One of the most common questions businesses ask in internet marketing is, “I’ve built and optimized a web site, but I need clients, now what?” Actually, more common is the negative version – “I have a web site, and I’ve optimized it, but I’m not getting any clients. Why not?” The first question is how to be successful, the second is why am I not being successful. Regardless of where you are in this equation, there are answers, and the answers are the same. While businesses and industries differ, the general principles of internet marketing, and why it succeeds or fails, are common across industries and companies.
Recipe for Success: The most successful companies are:
- Planned: They are operating from an overall, customized marketing plan that has marketing initiatives broken down into specific campaigns with target audiences. Planning keeps them from engaging in only sporadic or short term efforts. Most small businesses aren’t working from a plan, so that’s especially helpful for the ones that are. Consulting is usually how this gets done.
- Coherent: They have very clearly defined market differentiators, and have worked on these as their primary marketing message, so that they are genuinely different from competitors in ways that have actual marketing value and directly add value to clients. The company is willing to change its businesses processes to create market differentiators if the company is not sufficiently differentiated from competition. Most businesses have really badly defined market differentiators, so this is especially helpful for companies that get this right. Consulting is usually how this gets done.
- Prioritized: They have placed marketing at the *top* of their business efforts, not the bottom. They lead with marketing and follow with the work they do, unlike less successful companies who have inverted that order and treat marketing as an afterthought or merely a necessary evil. Where these companies invest, they invest foremost in their marketing since, without that, you can have the best service, product, or idea in the world, and no one will realize it or find out. Small, local businesses in particular often invert priorities, placing “work” first, marketing last, and therefore experience a rollercoaster of being alternately “too busy” to spend time on marketing (it becomes sporadic and short-term) and being “too slow” to spend money on marketing (same effect).
- Diversified:They are spread out in multiple areas of marketing, treating it like spokes on a wheel. There is a web site or store front at the center, but they are engaged frequently, consistently, and long-term in several venues. These are usually broken down into overall areas like:
- – Blogging (creating engaging content – on the web site)
- – Social Media (essentially off-site interaction, microblogging, video blogging, building a community, actively engaging prospects & clients in social media – funneling traffic back to the site)
- – Search Engine Marketing (essentially off-site blogging, engaging content, actively engaging the rest of the web with helpful content and funneling traffic back to the site)
- – Premium Content Generation (ranging from ebooks to video series’ that have a ‘sticky’ effect with lasting, long-term value directly to prospects)
- – Opt-in Marketing (list building, creating engaging content, exchanging it for leads, creating more content that adds value for prospects, funneling traffic back to the site)
- – Event Marketing (offering seminars, webinars, classes as a way of adding value in exchange for credibility, perceived expertise, and an e-mail list – you almost never pitch at these things – it’s marketing not sales)
- – Traditional Marketing (efforts that use paper in some way)
- – Advertising (pay per click, targeted ads – revising keywords and content according to analytics)
- – Sales (contract sales, cold-calling, targeted leads, in person sales calls etc.)
- Dedicated: Their marketing efforts are frequent, consistent, long-term, involved, thoughtful, and relentless, with the upswing in returns coming after that has been sustained for a long time. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to becoming sporadic, short term, inconsistent, and unconcerted in their efforts, making it easier for competitors to successfully occupy the field, as the company starts to starve. The quality of ‘patience’ in regard to marketing does not involve passively sitting around to wait, but rather actively acting as if it’s a process that takes constant gardening to produce fruit.
- Add Value: They are creating and disseminating very engaging, useful, helpful content that is of direct interest to prospects aside from and apart from the sale, selling, or convincing them to buy their services. By doing this, they earn permission to occasionally give a pitch, because they have been adding value consistently for a long time. Then when they pitch, it’s brief, direct, and not heavy handed – it relies on the built up stock of credibility as the area expert in the field and trust that you’re not trying to ram a sale (of services or products or ideas) down their throats.
- Involved: They are engaged with marketing as a primary business function – they have a genuine thought leader in the company engaged in marketing, even when a lot of it is outsourced, and that person is at least interacting consistently with marketing efforts, though not necessarily controlling them. Small companies are particularly tempted to “dump” the marketing on a barely interested techie, spouse, receptionist, or other person who really isn’t consistently energized, motivated, or prepared to spend a good portion of his/her time on marketing efforts, at least through consulting, if not through direct efforts.
- Balanced: Marketing is adding value, while selling is making a pitch. It’s not that they don’t also do selling, but the balance in most successful companies is tilted heavily toward marketing. It’s maybe 80% marketing, 20% selling and advertising.
- Unashamed: Their company is on a sales footing in general. The balance is still tilted toward marketing – stellar value being delivered in the content they create and share, and in the services, products, or ideas they provide. But everyone in the company also either markets or sells. The receptionist asks open ended questions, captures lead information (like how you found us, and your e-mail address). The guy on site asks for referrals. Etc. Shame about the relationship with leads and prospects is poison to the company.
- Other: The list could go on for a long time. Responsive, Timely, etc. There’s no one magic formula. In short, the most successful companies are good – they’re rock stars. It’s not one thing – it’s rocking in general. Many small businesses fall prey to being excellent at one thing – that’s actually an adage – some companies just make great burgers. And we all know companies like that which didn’t survive after a few years. They had a good run, but they couldn’t adapt to the changing economic conditions. Good burgers, maybe not so good at the things they needed to survive. Not so good at survival or, “thrival” – being a rock star.
Recipes for Failure: The least successful companies are:
- Underinvested: They have excellent reasons for not marketing effectively, and they boil down to can’t spend time (too busy right now) or can’t invest money (too slow right now). It’s similar to the old project management adage that it can be done cheaply, quickly, or correctly – pick two. The most successful companies invest a consistent, steady proportion of both time and money, without relenting during peak or slow times. Some companies might shift the balance slightly – doing a little less direct time investment during peak seasons, while remaining engaged and consistent, yet upping the financial investment at that time, and maybe spending a little less money during slow seasons, but upping the time investment. The most successful ones keep investment of both time and money steady all the time, with spikes for particular new marketing initiatives or campaigns.
- Sporadic: They engage in mainly sporadic, infrequent, inconsistent, or only short term efforts, thereby wasting their initial or occasional efforts and often concluding, therefore, that internet marketing doesn’t work. It’s the “if you build it, they will come” mainly passive approach. They often then assumes that marketing or internet marketing only works for some industries, because the mainly small, unsustained efforts don’t produce bigger results. Often, these companies are not utilizing a customized marketing plan and are therefore not consistently marketing at all, but only sporadically engaged in small or short-term efforts.
- Undifferentiated: They offer the standard stuff that everyone says about being ‘fast, fair, friendly, honest, really really fast, really really fair, etc.” – their message reflects the general indifference to marketing itself, as an afterthought. These companies are not utilizing clearly defined and effective market differentiators.
- Boring: They use unoriginal, unengaging material, offering mainly advertising or self-focused content (they’re not really interested in anything their prospects are interested in – they just want orders – it’s a utilitarian approach that just doesn’t work unless you bottom out your price lower than anyone (if it’s cheap enough, you don’t have to be engaged). But then of course you face the Walmart thing – there’s always a bigger price competitor willing to go lower. These companies’ marketing is often marked by the most direct route to someone’s wallet, and is therefore decidedly uninteresting and lame, if not offensive. “We offer… we provide… we… we… so call us… so buy our stuff… so….” etc. It’s the lowest level of advertising presented as though it were marketing.
- Disengaged: They dump the marketing on someone else – they don’t engage personally with their marketing, but outsource it all so they don’t have to think about it (even huge companies have internal marketing departments that are consistently, actively engaged with marketing companies – not just toss it to someone else) or else they assign the internal role to an uninterested, half-committed underling.
Polarized: They either a) don’t really listen to or hear advice on how marketing works – they tend to decide and dictate what they want to do without getting consulting or operating from a consistent plan – or else b) they completely dump their intellect, will, and interest (their engagement), to “let the experts handle it”, so they’re checked out of this major area of their company’s business, and just throw money at it. This drive it or dump it approach is the dark side of the time or money equation.
- Inverted: They don’t make marketing a business priority – marketers know that 80% of the company is marketing, and only 20% is infrastructure and the other work. How many artists put a hundred hours into a painting, and get less than a hundred dollars for it, because we don’t know who they are, why we should care, or what the significance of the work is? The 80/20 ratio is just an illustration – maybe it’s 50/50, but marketing isn’t 10% – let’s put it that way. Smaller companies have a harder time accepting the significance of marketing in the ratio once they’re past start up phase. Healthy companies return continually to startup mode, treating it as a cycle, and continue to inject new ideas and simultaneously new marketing efforts into their stream of work. You can do the best work in the world, but if no one calls, what good is it? Marketing is closer to the 80% than the 20%. Less successful companies relegate marketing to a nominal status, necessary evil, or afterthought – like janitorial or bookkeeping. They’re often doing excellent work, when they can get any.
- Passive: This bears special mention because of the myth of the web site. The myth of the web site is that owning one will bring you business, if you just make it look good and put in some search engine optimization. It’s the easiest thing in the world to sell a client, that myth. It pays high dollar, and people eat it up, because they want to believe that you can get a steady, revolving door of clients by buying a package. It’s the internet equivalent of buying the red sportscar and suddenly being surrounded by girls. Those commercials are great. But it’s not true. People will mistranslate, revise, plead, negotiate, and even ‘just have faith’ to try to get an honest person to tell them you can just build a web site and have clients, but it’s not true – popular, but not true. If you build a web site, optimize it, and wait for the phone to ring, it simply won’t. Marketing is an activity, not a purchase or a product. The least successful small businesses are based on the Field of Dreams (“build it and they will come”) model, because someone has decided that marketing works how we wish it would work. But people aren’t cows who respond to the simple stimuli of putting out some hay. They’re complex animals who expect to be engaged with interesting and useful things by people they grow to like and trust. There’s no test-tube customer you can clone. In short, the least successful companies are the least successful because they have, somewhere in their thinking, at some key point, believed a falsehood, whether they insisted on telling it to themselves, or they were told it by someone else, and they either never discover it or, upon discovering it, refuse to accept the alternative reality and act upon it. They starve on an island, surrounded by well populated shores, from clinging to an imaginary cruise liner that will bring them what they need rather than building a raft.
One way to characterize adopting the recipe for success is simply ‘shifting to a marketing footing’. That can take a company with no clients and turn that around to make it profitable, or it can take a venture that isn’t getting traction and give it clarity and direction so it survives and progresses. An established business that shifts to a marketing footing can go from stagnation and breaking even, living hand to mouth, to thriving (with the risk being that you then let the marketing deteriorate and reproduce the problem again). But coming up from an essentially ineffective marketing posture to one that’s highly effective is a process – it will take undeterred and relentless gardening. The instant solution of “buying clients” is as ethereal as it is imaginary – it’s predicated on a ‘livestock’ view of humanity that just doesn’t hold water. You spend the money on those solutions, and it’s like buying salt water in a desert. You have less to sustain you or make real and effective choices, when your realize it’s not going to work. Follow the recipe for success, toss out the recipes for failure, and enjoy the results of the new world of marketing.