almost better than anyone. This is just a small addition to what they already know and provides greater capability to deliver a very personalized experience.
And that is exactly what Amazon plans to do. Just as it has incorporated Alexa, Ring and eero Wi-Fi routers, the Roomba will add to the suite of connected capabilities from Amazon that makes life easier and more convenient for its customers.
If you take a look at the way Amazon has moved from selling books to practically everything else in the retail world, and you recognize its strategy to become part of the fabric of its customers’ lives, you’ll understand why vacuum cleaners, specifically iRobot’s machines, make sense.
Marketability may apply to things i.e. goods or services or people. When it applies to people, we are talking about making them attractive to potential employers or clients. People may study for a degree to improve their marketability. This means that they believe that getting a degree improves their chances of getting either a job or a better job.
When it applies to things, we are talking about their ability to be marketed or sold. If you are selling your house, you might improve its marketability if you convert the loft into a living area. In other words, converting the loft will make it easier to sell the house.
If you have invented a new medical device, how likely are the multiple stakeholders likely to buy, use or prescribe it? Will they choose it, use it or just lose interest in it? Is your product just another brown cow or is it a purple cow? Is your new product sufficiently better than the standard of care for doctors to go to bat with administration to change vendors?
Winning in some markets is harder than others. For example, entering a “never been done before at scale”, like electric cars, is expensive and takes lot of convincing the early majority to buy it. On the other hand, the upside potential is enormous.
2. In markets where there are lots of stakeholders, personas and members of the buying group, like sickcare, you have to satisfy the jobs, pains and gains or each with a somewhat different value proposition for each one.
5. Marketability exists in a particular moment in time and can easily change by competitive entries, and other threats.
6. The VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world demands that you constantly test your ideas and explore and exploit new business models and products and their marketability.
7. Complacency erodes marketability.
8. Markets constantly change. The modern marketplace is unlike anything seen before in human history. For example, eCommerce allows anyone to order practically anything from anywhere in the world with virtual currency, often with the help of a virtual assistant that personalizes its recommendations so that each person’s buying journey is unique. In this new age, previously reigning marketing paradigms like the 4Ps of marketing are also undergoing a transformation. Welcome to the age of the 4Es instead.
The “4Es” of Marketing are “Experience”, “Everyplace”, “Exchange” and “Evangelism”. Anyone familiar with Marketing theory will recognize that the 4Es draw their basic wisdom from the famous “4P” mnemonic in modern marketing theory.
9. Many startup founders have low marketing IQs
10. Different business models require different marketing strategies and tactics, e.g. direct to patient marketing v B2B v B2B2C
If you are a physician entrepreneur looking for investors, or an academic entrepreneur trying to commercialize your idea with your technology transfer office, then the first three questions you will have to answer are:
What is your intellectual property and other barriers to entry?
What is the technical and commercial feasibility of your product?
What is the marketability of your product?
If you fail to convincingly answer these questions, it is likely that you will not pass GO and collect $200. But, given the dismal track record of investor’s and inventor’s new product success and portfolio returns, the exercise might all be marketability theater and just a Wild Ass Guess, that, ultimately, will be tested in the marketplace.
Image credit: Pixabay
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Content marketing is a sound strategy. Using email, texting, and social media, companies, and brands are taking advantage of an effective way to connect with customers. Most companies use content to deliver value-added information that gets customers excited about what they sell. That makes sense, but it’s limiting. Think beyond marketing and sales. You don’t just want people to buy your products and services. You want them to experience your company. Beyond what you sell, you want customers to know who you are, what you stand for, and more. A good content strategy helps make that happen.
Perhaps a better way to describe content marketing in this context is to rename it content experience. So, with that in mind, here are seven ways to create an experience that uses content beyond a sales pitch:
1. Get Customers Excited
This is ultimately what you want your customers to experience—excitement for your brand. Share the latest and greatest, and maybe even a sneak preview of what’s to come. Make them feel like they made the right decision to give you their contact information. Get them excited about you—and motivated to want to buy from you and evangelize your brand.
2. Educate the Customer
You might think this is about teaching the customer about your products and services, but there is more. For example, let’s say you sell sports shoes. Look beyond shoes and educate your customers about anything related to your industry. An intelligent customer makes better—and often easier—buying decisions.
3. Highlight Success Stories
Customers want a successful experience with your products, so why not share how other customers have experienced success? Showcase these examples. Turn them into case studies that customers can use to duplicate success. Let your customers tell their stories.
4. Let Customers Showcase the Best Way to Use Your Products
If you’re going to highlight success stories, consider letting your customers do the talking. In effect, these are third-party testimonials and endorsements that are worth far more than traditional paid advertising.
5. Create a Customer Support Forum Run by Customers
Create a place where customers can answer questions posed by other customers. Consumers who have problems or questions love to learn from their peers. By the way, you will want to moderate the responses and be there to comment, add information, and thank customers for their help.
6. Create Meaningful Conversations That Go Beyond What You Sell
Your content experience strategy shouldn’t be one-way. Don’t just post something (a short article, video, white paper, etc.) and walk away. Start a conversation. Ask questions that get your customers to respond and share their opinions, which will ideally lead to other customers chiming in with their thoughts. Then respond to these answers. This type of engagement can bond you with your customers.
7. Stand for Something That Creates a Bond with Your People
There are companies that are admired for their “give-back” strategies. These companies are often charitable. Or they have such a strong belief in a cause that they make it part of their publicly stated mission. It could be sustainability, diversity, and inclusion, or any other cause, charity, or important issue that might excite customers and resonate with them so much that it takes the relationship to something beyond a typical transaction of trading money for a product or service.
Content marketing becomes an experience when you go beyond sales and marketing and make it about the customer. If the content you share creates value for your customers, makes customers feel connected to you and your brand, or makes your customers smarter, you’ve crossed over from sales and marketing to the level of experience. Make your content strategy an experience.
Customer behavior is changing. Expectations are higher. There’s tension between customers and the brands they do business with. The willingness to leave one brand to do business with another has never been higher.
Lance Gruner, Executive Vice President of Global Customer Care at MasterCard, was one of the keynote speakers at CCW (Contact Center Week), the industry’s largest conference and trade show of its kind. More than 3,000 attendees listened to Gruner share lessons he learned while running customer service teams worldwide for one of the most recognized brands in the world.
Gruner started with a story about lost luggage during a recent trip to Ireland. The airline eventually found it, but it wasn’t an easy experience and seemed to take more effort than necessary. Even though his luggage was eventually returned to him, Gruner realized there was a bigger issue, which was how the incident was handled. His point was something most companies and brands are guilty of. They may fix the customer’s problem, but there is a more significant issue. In Gruner’s words, “We must focus on the root and not the symptom.”
In this example, the symptom is the lost luggage, and the root is how employees handle the customer.
Whether they know it or not, what customers want isn’t that complicated. They want to trust that brands will do what they promise. If by chance, things aren’t working out the way they should, they want to trust that a brand will have their back and fix what needs to be fixed. Sounds simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy.
Gruner shared how MasterCard does this. Eighty-four percent of MasterCard’s customers are delighted with their experience. “We still have a ways to go,” admits Gruner. He shared three things MasterCard is doing to drive that improvement.
1. Focus on customers, and specifically, the effort customers go through to do business with you. Just ask the question, “Are we making it easy for our customers?” High customer satisfaction marks—and loyalty—happen when a brand can meet customers where they are. Being available on the phone and digital platforms, such as chat, text, social media and other channels, is important to giving customers an easy experience.
2. Use technology and data to support this effort. Data is powerful when used the right way. Data gives you customer insights that help identify trends. Used correctly, you not only meet the customer’s current needs, you can also predict what they will want and expect in the future. Knowing where customers are going before they do is a powerful way to build trust and loyalty. So, leverage data. Don’t just collect it. Study it and use it to create a better customer experience (CX).
3. Focus on employees. Gruner knows there are employee issues. What is known as the Great Resignation started long before the pandemic, but it has accelerated. In addition to Baby Boomers and Gen-X taking retirement, employees are evaluating their lifestyles. Their wellbeing is paramount to their happiness at a company. Gruner emphasizes the importance of focusing on “our people.” Just as customers must believe in the brand, so must employees. He smiled when he said that 95% of MasterCard employees are proud to be part of the brand. They understand that work is more than just a job to some. They want to be part of something bigger. Gruner says, “We are doing well by doing good.” MasterCard is focused on a workforce that is inclusive and diverse. It believes in sustainability and giving back to the community. Employees appreciate and embrace this effort.
Pay close attention to lesson number three. Circling back to Gruner’s comment about the root versus the symptom, employees are the root. They have great control over the outcome of a customer’s problem. When employees are properly trained and appreciated for making good decisions, customer experience magic happens. How employees feel about their jobs and how customers feel about the company go hand-in-hand. What’s happening on the inside of an organization is felt on the outside by the customer. If you want your customers to be happy, start looking inside your company. It has never been more important to focus on employees as part of your customer service and CX strategy.
If something could last forever, what would the business model look like? Products could include a lifetime guarantee with a marketing message that says, “Buy it today and never have to buy it again.”
Think about it. If the marketing message is true, you’ll never have to spend another dime on that product. This is a tempting proposition for the customer, but it doesn’t sound as appealing for the company that offers this lifetime guarantee. If the company keeps its promise, it will never have you back as a repeat customer. It’s a one-time sale. Or is it?
Everything I talk and write about is based on a customer experience that gets people to say, “I’ll be back.” But maybe the goal doesn’t always have to be getting the customer to come back. Maybe it’s about a product the customer buys only once. And that product does what it’s supposed to do, but the experience during the buying process was so good that while the customer doesn’t come back, they tell everyone else about it. That means one customer could equal many more customers.
Google the search term “products that last a lifetime,” and you will find plenty of them—everything from All-Clad cookware to Zippo lighters and everything in between.
These companies create products that do last a lifetime. Because the quality is so good, either the customer tells others (great word-of-mouth marketing), comes back to buy the product as a gift for someone else (so maybe there is an opportunity for repeat business) or returns to buy other products the company offers. The point is that the guarantee builds trust. The experience creates confidence. That combination makes customers want to come back.
I bought a set of Cutco steak knives. They have a lifetime guarantee. The salesperson said I would never buy another set of knives again. The salesperson was almost right. I didn’t buy another set of knives for myself, but I did buy some as a gift. Point made!
But it goes further. Cutco sells more than steak knives. It sells bread knives, paring knives, carving knives and more. I may never buy another set of steak knives, but I need other knives—and I’ve bought them, all with similar lifetime guarantees.
Speaking of Cutco, my friend, John Ruhlin, is the No. 1 Cutco knife salesperson in the world. He’s also the foremost expert on gifting and the bestselling author of Giftology. He recently wrote about the Centennial Light Bulb, which inspired me to write this article. For those not familiar, it’s the longest-running lightbulb in history. So far, it’s been on for more than 1 million hours—that’s more than 121 years! Ruhlin says, “This lightbulb is proof that manufacturers could make long-lasting products. But they don’t. Because where’s the money in an iPhone that lasts forever?”
Actually, there’s a lot of money in an iPhone that lasts forever. Let’s say that Apple did create an iPhone that would last forever. You’d still purchase accessories such as screen protectors, earbuds and more. That’s nice, but there’s a bigger picture. Apple is not going to stop with that version of the iPhone. It will make updated versions. While some people will take pride in carrying around an antique phone, others (as in most) will want the latest and greatest, despite the lifetime guarantee.
While Ruhlin’s angle is about creating a gifting experience that builds a relationship forever, I’m approaching this subject with the idea that with the right experience, you get customers to either come back or talk about you forever! As a business, even if you aren’t gifting your customers a tangible item, you are gifting them an experience. Okay, gifting may not be the right word. How about giving? The customer wants and expects that experience, and when you give it to them, they come back. Even if your product is one that lasts forever, sell it with an experience that gets customers to talk about you, and, even better, gets them to say, “I want more of that.”
When Gordon Bethune took over as CEO of Continental Airlines in 1994, the carrier had just emerged from its second bankruptcy and was headed for their third and potentially final round.
US Department of Transportation statistics from that year show among the ten largest US airlines, Continental ranked dead last in every single key customer service metric.
Against all odds, Bethune was able to turn the company around.
He did it with outstanding leadership, no doubt, but also through the help of one very significant “customer.”
Bethune’s Litmus Test
In his book, From Worst to First, Continental’s Remarkable Comeback, Bethune describes the challenges he faced when he first became CEO of the troubled carrier, including an overwhelming list of problems with the customer experience, on the ground and in the air.
It was too much to tackle all at once, and due to the company’s poor financial performance, money was short.
If the limited resources weren’t used properly, it could mean the end.
Bethune needed a simple method that the executives and managers in his organization could use as a litmus test for what was important when making decisions.
Bethune introduced the concept of “The Customer in Seat 9C” — a composite image of their best customer segment —business travelers— who were paying a premium fare and willing to pay more if their experience could be improved in meaningful ways.
Continental analyzed, then pinpointed the key traits, preferences, and concerns of “The Customer in Seat 9C.”
When prioritizing or deciding between different approaches, employees were trained to ask, “What would make a difference for the Customer in Seat 9C? What would make them prefer to fly with us? What would they be willing to pay more for?”
Over the next ten years, with this simple but disciplined focus, Bethune “piloted” Continental out of bankruptcy and to the title of “Fortune’s #1 Most Admired Global Airline.”
Why Your Customers Are Like Snowflakes
Of course, the concept of what “The Customer in Seat 9C” wants is a massive generalization.
On one flight, 9C could be occupied by a 60-year-old bank executive and on the next by a 23-year-old running an organic farming business.
Surely, their needs are not identical.
Like Snowflakes, Every One of Your Customers is a Completely Unique Human Being. But, Also Like Snowflakes, Many Are Extremely Similar
You may very well have noticed this during your customer research.
After listening to 40 contact center interactions with customers calling to order parts, or talking to 15 brides shopping for wedding dresses, or speaking to a dozen owners of luxury cars, while you hear many unique stories, you also start to hear the same themes over and over.
Identifying these patterns is a key part of your customer research.
Once you can analyze and synthesize all of your data, then you get actionable insight that you can use to drive your decision-making.
Personas Are Powerful
That’s why it’s so critical to have customer personas developed for your company that any employee can quickly understand and internalize. It’s great to have decks full of customer data, but a simple, easy to understand vision of who the customer is and what they care first and foremost about makes it actionable to the enterprise.
Do you use customer personas at your company? If so what impact have they had?
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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I was having coffee with the CEO of a new startup, listening to her puzzle through how to communicate to potential customers. She was an academic on leave from Stanford now selling SAAS software to large companies, but was being inundated with marketing communications advice. “My engineers say our website is old school, and we need to be on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, my VP of Sales says we’re wasting our marketing dollars not targeting the right people and my board keeps giving me their opinions of how we should describe our product and company. How do I sort out what to do?”
She winced as I reminded her that she had gone through the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps. “Painful and invaluable” was her reply. I reminded her that all the Lean tools she learned in class–Customer Discovery, business model and value proposition canvases– contained her answer.
Define the Mission of Marketing Communications
Companies often confuse communications tactics (“What should my webpage look like or should I be using Facebook/Instagram/Twitter?”) with a strategy. A communications strategy answers the question, “Why are we doing these activities?” For example, our goal could be:
Create demand for our products and drive it into our sales channel
Create awareness of our company and brand for potential customers
Create awareness for fundraising (VC, angels, corporate partners)
Create awareness for potential acquirers of our company
(Marketing communications is a subset of the Marketing department’s mission. Read the post about mission and intent here.)
Audience(s), Message, Media, Messenger
Once you figure out why you’re creating a communications strategy then you can figure out how to use it. The “how” requires just four steps:
Understand your audience(s)
Craft the message for that specific audience
Select the media you want the message to be read/seen/heard on
Select the messenger you want to carry your message
Step 1: Who’s the Audience(s)?
An audience means – who specifically you want your messages to reach. Is it all the people on earth? Everyone in San Francisco? Potential customers such as gamers who like to play specific types of games? Or people inside companies with a specific title, like product or program managers, CIOs, etc? Venture Capitalists who may want to invest? Other companies that may want to acquire you?
What’s confusing is that often there are multiple audiences you want to communicate with. So, refer to your strategy: Are you trying to reach potential customers or potential investors and acquirers? These are very different audiences, each requires its own messages, media and messengers.
If you’re selling a product to a company, for example, is the audience the user of the product? Her boss? The person who has the budget? The CEO?
How do you figure out who the audience is? It turns out that if you’ve been doing customer discovery and using the value proposition canvas, you know a lot about each customer/ beneficiary. The first step is to put all those value proposition canvases on the wall to remind you that these are the people you need to reach.
How do you figure out which of these customers/beneficiaries is most important? Who’s the least important? If you’ve been out talking to customers, you will have an idea of who’s involved in the buying process. Who’s the user of product? The recommender? The decision maker? The saboteur? As you map out what you learned about the role each of these customers plays in the buying process, marketing communications and sales can decide which one of the customers/beneficiaries is the primary audience of your messages. (And they can decide if there any secondary audiences you should reach.) Often there are multiple people in a sales process worth influencing.
If you’re trying to reach potential acquirers or investors, the customer discovery process is the same. Spend time building value proposition canvases for these audiences.
Step 2: What’s the Message?
Messages are what you delivering to the audience(s) you’ve selected. Messages answer three questions:
Why should the audience care?
What are you offering?
What’s the call to action?
Your customers have already told you how to craft the first part of your message. The answer to “Why should your audience care?” comes directly from the pains and gains on the right side of the value proposition canvas.
And the answer to the second question “What are you offering?” comes from the left side of the value proposition canvas. It’s not just the product feature list, but the pain relievers and gain creators.
Once you get your audience to read your message, then what? What’s the call to action? Do you want them to download a demo, schedule a sales call, visit a physical store location or a website, download an app, click for more information, give you their email address, etc.? Your message needs to include a specific call to action.
Other things to keep in mind about messages:
A message that is brilliant today and gets the press writing about you and customers begging to buy your product could have been met with blank stares two years ago and may be obsolete next year. In crafting your messages, remember that all messages operate in a context that may have an expiration date. Netbooks, 3DTVs, online classes disrupting higher ed, all had their moment in time. Make sure your context is current and revisit your messages periodically to see if they still work.
Messages also need to be memorable – “sticky.” Why? Because the more memorable the message, the greater its ability to create change. Not only do we want people to change their buying behavior, we also want them to change how they think. (This is often a tough concept for engineering founders who believe that if we just tell customers about the features that make their product faster, cheaper, etc. they’ll win.)
Consider that if you were told you were going to pay for cold, dead fish wrapped in seaweed you might not be too hungry. But when we call it sushi people line up.
The same goes for a hamburger. You may eat a lot of them, but if McDonald’s message was “dead cow, slaughtered by the millions, butchered by minimum wage earners, then ground into patties, frozen into solid blocks, and reheated when you order them,” instead of “You deserve a break today,” sales might be a tad lower.
Product versus Company Messages
There is a difference between detailed product messages versus messages about your company. At times, you may have to communicate what the company stands for before a customer is ready to listen to you talk about product messages. For example, to outflank a competitor who had faster products, Intel moved the conversation about microprocessors away from speed and technology to create a valued brand. They created the “Intel Inside” campaign.
Apple was trying to resurrect a then-dying company by reminding people what Apple stood for with their “Think Different” ad campaign:
Both Apple and Intel were selling complicated technology but did so by simplifying the message so it had broad emotional appeal. Both Intel Inside and Think Different became sticky corporate messages.
Step 3: Media
Media means the type of communications media each audience member reads/listens to/watches. Is could be print (newspapers/magazine), Internet (website, podcasts, etc.), broadcast (TV, radio, etc.) or social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). In customer discovery, you asked prospects how they get information about new companies and new products. (If not, get back out and do so!) The media your prospective customers told you they use ought to be on top of your target media.
The online media your company controls (your corporate website, company Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) should be the first place you experiment finding your audience(s) and message.
Typically, you pick several media to reach each audience. It’s likely that each audience reads different media (potential customers read something very different than potential investors.) You’ll need a media strategy – a plan that describes the mix of media and how you will use it. This plan should include the category of media; print, internet, broadcast and then identify specific sites, blogs, magazine, etc.
Step 4: Messengers
Messengers are the well-placed and highly leveraged individuals who have influence over your audience(s). Messengers convey and amplify your message to your audience through the media you’ve chosen.
There are four types of messengers: reporters, experts, evangelists and connectors. (Each audience will have its own unique set of messengers.)
1. Reporters are paid by specific media to write about news. Which reporters you should talk to comes from discovering which media your audience has said they read. Your goal is to identify who are the reporters in the media your audience reads and what they write about, and to figure out why they should write about you. (Wrong answer – because we have a new product. Very wrong answer – because my CEO wants to be on the cover of publication X or Y.)
2. Experts know your industry or product in detail, and others rely on them for their opinions. Experts may be industry analysts in private research firms (Gartner, NPD, AMR), Wall Street research analysts (Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs), consultants who provide advice for your industry or bloggers with wide followings. Experts may even be potential customers who run user groups that other potential customers turn to for advice.
(Today some reporters are experts – product reviewers in the Tech Section of the Wall Street Journal, or the Technology section of the New York Times (or its product review site Wirecutter)).
3. Evangelists are unabashed cheerleaders and salespeople for your product and, if you are creating a new market, for your company vision. They tell everyone how great the product is and about the unlimited potential of your product and market. While nominally carrying less credibility than experts, evangelists have two advantages: typically, they are paying customers, and they are incredibly enthusiastic about what they say. (Evangelists are not customers who will give a reference. A customer reference is something you have to twist arms to get; an evangelist is someone you can’t get off the phone.)
4. Connectors are individuals who seem to know everyone. Each industry has a few. They may be bloggers who expound on the general state of your industry and write magazine or newspaper columns. They may be individuals who organize and hold conferences where the key industry thought leaders gather. Often, they themselves are the thought leaders.
Founders ask me all the time whether they should hire a PR agency. I tell them, “The question isn’t if. The question is when?” Influencing the messengers is what great public relations firms know how to do. They may have their own language describing who the messengers are (e.g., “influencers”) and how they manage them (e.g. “information chain”), but once you’ve done a first pass of the audience > message > media > messenger, a competent PR firm can add tremendous value.
Customer Discovery Never Stops
Understanding your audience(s) is important for not just startups, but for companies already selling products. It helps you stay current with customers, get ideas for other needs to fill and to create new products. In addition, the audience > message > media > messenger cycle seamlessly moves this learning into getting, keeping and growing customers. Today, Marketing Automation tools (customer analytics, SEO, and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms) generate customer behavior history about what messages worked on which media. These tools generate data that companies use to feed AdTech tools (demand-side platforms, ad exchanges and networks) to automate selling and buying of online ads.
Communications as a Force Multiplier
Smart CEOs treat communications as a force multiplier for sales, a tool to dramatically increase valuation and the vehicle to get acquirers lined up at the door. Not so successful CEOs treat it as tactic that can be handed to others.
Hiring a PR agency too early is a sign that the CEO is treating this as someone else’s problem. In a startup, the first pass of understanding Audience, Message, Media, Messenger can only be done with the founders/CEO engaged.
Getting publicity for a product that does not yet exist is how startups get noticed. But don’t fall victim to your own reality distortion field and hype a product that can never be made (think of Tesla versus Theranos.)
Figuring out who the possible audiences are, what messages to send, and what media to use, feels overwhelming at first. The temptation is to try to reach all the audiences with a single message and a single media. That’s a going out of business strategy. Use Customer Discovery, and your customers will teach you who they are, what to say to them and how to reach them.
Gen-Z is not your typical generation. By the way, neither was the Millennial generation … or Gen-X, etc. Each new generation has interesting differences, desires, likes and dislikes. Each generation poses its own problems and opportunities, depending on how you view the challenge. A recent report created by Gongos (part of InSites Consulting) shared some interesting information relevant to companies that do business with Gen-Z.
Gongos surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. consumers and compared Gen-Z to older generations. Gen-Z’s were born between 1997 and 2011, and their habits, views and behaviors are quite different than the older Gen-X and Baby Boomers. The oldest Gen-Z’s are about 24 years old, and they are quickly becoming an important consumer group that will change the way brands market and sell. Here are some of the findings, followed by my commentary and additional stats and facts.
Gen-Z Wants Brands to Challenge Social Issues – Forty-three percent of Gen-Z appreciates brands that take a stand, especially in the areas of sustainability, inclusiveness and racial transparency. And they put their money where their mouth is:
69% will pay more if employees and suppliers are treated fairly.
66% will pay more if the brand tries to have a positive impact on society.
61% will pay more if the brands use inclusive practices.
60% will pay more for a business that practices sustainability.
Gen-Z Loves Personalization – For all of the marketers reading this article, note that Gen-Z will pay for personalization—not always with money, but instead with their personal data. They aren’t nearly as protective of their personal data as Gen-X and Baby Boomers. Gen-Z pays more attention to brands that create a personalized experience or allow them to create a custom product. Consider the shoe manufacturer that lets its customers design their own shoes. Or the cosmetic company that allows its customers to create their own formulas. Offer them a personalized experience, and they will go out of their way to do business with you. More stats to consider:
50% pay attention to brands that offer personalization and co-creation.
52% look for brands that understand them.
51% allow brands to create products that reflect their identity.
Gen-Z Fights Injustice Through “Click-Tivism” – Social media has made it easy for anyone to have a megaphone that is heard by the world. Older generations (Boomers) might protest with sit-ins and picket signs. The younger generation has embraced social media as the place to call attention to what is important to them. “Gen-Z is clicking for change.”
29% follow social media accounts on social justice.
26% use social media to voice their opinions.
15% participate in online protests.
Gen-Z Fights for Social Inequality – Gen-Z is, according to the study, the most ethnically diverse generation in history. Diversity and inclusion are not just hot topics in the HR department, but some of the hottest topics for this younger generation.
59% consider racial and ethnic diversity as beneficial for society.
48% consider racism a top global issue.
49% recognize that gender identity can change over time.
48% know someone who prefers to be addressed with gender-neutral pronouns (they, them, their, etc.)
Gen-Z Engages in Metaverse Activities – Many people still don’t understand the metaverse, which is blending the physical and digital worlds we live in. According to the study, “No generation will embrace and shape the metaverse more than Gen-Z.” Eighty-three percent of Gen-Z engages in metaverse activities. They hang out with friends in virtual worlds and spend money on virtual merchandise. They also are looking for brands that are “seamlessly integrating the online and offline worlds.” If you do not understand the opportunities the metaverse is offering Gen-Z (and other generations), you might find yourself playing catch-up with a competitor who does. Some metaverse findings:
48% participate in online gaming.
29% created an avatar to use on the metaverse.
20% have paid for digital products.
There are approximately 65 million Gen-Z’s in the U.S., which accounts for almost 20% of the U.S. population. These are your up-and-coming consumers and financial decision-makers. They have expectations that are quite different than older generations. While many of today’s Gen-Z’s are still very young (as young as 11 years old), don’t think they aren’t making a major impact on companies’ current and future plans. The customer experience will have to change to reflect the values of Gen-Z. Their opinions and habits are going to cross over to older generations, especially with their parents, who support this young generation’s ideals. Are you ready for a new generation’s expectations? If not, it’s not too late to start to change.
The ways we communicate continue to evolve. Keeping pace with the latest trends in social media and online video, while preventing your product or service from getting lost in the digital clutter, is a daunting task. David Meerman Scott is a master at helping you speak directly to your audience, make a strong personal connection, and generate attention for your business.
I had the opportunity recently to interview David, a marketing strategist, entrepreneur, investor and advisor to emerging companies, and bestselling author of 12 books, including Fanocracy, about the new eighth edition of The New Rules of Marketing & PR.
Throughout his career he has been fascinated by seeing the future of how people and organizations work together, studied ‘what’s next’, and looked for patterns others don’t see.
Three times a year David (@dsmcott) is the lead marketing speaker at the legendary Tony Robbins Business Mastery events, delivering a two hour session on New Marketing Mastery.
Below is the text of the interview:
1. What is the biggest change in either PR or Marketing that today’s companies face?
I wrote this for the first edition of The New Rules of Marketing & PR back in 2007: “There used to be only three ways to get noticed: Buy expensive advertising, beg the mainstream media to tell your story for you, or hire a huge sales staff to bug people individually about your products. Now we have a better option: publishing interesting content on the web, content that your buyers want to consume.” The same is true today upon the publication of the 8th edition!
The tools of the marketing and PR trade have changed. The skills that worked offline to help you buy or beg or bug your way into opportunity are the skills of interruption and coercion. Online success comes from thinking like a journalist and publishing amazing content that will brand you as an organization or person it would be a pleasure to do business with. You are in charge of your own success.
2. Must companies re-think their approach to PR in the digital age?
Many people steeped in the tradition of product promotion naturally feel drawn to prattle on and on about their products and services. But I have news for you. Nobody cares about your products and services. Yes, you read that right.
What people do care about are themselves and how you can solve their problems. People also like to be entertained and to share in something remarkable. In order to have people talk about you and your ideas, you must resist the urge to hype your products and services. Instead, create something interesting that will be talked about online. When you get people talking on the Web, people will line up to learn more and to buy what you have to offer.
Sadly, marketers continue to hype products and services instead of understanding buyers and creating interesting content to reach them.
3. Do press releases still have value?
Yes, press releases have value but way less than most PR professionals believe. There is so much more that can be done.
Somehow along the way PR professionals have lost sight of what ‘true’ PR is and have set their focus on the media. What quick steps can PR pros take to get back to the public relations roots of creating mutually beneficial relationships with all of their publics (shareholders, stakeholders, communities, employees, etc.)?
To paraphrase the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), definition: “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”
Nowhere does this description mention the media!
Somewhere along the line “public relations” became the same as “media relations.” What people need to realize is that these are different activities. Media relations, or working through journalists, is fine. Hey, who doesn’t want to be quoted in an important outlet?
But there are so many other ways to hear attention.
PR is about reaching your audience. There are many more ways to do that than just via the media: YouTube videos, blog posts, eBooks, charts, graphs, photos, a Twitter feed, a presence on Instagram, TikTok and so much more.
4. What role should LinkedIn play in companies’ marketing strategies? Any difference in your answer for B2B vs. B2C companies?
There are many social networks out there and LinkedIn is one of them. Marketers should understand their buyers and be active on the social networks that are most important to them. For many B2B businesses, LinkedIn is super important, so for them yes, LinkedIn is valuable. However many people use LinkedIn as another way to send unwanted sales messages. To be effective people should use LinkedIn to publish content and to engage with other people’s content.