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Best Practices for Email Marketing Involve Activating These 4 Mental Triggers

  1. Authority & Trust
  2. Reciprocity & Likeability
  3. Event Anticipation & Scarcity
  4. Community & Social Proof

As I’ve written about before, there’s a thin line between manipulation and empathy. You want to utilize best practices in your email marketing … but are you going to do it dirty, or do it right?

Jeff Walker’s book Launch is my inspiration for this post. In it, he outlines nine mental triggers that encourage people to buy from you (which I have condensed). It’s great stuff.

He did not address the dark side of these triggers, however. If you do them wrong, they can backfire. And you’ll just feel super icky.

  1. Authority & Trust

Establishing you know what you’re talking about is important in email marketing. But it’s pretty naïve to think only good people use this tactic.

Just take a quick look at your spam folder and you’ll see what I mean. Here’s one of my spam emails from yesterday:

Best regards!

This mail may be a surprise to you because you did not give me the permission to do so and neither do you know me but before I tell you about myself I want you to please forgive me for sending this mail without your permission.

(GREAT start, dude. You are dripping with authority!)

My name is Mr.Prince (SIC) Waziri, The Branch Manager of a Financial Institution. I got your contact through a reliable source called database through Ghana chamber of commerce …

I think you can guess where this is going. “Mr. Prince” wants my assistance transferring $7.5M to his account. As an officer of the bank, he can’t be directly connected to the money, of course.

Most of us understand right away that this is a scam. But whoever is behind this Waziri persona is counting on a sliver of recipients falling for this in part because he says he works for a bank.

This is the dark side of the authority/trust trigger. You may not be using this tactic to outright lie and steal, but it is tempting to claim you are more authoritative than you are to manipulate people into trusting you.

Empathy is recognizing that what your email subscriber needs is not a self-proclaimed expert: what they need is someone who can follow through on promises. Take care your claims are based in fact.

TIP: As much as it might dazzle your audience to promise to double their income or cut their expenses in half, it’s far better to say you’ve been helping clients increase their income for 10 years.

  1. Reciprocity & Likeability

If you give, you’re more likely to receive. Email marketing today requires you to give lots of value before you see a return on your investment. No one will like you if all you do is ask them to buy things right off the bat.

But even giving can be twisted into a dirty trick.

We’ve all seen the list-building call to action, something like:

ENTER YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS FOR YOUR FREE DOWNLOAD!

Most of us understand that by offering up our email address, we’re going to get some emails. But what we don’t expect is to be trapped in a subscriber list.

Have you ever “unsubscribed” only to continue receiving emails? Or looked for an unsubscribe option and found only a link to “change your preferences” and there discover you have to enter a password you don’t remember and can’t even attempt entering anymore after a few failed tries?

The dark side of reciprocity is using it as leverage to hold your subscribers hostage.

Empathy requires understanding that your subscriber does not want a binding contract with you. They want a relationship they are free to leave if and when they want to.

  • TIP: Tell your subscribers exactly what to expect from you once they subscribe. They should know exactly what they’re going to get and how often. And tell them up front they can always unsubscribe.
  1. Event Anticipation & Scarcity

Building up excitement for the release of a product is a key email marketing practice. By limiting its availability, you add the element of scarcity and activate your subscriber’s FOMO (fear of missing out).

What’s wrong with that? Nothing … as long as you’re not playing fast and loose with the truth.

If you’re not literally running out of a product, don’t say you’re running out. Is time limited because of your business needs and revenue targets? Of course. But never tell your subscribers you only have five gizmos left in stock when there are five hundred in the warehouse.

It’s not worth it if anybody catches on that you offloaded all that extra stock at bargain rates. Artificially inflating the value is a viable – albeit ethically grey – strategy, but only for the short term.

Best practices for email marketing yield long-term results. As Jeff Walker puts it, he doesn’t have a college saving plan for his kids. He has a list of loyal subscribers instead.

What he means is that whenever he offers his customers a new product, they buy because they know the anticipation he builds is based on genuine value.

The dark side of anticipation and scarcity is being disingenuous at best, a liar at worst.

Empathy is imagining how you would feel finding out you were duped. If you paid top dollar for an item, then see it available online at a fraction of what you paid mere weeks later, you’re never doing business with that vendor again.

  • TIP: Be straight with subscribers. Just say the price goes up after Mother’s Day because that’s when the offer ends, and you don’t plan to make another offer like this for several months. You’ll still activate FOMO without risking a loss of credibility.
  1. Community & Social Proof

The opportunity to build and celebrate culture is my favorite aspect of email marketing. When community is public, that’s where social proof – people responding because others are – comes in.

Let’s say you’re in lawn care. Your email list is full of homeowners who share values around outdoor living, family, gardening, etc.

Now let’s say you put together a gardening book. You activate that community by telling them you’ll be offering it soon (building anticipation). You tell them about the product page, ask them to post comments. Now you’ve got your social proof that this is something like-minded folks ought to see.

There couldn’t be anything wrong with that, right?

Right?

Lemme tell ya something. Community is a powerful concept. There is perhaps no greater opportunity to manipulate people.

It’s one thing to feel like you’re a part of something. It’s another to feel like your membership is at risk if you don’t participate.

The positive concept here is belonging. The negative side is shame.

A better example of this is fitness. You can either use email marketing to make people who want to set goals and improve their health feel they belong (and so far, I’d say livestrong.com does a good job of this), or you can use it to make people feel like they’re failures if they don’t attend, read, buy, etc.

Again, this tactic – making people feel bad about anything, from the way their property looks to the way the shape of their body – may work in the short term. Eventually, you will lose subscribers. And you will get bad press. And you will have to deal with your own shame, because you’re being a jerk.

The dark side of community/social proof trigger is shame.

Empathy is wanting others to feel the same sense of belonging that you want to feel.

  • TIP: Keep your messages positive. Activating mental triggers like community and social proof should be about encouraging people to belong, not shaming people for being on the outside.

Look. It’s really about being a decent human being.

The best practices for email marketing are the same as those for sales, which are the same as those for persuasion in general. Manipulation gets short-term results with soul-sucking consequences. Empathy gets long-term results and makes everyone feel like a winner.

Now, let me try:

Hi, I’m Matt Bloom. I’ve been providing small businesses with content marketing services for about five years (authority).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this free advice (reciprocity)!

In addition to content like this that I publish to my blog, my subscribers get exclusive content (scarcity).

My goal is to make this an ever-improving learning space that helps all us small business people reach more customers (community).

So, please subscribe!

Just hit the button below to be whisked away to my lovely subscribe page …

Thanks!

To Increase Revenue with Content Marketing, First Buy Coffee

Are you here because you want to increase revenue for your organization through content marketing? You’re in the right place!

But fair warning: I’m about to tell you why you shouldn’t want that. Not at first.

First, you should buy coffee.

Allow me to explain with a little story about when I began to learn about sales and empathy.

DR. G SAYS THE MAGIC WORDS

It was in a talk therapy session. I was meeting with Dr. G (I won’t drag his name into this) because I had been in outside sales for a few months and was completely freaking out.

I felt panicked because I had left a retail sales job with AT&T with good pay but bad hours to work a radio sales gig that was 8 to 5 but had terrible pay.

It was sink or swim, and I felt like I was drowning.

My second child was on the way. I couldn’t sell a 13-week schedule of spots if my life depended on it (and it sorta did). My manager was busy selling most of the time, but even when she was around I didn’t know what to ask her.

That’s how Dr. G became my unofficial sales manager.

I told him how much I hated walking into businesses offering nothing but air. Literally. AT&T had trained me to ask questions, listen, offer solutions and ask for the sale. I knew how to do that.

I did not yet know how to convince someone to buy something intangible, on their turf, without feeling like an intruder.

Dr. G’s suggestion was brilliant.

He said I should try bringing my prospects a cup of coffee.

I must have scoffed, which prompted him to say the words that would change my professional life.

“They don’t want to talk about advertising,” he said. “They want a cup of coffee.”

WHAT DOES A CUP OF COFFEE MEAN?

At first, this was incredibly discouraging. It would be great news if I were a coffee salesman. Alas, I was not.

It took me a while to realize how incredibly empowering those words were.

Now I look back at that as the moment I began to understand what it means to bring a cup of coffee to someone when you’re not selling coffee.

A few months later, I went to work for the NPR station at Ball State University. Even though it was another radio sales role, I thought it would be different. It was public radio. My clients would feel good about supporting it.

I quickly learned that while that was the case for some advertisers (we say “underwriters” in pubmedia, but whatever), most of the time the dynamic was the same. I may be offering air with purpose, but it’s still air nonetheless.

They didn’t want what I was selling, not primarily. They wanted “coffee.”

What I mean is, the people I was approaching always, without exception, had other wants and needs that took priority for them over what I was offering.

Somewhere along the way, an epiphany took shape.

What if I tried meeting those needs first?

What if … (and this was a biggie) … doing anything less was just an effort to manipulate people?

DON’T WATCH WHAT YOU DO AND SAY, BUT WHY

I exceeded my sales goal every year after that for one simple reason: I started approaching everybody with the intent to solve whatever problems I could, regardless of whether my product was part of the solution.

I served on boards for causes I cared about with no idea whether there would be a professional benefit.

I connected people with other marketing resources, knowing they might not throw any dollars my way.

I even bought literal coffee for people. (Yeah, two or even THREE whole dollars. I’m a frickin’ saint.)

Here’s the key: I let go of trying to do it with a transaction in mind. The transactional mindset is why I wasn’t able to execute Dr. G’s advice at first.

On some level, I knew offering to fulfill needs while having a transactional mindset was really just manipulating people into thinking I was good guy so they would do business with me.

Over time, people would have seen through that and dismissed me as a fraud.

And they would have been right.

Instead, I became a problem solver by developing an empathetic mindset. I began to care more about the real value I could offer rather than the dollar value of my actions.

To put it another way:

Practicing empathy builds character. People want do business with people of character.

I thought I needed to increase revenue for my organization. What I really needed was to practice empathy.

I just needed to bring people coffee.

FROM TRANSACTION TO EMPATHY TO CONNECTION

Since then, I have been incorporating the exact same mindset into content I write for clients. What do your customers actually want and need?

They don’t want or need to know how awesome you are. They want their problems solved.

How can you help them do that, regardless of the immediate dollar value for you? If we approach content that way, it has meaning beyond just getting attention and making money in the short term.

It becomes a means of genuine connection.

In your sales and marketing activities, in your blogs, in your emails and all other marketing content, you will have more success in the long run if you stop trying to manipulate people into purchasing your product or service and start trying to solve their problems instead.

See? Increasing revenue is not really what we’re talking about here. Your primary concern has to be getting your audience what they really need. It’s all about the coffee.

Of course, making money will come as a lovely side effect. You can count on that.

Hey … wondering how all this content marketing stuff fits together? You’re blogging, but you’re not sure about email marketing. Or you have a website that’s doing nothing for you. I’d like to help … for FREE. Hit the button to learn more.

3 Quick Content Marketing Tips to Help You Get Through Compliance

I have spent the last year interviewing marketing people who, like you, often fight a common foe as they try to communicate with audiences through digital content: compliance.

The stories I’ve published have been from the community of independent artists, marketers, fundraisers, publishers and educators who may have to adapt their strategies to their clients’ compliance rules, but are not in the hot seat to the degree in-house employees are.

I talk to these folks, too. They often ask: How are we supposed to do creative, useful, engaging content marketing when we feel like the compliance department is stifling us at every turn?

Below I share some of their stories. Unlike other stories I’ve published this year, I won’t name these individuals or their organizations.

Why? Compliance! But that’s okay.

Here are three lessons I learned from our (anonymous) compliance-challenged friends.

LESSON 1: PROTECTING THE SECRET RECIPE

“I’m sorry, he said no. Why would we reveal the secret sauce?”

I wanted to interview a friend of mine about his journey with content marketing, from the perspective of someone who had kinda been thrown into it.

He did not consider himself a marketing person when he was asked to take on social media and relationship building. His was a great story about doing research, asking good questions, connecting with smart people and ultimately creating a successful strategy.

We both thought the story would make him and his organization look good, but more importantly, would help those reading it get ideas for how to overcome similar obstacles.

Then he showed the story to his boss. In retrospect, we should not have been surprised by the response.

It was chock full of information about the strategies the company employed to get an edge on the market. Sharing them with the world posed a common sense risk. The thinking was, Why on earth would we hand our competitors our secret recipe?

What I Learned

All it takes to prevent this particular roadblock is to look over your idea or outline twice before moving forward. In the first look, ask yourself, “If I am my audience, does this benefit me?” In the second, ask, “If I am my competitor, does this benefit me too much?”

Don’t overthink it. If you worry about it too much you’ll be paralyzed. But if you want to get through compliance, you need to consider the benefit to the folks down the street who are trying to take your customers from you if you publish. If that benefit seems too high, move on to another idea.

LESSON 2: DEALING WITH INADEQUATE TOOLS

“You can’t do that. Or that. Or that. Please use the approved template.”

When I offered to help a friend put together a content marketing strategy, she warned me that I wouldn’t get far. She said her company pays for programs through which she must submit content for her compliance department to even consider publishing it.

She showed me how little wiggle room there was in the available templates for email and social media posts. A lot of what I saw wasn’t even templates. It was pre-packaged content she had the option to post as if it were her own.

I contacted the appropriate representatives on my friend’s behalf. I asked a bunch of questions like, “Can I use this program to create longform content? Can I add a CTA button? Can I create a landing page?”

If you’re guessing the answers I got took a lot of the wind out of my sails, you’d be correct.

What I Learned

While many of the answers I got essentially amounted to “Nope!” I did learn about some changes on the horizon. Not everything I hoped for was coming, but some new pending functionality (such as downloadable content) would allow me to put more pieces of a robust content marketing plan together.

If compliance isn’t providing the tools you need, push them on it. Create demand! But don’t spend too much time on this. I went back to my friend and proposed a significantly stripped-down plan that fits within the current rules. You gotta start somewhere, but you can keep pushing for more.

LESSON 3: WHEN IT’S JUST TOO SLOW TO BOTHER

“It’s only a few days, but that makes it easier to let it slip when you’re busy doing your main job.”

In the not-for-profit world, it’s pretty common for content marketing (or social media management, or really all external mass communication) to fall to people who can’t focus on it. They are just too busy fulfilling the mission.

I spoke with someone in just that same position. She is client-facing, has reports to file, meetings to attend, but has a desire to help build her organization’s audience. To get volunteers, you need awareness. To create awareness, you need to tell stories.

The last thing you need is a compliance department rejecting the stories you’ve used your precious time to put together. This is why it’s so hard for not-for-profits, which arguably have the best stories to tell, to get them out into the world.

It’s also hard to feel a sense of urgency about content when your volunteer numbers look pretty good this quarter anyway. My friend gets that it’s not about this quarter. It’s about the next, and the next. It’s just extremely difficult for her to think ahead when she’s in the trenches.

What I Learned

In her experience, the best content to share is commentary on national news stories that are relevant to what they do. If you work with families, for example, it makes sense to comment on the effects of family separation at the border, or about PTSD after wartime, or other issues you’re already reading about.

Your compliance department is actually very useful as a sounding board for commentary. Their job is to make sure your comments are not a knee-jerk reaction, but match your organization’s mission. In this case, you might as well appreciate how the process helps focus your content and make it more effective.

QUICK RECAP

  • If you look over your content concept from the perspective of a competitor, you can red flag content before you even begin. You’ll have a much better chance of getting through compliance.
  • If you push for better content development tools, you may get them. In the meantime, make the most out of what you have.
  • If you don’t have time to tell stories, comment on ones you’re already reading and discussing. Then, enjoy the benefits of compliance as they focus your commentary on the mission.

Don’t let compliance bog you down, friends. That’s my secret recipe.

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3 Steps to Going the Distance with Content Marketing: Addison Avenue Marketing’s Melanie Howe

All photos provided.

Want a better idea of how content marketing can help you reach more people, help more people, sell to more people? Consider the case of Melanie Howe.

When Melanie left the marketing department at Ontario Systems, all she thought she wanted to do was help people with their social media.

My, how things change.

Addison Avenue Marketing, named after her little girl, had some pivoting in its future. The original model just wasn’t going to work.

“Clients had a hard time telling me about what was going on in their businesses. I had to extract the information from them,” Melanie said. “It was stressful and time consuming.”

The total number of clients who paid what she felt was worth her time and energy in the beginning came to a grand total of one. Others who had said they would hire her in a heartbeat before she had taken the leap into entrepreneurship discovered they couldn’t actually afford it.

So, Melanie pivoted.

MELANIE REVISITS HER PASSIONS

Refocusing on what she really loves doing, Melanie began to market herself not so much as a social media marketer, but as a small business consultant, someone who could help people help themselves.

Still, there was a profitability problem.

She got really excited about working with a construction company at one point, starting to come up with thousands of dollars’ worth of killer strategy. The prospective client asked if she could do it for $500.

She had to say no.

“The epiphany came. I was like, oh my God, I’m not going to make any money doing this!”

She had to get lean to match the budgets she was working with. Real lean. She started coming up with what she called “down and dirty” hacks to improve her clients’ market presence without expending much time or money.

It wasn’t perfection, but it was something. Perfection was impossible, and striving for it was just too expensive. Something simple – even something down and dirty – was better than nothing.

Then she had a thought.

MELANIE FIGURES OUT HOW TO SERVE MORE PEOPLE

“If I could take all those people and put them in the same room with others who have the exact same challenges, and the exact same needs, with similar budgets and teach them all together, it’s like they’re sharing their cost of my time … I could do workshops!” Melanie said.

So, Melanie pivoted yet again. Two months later, she hosted her first DIY Marketing workshop and entered her next business iteration as a professional small business marketing instructor.

Her DIY Marketing Workshop is in three parts. Melanie teaches small business owners and entrepreneurs how to 1) build a marketing roadmap, 2) develop a basic marketing plan and content strategy, and 3) create content.

So far, she has done this workshop four times, each time to rave reviews. Naturally, that caused Melanie to ask, what’s next?

Reach even more people, of course.

MELANIE’S KEY TO GOING FURTHER: ONLINE CONTENT

Melanie rolled out her free ebook 30 Down and Dirty Social Media Tips in the summer of 2018 for two excellent reasons, and in this order:

#1: To help more people succeed than could fit into a classroom.

By putting some of her favorite social media tips into an ebook, Melanie can touch and help more people. Those who download it can immediately benefit from tips for reaching more people through social media.

#2: To invite more people to go further with her into more in-depth lessons.

People “purchase” her ebook by supplying their email address. Through email, Melanie is able to keep them engaged and offer more: an online course she plans to roll out in January 2019.

The ebook “gives away” a lot … but not everything. With her paid online course, Melanie will be able to offer more of herself efficiently, more profitably and will help those who want to go more in-depth.

Welcome to your down and dirty model for content marketing success.

Step One: What Are Your Gifts for Serving People One-on-one?

If you were paying attention to her story above, you may have noticed that she began, as many of us do, with a passion to serve people face-to-face, one at a time.

Her passion was small business consulting. Yours might be mowing lawns or helping people with their finances or programming apps that solve complex business problems. You have something to offer.

Step Two: How Can You Reach More People?

Melanie translated her love for individual consulting into group consulting. She went beyond individuals to figure out what problems were common to her audience as a whole that she could help fix.

You do the same thing when you go to market. Whether you run a business or social service organization, you tell stories customers, clients and donors as a group – as an audience – can relate to.

Step Three: How Can You Reach Even MORE People?

Melanie is now reaching the limits of her time and energy in reaching the masses through in-person workshops and the marketing work she does for clients. Her solution is to translate know-how into content.

This is the next step for you.

To some degree, we’re all in a consulting business. You have valuable knowledge to share and stories to tell about the benefits of your product, service, cause.

You just need a way to package and deliver that knowledge to an ever-increasing, well-defined, hand-picked audience in a way that encourages them to like and trust you.

That is exactly what strategic content marketing does for you.

TAKE A PAGE FROM THE MELANIE HOWE PLAYBOOK

I pointed out to Melanie that the ways she’s helping people goes way beyond marketing; she’s also an organization guru, an efficiency expert and business coach all rolled into one.

That begged the question, what’s next for Addison Avenue Marketing?

“As I’m creating content for clients, Addison Avenue Marketing is always going to be my agency. But Melanie Howe, marketing instructor, is my personal brand. When you invest in an instructor, you are buying the instructor. People buy from people,” she said.

Right.

Melanie’s a person. I’m a person. Even if you work for a huge conglomerate, at the end of the day, it’s your personality, your character, your personal story that’s going to convince your audience to act.

Share your gifts with one person, then with many, then with countless more through published content. Those are your three steps to content marketing success.

Down and dirty style.

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6 Content Marketing Secrets to Success, Taught by One Nerdy iPhone Game

I have a confession to make. It’s a little embarrassing.

About a month ago, I started playing a super nerdy, Dungeons & Dragons-esque (let D&D fan protestations begin) iPhone game called King of Avalon.

I am 35 years old.

Here’s a surprise: It turns out KoA weirdly correlates to six secrets to successful content marketing. Who’d’ve thunk?

WHAT THE CRAP ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, MATT?

I know. Follow me on this.

KoA is one of these real-time strategy games. You have a bird’s eye view of your walled-in Medieval city, your stronghold and farms and stuff. Outside the city you see a map of the area dotted with cities of other players, monsters to fight and so on. You fight and grow to gain points, get stronger, do more.

If you’re feeling totally out of your element right now, you now share the sentiments of most of the conversations I have with small business clients about content marketing.

Content marketing is just another game I’ve been playing for a few years. I’m inviting you to play.

Allow me to put myself into your shoes and share what I’ve learned as a newbie to my new game.

  1. You just gotta start.

When it comes to content, I’m often just like the throngs of nerds who gush over these MMO (massive multiplayer online) games, who you overhear talking about FINALLY donating enough magic dust to open the interdimensional portal so they can fight the monster and collect rewards …

And you’re like, I’m glad you’re so excited. Enjoy. I have work to do.

I did not think a game like this would be worth my time. You might not think creating an “inbound strategy” or “business blogging” or “email marketing” will be worth yours. At some point, you just gotta want that excitement the nerds have. It can be yours. Just try it.

  1. Identify goals or you will never win.

Starting to play this game was pretty overwhelming. It guides you – build a farm! now a sawmill! now a university! now barracks! – but I wondered, why? Wait, and you can actually spend real money on this? Why would anybody in their right mind do such a thing?

I realized this was not the kind of game with a single pre-defined goal. Nobody plays King of Avalon to, like, be King of Avalon. You’re competing against thousands (millions?) of players. I needed attainable goals along the journey to enjoy. Upgrading buildings, slaying barbarians and whatnot.

You don’t get into content marketing expecting to rule the world. You start with a modest goal, and work from there. Like generating 10 ideas for what to write about. Maybe you don’t even have a blog yet. You’ll get there.

  1. You will spend time on the wrong things.

Just like in real life (or “IRL” as the kids say – geez, I’m old) time is a highly valuable resource in this game. You have windows of opportunity to gain points in exchange for gold by gathering resources; to slay monsters; or sometimes to attack other players.

I learned pretty fast that I shouldn’t bother taking the time to train troops just before the “kill phase”. That’s when seasoned players come by and obliterate you with a few thumbs taps from the comfort of their international toilet seats.

That sucked, but I learned. You will learn to stop writing on topics your customers don’t care about; to spend less time writing emails and more on a list-building strategy; to just take a darn photo yourself instead of searching for hours through stock images. Learning and growing is fun. Enjoy the ride.

  1. Real people are your most vital resource.

I was invited to join an alliance almost immediately. I hesitated to respond. Actually interacting with other players? Geeking out over magic crystals and leveling up my dragon? I’ll pass.

I’m glad I accepted the invite. I learned so much by connecting with other players. And it turned out that interaction with real people, engaging with a team to defend against enemy alliances and gather resources to benefit the entire alliance, is really the most rewarding part of the game.

Yes, content marketing is about attaining “points” – increased traffic, ebook downloads, email opens, conversions of readers to customers – but it’s the connection with real people that will help you the most. You help them with valuable content, they help you with feedback and inform your strategy.

  1. You will lose “soft” progress, but nobody can take away your “hard” gains.

Once you get into this game, you start to get really attached to your resources. It’s no surprise that when an enemy alliance starts burning and pillaging, players get legit pissed. Long lines of asterisks in the chat box where the game has automatically blocked out cuss words abound.

Looky here. Losing ground is part of the game. Enemies stall your “soft” progress by killing and stealing. But once you level up anything – dragon, buildings, city – you can bounce back faster, train new troops and produce resources faster. That “hard” progress is fixed.

When busy-ness, competitors or writer’s block stalls your content and traffic disappears, it will suck. It’s a soft progress setback, but nothing can take away your hard, foundational progress. Because of what you have learned, you will bounce back with fresh new content that will blow your audience away.

  1. Progress is gradual. Your own accomplishments will sometimes surprise you.

King of Avalon is not about getting to the end. It’s just about getting to the next milestone, enjoying the journey, building camaraderie with other players, teaching, learning and getting stronger as you go.

One day, you wake up and realize just how strong you’ve gotten, how much of your corner of the map you and your alliance have conquered, how much momentum you’ve gained.

Yes, you should track conversions, but you can’t always track what leads to the sale: affinity, quality of life, gratitude, relationship. These immeasurable gains you get when you engage people with content that helps them solve problems will lead to bigger sales, longer term customers and referrals.

TO RECAP

Do what I did and just get started. Dive in. Instead of putting little buildings into your city without any idea why, you’ll do this:

  1. Write down 10 questions your customers need answers to. Pick one, write 500 words or so to answer that question. Write it like a thoughtful letter to your best customer.
  2. Publish your article with a nice picture. If you have a blog, put it there. If not, get a free WordPress account, or maybe publish it on LinkedIn. Share it on Facebook, Twitter, email.
  3. Now go back and pick another one of your 10 questions. Do the above again. Give yourself a deadline. Can you only handle once a month? Great, get it done in 30 days. Repeat.
  4. Just enjoy connecting with real people through content. Enjoy the comments, shares, offline compliments. Keep the end goal in mind, but don’t be overly concerned with it yet.
  5. Don’t get discouraged when you fall behind. You’ve learned more than you realize. Keep at it. Expect organic conversions of readers to followers, to customers, to advocates.
  6. Develop your strategy as you go. Eventually you will house your blog on your own website; use a giveaway to entice people to subscribe to your email list; utilize email for sales. Eventually those subscribers will become your most loyal customers and an army of referrers.

Eventually, my stronghold will be up to Level 35. That’s going to take a while.

Oh well, I’ll get there. So will you.

Dedicated to the Freeforall alliance of Kingdom 504, Lunar Group, KoA. Most of which, I assume, are young enough to be my own children. Can anybody send me some wood?

***

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How Content Marketing Drives Referrals and Brightens Your Day, Spotted Monkey Style

Above: Lauren Williams (left), Ashli Smith (center), the Spotted Monkey International Harvester truck cab (right)

You’re quitting your job.

You have a new one lined up in two weeks. In the meantime, you might be researching the company you’re going to work for, reaching out to future coworkers for coffee. Maybe you just relax and enjoy the break.

Not Ashli Smith. It turned out that two weeks was far too long a delay to get her on board, because it gave her all the time she needed to start a new business instead.

How did it happen?

“I like to work, and I like to think,” Ashli said with a shrug and a bright smile, when we spoke in late March 2018.

Still in her twenties at the time, her plan was to leave the Nissan dealership where she had been the office manager for years, and her hometown of Muncie, Indiana, for greener pastures in Indianapolis.

“I always wanted to get out of Muncie and see the world. I love to travel. I always used to cry when I had to come back home from a trip because I knew there was always so much more to see and experience,” Ashli said.

Indianapolis wasn’t exactly “the world”, but it felt like a step in the right direction. At first. Then she abruptly changed her plans when a paying gig came her way.

Okay, maybe that’s not the whole story … the opportunity didn’t exactly come out of nowhere.

THE BEST BUSINESSES GROW OUT OF EMPATHY

See, Ashli had not been your average office manager at Nissan. She was the kind of dream employee every general manager would give their right leg for, the kind who doesn’t need to be told what needs to be done. The kind who’s already doing it.

“We were slow. My salespeople were starving,” Ashli said. “I needed to do something to show them I got their back.”

Ashli’s degree from Ball State University is in travel and tourism marketing, the business of making a destination look sexy. She figured she could use these marketing skills to lick two problems.

One was the external problem of people not coming in. What was her dealership but the destination she needed to entice people to visit?

The other was the internal problem of horrible morale, because, well, people weren’t coming in.

“At one point, we had a zero dollar advertising budget,” Ashli said. “Facebook at that time was pretty new. I started experimenting with it.”

Ashli would not only write posts about cars for sale, but she had fun with social media, too.

“We had a salesperson we called Lucky who would dress up like a leprechaun for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I would post pics of him. Just anything to keep up morale,” she said.

(It was at about this point in our interview I asked Ashli if she was ever a cheerleader. She laughed, “Yes. Until my sophomore year.” Are you surprised?)

Although Ashli didn’t have analytics to track whether it was working (Facebook didn’t even have business pages back then, let alone tracking tools), she could feel the change, the way the salespeople appreciated the effort.

Fred Stevens took notice. He was running an independent insurance agency at the time and happened to be a friend of Ashli’s father, Rick Smith. Fred didn’t get social media, but he knew Ashli did. That’s why it took about two seconds for him to reach out to Ashli when he heard she was leaving Nissan.

Just like that, Ashli Smith had her first social media marketing client.

GREAT BUSINESS, MEH NAME

The next step was to write a business plan. She showed it to Rick. He was sure to give her lots of notes as an experienced businessman himself, a former co-owner of another dealership.

“He told me it’s a perfect business plan, because it had no employees and no product!” Ashli said.

Of course, that would change in time.

She founded Creative Web Connection in 2010. The company offered website design and social media management at a time when there weren’t many local options for small businesses needing help with digital marketing.

Ashli had found her place filling a need right here in her home town. That was a cool enough prospect to be worth sticking around.

The next step was to let everybody know she was open for business. Through membership in BNI (Business Network International), and by attending chamber of commerce ribbon cuttings and meetings of the new ECI Social Media Group, Ashli began to pick up contacts and clients.

In 2013 she opened up her office at N. Wheeling and Riggin Road.

“That’s when it really felt real,” Ashli said.

She realized at that point it was time to tackle her name problem. People would often misremember the business name as Creative Web “Connections” (there was no “s”). Sometimes they couldn’t remember the name at all. Worse, they couldn’t remember what the company actually did.

So, Creative Web Connection rebranded to Spotted Monkey Marketing, a name that not only gets across that it’s a marketing company, it also instantly makes you smile.

“I wanted to change the name to something memorable. My dad and I originally came up with Blue Monkey, but we found quite a few bars and restaurants have that name. So we did Spotted Monkey instead, and Greg Zirkle made us a blue logo,” Ashli said.

Since then, service offerings have snowballed as Spotted Monkey continues to respond to client needs. Ashli is now one of a staff of three full-time employees and a few part-time interns from Ball State, all needed to handle everything from social media to printing, logo design … and now, content marketing.

CONTENT IS A GROWTH AREA IN MUNCIE

“We’re seeing original content works,” Ashli said. “Original content is what people want to read. Those are the number one articles being read on a website.”

Ashli and I spend a lot of time educating small business clients on what content marketing is and what it can do for them.

There are currently a select handful of clients that are benefitting from articles written in their voice, targeted to their desired clientele, and delivered in a variety of ways. The goal is to move readers down the marketing/sales pipeline from attention to interest, to desire, and finally to action.

Usually the action we want the reader to take is making a purchase, but for some clients, the desired action may be more nuanced.

For example, one client is a financial advisor based in California. For his firm, Spotted Monkey:

  • Delivers original articles to end clients in a monthly e-newsletter,
  • Posts the article in the client’s blog, on his website,
  • Posts links to the article via a handful of social media platforms several times a month, and sometimes
  • Utilizes the data referenced in the article to create and post infographics.

That’s a whole lot of impact from one service, and it is paying dividends (see what I did there?). Over time, the client has seen not just website traffic, but referrals ($!) grow.

“He has seen more referrals over the last eight months than he has since we started doing this over two years ago,” Ashli said. “With content marketing, it’s not going to happen overnight. You are building trust, and it definitely pays off over time.”

THE CONTENT MARKETING PAYOFF: A GREAT MORALE BOOSTER

Ashli and I are working to make content marketing simple, accessible and efficient for more SMBs (small- to medium-size businesses) in east central Indiana.

Whether it takes the form of business blogs, print or email newsletters, websites or landing pages, good content paves the way from getting your audience’s attention all the way to bringing the sale home.

“Content marketing” is not scary. It’s not even anything new. It’s just educating, entertaining and storytelling with a purpose.

If you have something more to communicate than your list of products and services, if you have a story to tell, tell it. Invite readers in to hear more, to build relationship with you, and they are far more likely to buy from you in the future.

The idea is simple. The execution can be tough. If you need someone to help you get your story out, that’s when you call your local, sunny content shop, Spotted Monkey Marketing.

Go ahead. Let Ashli make your day.

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What Are Readers Looking For in All This Content?

When we think of digital content as “advertising” the most obvious answer is that readers of content are looking for solutions. Content is about problem-solving.

I don’t think that’s quite it.

When we think of content as “communication” between buyers and sellers we might say users are looking for connection. Readers seek to engage and increase their own visibility in the process.

Still not quite it.

How about content as “public relations”? Readers desire transparency. They want to get behind the scenes and see proof that those they do business with are authentic (for example, the McDonald’s campaign: “Our Food. Your Questions.”).

Getting closer?

At the risk of oversimplifying humanity, I do believe there is a common thread to the purpose of all this content filling up our screens.

We want to feel better.

We feel better when our problems are solved, when we’re invited to participate in something important, when we feel we are not alone and when we believe we can trust the people soliciting us.

There is plenty of good content out there that doesn’t seem to want to make people feel better. When nonprofit organizations write about homelessness, poverty, human rights abuses, corruption, war, disease, etc., you might think they want people to feel the opposite.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Even when your organization deals with pain and strife, your goal should always make the reader feel better by communicating 1) what you are doing to help and 2) how the reader can help.

This applies to all types of organizations, from nonprofits to big corporations to small businesses: content aimed at making people feel bad will never attract the kind of reader you want.

Bad content examples:

  1. Small Business – articles that seek to differentiate the business by scolding people for not buying local or for paying too much elsewhere.
  2. Corporate – stories of the success of top executives that happen to omit all the help they received to get there.
  3. Nonprofit – stories of suffering populations that don’t assert there is hope, or articles about funding shortages without information on a plan to close the gap.

Content that primarily seeks to:

  • puff up the writer’s credentials may be impressive, but they do not build trust.
  • promote the value of self-sufficiency is burdensome, not inspiring.
  • paint a bleak picture of the world triggers short-term alarm or guilt, not long-term action.

Nobody wants to feel foolish for what they lack. Nobody wants to feel alone. Nobody wants to believe the world is going to Hell in a handbasket.

As you push out more and more content, the rule of thumb is simple: try to make people feel better about themselves, the world and their place in it.

That’s what we’re looking for.

Does Your Content Say Why You Do What You Do?

I originally published this article in 2015. This update is a significant improvement. Enjoy!

Earlier this month I attended a presentation on content marketing from Jeff Echols, a guy who believes in the power of stories to create meaningful connections. He helps clients articulate why they do what they do.

One of Jeff’s sources of inspiration is leadership specialist Simon Sinek, author of the book Start with Why, who says, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

IT WASN’T JUST A PHONE

In Sinek’s now classic TED Talk “How great leaders inspire action,” he spelled out how Apple understood this.

He asked, what if Apple had merely stated what they do, just like any other company?

“We make great computers. They’re user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?”

Instead, they communicated something that was far more impactful: their belief in individuality, creativity, boldness.

“With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

Buying an Apple product made a statement. It was about solidarity with this way of interacting with the world. By the time the iPhone came out in 2007, Apple was already set up for world dominance because we all believed the iPhone was developed from a set of strong core values with which we agreed.

WHY DO YOU BUY WHAT YOU BUY?

Put yourself into the shoes of the consumer for a moment. The last time you bought something, I’ll bet it had far more to do with the story presented about why that product is in the world than you realize.

  • Consider that pair of running shoes you wear. How much more did you trust their quality because you believe that brand exists to support a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle?
  • Consider the car you drive. What stories have you heard, or told, about auto workers or safety or the environment that give you a sense of pride when you take it out on the road?
  • Consider the food you pick up at the grocery store. What are the values you believe are instilled in these brands? Cultural identity? Enjoyment of life? Thrift?

I for one bought a pair of Nikes last year because on some level I believe they care about runners, and therefore make quality shoes that won’t hurt my feet. I drive a Pontiac Vibe because it was developed jointly with Toyota, which I believe takes pride in long-lasting, fuel efficient automobiles. And I shop at Aldi because their primary value of thrift and DIY bagging matches my Midwestern sensibilities.

By and large, we choose products we believe in, because of why we perceive they exist.

This concept is even more relevant when we’re considering hiring a person.

WHY DO PEOPLE “BUY” … YOU?

We connect with people who communicate what they believe and why they’re in business.

So, why do you as service providers do what you do?

While you’re pondering how to answer, let me buy you some time. I’ll go first.

Every word I write is about improving the quality of life for someone, somehow. I am inspired by the ways my clients apply their knowledge, skills and passions to helping people. I love using the written word to capture those passions, inspire others and ultimately help readers accomplish their goals.

I could have just said, I’m a good marketing content writer. Wanna hire me? But, as Jeff and Simon say, anyone can tell you what they do and most people won’t care.

What resonates with people is the why. We want to know what drives you, because deep down, it’s what matters to us the most.

AREN’T RESULTS WHAT MATTER MOST?

Often, no.

Think about the last time someone told you how accomplished they are. Did it make you want to hire them?

  • I’ve been helping people file their taxes for 25 years.
  • I put 28 families into a new vehicle last month.
  • We have been helping families through the estate planning process for over a hundred years.

Somehow, impressive as all that is, we’re just not sold. The numbers are meaningless to most of us. We can’t relate.

What does sell us is when we come to believe that someone cares about what we care about. The above examples of marketing copy are significantly improved when we shift the focus to the why.

  • I used to hate doing my own taxes. That’s why I became a CPA. I want to spare you that headache so you can get on with your life.
  • I’m a car guy. I love cars. I don’t care what you drive off my lot, only that you love your vehicle as much as I love mine.
  • Our hearts break when we see families hurt and confused after a family member dies without leaving a will. We are determined to create a clear estate plan for you so your loved ones don’t have to go through that.

Frustration, satisfaction, prevention of pain. These are ideas we can relate to.

YOUR TURN

Everyone is driven by some desire, some purpose. Including you.

It’s no accident that you get up every morning and do the job. There is a reason you represent the organization you do, and that’s what people want to know.

It’s what helps them understand you and trust you. It makes them want to support you.

All right, your turn.

Why did you get up this morning?

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