Have you ever noticed that the best part of lectures, panel discussions or public interviews comes at the end, when audience members interact with the speakers and ask questions? After almost two years of penning this column, I've realized that the same is true here. My favorite ideas have come from those of you who have read my words and been prompted to raise your hands with a question, so to speak.
As someone who speaks and writes about marketing, I've gotten pretty good at tuning my ear to what my colleague John Jantsch calls "Frequently Unasked Questions," or FUQs. (Do not pronounce phonetically in delicate company.) FUQs are questions people should be asking but aren't. Sometimes they don't know enough to ask, sometimes they don't have the opportunity, and sometimes they're embarrassed, worried that the question is overly simplistic or just plain dumb.
But sometimes the FUQ is broader than the initial inquiry itself--it's the question within the question, if you will. I've been collecting your letters all this time, and I believe I've unearthed the real queries within them. I think it's time we get the FUQs out.
What is the most important marketing activity for my small business?
The most crucial thing--and the most obvious--is to create content as the cornerstone of your marketing activities. But before you launch a blog, YouTube channel, Twitter feed or Facebook page, you need to do some strategizing. Figure out what you want to say, and why you are saying it. Nail down your mission (what makes you special?) and your voice. Consider the world from your prospects' point of view: How does what you sell improve their lives, shoulder their burdens, ease their pain?
Remember, your value is not in what you do. Your value is in what you do for others. In other words, don't talk about your product's features. Rather, talk about what they do for your customers.
That seems simple enough--it's Marketing 101, in fact. But for entrepreneurs and owners who live and breathe their businesses, it can be tricky to view the world via that customer-centric perspective. In his book Start With the Why, Simon Sinek preaches that people don't buy what you do, they buy your reason for doing it. So if you want to truly and effectively reach your customers, start explaining the why.
But why does content marketing matter so much?
Content has always been part of the marketing mix. But a few recent developments have made it increasingly crucial.
Technology has evolved, eliminating the publishing gatekeepers. You once needed a large budget and access to a printing press to create and distribute content on a large scale, or you had to buy access to an audience. Now any of us can create content that connects directly with the people we want to reach; further, that content enables us to be found via Google or social media recommendations of whatever it is we sell.
And about social media … It's not just about creating content that will allow you to be found online. Instead, we all have an imperative to create content that's worth sharing--because your updates are competing on social media platforms with my friends and family. That means your content has to be really good in order to get my attention, and it has to be valuable: It has to entertain me or delight me or inform me.
Consumer behavior has changed. It used to be that your sales force was on the front lines. But now that role is being filled by the internet; customers are online, Googling for answers and resources and asking for recommendations on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Who really cares what I have to say?
Now that everyone has the opportunity to publish, the world is a noisier place. And you're right: Not everyone does care. But you aren't trying to market to everyone, are you? You want to reach the person who has a problem that your business can solve.
That's why telling your story well becomes so important. We are flooded with content on a regular basis. So the stuff that cuts through is the stuff that's truly awesome. Companies that simply repost their press releases on their blogs and then wonder why they don't get any comments are not likely to succeed.
Of course, content that cuts through the clutter doesn't necessarily mean content that's viral. (Viral content is serendipitous, and rarely the result of strategy.) Rather, content that has an impact is "packed with utility, seeded with inspiration and is honestly empathetic," according to marketing expert Len Stein. In other words, it's content that meets the needs of your customers in whatever way resonates best with them.
Pretty good questions, right? Basic but vital--quintessential FUQs. Next month I'll tackle a few more.