Build your own audience (and bypass the middlemen) to reach SMB buyers.
Sixty years ago, business guru Peter Drucker described the purpose of business as “to create and keep a customer.” The practice of marketing has always been where the rubber met the road in that regard. Historically, it has been reasonably well-understood how to accomplish this, but in today’s hyper-connected, digitally-driven environment, old approaches are becoming less effective. In their excellent new book, Killing Marketing, marketing experts Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose offer a new approach.
Pulizzi and Rose’s book is one of the best marketing books I’ve read in some time. I’ll be sharing more of their insights in future posts, but for now, I want to introduce their basic premise. Marketing as we know is outliving its usefulness. Forward-looking marketers (read: those who will be successful) need to think about how to build their own audiences, instead of jumping from campaign to campaign and paying to reach audiences that belong to someone else.
Historically, marketers have relied on renting audiences for traditional media campaigns – print, broadcast and, of course, recently, online. The idea was that you purchased media with a known audience and delivered your ad. But there was a problem. The audience belonged to the media, not the brand. Only those few prospects who took action and bought something or downloaded a whitepaper were identifiable to the marketer for follow-up.
A New Paradigm
Enter Pulizzi and Rose. “What if,” they ask, “we went from campaigns where we try to reach customers with frequency to persuade them to ‘buy now’ to an editorial strategy…that create(s) valuable experiences for audiences that actually want to hear from us?” Let’s unpack this.
First, the authors recognize that only a small segment of potential customers is actually ready to buy at any given time. Reach-and-frequency based strategies and messages that focus on features and benefits and closing the sale fall on many deaf ears. Such campaigns are also expensive. Instead, Pulizzi and Rose propose an editorial strategy, where rather than pushing out paid ads and promotions, brands focus on creating their own platforms to deliver high-value content to audiences of interested subscribers. Here’s why this makes sense.
When you build an SMB audience, you are building a trusted relationship with both potential buyers and existing customers, who want to hear from you because your content is focused on helping them run their businesses. Once you have their trust, you can nurture your relationship with them throughout their buying journey. They will be much more open to marketing messages and offers, and when they finally are ready to buy, your products and services will be the logical next step. This is something we’ve been advocating to our clients for well over 10 years.
Own Your Own Platform
A content platform is a media property or collection of properties–web, print, events and others–with a common theme. But it is more than just a blog or resource center, it has a brand of its own (think Adobe’s CMO.com or American Express’ OPEN Forum). Platforms facilitate the two-way connection between brands and consumers and offer many advantages:
- Consistency: If you look at a typical marketing campaign, there’s a beginning and an end. You spend some money, you get some return–leads or sales–and you move on. With your own platform, your content persists. It’s always there for whomever might be receptive to buying from you at any given time.
- Value: With a platform, you are building an asset that’s appreciating over time. It’s creating value for your organization in the form of a communication channel that helps you accomplish your marketing goals that will deliver results for years to come (think long tail).
- Control: Building a company content platform has another benefit that makes it a must-have: you control it. When you rely on social media for connecting with your audience, you are at the whim of their rules and filters. They can (and do) change the rules at any time, making it harder and more costly to show up in feeds.
- Effectiveness: As advertising and social become increasingly more challenging and less effective, successful brands need to control their own destiny. Traditional social and advertising still have value, but their returns are diminishing. The better strategy is to use those “rented” platforms to build an audience on the content platform that you own.
At the end of the day, your content platform does triple-duty. Assuming your content is great and not just good (a topic for another post), it helps you build your own audience by providing a reason for interested prospects to sign up and keep coming back for more. It creates a communication vehicle, not only for content, but also for offers and other strategic calls-to-action to move readers toward conversion. Finally, it becomes a destination. Everything you do on social, web, email or through other media should direct readers who’d like to “learn more” to the high-value, in-depth content on your platform.
Pulizzi and Rose make a bold statement at the beginning of their book.
“The marketing skills of tomorrow are equal parts- marketing and publishing. To survive, we need to understand both, and the business model that is born from that mixture.”
As marketers with a decades-long background in media and building our own audiences, we understand that business model well. Let us show you how our singular focus on marketing to small and midsize businesses can help create effective content marketing strategies to reach your SMB customers.