Over the last eight years, I bet I have published more than 1000 pieces of content. Between my blog, columns I write for magazines, guest blog posts I write for other blog sites and magazines, I put out a lot of content.
Frankly, it’s one of the major advantages I’ve had in growing my business. A few years ago I quantified the impact of my blog alone and valued it to create more than $2 million of documented value for my company. On top of that I’ve won many awards and gotten quite a bit of press for the blogging and publishing that I’ve done.
I’ve done this while leading a growing company, speaking on a regular basis, coaching a college and youth baseball team, and spending quality time with my wife and two kids. I don’t work 80-hour workweeks, and I take the vast majority of weekends completely off.
While I am certainly comfortable writing, and admittedly I write pretty fast, the reality is that I have no special power when it comes to writing, creating or publishing content. What’s my secret? I’m completely comfortable putting out imperfect content.
Here’s what I don’t worry about:
- Is the idea fully, totally and accurately communicated.
- Is the article/post/paper too long? Too short?
- Are the pictures the best we can do?
- Is there 100% chance that there are no typos or problems with sentence structure?
- I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Several years ago I wrote a little book calling Building The Bridge. It was my first attempt at writing a parable. I wrote it, had it designed, edited, published and printed all in house. In hindsight the dimensions of the book were too small. There were some typos in the book. The design was rudimentary.
And, as it turned out, the biggest mistake was that I didn’t print enough of them. Sure some people complained about the style of the book. Others said they’d never buy from someone who would publish a book that has typos. While I certainly don’t celebrate those mistakes (and we work really hard to fix them and make sure they don’t happen again), I do celebrate the more than $500,000 of revenue that the book directly contributed to creating.
While others are fretting over what they’re saying and how they’re saying it, I was earning more than a half-a-million dollars.
The point here is that the value of your content builds over time. You readers (customers) are not experts, and in most cases have desire to become experts. The primary job for content is to put it forth consistently and ensure that it’s easy to consume (and even entertaining).
You’re not going to tell your story in one post. You’re not going to change your prospect’s worldview with one article. The job of your content is to tell your story and influence your market over time. Remember, perfection is the enemy of progress, and if you focus on making sure “it’s right” before it goes out, you’re going to get beat by someone who moves quicker.
One of my favorite movies is Glengary Glenn Ross (based on David Mamet’s play). In it, the most down-on-his-luck salesman (played by Jack Lemmon) gets up to grab a cup of coffee. The salesman visiting to share his “motivational speech” (played by Alec Baldwin) pounces on him mercilessly, shouting, “Put that coffee down! Coffee’s for closers!”
That one line captures the essence of the sales culture, both as we have come to know it and, too frequently, how we manage it. We still think of “sales” and the star salesperson as the one who “closes the deal,” and gets to “eat what he kills.”
Getting a prospect to get across the finish line by making a decision is important. Creating the environment that enables you to stand out from your competition and influencing your prospect’s decision criteria is critical to increasing win rates and protecting margins.
If you want to enter what I like to call, what’s it worth conversations (as opposed to what’s it cost), you must first change how your prospects thinks about the issues you address. And, this occurs long before you’re in a position to close business. Studies show that if you do a good job with this provocation process, the difficulty associated with closing business virtually disappears.
Provoking effectively requires that your marketing and sales efforts work together in alignment. Your website, collateral and case studies must move beyond the typical brochure type “we-do’s” that make the same types of claims your competitors make. You marketing must engage, challenge and educate.
Your sales efforts must pick up on this teaching point-of-view and move beyond the same old open-ended questions to questions the provoke deeper thought and educates your prospects (and customers) on their business. Your sales team must become businesspeople-who-sell.
It’s not as easy as awarding a Cadillac to your top closers, but you’ll find that it’s a lot more profitable.
Recently, I’ve gotten a number of questions from clients and others about effective social media. It seems a number of people a wondering if now is the right time to jump on the bandwagon.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Networking is networking. The rules for offline networking are precisely the same for online.
- The biggest mistake made with social media is that people view it as a strategy – it’s not. Social media is a tactic, used to support a strategy towards a specific result. If the result isn’t clear, the strategy will be bad, and your social media efforts will be useless.
- Social media is a horrible broadcast mechanism. If you’re think you’re going to use Twitter, Facebook or any other platform to tell the world what you’re doing, and that the world will then respond – don’t waste the time.
- Social media is good for connecting, engaging and pointing. If you’re not planning to actively participate, and build content to support your efforts, then you’ll be much happier doing something else.
All that said, social media, and by extension the creation of meaningful content to share, is increasingly becoming mandatory. Imagine the biggest conversation in the world taking place. You’ve got to answer a simple question – do you want to participate in the conversation or be left out?
If growth is imperative, the answer is simple. It’s the execution that’s tough.
The comedic approach taken by a number of insurance companies is not working, according to USA Today. While I admit that I find the Farmer’s Insurance commercial entertaining, it hasn’t even tempted me to think about buying anything from them.
As I’ve written many times before, being different should never be the focus. Today, it’s not even enough to be different and better; instead, you must be different, better and relevant. The problem with most traditional marketing approaches is they do nothing to make companies, products or services relevant.
The article highlights the changes Nationwide Insurance, among others, is making to their advertising campaigns.
“While the World’s Greatest Spokesperson helped boost brand awareness for the first time in over a decade, the two-year campaign couldn’t stem eroding market share — off 9% since 2009 — even as Nationwide was pouring more and more money into advertising. Last year alone, Nationwide hiked annual ad spending more than 35% to more than $200 million.”
How do you like that?! Increase ad spending by more than $70 million dollars and lose 9% of your market share. Where is Sergio Zyman when you need him?
If this isn’t proof that awareness means nothing, I don’t know does.
Growing your business today require more than awareness; it requires engagement. It requires bridging the chasm between your marketing and sales efforts and building a system that focuses on creating meaningful conversation, rather than just making claims.
The failure to radically change this approach will continue to cost businesses – large and small – millions in lost sales, profits and equity value.
I love simple graphics that tell big stories. As I was reviewing some of my article archives, I came across this graphic from Marty Neumeier on The Dynamics of Different and Good. It’s about as simple and insightful as you can get.
I often remind small and mid-market business executives that being different should never be the goal, instead, it’s different and better. Yet, as this graphic explains, achieving the goal is the beginning of the journey – it’s not the end! When you achieve “difference” going to market becomes difficult. The market resists because it’s not used to it, and as a result your sales and marketing strategy must educate and influence your market. (For a deeper dive into this subject, watch my 25 minute video on the subject.)
What equally interesting and critical is the failure to achieve this goal results in the appearance of an easier path to the market. The market (and those whose opinions you seek before going to the market) respond more positively to what they’re familiar with. The challenge is that there’s little to no growth on that path, and lots of price pressure.
Market resistance is a part of the game. Don’t avoid it, embrace it.
I was discussing the importance of developing an effective marketing cultivation and engagement system with a client recently. As we were laying out the path and approach, my client said something that struck me.
“Doug, this is a really good model and I definitely want to do it. But, I don’t even have good collateral material. My brochure is out of date, I have no fact sheets on my products; and I really think I need to take care of that first.”
It struck me because I realize that’s probably what a lot of people think. While the concept of content marketing (the basis of an effective cultivation/engagement process) is old news for me, it’s still something foreign to the vast majority of small and mid-market B2B companies.
As we share in our on-demand webinar Making Marketing Work, an ineffective or non-existent cultivation/engagement process restricts the effectiveness of your sales effort by 30 – 70%. This means that you must sell twice as hard without such an asset.
So, I thought I’d share my advice to him with you.
The very best piece of collateral you can have is content that challenges, educates and provokes a customer. Content that enables them to learn and do a better job.
While a brochure or fact sheet enables you to tell your prospect that you’re a rock star, a cultivation and engagement asset enables you to demonstrate it.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t have a corporate brochure, fact sheets and other collateral? Not necessarily (though as long time readers of this blog know, I’m not a big fan of traditional brochures). But, if you’re looking to drive sales, improve business performance and separate yourself from your competition, you’re far better off building the content first.
As a result of a very successful first quarter, I’m in the midst of working with several new clients on their go-to-market strategy. A central portion of our process The INTELLIGENT GROWTH Blueprint is the development of an effective market message. Every time I go through this exercise with companies, I’m reminded why so few companies – I’d say somewhere around 5 – 10% – have an effective message.
The mistake that 90% of companies make is that they think that a message is merely the words you use to describe your company and get people to “get it.” I even had a client plead to me, “Just tell me what we need to say so that more people will buy from us and we’ll say it.”
Oh…If only it were so easy.
To be as clear as possible:
Your Message Is Not What You Say
Your Message is Who You & What You Do
It is only when you words completely align with who you are (Authennticity), the actions you take and the feeling people have about you that your message can truly resonate.
The biggest, most common and most destructive action made in messaging happens when you focus on the words or sales tactics first. You must first determine where you stand, who you are and why you should win before you can begin any effectively develop the words you will use in your message.
There, I finally said it. Branding is crap! Sure, it might be fine, even important, if you’re Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Proctor and Gamble, etc. While I’m at it, the whole idea of Top of Mind Awareness (TOPA) is crap too! Maybe if your competing for the 2 second purchase decision of what laundry detergent you’re going to use then all that stuff matters. But – and this is a big but – if you’re a small or mid-market company selling products or services to other businesses (large or small) stop worrying about your (Capital B) Brand or top of mind – trust me, your customers and prospects have far, far more important things on their minds than thinking about your company.
A great brand is a result of being relevant, important and delighting people. It’s not a logo, an icon or an exercise. As I’ve said hundreds of times – your brand is what others say you are, not what you say.
I’m writing this post because it’s making me sick seeing how much money small and mid-market B2B/B2G companies are spending on useless “branding” exercises.
I’m working with a potential client who currently has 20 clients that his company works with. Success for him is adding 2 – 4 solid clients/year. He just spent more than $20,000 to “assess the market and his brand.” Here’s the problem – HE DOESN’T HAVE A “BRAND”! And that’s okay.
He’d be far better off taking the $20,000 and investing it in building an effective marketing asset; and so would every other B2B company.
The problem I have with branding is that it puts the focus in the wrong place – twice.
- First, it places the focus internally on you, rather than your customer. Great companies look outside, not inside.
- Second, and worse, it looks at the world as it is, rather than as it could be. As a marketer, I’m not particularly interested in what customers think today. I’m interested what you want them to think, and the actions you can take to increase the probability that they’ll think that. And you can’t ask customers what they want – as Steve Jobs says, “It’s impossible to ask people what they want, when what they want is around the corner.”
It’s your job to figure out what they want – and then to focus maniacally on making that happen. If you do that, you won’t have to worry about your brand – you’ll have too many people wanting to work with you to have the time.
Great design is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take way.
We’re in the midst of several messaging projects with new clients. As I’ve written before, a message if far, far more than the words you use to describe your company.
That said the words you use are very important. They should serve as the focal point for the actions of everyone in your company. If everyone is clear on what you are trying to do, their creativity can be released and great things happen.
Therein lies the rub. The purpose of your words is to create clarity. The biggest challenge I see in entrepreneurial companies is their ability to create such clarity.
When I talk with CEOs and sales/marketing executives I share with them that the secret of great design is the secret of great messaging. Great messaging is achieved when there is nothing left to take away; it is achieved when the essence of your company is clearly communicated.
Most messages are like a Rube Goldberg Machines. Complicated with lots of commas and “ands,” executives throw everything advantage they could possibly add into the mix. The hope is that if they say enough things, eventually something will spark interest.
The reality is quite the opposite. The end result is confusion in the market and in your company. My advice is to take away, take away, take away – until there is nothing left but the core of what your do; or more importantly why you do it.
In September 2009, I wrote about the fact that, as marketers, we are all competing in Times Square today. Simply put, people are overwhelmed with commercial messages.
This came to light on my trip to Chicago yesterday. The picture you see here is of the handrail for the escalator. That’s right, they’ve turned the handrail into an ad. I don’t know about you, but I’m no more likely to go to this hotel than I was before.
The moral of the story is that merely broadcasting is a useless strategy at best. More likely than not, it contributes to becoming increasingly irrelevant. Going forward, the only viable marketing strategy is to engage with your market.
At one of my speeches recently, I was talking with an attendee on the difficulty he was having getting prospects to respond.
As he shared his experiences with me, I came to understand that:
- He did something really different,
- The results his clients received were nothing short of amazing, and
- His message was so complicated that the more he talked about it, the more I got confused.
I spent some time with him in an attempt to simplify his message so that people who hadn’t worked with him could understand why they would want to talk with him. While he listened intensely, I could see him struggled with making his message simple. “It’s more complicated than that,” he would tell me; or, “And we do much more than that.”
What I wanted him to understand was that it’s his job, and the job of his selling organization, to make his message easily understandable.
“Make it consumable – make it like junk food,” I said.
Marketers have understood for years that positioning yourself as the proverbial “spinach – it’s good for you” is not an effective strategy. Why do more people eat Oreo cookies than spinach? Because Oreos taste better and are more easily consumed.
The same is true when it comes to messaging. People are too busy and too crazed. They don’t have time to think, so stop making them do it. Do the thinking for them – make it easy – you’ll see your sales soar.
- “That’s not how we do it in our industry.”
- “I’m not sure I’m comfortable doing that, I’ve never done that before.”
- “I’ve been working with my customer for several years, and I’ve never asked those types of questions.”
- “Salespeople aren’t expected to do that in our industry.”
- “We’ve never done that before. How will I know it will work?”
These are just some of the most common statements that I hear every day from people who claim that they want to differentiate their companies from their competitors.
Let me remind everyone that differentiation is an ends – it’s not a means. The critical component to differentiating yourself in the market is doing something different that matters.
90% of the time the activity that matters and makes you different will, initially, make you and the people in your company uncomfortable. Think about it, if it were comfortable to do, it’s highly likely many others would be doing it.
Please do not misunderstand my point. Merely being different is not enough to differentiate. So, just because no one has ever done it before doesn’t mean that you should do it – but it’s a great starting point.
Let me be clear:
If you’ve got a viable business you’ve got competition.
I often hear executives claim that they don’t have any competition. I even catch myself saying it about Imagine, sometimes. The reality is, no matter how “unique” your products/services are, your customers and prospects still have alternatives. You may (and I emphasize “may”) not have any direct competition, but you certainly have:
- indirect competitors, and
- the toughest competitor of all, the status quo.
People don’t buy products and services so much as they “hire” a product or service to do “a job.” This means that if some doesn’t have a problem (a job to be done) there is no opportunity for [a sale]. The only offerings that can have no competition are the ones that do a job that nobody wants. To be accepted in the market, you must be able to define the job that you are asking people to hire your product/service to do.
This is an important distinction, because a critical strategic decision for any business is how you define your competition. The brain of your customers/prospects requires contrast to understand and act. Your definition of competition is what makes it possible to radically differentiate your company (think about it – how can you contrast with nothing?).
When I started Imagine, I thought I had an approach that was so unique that no one did what we do. So when asked who my competitors are, I brazenly responded: “We don’t really have competition. No one does what we do.” That, of course, got me nowhere. I was so focused on getting people to understand what we weren’t (we weren’t Sandler, we weren’t Miller Hieman, no we weren’t a marketing agency, and so on) that no one could understand what we were.
I realized that I needed to define my competition. The easiest way to do that was do compare us to “sales trainers.” But, I knew that sales training was a highly commoditized, highly competitive market and that it would be virtually impossible to stand out or to earn the fees we needed to deliver the results we promise.
Stuck (because I could define what we weren’t, but not what we were) I asked myself, what is the job that someone is hiring us for?
My first thought was that people were hiring us to do sales training. But I knew that didn’t do us justice. So I pondered it more and I realized that no one wants sales training – what they want is more sales. More, profitable sales and faster sales. That was our job – to enable companies to get more sales, faster sales and more profit per sale.
Now defining my competition was easy – we compete (and cooperate) with virtually any product or service designed to help companies with their go-to-market strategy. This completely changed the focus of my company, enabled us to attract some great clients that would never of hired us to merely do sales training, and it gave us a track for successful innovation. Today, we continue to pursue that journey.
Now it’s your turn. What “job” do people hire your products/services to do? What else is competing for that job?
Last night, I spoke to the Baltimore chapter of The American Marketing Association. The topic was blogging and its place for businesses. One of the attendees came up to me after the presentation and said what I’ve heard many, many times – “Everything you said was great and I agree with it all (okay, I don’t hear that all the time), but we just don’t have the time to do it.”
Side note: For purposes of this conversation, I will use “blog” and “content” interchangeably. I think a blog is a great way to distribute content and support engagement, but whether you or your company “blog” is less important than do you create meaningful, valuable content for your market on a regular basis.
For those that say you don’t have time, I share three simple responses and a bonus thought.
1. Today there are only two types of companies – which are you?
2. There’s a HUGE conversation taking place…
… are you participating in it?
3. Here’s the difference blogging and content marketing has made for Imagine, you tell me – is it worth it?
If after all this you still can’t bring yourself to make the investment (of time and energy to do it yourself or money to have others do it), then on behalf of all those who are blogging, we say thank you. The more people who don’t take it seriously, the greater our advantage is.
What do you think?
Once a year, people sit down to watch television and they’re (almost) as interested in the ads as the show. That time, of course, is the Super Bowl. As I watched the game and rooted for the Saints, I was struck by three things.
- First, I was struck by how virtually everyone who wasn’t a Colts fan was rooting for the Saints. Yesterday, they truly were America’s team.
- Second, I was struck by just how boring and useless the ads were – again.
- Third, it hit me just how much these two things have in common.
Why did so many root for the Saints? They have a compelling story. From the recovery of New Orleans, to the comeback of Drew Brees, to the characters on the team. The Saints, simply put, were are a great story.
The ads – not so much.
It’s unfortunate, because it hasn’t always been this way. Three years ago, I asked if your company would make a good TV show. Last year, I wrote about the importance of a powerful back story. There was a time that commercials did an excellent job of this. In 30 seconds, a great commercial told a compelling story that enticed and engaged its audience. Today, it seems as though commercials are trying to catch lightening in a bottle in the form of a catchphrase, rather than engaging the audience with a story.
To see the difference in commercials compare one of yesterday’s most popular commercials with a famous commercial from the 1980s.
Notice that while the commercial is funny, it doesn’t really tell a story. As a result, people may remember the punch line (Don’t touch my mama or my Doritos), but it’s highly unlikely they’ll remember the product (even though the product is part of the punch line).
Now look at this famous Federal Express commercial:
The Doritos ad has far greater production value, and I think we’d all agree that the Federal Express commercial is far more memorable – and impactful. Why? Because it tells a powerful story.
If you want people to notice you, stop focusing on features and start telling stories. What do you think? What’s your story?