Going online and publishing content is a great strategy for marketing your business, but here’s the problem: Everyone else knows it too. There’s a wide world of marketing material out there today, and you need to make sure yours sticks out from the crowd.
How can you do it? There are no easy answers, but a few timeless strategies have proven effective. Marcus Sheridan explored them in an illuminating keynote address at Social Media Marketing World 2014 – #SMMW in San Diego.
Getting away from the buzzwords
In his #SMMW14 speech, titled “Timeless Qualities of Great Content and Social Media Marketing,” Sheridan recommended that you shy away from the marketing “buzzwords” that people have been hearing so much of in recent years.
Specifically, he recommended taking four terms out of the vernacular:
- social media marketing
- content marketing
- inbound marketing
Sheridan argued that if we could eliminate these words, we could make our marketing messages a lot more appealing to potential customers.
“What would happen if you never said ‘social media’ again? ‘Content marketing’ again?” he asked. “What instead would we be saying? What are we talking about? If we strip those words away, what are we really talking about? What do we really do? We teach. We educate.”
The distinction here is simple – people don’t like advertising. It scares them away. But if you change the language and make your marketing not look like marketing, you might be onto something. Rather than bombard people with ads, try to teach them something meaningful.
Finding the value in teaching
Sheridan’s central message is that everyone can benefit from a little teaching. Whether you’re a little kid in grade school, or a grad student or a senior citizen, you’re never the wrong age to learn something.
The key, though, is to teach with a style that’s engaging. What you don’t want to do is sound like a college professor in a lecture hall, delivering a one-way conversation. You want to have a genuine back and forth.
“See yourself as a kindergarten teacher,” said Sheridan. “When little Johnny raises his hand, you don’t sit there and ignore him, not call on him. You say ‘yes,’ you listen, and then you have to give him an answer on his level, that he understands. Then the light bulb comes on. The reward for you is not some fancy title – it’s that he gets it and he understands it.”
The difference between college lectures and kindergarten classes is that the kindergarten teacher listens and interacts. Sometimes, it might actually not be a bad idea to treat people like five-year-olds.
Listening and responding to people
For Sheridan, it wasn’t easy to learn about the power of listening. He figured it out the hard way – he went broke first.
He was running a swimming pool business in the mid-2000s when he encountered a serious problem – the economy crashed, people’s assets dried up, and suddenly no one had any money to buy homes at all, let alone pools. His business was in the dumps, and he had no cash for advertising to get it going again. So he was forced to research ways of marketing his enterprise without a budget.
That’s when he discovered content marketing, and every bit of research he conducted pointed to the same truth.
“What I essentially heard over and over was, ‘If you listen better than everybody else in the world, if you hear their problems and are willing to address them, you’re going to be successful,'” said Sheridan. “And in fact, our golden rule today is four simple words that changed my life: ‘They ask, you answer.'”
Sheridan’s outlook now is that if a customer comes to him with a concern, he has a moral obligation to respond. If he doesn’t know the complete answer, he still needs to address them. He absolutely can’t ignore them.
Eliminating frustration through simplicity
People don’t want to be advertised to – they want to be taught. To that end, you know what’s one of the most annoying things you encounter online? It’s when you want to learn a certain bit of information, but you can’t.
Sheridan cited a simple example. Say you’re researching a product online and thinking of buying it, but you can’t find a price, no matter how hard you look.
“What is the emotion you experience when you’re on that website and you can’t find any information, anywhere, about cost or price?” Sheridan asked. “Frustration. This is the answer that 40,000 people have said. It’s the F word of the Internet. This is your enemy – frustration – and yet we allow it to happen.”
The best, most timeless marketing content is that which gets rid of frustration and replaces it with simple, straightforward learning. What do you think? Are you capable of making that happen?