Want better Marketing? A different approach…

Small business owners generally have a healthy fear of marketing. Not all of them – a few have it figured out (or have a marketing background). But a majority struggle with it – and that’s too bad, because it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

The fear is understandable – marketing is often presented as kind of a black art that is needed but seldom understood. Think about some of the challenges small business owners face with marketing these days:

  • The world has changed immensely over the last 10 years. At one point you might have been able to run an ad in the local paper to drive new customers – now for the most part, there aren’t any local papers (printed or otherwise).
  • Radio and TV ads are still a thing but they are generally a large cost, not suited for all businesses and not something a smaller business is able to do on their own.
  • The internet is critical, but SEO (search engine optimization), PPC (pay per click ads) and SMM (social media marketing) are mostly shrouded in mystery… and the rules keep changing.
  • Blogging, videos, podcasting can be effective, but a lot of small business owners don’t have the time, patience or background to learn the technology – much less how to do any of those things effectively.

The good news is that there is a much more straightforward way to think about marketing – and it’s something that most small business owners can understand and implement fairly easily – either on their own or with some legitimate help. Specifically I really like the model advocated by Marcus Sheridan – the author of They Ask You Answer. (I also like the Story Brand model, but this post is about They Ask You Answer…).

The They Ask You Answer Model

As you might expect, it’s a fairly simple idea that’s boiled down in the name… they ask, you answer. The idea is that your customers or buyers have challenges and questions – and if you can answer those questions in a straightforward way you will earn their trust and with that, the opportunity to earn their business.

If you’re skeptical about this – think back to the last time you were shopping for something that you didn’t know much about… especially if it was something more expensive. It’s almost a guarantee that you did an internet search (or a bunch of them) on the product or service you were looking to buy. You were likely influenced by reviews (positive and negative), but an even bigger factor was finding a site with someone who could explain how things worked and could make reasonable recommendations. In short, you wanted answers.

How ‘They Ask You Answer’ Started

This idea sounds simple (and it is) but it’s not very common. Marcus Sheridan started out as a ‘Pool Guy’ – a co-owner in River Pools and Spas in Richmond Virginia. He and his company did well in the early 2000’s, but once the Great Recession came around in 2008, their sales (and pretty much anything construction related) fell off a cliff.

In a spirit of desperation, Marcus decided to try and figure out internet marketing, and because he wasn’t a marketing guy he started by trying to figure out what potential buyers wanted to know. And that was easy – he had been selling pools for 8 years and buyers tended to ask the same kinds of questions over and over again. So he made a list of those questions and got to work writing articles that answered them.

And the effort paid off – rather than closing up shop (which is what a lot of their competitors did), new leads started coming in and over the next few years, his marketing approach accounted for millions of dollars in sales – and as an added bonus, customers came in the door much more informed about the product and the approach… leading to an easier, faster sales approach and much more qualified leads.

Another bonus? Buyers self-qualified. Anyone who read up on their product and wasn’t a fit (maybe because they wanted a different kind of pool) didn’t waste their time with an appointment. On the other end of the spectrum – those buyers who had all their questions answered online and liked what they learned were pretty much ready to buy – and generally didn’t push back on the pricing… because their expectations had already been set.

The Focus for the ‘They Ask, You Answer’ Approach

Although this is a simple idea, there are a couple of things you have to keep in mind to make it work:

For starters, you MUST approach your entire marketing and selling efforts as a service to your customers. Your job is to educate them – help them find the best answers for their situation. And that may mean something other than your product. Your efforts and mindset has to be about them – if they are about you, about how great you are, you will fail.

Secondly, you have to be willing to be willing to talk and write about the challenging topics – and do it honestly and transparently. Sheridan identifies the Big 5 topics that you have to cover along with all of the other questions:

  1. Price and Cost
  2. Problems with your product or service
  3. Comparisons with competitive products and substitutions
  4. Reviews of competitors
  5. Best in Class (within your industry)

As a side note for Reviews and Best In Class, you can’t put yourself on any ‘best of’ lists. It would correctly come across as biased, which would kill any benefits of the work in the first place.

If you’ve previously done any kind of marketing, it’s pretty clear that this approach is very different than most of what’s out there. Most companies don’t want to talk openly (published) about pricing, or the problems their products have. They are not willing to point out other products or competitors who are also worthy.

It’s a leap of faith, but it’s one that makes sense, especially if you put yourself into the shoes of your customer. They just want their problem solved and when they see you are willing to honestly and transparently solve that problem, even at your own expense, they are going to trust you.

The other reason this works is that these questions, especially the ones that are uncomfortable to answer, are exactly the ones that buyers are searching online. And if you are one of the only sites that’s willing to talk about those answers, they will end up learning about you and your solution. That’s the essence of a great Search Engine Optimization strategy.

What do you think? Is this a radical idea that can never work? Or can you see yourself and your sales and marketing team buying into the idea of selflessly educating potential buyers? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

2 thoughts on “Want better Marketing? A different approach…”

  1. Donna Gordon says:

    The key to #3 is ‘What is your competitive advantage?’ Many business struggle with this answer. In my case (business researcher) my biggest competitor is DIY and canned reports. So I talk about confirmation bias, and how people self select or gravitate towards information that affirms what they already believe. The hardest for me is #1, as I can’t quote a standard price. Everyone has different needs, and information availability can vary a lot by industry. I’ve taught classes on how to be a better researcher, with the idea that once people understand how much is involved in really getting a complete look at a topic or plan, that they will better value a professional researcher, vs attempting to go it alone. Hasn’t really worked out that way. But overall, it’s good advice for consumer facing businesses. There are many choices out there, and people want to understand what they are getting for their money.

  2. S. Kinkade says:

    Great thoughts Donna – thanks for sharing!

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