What’s in a Word?

list“Sir?” I prodded, interrupting The Effective Detective’s reverie.

“What?!” the startled detective exclaimed, “Oh Watson, what can I help you with,” regaining his composure after almost jumping out of his chair.

“I don’t require assistance at this moment sir, but I am puzzled about something. I guess you could say I consider it a mystery,” I said, so absorbed in my own thoughts, I didn’t even notice The Detective’s reaction.

“Well Watson, you have started today’s discussion, pray continue with details of your ‘mystery’,” The Detective answered, warming to the challenge.

“Ah, yes sir. You see what puzzles me is what seems to be a misunderstanding of the use of the word ‘list’. I have noticed often in your and others’ presentations that when that word is used, confusion seems to set in. It is as if the word has no meaning, or at least no meaning in the marketing sense,” I explained.

“Ah Watson, you have picked up on an interesting situation. One where the same word can have two different meanings depending on the audience. If you mention that word to an Internet marketer, there is no confusion, they know and understand of what you are speaking. However, I too have noticed the confusion in the eyes of brick-and-mortar product business owners, and professional service providers – even the ones that consider themselves virtual, at least in terms of their office location.

“To the Internet marketer, their list is the heart of their business. It is the thing that allows them to exist, and it is to be nurtured and developed above almost everything else. Unfortunately, too often, to lets call them ‘real-world’ businesses, the ones that see their customers, interact with them directly, their ‘list’ is much more akin to an accounting device. It allows them to calculate profit and loss on an individual basis. It allows them to claim a following in their marketing,” The Detective stopped here for his characteristic pause, designed to give me a chance to interject something that would spur the conversation on. Of course I obliged him.

“So they claim a following in their marketing, instead of marketing to their following?”

“Bravo Watson! An excellent line indeed. You’ve hit the nail on the head! What most non-Internet businesses do is constantly market to the universe of people who aren’t really aware of them, hoping that the message will strike someone’s fancy who is also in the market for the product or service at the precise moment it is being advertised to them. Whereas the Internet marketer will market their wares consistently to the universe of people who are aware of them – the list, knowing that even if now is not the time, next week, next month or perhaps even next year might be, and through consistent contact they will be there to serve,” The Detective responded.

“And to the universe of people not aware of them? Are they ignored?” I asked.

“Elementary dear Watson, they are marketed to as well, how else will you build the list? If, by chance they are ready to buy today, wonderful! But, if not, that is okay as well. They are invited to become part of the community, and will be given many other chances to purchase something,” The Detective answered patiently.

“So it is a constant series of sales pitches?” I asked, imagining a never ending barrage of advertisements to a helpless list armed only with a wastebasket and the delete button on their computer.

“Bah! Watson, that would be suicide for the business. However, that discussion is for another day,” the Detective responded forcefully.

“As you wish, sir.”

The Cart Before The Horse

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

“So tell me Watson, what are your views on branding?” said The Effective Detective, beginning a new discussion. I am always wary when a conversation starts out with such a wide open question.

“Branding, sir? I am unsure of my views on the subject. Perhaps you would care to guide me with yours,” I replied, deciding that cowardice was the better part of valor.

The Detective raised an eyebrow, but I also noticed that he couldn’t suppress the slightest of grins; he knew that I knew the game. “Ah Watson, well-played. I’ll start then on what I have found to be yet another topic so often discussed at the wrong time, for lack of a better way to describe it, by some of our marketing brethren.”

“Sir, is there ever a wrong time to discuss marketing?” I exclaimed, worried that perhaps now marketing had become a taboo subject like religion and politics.

“Hmm, let me be a little more specific here Watson to relieve your concerns. By wrong time, I am referring to the order of a discussion of marketing strategies and tactics, rather than a particular time or meeting place. The question is when does branding become a critical part of your marketing strategy? The answer, I fear, is not when many are told, or think.

“You see Watson, a brand, at least the way it seems to be generally thought of, is more of a place-marker. It is a way for people to associate a particular mark, phrase, or even just a name, with you or your product or service,” The Effective Detective said, pausing slightly, which allowed me to jump in with a concern.

“But isn’t that a good thing sir? Giving people an easy way to identify you? I would think that is the heart of marketing.”

“A fair point, Watson,” The Detective conceded, “but, it misses a far broader point,” he finished, prompting a swift reaction from me.

“So branding is bad?” I asked.

“Elementary my dear Watson,” The Detective replied, again with that slight smile telling me he was springing his rhetorical trap.  “I never said that it was a bad thing, merely often misplaced in the order of things that are important to building a business through strong marketing. Yes, a brand will help identify you, however, it does nothing to show people why it is important to pay attention to you, and what the results of working with you or your product are. It does nothing to bring people into your tribe. It is a sign-post indicating that something is available through you, but why should they care? What will happen by engaging you?

“Yet, I see people worrying over their logo, whether they have just the right tag line, and are the colors right on their website, when often they don’t even have a way to capture email addresses on that site! The text of their site talks about them, essentially identifying them rather than what the result of working with them will be. This obsession with trying to get people to associate you with something  is detrimental to the far more important task of getting them to raise their hand. To show an interest in what you are offering.

“The one thing that I do see obsessing over establishing a brand early does for you is that you present a consistent face to the market. However, I think that can be done in the early phases simply by focusing on your niche.

“Once you have an established presence, spending some time on branding makes sense. Ensure that your clients have a consistent way to refer to you when they are referring you. To be able to give them a way to identify that they are part of your tribe, which can catch the attention of others who might raise their hand. But, the single most important thing initially is just to get out there, and give people a reason to raise your hand. Worry about your “brand” later,” The Detective concluded, and waited for anything I might have to add.

“The marketing process can be fraught with twists and turns, sir,” I  concluded.

“Quite, Watson.”

Ground Control to Major Tom

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Image courtesy of sscreations / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

The Effective Detective looked particularly intense today as he shot his first question at me.

“Watson, are you aware of the term ‘Signal to Noise Ratio’?”

“I am sir, in what context?” I answered.

“Context? Oh. Quite right Watson. The marketing context,” The Detective smiled, acknowledging one of the rare times I had confounded him, if only for a moment.

“Yes, sir. The marketing context would refer to the vast amount of content available to just about everyone via print, advertising, radio, television, and of course, the Internet, compared to the relatively small amount of content that is applicable to one’s particular situation.”

“Excellent Watson, you have been paying attention and absorbing the lessons from our adventures well,” The Detective congratulated me. “But now the million dollar question, how do you increase the Signal to Noise ratio?” The Detective asked with a slight smile. A smile more related to the hunter zeroing in on his prey than the previous smile he had given me.

I hesitated, with a vague sense of disquiet that a misbehaving school boy experiences shortly before he is rapped across the knuckles. “Umm, I would have to say have more quality content, aimed at a particular audience sir.”

The Detective threw back his head and laughed, “You truly have been paying attention Watson! Bravo! But there is still a  missing piece.”

“Sir?” my figurative knuckles now smarting slightly.

“The audience Watson. Even if you have but a relatively small audience, how can you ensure the appropriate content is reaching your specific target or targets?”

“I am not sure I am following you, sir,” I responded feeling a tad confused.

“It is quite simple Watson,” The Detective started, with a trace of irritation in his voice. “The issue is getting your signal through to the right people, the people who are listening for that signal through all of the background noise of their daily lives. Good, strong, valuable, perhaps provocative, content,” The Detective paused, winding up for the delivery.

“Pray continue, sir.”

“But there are always multiple channels of content being sent out, the noise as it were. If the difference is extreme, say your sports channel vs a political channel, then the need for segmentation seems less. Your content will tend not to overlap. But what if the channels are less distinct, say fitness trainers, some who specialize in weight loss vs others specializing in aerobic endurance?

“Segmenting your audience and generating such specific content becomes more difficult,  but extremely rewarding. Because your content is aimed specifically at their concern, instead of the general universe of people who are fitness conscious, or in the wrong niche, and most likely bombarded with messages from any number of fitness based sources, the Signal to Noise Ratio increases dramatically, and there is a far greater chance that the content will be read, and the benefit attributed to you,” The Detective paused again, eyeing me, as if he knew the question I was about to ask.

“Yes Watson, I have made this point before ( A King Needs a Queen ), but the concept of niching things down even further is important. It is easy to believe that we have something to say to everyone in a generalized market, and perhaps we do. But the real world says unless you have a really powerful transmitter, you’re better off fine tuning the frequency.”

“Reach fewer with more impact,” I replied.

“Quite so, Watson”

 

A King Needs a Queen

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Image courtesy of podpad / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I had a burning question to ask The Effective Detective, so I took the initiative to open the conversation. “Sir, I have noticed you have a propensity lately to sigh when you hear the phrase ‘Content is King’. Is there a particular reason for this?”

“I see that your observation skills continue to evolve in a most positive direction Watson,” The Detective answered. “And yes, I would say that I have begun to feel a sense of melancholy when that phrase is bandied about,” he finished heavily.

“I’m confused sir, don’t you advise most stridently that business people need to make useful content the priority in their marketing?” I asked, puzzled at his answer.

“Yes, and I still insist that content is key, Watson. However, I have noticed a propensity among our marketing brethren to spew content randomly as if the entire world could benefit. It may be excellent content, but it is being randomly spewed nonetheless, and that is causing a couple of problems,” The Detective’s voice began to get more animated, a sure sign he was warming to his topic.

“What would those problems be, sir?” I asked, cutting to the chase.

“First, it creates a type of ‘the boy who cried wolf’ scenario. You asked for your audience’s attention by claiming you had something to say that was important and relevant to them. If your audience is then given a steady stream of messages that are frequently not truly relevant to them, or worse, is all about the author instead of his or hers audience – which by the by is most certainly NOT excellent content, then when one does happen to hit the right topic, you have already been tuned out. No one is listening to you anymore, you squandered the trust you were given,” The Detective explained.

“Not to be impolite sir, but if someone wants to gum things up for themselves why is that an issue for anyone else?” I responded to his explanation.

“Ah Watson, an excellent question. That is the second problem. You see, it is an issue for all others because it creates a sense of distrust  of all of us that are trying to deliver content. We are all painted with the same brush, fairly or unfairly. It diminishes our sign up  and open rates because visitors begin to assume that you will bombard them with useless messages just like others. While there is nothing we can do to prevent others from sending irrelevant content, we can avoid it ourselves by remembering a simple truism.”

The Detective paused, prompting me to encourage him to continue. “And what would that be sir?”

“It is quite simple Watson: If content is King, then The Target must be Queen.”

“Corny, but effective sir.”

“Quite so, Watson.”

Arranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic

“So Watson, what new and interesting things are you starting the year with?” asked The Effective Detective, starting a new round of our conversations in this new year.

“Less starting my own list, and more fascinated by what others may be attempting,” I replied.

“How so Watson?” came the next question.

“I have been reviewing the myriad emails we receive from all of the marketing experts out there and wondering to what extent others try to execute on all of these various marketing methodologies being pushed,” I answered.

“Ah you have noted a common error, one that, as painful as it is, I must admit to committing myself here and there Watson.”

“Indeed sir! Now I am quite intrigued,” I responded, with  perhaps just a tad too much enjoyment at The Detective admitting a fault.

The Detective cast a baleful look before continuing.

“The issue, my dear Watson is how simple it can be to confuse activity with real productive work. In our efforts to accomplish things and cover a lot of ground, we begin to chase after every shiny new bauble dangled before our eyes, without thinking whether this actually accomplishes anything.

“Social Media is a perfect example. So many run around furiously creating Facebook pages, inviting their friends to like them, updating  LinkedIn profiles so that connections will see the activity and perhaps take a quick peek, tweet like crazy, hoping someone who is following 10,000 people will notice, and create Pinterest pages when they aren’t even sure what Pinterest is. The list goes on.”

“Are you saying Social Media is a waste of time, sir?” I asked alarmed.

“Not precisely Watson. I brought up Social Media merely because there are so many channels to it. I could just as easily mentioned sending out a flurry of ill-conceived direct mail pieces or non-specific emails to a list, are you starting to get my point?” The Detective smiled a half-smile, waiting to hear my answer.

“I think so sir. Would I be correct in thinking that the point is that merely doing things without much thought, simply because we have been told we need to take action, is not terribly productive?” I ventured.

“Well put, Watson! I might go as far as to say that doing what you described could actually be destructive. You could be alienating your tribe with an unfocused barrage of marketing, all in the name of generating “a touch”. More likely, but just as destructively, you will disperse your efforts, foregoing doing an excellent job on a few things, in favor of doing a mediocre job on many.

“What we all need to do is take a step back. Consider whether your action will actually produce meaningful results. With direct mail, are we targeting a well written message to a properly segmented list? Have we segmented our own list properly so that our emails are welcome and provide value? With Social Media, is the audience the one we want to be reaching, or are we just talking at people who are merely talking back at us rather than listening – something I think you see a lot of in Twitter.

“Yes, you should take massive action, but think through that action. Limit yourself to a few actions that you can focus on and execute exceedingly well before moving on to the next. More than anything else, before jumping into something, consider: will this move me toward my ultimate goal, or is it actually just a distraction from the hard work we know is needed to create something great,” The Detective finished, leaning back in his chair with a look that told me that further discussion must wait for another day.

The Real Experience

The Case of the Elusive Experience

“Watson, what do you believe to be the ‘Customer Experience’,” asked The Effective Detective, beginning another of our business discussions.

“Well sir, I would have to say that it is related to the service that customers receive. How they are greeted, what happens after the sale, handling of problems, etc.,” I answered.

“Excellent Watson! I believe you have defined almost perfectly what most people believe is the ‘Customer Experience’,” exclaimed The Detective.

“I sense a but… sir,” I cautiously responded.

“How observant of you Watson,” The Detective said, giving me a slight smile that indicated something else was coming. “You are quite right. You see, whilst that definition is 100% completely correct, it is also incomplete.”

“Incomplete, sir? Perhaps I left out a few additional things that can be done in customer service,” I replied, feeling a little bit of confusion.

“Perhaps Watson, but that is not what I was referring to. What is incomplete is that you refer to the experience only as it relates to customer service. In fact, the customer experience encompasses not only the service the customer received in purchasing, but also what they purchase, how they feel about themselves, and most importantly the emotional response they have to the overall process. When those factors are brought in as well you start to see something about this experience that most people miss.

“When there are discussions regarding customer experience they are almost always rated good or bad based on specific service metrics – ‘was the customer properly greeted in the appropriate amount of time’, ‘were all of their questions handled properly’, and low marks in any of those metrics downgrade the rating. I will admit, there is something to be said for such scientific analysis, other than those metrics tend to be one-size-fits-all, which as you know Watson, I absolutely loath.

“The fact of the matter though is that the customer experience is an overall emotional experience. It is an expectation that the business itself can define, and the customer can choose to engage or not.”

“I am not sure what you are saying sir, an example perhaps?” I quickly interjected, taking advantage of a slight pause.

“Certainly Watson, let me select one that most everyone could identify with: shopping at Walmart. I don’t think I would be stretching things if I said most people do not shop at Walmart for the excellent service they receive. Yet, there is an experience there. It is really quite simple: People go to Walmart to have a wide selection of cheap stuff that they can buy at rock bottom prices. They leave pleased that they have saved money. They do not walk into Walmart expecting a shopping concierge to guide them around the store to help them choose their packages. They do not expect the clerks to enthusiastically greet them or better yet to recognize them, and inquire as to the success of their shopping excursion. No. They expect to find low prices on most likely cheap stuff. That is exactly what Walmart provides, and not much more, and they have been amazingly successful.

“This is why some, albeit not all, existing small businesses around a new Walmart tend to fail. They try to duplicate an experience that their buying power with vendors will not allow. They do not try to design an experience that would attract some aspect of their market. If the market is there for a different experience and it is marketed correctly, one could survive in the shadow of a Walmart, but I can guarantee you Watson, offering ‘better customer service’ will rarely be the deciding factor, there must be an emotional trigger that is more important than price, or whatever it is one is competing against, ” The Detective finished.

“It is never easy is it sir?” I sighed.

“Quite Watson. Simple in its way, but business is never easy.”

A Tactic Gone Wrong

The Mystery of The Narcissistic Newsletter

The Effective Detective was staring at his laptop screen with a look on his face that I knew all too well. His brow was furrowed and his lips pursed as if he had eaten something sour. This did not bode well for our conversation.

“Sir? I am almost afraid to ask what it is you are reviewing.” I ventured, knowing I could not escape so may as well just take the plunge.

“Ah Watson,” The Detective replied,  continuing to stare at the screen, but allowing his brow to loosen a bit and his lips form a slight smile; signs that he was winding up for a lesson. “You are just in time to relieve my frustration before it reached a boiling point.”

“Happy to help sir, and just what is the source of your frustration?” I asked,  feeling slightly more comfortable that the following discussion would be at least relatively calm.

“We’ve discussed tactics versus strategy before, Watson, and you know how my blood pressure rises when I see them done in the wrong order,” the Detective began. “But almost equally capable of producing a headache inducing rise is when they are done in the right order, but the tactic is executed completely wrong.”

“Is there a particular tactic which you are thinking of sir?” I prompted, hoping that the calm would remain.

“Newsletters, Watson, newsletters! An excellent tool to communicate content on a regular basis, but with less pressure than producing multiple presentations during a week such as what we endeavor to do here. However, there is a temptation with such things to stray off into the realm of self-absorption.”

“Sir?”

“Talking about oneself Watson! Regaling the reader with where you will be appearing, things you have accomplished, new products you have, or will be shortly releasing. What might be interesting for you (in a self-important way) or possibly to some readers that are close to you, for the vast majority of your readers will border on the boring. If there is one sin you should not commit in marketing, like speaking, it is to be boring.

“But more importantly Watson, the main reason most people will read a newsletter is that they are receiving information that has value to them, although I suppose they could also perceive value in being entertained. Unfortunately, someone talking about their own or their company’s latest accomplishments tends to provide neither of those. If you are going to go to the trouble of producing a newsletter type piece, and perhaps the expense if you produce a hard-copy, then make it valuable to your reader! Provide useful content! After all, you are asking for the most precious thing they have: their time,” finished The Detective with his characteristic flourish.

“But sir, is there no place to share a personal victory or anecdote?” I protested, but quietly.

“Of course Watson, but include it last or sandwich it between useful content. I suppose there might be people interested in such things besides friends and close relations,” admitted The Detective.

“I believe there is room for both, sir.”

“I will concede the point, Watson, let us move on,” said The Detective, ending the discussion.

 

The Mystery of The Marketing Trilogy Part 1

“Bah! Another hour of my life wasted listening to someone’s supposedly free webinar, Watson,” The Detective began our conversation, as he threw off his headphones.

“Supposedly sir? Was there actually a cost attached to said webinar?” I asked.

“No Watson, there was no monetary exchange, though I feel that a chunk of my invaluable time has been stolen from me,” sighed The Detective in a frustrated tone I knew only all too well. ” I am always hopeful that the amount of useful content will exceed the amount of sales pitching, but I am so often disappointed.”

“But isn’t that what we have all come to expect from webinars, and a goodly number of seminars as well? In the end they are just pitches for someone’s service, or the occasional product. ” I prompted.

“Yes, yes, Watson, but hope springs eternal that more than a select few marketers out there would adopt the far more effective Marketing Trilogy.” The Detective shot back.

“The Trilogy, sir? Are we talking Hobbits now? Lord of the Rings and all that?” I asked, concerned we were about to descend into fantasy and silliness.

“No, Watson, not that Trilogy, but the concept is simplistic as three words,” The Detective assured me.

“And that group of three would be?” I urged, now extremely curious.

“Elementary, my dear Watson, three words: Why, What, and How.”

“Perhaps you could expand on that, sir,” I requested quietly, my curiosity now most certainly piqued.

“It refers to a simple process of lead generation and sales Watson. It can be used with webinars, seminars and plain old fashioned sales presentations. Allow me to break it down for you,” The Detective began, getting warmed up to his subject.

“The Why is the marketing message. It is the description of the pain you are answering; it makes them look inside themselves and want to listen to you because they want to relieve this pain. No one cares who you are and how great you are, they merely care that you have identified some pain they have, or perhaps become suddenly aware of, and that you perhaps have a solution. WHY you would want my service, NOT here is a service that is extremely wonderful and you really need it, and I am the most amazing practitioner of said service, simply WHY you should listen, because of this pain,” explained The Detective emphasizing the why and the not.

“That seems to make sense sir, pray continue.”

“Ah Watson, perhaps tomorrow, I have lost time today already, and must attend to other things. Besides, we don’t wish our readers to lose a vast amount of their own time today now would we?” asked The Detective, already looking as if he were on to another mystery.

“As you wish, sir.”