Content Strategy & Your Goals

Sheriff BadgeI recently read a great article on Content Strategy over on the Smashing Magazine site (one of my favorites!). I found myself chuckling at some of the examples, in that all-too-familiar kind of way.

And, although this wasn’t exactly what they were writing about, the article got me thinking about how to reframe the way I work with clients. Because I deal with small businesses, I’m very conscious about maximizing the use of their resources, including their time. It’s tempting to assume I know what they want and just forge ahead, but experience has taught me that there are no shortcuts in the process of creating and executing a digital marketing strategy. Knowledge is key to the success of any project or campaign, and that should start right at the outset. No one knows your business better than you, and an agency or digital marketing consultant cannot effectively ‘create’ without truly understanding your business and its goals.

A Familiar Problem
I knew I had to keep reading the Smashing Magazine article when I got to How to Get Started: The First Step is the Longest. In that section, the author, Brad Shorr, gives an example of an imaginary conversation between a project manager, a designer and a writer at an agency. The project manager announces the need for a landing page for a client, the designer says he can’t start the design without content, and the writer says she can’t start writing without seeing a design. A conundrum already, and they’re barely out of the gate.

This is amusing to me because I run into the same issue frequently with the small business clients with whom I work. They want to ‘see’ something before they can take a step forward, and they’re optimistic that they’ll have more time to devote to the project sometime in the future. But it’s like shooting in the dark for me if I don’t have something to start with, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s foolish – and basically arrogant – for me to think that I know what they need without them telling me.

So I’m laying down the law. :)

When you work with me, you can expect 110% effort on my part. Making you successful is my goal. The best way for us to get you where you want to go is to be clear about where that is from the start.

Thus, I’m asking all future potential clients to agree to a strategy meeting upfront. This may take a while, and you may think it’s unnecessary, but I want to understand everything you’re doing and everything you’d like to achieve before launching a one-off project for you. (Don’t worry, I’ll bring the coffee.)

You should also expect the tough questions. What else are you doing to market or promote your product or service? Do you know where you’re getting customers currently? Do you know how many convert? The average profit per sale? The lifetime value of a customer? (It’s OK if you don’t; we’ll work on it.) What has worked in the past? What hasn’t? Who’s your ideal customer?

My Confession
Though this has always been the ideal scenario, I’ve been willing to be ‘flexible’ in the past. A prospective client who is super-busy and just needs some SEO work done, feels like they don’t really have time to do a complete overview of all their marketing efforts. The issue for me is that, even if my work for them leads to success, could it have been better if I’d known ‘the rest of the story?’

The Smashing Magazine article helped me see that maximizing my client’s success means being a little inflexible on this front. All in the name of greater success!

Integrate Your Marketing to Maximize Success

One of my excellent former students wrote me recently asking for advice. How should she handle a client who took her (very good) advice about managing an integrated digital marketing program and turned it into a separate ‘silo’ for each channel?

Particularly among small businesses that don’t have time to become digital marketing experts, it can be easy to see the various marketing channels as stand-alone operations. I need a print ad; I’ll call my graphic designer. I need more online traffic; I’ll call the AdWords specialist and the SEO provider. I should probably reach out to my email list; I’ll call the email provider.

This has often happened organically. Business owners get advice (or decide) to embark on something new that their existing provider(s) don’t offer, so they bring someone else in. And then someone else, and someone else. The problem is that no one is really coordinating it all.

Small Businesses NEED To Integrate All Their Marketing Efforts
But that has to stop. If you need Internet marketing (and you probably do), then you need to see the bigger picture. That doesn’t mean that you may not have different providers for different things, but you (or someone on your behalf) needs to see how all those efforts fit together into a cohesive whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. As long as someone is steering the ship, it can get to where it’s trying to go.

Part of the problem for smaller businesses is that they frequently don’t have an ‘agency’ to coordinate all their efforts. Much of the marketing success of many big organizations should be attributed to their outside advisers – advertising agencies, marketing consultants, etc. But small businesses can’t afford the services of big agencies.

However, there are providers who can help SMBs build a comprehensive strategy AND implement it, and you should take advantage of their services. (Oh, hey… have you met me?)

Shameless self-promotion aside, I think small businesses really are going to need to focus more on strategy instead of just tactics. If you have a solid strategy that will take you where you want to go, your tactics can easily be outsourced (if you want) while you still maintain control of the overall direction your marketing efforts take.

On the other hand, without an integrated marketing strategy, all your well-executed tactics may not be working together to maximize your success.


Does Your Business Really Need a Website? (Round 2)

Small business owners are often faced with making difficult financial choices about how to invest their money. One expense that they sometimes question is whether they really need a website.

Almost three years ago, I wrote an article for Insight Magazine, which I’ve republished on this blog, called Does Your Business Really Need a Website? In it, I answered the question at the time with “…no, depending on the industry you’re in, at least for now.”

Now, however, I’d have to disagree…

I think that virtually any business that wants to grow or that needs a steady stream of new clients really does need a website.

Your customers are going online searching for the products or services they need. If you’re not there, you’re not getting their business. If you consider that even a recent survey commissioned by a group formerly known as the Yellow Pages Association showed that more people used search engines than print yellow pages, it’s not hard to see the value in being able to be found online.

But Aren’t There Alternatives to Investing in a Site?
It’s possible to build an online presence using avenues other than a website, including:

Google Places
Yahoo! Local
Bing Local
Facebook Fan Pages
Wordpress (or other) free blogging platforms

In many ways, that’s not an unreasonable strategy. For small business owners with some time and patience, it’s possible to do all of that yourself – and none of it costs anything!

However, I think that may be a risky strategy. I’m quoted in a post on Search Engine Land answering their question, “Does every business need a website?” My response is essentially this: The limitations posed by social media and ‘local’ channels are hard to overcome. You have to abide by their ‘rules’ and it’s hard to really differentiate yourself. Even more problematic, though, in my opinion is the lack of control. I essentially have 100% control over what happens on my own website, but when Facebook decides to make a change to the platform I’m forced to accommodate it whether I like it or not.

There are plenty of affordable options for creating a website, so make the investment, SMBs. Hire a good designer/developer or learn how to do it yourself. It’s an investment that will almost certainly reap benefits for your business.


Still Using the Yellow Pages?

I recently came across a really great search marketing article with useful information for local search over at Search Engine Land. The data came from comScore studies commissioned by TMP Directional Marketing comparing this year with last.

The important bits for small business owners wondering ‘how will customers find me?’:

  • The percentage of people using the print yellow pages as their ‘primary’ source to find location business information has declined roughly 2% in the past year, from 33% to 30%.
  • In 2008, search engines surpassed the YP, with 31% of respondents using them as their primary source.
  • Including Internet Yellow Pages and local search sites, the Internet was the choice of over 60% of respondents.

But there’s more good news for local search too. A very high percentage of local searchers follow up with some offline activity:

  • 34% do an in-store visit following a local search, and 29% do so after visiting the Internet Yellow Pages.
  • 38% of local searches are followed by a phone call. And over 50% of Internet Yellow Page searches result in a call.

What Is This Information Telling You?
If you’re a local business looking for local customers, you simply can’t afford to NOT include the Internet as part of your marketing plan. The days of being able to place an ad in the print yellow pages and forget it are over.

Does Your Business Really Need a Website?

It’s a 21st century cliché: more people are using the Internet more frequently and for more reasons than ever before. As a marketing and sales tool, the Internet can be the most cost-effective avenue for reaching millions of potential customers.

But does that mean that every business needs to have a presence online? The answer is no, depending on the industry you’re in, at least for now.

If you’re going to use precious marketing resources to build an online presence, the results should add to your bottom line. Don’t feel pressured to “put up a site” just because everyone else has. It’s a business decision: if the benefits don’t outweigh the costs, use the resources elsewhere.

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