The Danger of Going “Too Broad”

I thought I had a pretty good idea of how to communicate my services, when I found myself fumbling recently over the question of my specialty. When you’re talking to people who work in different fields, an elevator pitch that offers a fairly general description of the work you do is usually good enough. But, in a room full of people who do similar work, it becomes important to know how to identify and articulate just where your strengths fit in.

The lesson reminded me of a conversation I had with a professor in college. I was trying to pick out a subject to focus a paper about Absalom, Absalom on and as I kept listing off topics, she kept saying “too broad.” After a fair amount of listing, I finally came up with a focused enough subject for her approval. I ended up writing over 15 pages on one particularly notable scene in the book. She was right, anything more broad would have made for a behemoth of a paper.

I started off freelancing thinking I had to be good at a long list of specialties to make it work, and spent the first few months learning what my professor had taught me years earlier: the importance of having a focus.

You can either be mediocre at a lot of things, or really good at a few.

Having a specialty or niche has a number of benefits:

  • It gives you the room you need to become an expert at something. No one person has the time to be an expert at a long list of skills and subjects, but any one of us can get a lot closer to that title a lot faster by honing in on a particular specialty.
  • It makes it easier to find your target audience. Whether you’re a freelancer or a business, looking for customers and clients from a massive audience is more challenging than being able to focus on a target group. A writer with experience working with oil and gas clients knows who to target, and can make a more persuasive pitch for why she’s the right pick than one casting a wide berth for any client at all.
  • You can become a part of a community. In any field, who you know is important. There’s a wide world of people out there and if you can focus your efforts on making connections with people in a few select industries, you can get more out of the relationships you have.

If you can pinpoint a focus that best fits your skills, you can approach your marketing with much greater efficiency and get more out of the time you spend on the work you do.

5 Reasons Blogging for Your Business is Worth It

business bloggingThere was a time when much of the population could hear the word “blog” and shrug it off as a silly word tied to an activity primarily practiced by a subculture of writers, hobbyists, and narcissists. Blogging for business is a fairly recent development in the short history of blogging.

Blogging didn’t start as an activity tied to professional advancement, it was a way for individuals to express themselves in a public forum, in the hopes that like minds would find their words and choose to engage. Now blogging has evolved into something hard to categorize. It plays an influential role in politics, news reporting, and marketing.

Blogging can be an intimidating practice for a small business to embrace. It’s not something you can put some work into now and finish – it requires regular maintenance.

The continuous production of fresh, quality content means either a serious time commitment, or the monetary investment of working with a freelance writer. Any business on a budget is likely to wonder: is it really worth it?

Though doubts are understandable, the benefits of blogging for your business are considerable. Five especially notable reasons blogging for your business is worth it:

1) It’s important for SEO.

Google values quality content. A website that produces a steady stream of content lets the search engines know that it’s active. Good content can encourage links back to your site, and a blog gives you the opportunity to develop a content strategy around relevant keywords for greater SEO benefit.

2) It helps build brand recognition.

A blog enables you to grow your online presence. It helps people find you more easily and often, and provides valuable information that they will come to associate with your brand.

3) It lets you show your expertise.

You know more about what you do and the industry you’re in than most people. A blog allows you to demonstrate that. By sharing what you know, you show people that you’re qualified and they can trust you and your business to know what you’re doing.

4) It can inspire customer loyalty.

A business that offers up something of value for free demonstrates a desire to help out customers that’s not all about profit. Giving people an answer to a question they have, or information they didn’t know they needed yet is a good way to build up the kind of good will that inspires long-term customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.

5) It’s an important component in a good social media strategy.

Social media’s another trend that’s evolved to become an important component of business. It offers you a way to engage with customers and potential customers, and gives you an avenue to distribute the content you produce. There’s little point in putting time into developing a social media presence, unless you can figure out a way to add something of value to the ongoing conversation. Blog posts are one way to do that.

Content Marketing in 2013

That content marketing is a growing force is no surprise to anyone who follows trends in marketing. Blog posts and articles citing the benefits quality content has on branding, SEO and customer loyalty abound.

Nonetheless, it’s nice to be able to match some numbers to all the talk. Business Bolts performed a survey of 265 individuals, a mix of small business owners and marketing professionals, in order to gain a sense of how businesses are approaching content marketing in 2013.

You can find the full report on their findings here.

Most of the results aren’t especially surprising, but serve to back up arguments copywriters, marketers and SEO professionals have been making for some time:
content marketing trends

  • Content marketing is good for SEO

77% of respondents said content marketing helped increase web traffic, and 71% said it helped them achieve higher rankings

  • Content marketing is good for ROI

Although there are challenges in many cases to tracking the relationship between content marketing and sales, 59% said they believed that content marketing helped them up their sales numbers.

  • Content marketing strengthens brand awareness

70% reported this benefit, another that’s hard to track, but crucial for small business success.

The good news for freelance writers and content developers: many respondents expressed a desire to find good content producers.

The bad news: few have made content production a high budget item. Most (61%) reported still doing the majority of their content development in house, but of those that worked with freelancers the amount they’re paying is piddling. 14% spend less than $15 for 1,000 words, and 17% spend between $16 and $25.

It’s clear that businesses have a growing awareness of the benefit good content provides. Hopefully, their willingness to value those helping them reap that benefit will increase in time as well.

Norman Bel Geddes: Advertising Idea Man

When Norman Bel Geddes was asked to design an advertising campaign for a new type of gasoline for Shell Oil, he designed a futuristic city. Why just sell people gas if you can make them dream about a future with more cars, but less traffic?

His “City of Tomorrow” campaign managed to make cars and driving an essential component in an exciting idea for the future. It accomplished the company’s marketing interests, while also going a step beyond to inspire an interest in innovation for many who viewed the advertisement.

The 1930’s campaign imagined cities of the 1960’s with highway systems and skyscrapers – cities designed with the efficiency to house more people and make it easier for them to get around. It showed cities that seemed like a distant dream to people of the time, but mostly look kind of familiar to us now.

Bel Geddes took his ideas even further at the famous “Futurama” exhibit at the 1939 New York World Fair. This is the creation that Bel Geddes is most remembered for. His sizable dioarama of another proposed city of the future, attracted huge crowds and was the talk of the town. Funded by and representing General Motors this time, it was another example of Bel Geddes going far beyond the needs of the brand and supplying his client with a piece of advertising that would far outlive most in its cultural influence and memory.

Shell and General Motors benefited from the ideas of Bel Geddes, but the influence of those ideas went far beyond the companies and made an impact on how cities were conceived and designed moving forward. Not all of Bel Geddes’ suggestions for better cities have been widely incorporated, but enough have to make his influence on how our cities look today undeniable.

The best marketing comes from ideas that aren’t just about selling a product. They give the audience something to think about, care about, or provide something of tangible value. Bel Geddes’ idea hit the jackpot, appealing to all three of these. The man was inventive and innovative on a level few people can reach. Even without access to that level of creative genius, there’s an easy to achieve marketing lesson to take away from his work.

Don’t just sell when you can inspire, make people think, or equip them with information of value to them. Go beyond making a case for why your product’s good and think of ways its uses can be tied to information or stories that will educate, entertain, or otherwise satisfy a need or desire that your target audience has.

What Bel Geddes did was content marketing long before the term became common in marketing circles. It’s just one more way he was ahead of his time.

*Images and a more thorough article on the “City of Tomorrow” campaign here.

Great Customer Service as Marketing

Marketing is about reputation. Creating one amongst those not yet aware of your business, and maintaining a positive one for those already familiar with you. Hands down, the number one thing a company can do to ensure a consistently good reputation is to provide exceptional customer service.

People remember their best and worst customer service experiences and are quick to talk about them to friends, colleagues, and sometimes a much larger internet audience. Companies can now be made and ruined according to their reputation in online forums.

Social media and online review sites have made what was always true much more so: customer service is crucial to good branding and marketing. While providing acceptable customer service will help you to avoid the PR disasters of bad online reviews and social media rants, if you want to really stand out from the competition and turn customer service into a form of marketing, you’ll have to resolve to go above and beyond.

One particular example of a company that’s gained a lot of positive attention based purely on their reputation for customer service is Zappo’s.

When it comes to buying shoes or clothes online, some may still be skeptical, concerned about finding the proper fit or paying for shipping. Zappo’s alleviates those concerns with free shipping on many orders and a free 365-day return policy for all items. In addition, many customers have publicly shared stories of Zappo’s going above and beyond to help them out, fueling one of the best word of mouth branding successes in recent business memory.

How did they achieve this success? For one thing, company CEO Tony Hsieh has acknowledged that the company made a decision early on to treat customer service as a top priority. They’re picky in hiring service positions, making sure not only that the candidate is qualified, but also a good fit for company culture. Perhaps most importantly, in contrast to many large companies, Zappo’s is willing to spend more on customer service to get better results, rather than seeing it as an area to cut costs. As a result, customers can get ahold of a competent, friendly representative anytime they need help, and the company inspires articles like this and this, without having to put money into marketing.

If your customer service is good enough, your customers will do the marketing for you.