Marketing Your Business in a Declining industry

This is the type of article I should wait to write until The Creative Strategist has a much more active reader base because most of the business owners who need to read this won’t be searching for it. In fact at best, most of the business owners I speak with who are competing in a declining industry only slightly suspect it. Many of them have self diagnosed their pain as poor marketing. Before we can address how to market your business when consumer demand is down,  you’ll need to know how to accurately diagnose the situation.

How to Tell When Demand is Decreasing

Identifying a decline in demand can be very difficult without easy access to the right information. That’s why my first stop is usually Google Trends. This tool can help you infer interest in your industry over time. It shows an index of search volume for topics, and allows you to compare search terms to each other.

Sometimes the information in Google Trends can be misleading so don’t jump to conclusions. Your industry may not be in decline. Instead, customers may have stopped searching for your categories, and moved on to brand searches. Consider the following search trends for video streaming:

Category Searches for Video Streaming

At first glance, it appears that interest in “video streaming” and “watching movies online” are on the decline. After evaluating similar search terms, some businesses may make the wrong move. Rather than disinterest in the category, what if consumer search habits had merely evolved? Maybe they found the video streaming service they like most already, and now they just search for the brand (or go directly to the site). Let’s add a couple of brands (Netflix and Hulu) as search terms to the graph. Here’s what we get:

Category Searches & Brand Searches

You can see that the interest in watching movies online has been replaced by an interest in Netflix. Let’s look really closely at just one year in this example. Near the end of 2009, Netflix had just as many searches for their brand as there were for the category. This is typically great news for any brand, unless you have a competitor (like Hulu) that’s beating you – even by just a little.

The Deciding Factor (Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Category Search)

Hulu and Netflix were neck and neck with the most popular category searches as well as each other until Neflix established market leadership. If you’re business is Hulu in this example, you’ll need to take on your industry’s Goliath to stay alive.

If you see nothing but decreases in brand searches as well, you can confidently infer that your market is in decline. Now you have three options: either (1) increase demand, (2) quickly acquire more market share, or (3) diversify your product offering. Each of these three options probably deserves its own article in the future, but I’ll address them briefly here.

How to Increase Demand

I realize that this isn’t nearly as easy as jump-starting a car, but that’s exactly what you have to do. You need to breath new life into your industry through push advertising. This practice seems to be dying for many SMBs (small to medium businesses). Pull marketing efforts have become addictive because you can track the entire process. There’s too much unknown in push advertising, and too many variables. Push advertising is what led John Wanamaker to say:

Half the money I spend in advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

Don’t let the unknown scare you away from push advertising. Recent updates have been made to internet advertising platforms to improve the control you have over who sees your ads. Just remember that anything you do to increase demand for your industry as a whole will benefit your competition also. That’s why smart companies reach out to their competitors to pool resources when interest begins to wane .

The Got Milk ad campaign is a great example this. To this day, every time I see cookies, brownies, or even peanut butter, I start looking for a cold glass of milk.

It doesn’t need to be played at the Super Bowl for you to get the amount of exposure you need. You simply need to illustrate why your product or service is more important than ever now.

How to Capture Market Share Quickly

If you can’t revitalize the market, the next best thing is to quickly capture as much market share as you can. This can help you grow in the short run, but savvy businesses recognize that this only buys them time.  They’ll still need to address the decline at some point. Most businesses capture market share in a declining industry by either buying out their competition or aggressively establishing their own brand leadership.

Buyouts

This is anything but straightforward, and probably demands it’s own future article. If you’ve noticed a decrease in business because of consumer disinterest, your competitors probably have too. This is a great time to buy them out. Most companies are more likely to sell at a discount when they believe the market won’t get any better.

Building Brand Leadership

The hard part about this strategy is that it typically takes a lot of time or a lot of luck. But remember that luck favors the prepared. Look for ways to quickly win the brand leadership war. In the case of Netflix and Hulu, the battle was won in about 6 months with the introduction of Netflix streaming apps on the Wii and other systems. Look for that slight difference that sets you on a course to rise above your competitors.

Diversify

If there’s nothing you can do to revitalize demand in your core products/services, start looking for ways to diversify. One of the best ways to get started is to identify your byproducts. What products/services do you have that could bring in their own revenue stream? I’ve seen service businesses that had to develop their own software to manage their business. When they needed to diversify, it was fairly easy to monetize their software as a service.

Whether you choose to give your industry a jump start with great advertising or diversify your business, you should be able to establish a pattern of growth. If you choose a short-term solution, be quick about it and recognize that you are just buying yourself time to solve the bigger problem.

As always, if you think I’m off base on this, I’d love to “argue” with you in the comments below.

The Best SEO Strategy in 2014: Content Funnels

This topic has been a long time coming, and I’ve been meaning to address it for quite a while now. I may have to go off on a bit of a rant for a minute, so bear with me.

For the past fifteen years internet marketers have been obsessed with a “silver bullet” mentality. Most are looking for some slick trick to work the system and exploit weaknesses in search engine algorithms. These marketers are now grasping at straws to reverse the impact they experienced from major search engine algorithm updates.

Many SEOs are now turning to social media to beat the system, but these strategies won’t hold up either. Penalties for manipulating social signals are on the horizon. So what’s an internet marketer to do? They need to get back to marketing fundamentals. That’s what all these updates are doing – forcing SEOs to be real marketers if they want to win.

A “Real Marketing” Strategy

Looking forward to a more future-proof SEO strategy, it will become more important for marketers to make use of fundamental marketing practices. What would you do if there weren’t any search engines but you still wanted to get people to your website without advertising?

There’s a lot that goes into making a small purchase decision.

As SEOs, we’re way too busy trying to captivate our potential customers when they are about to make a purchase decision. We’re getting involved in the process way too late.

People aren’t going to buy from you right away. They don’t even know that they need your solution. You need to build awareness and gently guide your customers toward a sale with less promotional content. I call this process content funneling.

Content Funneling

The best SEO strategy in 2014 is to create content that will funnel your potential customers closer to a sale. You need to lead them from brand awareness toward a final purchase decision with you. In order to do that, you may need to be willing to give up some of your secret sauce.

Step 1: Inform

All about content marketing with better information.

Step 2: Advise

Advise your audience that they have a problem

Step 3: Instruct

Teach them how to solve their own problem.

Step 4: Solve

Present and compare various solutions to their problem.

Step 5: Sell

Captivate people who are comparing your solution to others.

What is Video Marketing

What is Video Marketing?

Video marketing is a great way to reach out to a large group of people very quickly. There’s been a lot of hubbub recently about viral content. Videos are certainly the most popular way to have a brand message go viral, but they can also be extremely useful a little closer to your sales funnel. We’ll look at both approaches.

Advertian for Branding

It’s hard to forget the Old Spice and Swagger Wagon (Toyota) commercials. They stick with you. They’re funny, and they spread like a wildfire. That’s advertainment at its best when it comes to video marketing. However, it doesn’t take thousands of dollars to produce contagious videos. Just a camera and something advertaining about your business. This approach works especially well with consumer products that rely on brand recognition for success.

Teach for Loyalty

Another approach to video marketing is to teach people how to do what you do. This approach works very well with services. There has been a big movement toward do-it-yourself solutions. Your customers are going to blogs and YouTube videos to try and do it themselves before they hire a professional. The traditional approach is to keep your trade secrets close to your chest. I’m not suggesting that’s a bad thing. What I am suggesting is that some of your trade secrets aren’t really trade secrets. Too often, business owners label their ketchup “secret sauce.”

You don’t have to “give away the farm” in good do-it-yourself video marketing. Just teach your customers how to do a little bit on their own, and brand the heck out of your instruction. Chances are that they’ll end up building themselves into a box, and need your help anyway in the end.

When they finally come to you for help, they will be yours for life. You were the expert that tried to help them do it themselves. They trust you because your advice was good, and your method was sound.

What is a Blog

What is a Blog?

A blog is a web log that usually displays posts in reverse chronological order. Originally, web logs were used to document changes made to websites. Over time the use of blogs has evolved. Search engines have grown to love blogs because they are constantly updated. Websites that contain a blog are usually “living” rather than stale information.

If you are considering adding a blog to your website, be sure to think through the purpose of your blog. Blogs aren’t like your product or service pages. They usually aren’t the last stop before a website visitor chooses to do business with you. They are a way for you to extend your sales funnel and capture a potential customer’s attention before they begin searching for a paid solution.

In recent years there has been a huge shift toward a DIY (do it yourself) mentality. People search online for ways to solve their own problems before they run our and purchase a solution. Perhaps it’s due to the 2008 economic downturn. Perhaps people are just looking for greener ways to get things done. Whatever the case, people are searching for solutions to their problems that they can do themselves.

This can be particularly challenging for businesses. But where there’s a challenge, there are huge revenue opportunities. Such is the case with blogs. As you reach out to potential customers earlier in the sales process, you can attract a great deal of brand loyalty and win over customers for the long haul. To do this, you’ll have to change the way you think about business.

For too long, business owners have been claiming that they have the secret sauce solution for their customers. They hide the details of their solution behind the mantra of competitive intelligence. It’s a bunch of bunk! I have no doubts that I could learn how to be the world’s greatest auto mechanic. But that will take time and a lot of elbow grease.  Heck! Tell me how to do it myself. I’ll try it, and it will suck. Who do you think I’ll hire to do it for me once I realize it will have to become my life’s work to do it as well as you could? Yep. You. The people who told me how to do it myself. And I’ll keep coming back to you forever. This is one of the key concepts of a great blog – secret recipes are worth sharing because no one will be able to make your “secret sauce” as well as you can.

Smiling woman using laptop

What is Blogging?

Blogging is like becoming your own publisher. Let’s say you have a website that sells home and garden supplies, and you want to get more interest in your products. Getting people to your website with immediate purchase intent might be too hard to get right away. Online advertising costs may be prohibitive, or you may not have enough time to devote to search engine optimization. You can still get qualified visitors to your site, and it might just help your overall branding efforts in the process.You’ll have to attract people who aren’t quite ready to make a purchase yet. But that’s okay. You can get them ready to buy from you later.

To accomplish this, you may want to dedicate a portion of your website to home improvement articles for the purpose of attracting more interest in your products. It will probably be a lot easier for your website to be found better in the search engines if you are providing great “how to” articles that are relevant to your products. The people who find your home improvement articles will get the information they need, and you’ll have a chance to show them some very specific products based on the article they are reading. It’s gold!

This concept lies at the heart of the question: “what is blogging?”. A blog is a web log. Traditionally, websites had a running log of changes and updates. Over time, these web logs became a central focus of sites because they contained such useful information. Que the emergence of blogs, blogging and bloggers. Some websites became completely dedicated to blogging. The beauty of it all is that search engines love blogs. Usually, there are new articles every few days or weeks, and the content is useful.

If you are considering blogging as a good online strategy, consider whether you have something new to say. Can you present ideas in a way that other people aren’t? That doesn’t mean that the ideas themselves have to be earth-shattering innovations – just the way you present them. Can you teach people what they need to know to solve a problem? It’s even better if you can do it in a way that naturally leads to your products and services. If you can hit that sweet spot, your blogging efforts will pay off in huge dividends.

What is Email Marketing

What is Email Marketing?

What is Email Marketing

Email marketing is the oldest form of internet marketing. It is the “direct mail” of new media marketing; and, as such, it has been overused and abused. That doesn’t mean that it’s not effective. Even poorly implemented email marketing stemming from a shoddy marketing strategy tends to work pretty well. But it could work so much better.

Traditionally email marketing is the process of sending out emails to lists of people that have already interacted with you. Usually this is done in an attempt to get a repurchase or encourage continued subscription. But that’s not always the case. Some organizations buy huge lists of email addresses to market to the masses, and sometimes it pays off.

The best email marketing campaigns I have seen use email to reach out to a group of people that have come to you for a single reason. Too often, organizations simply put every email into a list and send out the same spam to all of them. It’s a poor strategy, to say the least.

Email marketing should be thought through. Every email should be put into a unique list based on interaction intent. That way you can really tailor your message to every individual, and improve your chances of moving people close to a sale or repurchase (or whatever the objective).

Far too many organizations aren’t making good use of the email addresses they have already collected. Someone once told them that they should be collecting email, so they started. The just aren’t doing much with them. If your organization falls into this category, knock it off! Do something with all those emails you’ve been getting. Even a poor strategy is better than doing nothing. But a great strategy will pay you back in dividends.

What is Guest Blogging?

What is Guest Blogging?

What is Guest Blogging?

Guest blogging is quickly becoming one of the most important things you can do in online marketing. There’s been a big shift recently toward what some call “in-house” journalism. Traditional journalists are hanging up their pad of paper and pen to write for their organizations all over the web – not just on their own organizations’ blogs. That’s what we mean by guest blogging.

The very best guest blogs are written on sites that have a lot of qualified readership. A qualified reader is one who cares about the subject matter and is highly likely to take some action because of it. However, guest blogs aren’t usually the last step before someone makes a purchase on your site or fills out a lead form.

When looking at a traditional sales funnel, guest blog posts are positioned very early in the process. Readers consume content that leads them toward a sale at some future date. It’s the long con of sales, and should be treated as such. If the post is too much of and ad, or if it seems too agenda-driven, readers will discard the advice and move on.

The reason guest blogging works so well is that it acts as a credibility actor for your brand. The online publican that posts a guest blog from you appears to be endorsing you and your message. As such, readers will believe what you have to say. For this reason, some online publications have made the approval process to get published very difficult. And so it should be.

So how do you go about getting published as a guest blogger? That all depends on the site. Some sites use guest blogging as the only way they produce content. Those tend to be the easiest to use, although some do a great job with quality control. So don’t write garbage. Most sites want unique content, they usually don’t want to just syndicate content your wrote on your company blog.

If your considering guest blogging as part of your internet marketing strategy, do it carefully. But more importantly, do it.

 

 

what is social media marketing

What is Social Media Marketing?

what is social media marketing

Social Media Marketing is Misunderstood

I hate the term “social media marketing.” It’s extremely misleading. The “black box” of internet marketing used to be SEO, but now it’s social media. Too many marketers think that social media marketing is simply a chance for one-offs and discounts. If you buy into that philosophy, you’re shortchanging the impact social media can have for your brand online.

Too often, brands hide behind their proverbial chicken suits and try to get some direct response to their marketing message. They blast their sales pitches in digital night clubs, and sometimes it works. Businesses, in turn, continue to employ these poor tactics because they saw a few meager wins.

Further proof that social media marketing is misunderstood are the posts of countless agency employees similar to this one I read last week:

“One more post left before I can go home for the day. My fingers are soooo tired.”

The social media marketing agency that employs this “socializer” is completely missing the point.

Social Media is a Cocktail Party

Everything in the digital world has a real-world counterpart. The real-world counterparts of social media are the cocktail parties after conferences, the after-work hangouts, the weekend get-togethers, and the afternoon play-dates. It just doesn’t make sense to run in there in your chicken suit peddling your products.

I worked for years in the hospitality industry surrounded by this exact nonsense. Just yesterday I saw a string of tweets just like this from Hilton Hotels:

Thinking of booking your summer getaway? If you book 30 days in advance with #Hilton you can save up to 20% off http://ow.ly/kGpCc 

Posts like this are okay every once in a while. But if this is the only garbage you’re posting on social media, your throwing your money away. Sure it will get shared every now and again. Sure you’ll get a few people to buy into the hype of your discounted products or services. But what if you don’t want to discount your business into an early grave? You’ve got to buy into the subtlety of social media.

Social Media Marketing is the Long Con

Social media is a subtle game that needs to be played over a long period of time. Consider your sales funnel. Social media marketing often takes place before your customers ever reach the wide end of that funnel. It’s your opportunity to get people headed toward your sales funnel at some future date.

This is really easy to see for professional services where the main focus of social media marketing is to prove competence. The more people see that you have useful answers to others’ problems, the more people will see you as an authority on the subject. Brands that offer services should be aiming for “thought leadership” within the context of their business.

Social Media is About People

Social media marketing is relationship marketing. You can’t hide behind your branded polo shirts or chicken costumes if you want the socializing at these digital cocktail parties to lead to huge sales results. You need to champion your best people. People do business with people, not with brands.

You’d probably never dream of sending your best people to an industry conference in a chicken costume, but that is exactly what you are doing if you limit your social media marketing efforts to brand posts only. When you hide your people from your potential customers, you limit your most valuable selling propositions. People want to do business with your people, not with your brand.

what is search engine marketing

What is Search Engine Marketing?

what is search engine marketing

Search engine marketing (SEM) is becoming a convoluted topic. I’m not sure there are many who really understand how it differs from other forms of internet marketing anymore. Recent updates to search engine algorithms have further blurred the lines between the different types of new media marketing. However, the core purpose of search engine marketing has remained constant – to get more qualified people (or qualified traffic) to find you as they search the internet for the information that they want.

Search Engine Marketing is a Pull Strategy

Marketing strategy is usually classified as either “push” or “pull.” A push strategy is usually implemented when product awareness is low. Television, radio, and newspaper advertising is often considered push advertising because they are employed to “push” a new message out to a target audience. On the other hand, pull strategies are usually put into action when consumers are “pulling” (or demanding) information about products or services.

While pull strategies have existed for decades, they always took a back seat to “push” advertising. That is, until search engines tipped the scales in their favor. At the heart of search engine optimization is the idea of “pull marketing.” Internet users request information by performing search queries and search engines, in turn, offer millions of results for nearly any query. Internet users are pulling product and service information “off the shelves” of search engines at will, and marketers are scrambling to make sure their brands are being found.

Search Engine Marketing is Permission Marketing

With a pull strategy, marketers require the permission of their customers before the sales process is initiated. Seth Godin coined the term “permission marketing” in referring to this shift in marketing power from businesses to consumers. Consumer demand initiates the sales/marketing process and that’s precisely where search engines entered the picture. By organizing the world’s information and making it universally useful and accessible, search engines have set the stage for consumers to grant their permission for businesses to begin the sales/marketing process.

Search Engine Marketing is Inbound Marketing

Not long after Seth Godin started preaching the virtues of permission marketing, Hubspot emerged as the primary evangelists for inbound marketing. They further refined push and pull marketing strategies in new media respectively as “outbound” and “inbound” marketing. Outbound marketing has been defined as the creation of an initial stimulus to an idea, product, or service.  Inbound marketing, on the other hand, represents any effort to attract the attention of consumers who actively search out the information they want to make their own decisions.

Business people that understand how to leverage the power of search engines across new media are unstoppable in their marketing efforts. They are in the unique position where people “bump into” them at every turn. They are found.