New Marketing Paradigm

Today’s digital technology has brought about a sea change in how businesses and prospects interact.

Unlike the old days of marketing, where a business was (largely) in control of the way their image was projected to the outside world, today’s marketing paradigm has the consumer in the proverbial driver’s seat.  It’s the consumer who now decides what she needs to know in order to make her buying decisions, and she’ll go get that knowledge herself, thank you very much.  And chances are, it’s not some flashy campaign or clever tagline that’ll do the trick.  Rather, it’s genuine engagement and transparency that will win her over.

The world communicates differently now—this isn’t a secret and it isn’t news. But old habits die hard, especially in marketing.  With all manner of digital communication allowing information to transfer from one source to another faster than ever, this New Marketing Paradigm is one where…

  1. A consumer now has the ability – and even the expectation – to learn a lot about your brand long before she will ever do business with you.
  2. Two-way conversations between consumer and business are now the norm.
  3. Transparency and trust are non-negotiable when it comes to winning (and keeping) a customer.

Check Out Before Check Out

The Old Marketing Paradigm:

In the past, the traditional advertising and marketing paradigm were about crafting a clever message, tagline, logo, or campaign…a message so unique and wonderful that it would compel the consumer to get out their wallet.  Anyone who’s seen “Mad Men” will be familiar with the approach:  “We are going to tell you what you want to hear, and when it works, you are going to come and do business with us.”

Well, dear marketer, gone are the days where you can mesmerize your customers into buying from you.

The New Marketing Paradigm:

With the explosion of social media like blogs, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and review sites, a potential customer will not be so easily wooed.  They now have the power at their fingertips do quite a bit of sleuthing before handing over their hard-earned dough.  They’ll check out your website and blog to see if what you believe in is what they believe in.  They’ll check out review sites to learn what others’ interactions with you have been like.  They’ll ask their friends on Facebook or their connections on LinkedIn for recommendations.  And guess what?  They can do all that without ever interacting with you directly!

So in the New Marketing Paradigm, your marketing efforts MUST include a plan for establishing and maintaining a polished and authentic digital presence.  Your website, blog and other social channels need fresh and consistent content that shows your potential customer what it will be like to work with you.

Social Channels are for Conversations

The Old Marketing Paradigm:

Under the Old Marketing Paradigm, marketing and advertising was thought of in terms of one-way messaging.  Your brilliant marketing campaign – that you created and had control over – would be broadcast via one-way channels like TV, radio and print.  And when your campaign didn’t work as planned, or when you wanted to try a new approach or even change your very identity, you could simply ‘turn off’ the old message and reinvent your brand with a new one.  And because you had so much control over what was said, to whom it was being said, and when they would hear it, you could (with some degree of certainty) measure the return on your advertising investment.

My how times have changed.

The New Marketing Paradigm:

Marketing your brand is no longer about broadcasting your super-creative messages to a targeted group of recipients.  Success under the New Marketing Paradigm is about engaging consumers (and prospects) in an actual, genuine, two-way conversation, allowing them to get to know you before, during and even after it’s time for them to buy.

Social channels like Facebook, Twitter and even your own blog now provide the perfect venue for this kind of interaction.  Your customers and prospects are already spending a significant amount of time there, asking questions and having a two-way dialogue, so you’ll want to make sure you’re there, too, being a part of the conversation.  And although marketing in this way might be a lot of work, it has two distinct advantages:

  1. Loyalty – Two-way social marketing enables you to develop meaningful relationships with your customers, and the more meaningful the relationship, the more loyal the customer tends to be.
  2. Intelligence – Every conversation is like a mini-focus group, allowing you to learn about what is important to your customers and prospects.  Businesses pay research companies HUGE money to learn about the preferences and dislikes of their customers.  For the first time in history, your own social channels offer you ready access to such crucial information.  All you’ve got to do is ask.  You’ll be amazed at how forthcoming your customers are with meaningful info that will ultimately enable you to serve them even better.

And while it may feel like you have less control in this New Marketing Paradigm, you actually can control (and even measure the impact of) what is being said about you…by simply being present and being yourself.

And speaking of ‘being yourself’…

Welcome to the Age of Transparency

The Old Marketing Paradigm:

In the Old Marketing Paradigm you never got any measurable feedback from a customer until they bought or complained.  Similarly, under that old paradigm, customer ‘issues’ were addressed behind closed doors, one customer at a time.  Here’s how it used to work:  a disgruntled customer would make a call or send an email, it would be forwarded to a customer service specialist who was specially trained to handle such matters, and the specialist would respond directly to that customer with a resolution.  No one (except for that particular customer) ever knew how well (or badly) your business dealt with its customers.

So what does customer service look like under the New Marketing Paradigm?

The New Marketing Paradigm:

Like it or not, we have entered the Age of Transparency.  More than ever before, there’s an alarming amount of information readily available for all the world to see about each of us (have you ever tried Googling your own name?). Whether it’s personal info (like photos tagged on Facebook) or business-related info (like reviews or discussions on social media), in this new social media driven world it’s simply not possible to keep your laundry (dirty or otherwise) to yourself.

Now a customer can and will comment or complain in a wide variety of public forums.  And more importantly, everyone else, including any prospective customers, will be watching to see how you respond.  Those brands who admit mistakes and demonstrate a genuine desire to rectify them will win more loyal customers than those brands who don’t.

Contrary to what some might think, transparency isn’t necessarily bad for business.   In fact, it’s actually an opportunity to connect with your customers in a deeper more meaningful way, as well as a chance to set yourself apart from your competitors.  So embrace this new Age of Transparency and just be real.  It’s what your customers actually want from you.

Adapting to a whole new way of marketing can be challenging and even frustrating. But this New Marketing Paradigm also brings new opportunities to learn about and interact with your customers like never before.  So make a plan, put in the extra hours, and, most of all, participate in this New Marketing Paradigm—the consumer world wants to hear from you. And if you feel you need a little extra help getting (and keeping) those conversations going, get a hold of us.  We’d love to have a two-way conversation with YOU!

Beware of HubSpot Hal. And, be careful that HubSpot Hal is not actually YOU! Here is another “how not to do it” story from the modern world of marketing.

In Clicksand, I spent a lot of time talking about how marketing automation tools like HubSpot (and Pardot and Marketo and Eloqua and the others) can actually ruin your chances of building real, authentic relationships. Let me share a real-life example of how this happened with me recently.

Let’s hit the trail

I have a good friend Nick, who is a regular hiker. He and I have talked for a few years about spending some time hiking together on the Appalachian Trail. This summer, he told me that he had a hike planned and asked if I wanted to come along. I eagerly accepted. Nick explained that he had two other friends who were also coming along, so there would be four of us on the trip.

The next day, Nick sent an email to the other two hikers (we’ll call them Jack and Hal) to let them know I would be hitting the trail with the group. Jack and Hal both sent nice little notes back saying welcome, and Hal joked “as part of the new hiker initiation, you are required to carry Jack’s and my packs for 9 miles each day. Welcome aboard!”

Things were off to a nice, cordial start. Soon after though, Hal turned into HubSpot Hal.

The tiger shows his stripes

Remember that my introduction to Hal was a personal one—not in any way a business relationship. And our interaction was limited to that one email exchange of 23 words.  Regardless, Hal then decided to take my email address and add it to his company’s HubSpot program. 

Within days, I started getting automated emails from his company that I had never asked for. Hal had taken a personal introduction from a mutual friend and turned me into a business prospect; bombarding me with a never-ending string of marketing emails.

Let me reiterate: Hal and I did not meet in a business setting. This was completely personal. This means that Hal believes everyone he runs into, no matter how briefly or in what context, should be thrown into his marketing automation junk machine.

Hal is the modern-day equivalent of the leisure-suit wearing guy hitting on every girl he runs into, trying to make another conquest. He’s the creepy cousin who pitches relatives on his latest get-rich-quick-scheme at a wedding reception. He justifies this behavior, like all such sleazy pitchmen do, by figuring “Hey, anyone can opt out if they don’t want to receive the messages, right?”

Like millions of business owners, Hal has fallen for the idea that to be successful, you have to pound away at people with marketing automation tools until they give in. It’s the way these tools are built—because companies like HubSpot make more money if the Hals of the world send ever more messages to non-consenting people like you and me.

Collateral damage

One thing Hal did not consider is that not only did this diminish him in my eyes, it also reflected poorly on our mutual friend Nick, who made the introduction. If this is the kind of guy that Nick hangs out with, then maybe I should reconsider my relationship with Nick? At the very least, I’m certainly not interested in meeting any more of his friends!  Or worse, is Nick getting some kind of kickback for bringing his friends to Hal?

Luckily, in this particular case, I’ve known Nick for many years, so my relationship with him is strong enough to withstand this HubSpot Hal event. But what if that wasn’t the case? Unfortunately, in my experience, businesspeople like Hal are so focused on their own goals that they never even consider the negative effect they might be having on other people and their relationships. Hal never stopped to think that he might be hurting Nick by treating Nick’s friends so poorly.

The rest of the story

There is another interesting subplot to my story with HubSpot Hal, that neither he nor Nick know. It turns out that Hal owns a marketing firm that convinces businesses to use HubSpot as their primary marketing vehicle. So not only does Hal treat everyone he personally meets like a “mark,” he also takes it a step further by advising lots of other businesses to do the same thing.

I knew of Hal’s company but had never met him before Nick made the introduction, and I had no idea that Nick knew Hal or that they were hiking buddies. Interestingly, the reason I knew of Hal’s company before this experience is that over the last few years, several of his customers had actually left him and come to us at Civilis Marketing!

Our business at Civilis Marketing is driven by a constant stream of companies who have realized that the marketing automation approach taught by pitchmen like Hal were not right for them. It didn’t work and more importantly, it conflicted with their values about how people should be treated.   

The companies that came to us from HubSpot Hal wanted to find a way to succeed with real, authentic relationships that aren’t based on a set of pitchman tactics.

The good news is that if you are tired of getting advice (that doesn’t work and that feels a bit creepy), let us show you how to succeed without being a HubSpot Hal. Oh, and let me know if you want to go hiking on the Appalachian Trail sometime. If you’d like help forging stronger relationships – with your prospects, clients, or team members – please Get in Touch.

You’d like to run a simple social media campaign to increase your visibility and attract some new customers. You probably have at least a couple of platforms; Facebook, Twitter, perhaps Instagram—and you want to make sure you’re maximizing your content reach and impact within each. A quick Google search on how to most efficiently use Facebook’s ever-changing social media algorithms stops you short: The results make your head spin. See: 9 Ways to Outsmart the Facebook Algorithm in 2018. And Facebook Is Changing. What Does That Mean for Your News Feed? The list goes on.

So, you immerse yourself in the latest articles and instructional posts to get a sense of how to navigate the labyrinth. Just when you think you’ve learned how Instagram and Twitter choose to display the content of the accounts you follow, you realize you didn’t really have a good understanding of their selection process at all.

Worse still, you’ve wasted precious time.

As a marketer who regularly uses and is intimate with these channels, I can confirm it’s often a full-time job trying to keep up. However, rest easy with the knowledge that we can offer some solace if you’re growing weary of the ever-present need to change your game just to get exposure.

Consider this the end of the indoctrination period you never really needed.

The new age of online marketing

You CAN reach your intended audience and foster the business you’re working hard for, without subscribing to the ever-changing cheats, codes, and secret rules of social media algorithms. It’s simpler than you think:

  • STOP worrying about exposure.
  • START focusing on the real people you’re trying to reach.
  • And accept the fact that those people, the real individuals whose relationships are important to your business, don’t need to be exposed to a generalized broadcast—they just need to hear from YOU.

Investing in your business relationships directly, instead of using intricate and elaborate social media campaigns and automation services, will pay more dividends later on.

This means showing your customer who you are, as genuinely as possible. Even if this comes across as unpolished and informal, it will serve to increase your authenticity and, therefore, trustworthiness.

No one wants to hear from bots.

I think of it as taking the high road. If you think of your marketing like a moral compass, you can trust in the fact that saying and doing what you feel is kind, respectful, and true, will rarely do you wrong.

Now, that’s not to say that just being nice to those people who represent your critical business relationships will get you all the way to your goal.

For that, you need a process.

You might be thinking, “You just said that marketing automation and mass communication aren’t the keys to success.” To that, I would say, “Correct.” But keep in mind that automation and process are not the same.

Digital Marketing: Decoded

It is possible to conduct genuine and systematized one-on-one outreach to the most important people in your universe. In fact, most everyone creates processes for this very purpose all the time—they’re just so ingrained into our daily lives that it’s hard to recognize them as such.

Every time you add a loved one’s birthday to your calendar you’re following a process to help you nurture your relationship with that person.

Side note: Social media has simplified aspects of this for us—but at a cost. Facebook reminds you when it’s someone’s birthday. It even offers pre-made videos you can share in lieu of a card. But don’t these things begin to feel disingenuous and transparent?

I don’t mean to sound old-fashioned, but you know what’s way better than getting a cookie cutter Facebook video on your birthday? Getting a phone call and Chinese takeout.

Don’t go it alone

Next time you find yourself face-palming over the complexities of social media algorithm flux and ad-word optimization, remember that maintaining a steady, true, moral marketing compass will help you navigate those woods.

The even better news: You don’t have to do it alone. We’ve got relationship maintenance and process planning expertise a plenty to offer entrepreneurs, business owners, or mid-sized businesses who’re coming into their own.

So get a hold of us. We’ll show you how we work with individuals and teams to help them better understand their own communication styles, and apply those principles in a harmonious, orderly, driven way.

This article is part of the 7 Deadly Sins of Relationship-Based Marketing series. In the series, we’ll chronicle different online behaviors and practices that can ruin your business relationships. Some are subtle, and some not so much. If the success of your business relies on maintaining healthy relationships with current clients, prospects, or a network of referrers, it could be time you start repenting.

The path to hell is paved with good intentions, right? That expression may seem a little extreme, especially if you’ve come here seeking marketing advice. However, there’s some very real truth to it.

It’s become a noisy world, with businesses competing for attention in nearly every channel imaginable. And with all the clamoring of each voice striving to be the loudest, you can see companies making the egregious mistake of saying anything to get customers to notice them. Even if it means they’re not being totally honest with their audiences.

This is a reminder that what you say does matter. Especially if it’s wildly different from what you are actually doing.

In online marketing; don’t just say what you do—do what you say

Here’s a tale about a company that recently failed to practice what it preaches:

A few months ago, I was in the market for new windows. I called around to several companies to get quotes, and most sent a salesperson to my home to count windows, answer questions, and discuss pricing and product options with me.

But one of these companies—we’ll call it Window Company C—was different. It had the loudest and proudest online marketing I’d seen so far, promising the easiest, most personalized customer experience and the most knowledgeable and helpful staff.

When I called to schedule an appointment for a quote, the owner (he made sure to remind me several times that he was the owner) answered the phone. We’ll call him Dan Windows. He didn’t offer to send a salesperson out to assist me, he instead insisted that I walk around the outside of my house and describe the size and nature of each window to him. Not only did this feel unpleasantly like a doctor trying to diagnose a health condition over the phone, it made me feel guilty about not knowing the difference between each type of window.

The whole affair left a bad taste in my mouth—especially considering that the “About” section on the company’s website read, “Window Company C was founded by Mr. Dan Windows on the simple idea that buying windows should be easy.”

After I’d essentially done all the work for him, he quoted me an outrageous price and promised that I’d receive a “helpful” packet in the mail.

Here’s the kicker: A few days later I went to the mailbox and pulled out a large packet from Window Company C. What I found inside was far from helpful. It was a 30-page book titled “30 Reasons Not to Buy Windows from Window Company C.” Inside the book, each page had one watermarked sentence that simply read “Not a reason.”

That’s 30 wasted opportunities to tell customers why they should buy from Window Company C. And it was arrogant. And it certainly wasn’t “helpful.” Now, I can appreciate a clever marketing joke as well as the next person, but this?

This is a prime example of a business owner who got so wrapped up in shiny marketing tactics that his messaging became misleading. While Window Company C is busy pumping money into online marketing ads and direct-mailing useless piles of paper, it’s failing to deliver exactly what it promises: an easy window-purchasing experience for its customers.

In contrast, I actually did have an easy experience with the other three companies I called—imagine that.

Create good first impressions for your business relationships

If you’re a business owner, you know all too well the countless hours, care, and work you’ve invested in your business. In fact, your reason for starting your business is probably a direct extension of your personal beliefs and values—making it all the more important that you fight tooth and nail to uphold your company’s integrity. The grace with which you manage your customer and other important business relationships can be a prominent illustration of that integrity—and, it can be the first thing prospects notice.

You might be feeling immense pressure to buy into the latest marketing trend. A lot of clients come to us with questions about content marketing (likely because of its buzzword status)—and our best advice to them is that it’s not as simple as just “putting some content out there.” You have to be considerate and honest with your marketing; otherwise, you’ll run the risk of making promises you can’t keep.

If you’re running an outbound marketing strategy, it might behoove you to take a nice long look at exactly what it is you’re “outbounding.” And if you’re still not sure if your company’s message is aligned properly with the service it offers, we’ll give you a second opinion.

Keeping your digital channels full of fresh, on-brand content requires a great content writer. Often times this job is handed over to an intern (because she knows her way around social media) or an administrative assistant (because he’s got time between answering phone calls).

We hate to see businesses fall into this trap. Finding someone who has the right experience and is qualified to speak on your company’s behalf is key. These seven guidelines help us (and can help you) evaluate and chose content writers.

1. Fundamental understanding of your business challenges and goals
Being a good writer isn’t enough. Whoever writes your social media marketing content must know what its ultimate purpose is, whether it’s to generate leads, acquire new customers, or give people enough information to choose your company over the competition. Without an understanding of precisely how the content on social media is supposed to improve your business, the person responsible for writing it is probably going to fail at the job.

2. Understanding of your marketing strategy
It’s important to differentiate between a goal and a strategy. Your marketing goal might be to sell 1,000 widgets in the current quarter. Your marketing strategy involves how you’re going to reach that goal. The person responsible for writing social media content must understand how to execute that strategy on each of the various platforms you want to use. Your company’s marketing strategy will also affect the tone and style used on different platforms. One approach might work fine for a blog post but fail miserably with a downloadable e-book. A qualified content writer will know which approach is right.

3. Understanding of the audience
Ideally find someone who is (or has been) a customer or client of your business. The content writer needs to understand who they are writing for, and what better way than to actually have used your product or services. In any case, the content writer must understand the audience’s psyche and how to motivate them. If they don’t, it will be very difficult for them to write content that is compelling and effective.

4. Understanding of the technical aspects of your business
Every business has its jargon, its technical terms, and its complex concepts that are confusing to people not intimately familiar with the business. If your audience is other people in your business or industry, your content writer has to communicate like an insider. You can’t fake it—an expert audience will spot an amateur right away.

5. Ability to communicate complex concepts concisely
This can be a tricky line to navigate. How can you make it easy for the audience to understand your overall business, or the aspect of your business that you’re trying to communicate, while you still execute your desired marketing strategy? Fortunately, this is a skill you can test. Give a prospective candidate something to write about and see what they can do.

6. Excellent communication skills
This is different from tip #5. This is about the nuts and bolts of writing: grammar and spelling, choosing the proper tone, and getting the right words in the right places. You can test this, too, by asking to see samples of a candidate’s past work, or by giving the candidate a writing assignment.

7. Ability to generate original content
The massive size of the online world makes plagiarism easy. But you don’t want your business caught stealing someone else’s online content. It’s unethical, and not only that, content that’s not generated directly by someone who understands your marketing goals and strategies probably won’t accomplish the desired effect anyway. Your content writer should be an original thinker with lots of ideas (and you should have safeguards in place to spot plagiarism).

Indeed, effective content writing is a set of specialized skills and you need just the right person to be responsible for communicating the essence of your brand to the world.

Your blog is a beast that needs constant feeding. Coming up with an ongoing stream of fresh, new ideas that your readers find valuable can be a challenge. Is it possible to have it both ways—frequent, fresh content that’s compelling, too?

It is. Use these guidelines to help get you started.

What’s useful to your readers?

Blog topics need to provide value to the reader and give them something in return for reading. Start by asking yourself: What questions might my customers have about my product or service? What’s new in my business or industry? What do my customers need to know to stay on top of changes they may face? Blog articles that proactively answer those kinds of questions are going to be useful to the reader.

Additionally, topics that tell a story are also great articles for your blog. You might have a story about a customer, a case study, someone you met, or a new product that’s coming out. But, be sure it has an outcome, a moral or a point to be made so that your readers find it readable, relatable and newsworthy.

What will resonate with your readers?

If a reader doesn’t actually care about what they’re reading on your blog, they won’t click the “like” button, share your post, or retweet it. (Caring enough to share is what puts the “social” into “social media marketing.”) Stories often resonate best when they relate to the experiences of others. Maybe you’ve had similar experiences yourself, or maybe your reader is looking for a product or service that will help them avoid the experiences others have had. Think about your audience and what’s on their mind, what’s bothering them or what’s keeping them up at night. Articles that address these things are going to contain the information your audience is searching for and is interested in reading.

What do you want the article to accomplish?

There can be a tendency to choose topics with this as the only goal:  “We want to sell a thousand of these new widgets within the first 60 days.” But it’s important to remember that you must use your blog as a marketing tool that will help accomplish your business goals. You can use you blog and other channels to steer the reader toward the purchasing decision you want him or her to make, but you must do it through the stories you choose to tell and how you choose to tell them. You can’t just jump in and say, “You should buy a widget from us today.” Instead, make your readers come to that conclusion on their own.  You want your reader to read your article and think, “I should buy a widget from them today because….”

Write for people, not for search engines

Unless your business lives and dies by leads generated through search-engine traffic alone, writing articles to optimize search hits on certain keywords is not as important as writing content that is useful to and resonates with your readers. It’s important to make the distinction between keywords and topics. Keywords are meant for search engines, and topics are meant for people. So, first and foremost, chose topics and write articles based on your human audience. You can relate them to your keywords, but don’t make them about your keywords.

We love thinking and talking about this! If you want help brainstorming topics for your next round of blog articles, give us a call. We’ll help you think it through.

Interactive marketing—especially when using social media platforms—has become a powerful and proven way to engage customers and build relationships that can be converted into sustained, profitable business growth.

The downside of marketing through social media? Just this: Social media channels are hungry critters. They constantly crave inventive, informative, original content—not recycled “filler.”

If you don’t feed them regularly—in some cases, daily—they won’t behave the way you want them to. And you won’t get the results you’re looking for.

In the world of social media marketing, relationships are king, and content is the currency you trade for your prospects’ time and attention.  That’s why the source of your content marketing—you pool of writing talent—is critical to maintaining the steady flow of information that social media demands, and your readers expect.

One writer is not going to be enough

Trying to maintain an effective social media program with a single writer—or two or three—is a strategy for frustration. And burn-out. Imagine a grocery store trying to meet its customers’ needs by relying on the produce of a single farmer. Common sense tells you that strategy won’t work long-term. The same dynamics apply to producing content for social media.

High-quality content is what keeps your readers coming back. How do you keep it flowing? Inevitably, you’re going to need the diversity and depth of a team of writers. Weigh the following factors for keeping your social media content as appealing and as valued as the products or services you’re looking to sell.

Social media demands expertise

Social media is subject-matter intensive. Readers will know immediately whether the writer has deep expertise in the category, and a deep understanding of what the category means to them. And if the writer you’ve relied on walks out the door to join a commune, where will you recruit a replacement? Your writing team should include backups who have already worked in, and written for, your category. Your blog is no place for a writer to “learn” about your product, or your customers.

Social media demands availability

Social media can be a stern task-master. It doesn’t understand—or care—about sick days or vacations or holidays. The writing has to get done and go live regardless of personal issues or scheduling conflicts. That’s why you need to draw from a writing team that can cover any contingency.

Social media demands the right personality for your audience

Every blog post, every tweet, every Facebook exchange should reflect the personality of your brand, and align with the preferred tastes of your readers. All writers come with strengths and weaknesses. Humorous or technical? Straight arrow or controversial? “One size fits all” went out with the Model-T. That’s true for your messages to the marketplace, and for the writers who craft them. You need to be able to draw from a diverse pool of writing styles and personalities to assure that your social media content is right for the moment, and reflects what’s appropriate for your brand and your buyers.

More proven options equal more content marketing success

It’s about finding and maintaining a critical mass in the depth and diversity of the writing pool you rely on. Compromise on the scope of your writing resources, and you’ll limit the return on your online marketing investment.

“Critical mass” is why at Civilis, we maintain a broad network of writers whose diverse talents and experience can provide an on-point match for any social media or messaging need. Our clients don’t have to recruit them. We already have. It’s a business model that makes social media marketing more manageable…and more profitable.

If you’ve got a figurative barn to raise, and would welcome the help of our village, give us a call.

Rex Elliott is co-founder and partner at Cooper & Elliott, a law firm in Columbus, Ohio. He tells us about his journey to understand how online and digital marketing isn’t a one-size-fits all solution for every business. He shares the lessons he learned and the frustrations he and his firm experienced on the path to their discovery.

What first captured my attention

I was introduced to online marketing several years ago, and what first captured my attention about it was how easy it seemed: A “marketing machine” would be turned on and left to generate new clients and cases for us. By all accounts, online marketing looked like an advertising campaign that wouldn’t require us to do much of anything. I thought it seemed like a great solution—a third party could work on getting our name and brand recognized, and my lawyers and I could devote our time to working on cases.

Our business is such that we don’t need a hundred cases a year, a few quality cases a year is really what’s right for us. When we started out, we hoped to use e-mail and other methods to drive potential clients to our website. Statistically speaking, we thought it would be impossible to put out thousands of e-mails every month and not generate at least a couple matches that would turn into solid cases.

In hindsight, we should have considered that nothing worth doing is simple. It was a great lesson to learn, even though it felt like a setback. Blasting emails may work for some but it didn’t work for us.

Traffic, traffic everywhere but limited results

When we began the e-mail blasts, we did see that they were driving a high volume of traffic to our website. Our (then) marketing partner was quick to point this out, “Look at how great this is, you’re getting tons of visitors on the website!”

But it just didn’t seem to be paying off. After some time, I began to question whether sheer numbers and traffic was really leading to the only metric that truly mattered to me—actual business. And it turns out, it wasn’t.

So who was visiting our website? It wasn’t the type of people who were turning into clients. We decided to trace our business back to the source. A closer examination revealed that the clients we got during that period, were coming to us not because they’d heard about us in an e-mail blast. They’d come to us from friends, professional contacts, people we knew in our community. They were coming to us through personal relationships with members of our firm.

It became frustratingly clear that the money we were spending was doing little more than driving people to the website, so after a little more than a year, I pulled the plug.

What was the damage?

The belief that business would simply walk in the door through mass email blasts was actually leading our lawyers to develop less business. There was the serious side effect of allowing ourselves to become complacent and rely solely on the “marketing machine.” Each of the attorneys in our firm gave up on our individual marketing efforts. We neglected our important relationships, all because we were under the impression that something else was taking care of it for us.

It takes a personal touch

When I first met with Bill Troy, he told me, “There is no substitute for your personal network and relationships. You’re just not going to drive business into your firm without personal touches.”

Turned out, he was right. I actually had to take time after that year to re-nurture my own personal network and business relationships. Today, we encourage the young attorneys in our firm to build the same kind of networks that have proved to be effective time and time again. We’ve seen that it works, and we encourage them to focus on developing their own personalized way of bringing cases to the firm.

We have real data that indicates marketing requires a two-pronged approach. We still use online marketing, but as a supplement to our other efforts. We get out there and bring business in because we know now that it’s not going to walk in the door just because we sent a thousand e-mails.

For us, the moral of the story is that you never know when a great personal relationship is going to bear fruit for your business somewhere down the road. That’s really what 1-to-1 marketing is all about. And you don’t have to do it all yourself, you just have to make sure your efforts, or the efforts of your marketing partner are focused in the right areas. The most important marketing we do isn’t through blogs or social media—it’s through personal conversations and the deepening of personal relationships we already have.

If you rely on a “marketing machine” you might want to consider the potential damage it does to your brand—not to mention the negative side effect of letting your personal network atrophy in the meantime.   

This article is part of the 7 Deadly Sins of Relationship-Based Marketing series. In the series, we’ll chronicle different online behaviors and practices that can ruin your business relationships. Some are subtle, and some not so much. If the success of your business relies on maintaining healthy relationships with current clients, prospects, or a network of referrers, it could be time you start repenting.

Let’s talk about extroverts: We all know that one guy or gal who is always up at 4:45 a.m. hitting the gym and rushing off to a 7:00 a.m. networking meeting, followed by coffee with a potential client, lunch with an existing client, and then second lunch with a hopeful partner. That’s a lot of face time before noon.

And let’s be honest, we’re not all wired that way.

For those of you who don’t thrive on having eight meetings before noon, the temptation to hide your head in the sand can slowly take over and leave you wondering who else, or what else could help you make all those touches.

A business relationship is a relationship with you

If you own or manage a small-to-mid-sized business, you know first-hand the value of the people in your network.

Whether they are customers, employees, clients, vendors or any other business associate, they see value in doing business with you. It’s value you’ve earned over time, probably by delivering as promised again and again.

As long as you keep these people feeling important and respected, it’s going to be difficult for competitors to pry them away.

No business relationship can survive on marketing automation alone

You’ve spent years cultivating business relationships with some people, and in that time, they’ve become your brand’s most vocal advocates. Don’t insult them by reducing your conversations to one-way blasts about tomorrow’s early-bird specials.

They want to know about your family, your interests, your large-scale plans for the direction of your business. They want to share their ideas with you, as well as their own interests and milestones. Passing them off as mere sales leads is only going to reveal that you value them as resources only, and not as people. They will respond in kind by demoting your brand from essential to a commodity.

At times, it might feel like keeping track of all these people and maintaining a personal connection can become a tough balancing act. Each person becomes a hot potato you would just as soon pass along to someone (or something) else. That feeling is completely natural, but just remember that your email newsletter isn’t going to ask people how their summer has been, how their kids are doing, or what big changes they’ve seen in their industry—only a human interaction can meet those needs.

Go on and hold that hot potato

We’ve seen it time and time again: Clients who come to us for marketing automation solutions partly because they want more business (who doesn’t), but are often feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of maintaining the relationships they need to expand. They’re looking for automation to cover all their bases and get in front of as many people as possible.

Often, we find that it’s that owner or CEO’s personality that earned much of their company’s success in the first place. And to replicate that success, they’d need a clone to allow them to be in more places and be having more conversations at one time.

Don’t get us wrong: We believe marketing automation does have its uses. For reach and consistency, and keeping your audience in the loop about your brand, it’s a fantastic tool. But it really doesn’t demonstrate a heart-felt concern for the people you serve, and can even expose your brand as one whose caring depends on the crutch of convenience.

We help clients be more present, and in ways more genuine than social media strategies and digital ad campaigns allow. We help people transition from feeling spread too thin to being set firmly on a proven path to sustained growth. Let us show you how it’s done.

This article is part of the 7 Deadly Sins of Relationship-Based Marketing series. In the series, we’ll chronicle different online behaviors and practices that can be ruining your business relationships. Some are subtle, and some not so much. If the success of your business relies on maintaining healthy relationships with current clients, prospects, or a network of referrers, it could be time you start repenting.

One sure-fire way to burn a relationship to the ground is to be a flake.

Thou shalt not flake

According to Merriam-Webster, to “flake out” is slang for, “to fall asleep,” or “to be overcome especially by exhaustion.”

In my world, “to flake” has another meaning; it means to cancel last minute, to disappear from a conversation (whatever the platform). To be “a flake” is tantamount to being an unreliable person with poor time-management skills. A phrase that was once used to explain falling asleep has come to have a different meaning—one which, ironically, is more closely aligned with playing ‘possum.

However you choose to view it, being “a flake” can have a damaging effect on your personal and business relationships.

Being busy isn’t an excuse

You’re busy—very, very busy. That just comes with the territory of running a successful business. It’s easy to over-commit. That lunch you planned with Tyler 3 weeks ago sounded like a great idea at the time, but now all you can think about is your growing list of to dos and how you could really use these next two hours to cross a few off. You’re likely thinking to yourself, “I’Il just shoot Tyler an email, let him know I’m super busy…he’ll understand.”

Technology has, unfortunately, made it easier for us to back out of our commitments. With the touch of a screen, we can cancel at the last minute without having to see the disappointment in someone’s face. They’ll get over it, right? No harm, no foul.

Think again.

What does flaking do to your “value?”

Flakes are like little lies. They get easier with practice.

You can rationalize backing out of a commitment at the last minute. You can defend yourself for every lunch you cancel and every email you put off answering (and then never do).

But you can’t rationalize what your flaking says about you to your friends, or to the people you do business with. The text you send might say, “I’m super busy right now, so sorry! I’d love to get together another time…” but what that person is hearing, is “I don’t care enough about you to do the normal things that keep our relationship strong.”

Do they respond with, “It’s okay, we’ll catch up soon.” Of course, they do, because they’re polite.

But soon, they’ll begin to reserve their full honesty for someone they can fully trust and depend on. They’ll give the next person their friendship, business, referrals, leads on good employees—you get the idea.

And to those of you who think your flaky behavior is so thoroughly apologized for, just remember: Your apologies won’t convince people you’re not a flake. There is no GIF that can truly repair how the act of flaking frays a personal or business relationship.

Honoring your word means protecting your relationship

Trust is hard to earn, easy to lose, and almost impossible to fully regain. It’s always been critical to business relationships, and it’s no less critical to business transacted online. The Internet simply provides the means to damage trust faster.

This rule for relationship-based marketing is simple: Consider what you’re giving up for the sake of immediate convenience before you choose to blow someone off.

Here are four simple (and sometimes not so easy) guidelines:

  1. If you make plans with someone, honor that commitment. It doesn’t matter whether the commitment was set in person, over Skype, or via email. It’s your promise and their time. Neither deserves to be cheapened.
  2. Don’t over-commit. Why spare someone’s feelings now only to disappoint them later? An honest “no” now says you value your time and theirs. It says they’re worthy of your honesty.
  3. Technology is no excuse. Maybe you’ve enlisted outside help for managing your growing business. That’s probably a wise move—but it’s never an excuse for not following through in-person on a scheduled commitment.
  4. Don’t underestimate the “cost” of flaking. Believing that a cancellation—just this one time—doesn’t really hurt anybody can be a very expensive delusion, especially when relationships and trust are the core of your business. Every time you reach out to someone and ask them to get together, but then fail to follow through, you look bad. To them, and possibly to everyone they are connected to.

When you honor your commitments, you’re really saying that you respect someone else’s time and you believe they add value to your life.

Besides, how many potential customers do you really have to waste? It can be scary to think about.

Even so…think about it.

If you’d like help forging new business relationships, or just nurturing the relationships you have, please get in touch.