I hate to say it, but that marketing approach you've been using for years may not be the best one.
As a business owner or marketer, you're likely deluged with different marketing approaches, especially varying proportions of "content marketing," "search engine optimization" and "advertising".
While these marketing channels are nice, and definitely have a place in one's overall marketing plan, they are not -- even when optimally combined -- the best strategies to market your business or service.
That's because if you want to market your business better, you need to start at a more basic, fundamental level which is best encapsulated in six words:
"All business is based on relationships."
You see, you can crank out all the content, keyword-optimized title tags and 30-second video ads you want. But if those things aren't germinating, developing and deepening a relationship with potential and existing clients, you're just spinning your wheels. Working hard, not smart.
I previously blogged about a 2019 study by Gartner Research (a free download from its website here) which detailed how sales reps who acted as "unbiased information connectors" were able to increase sales by 300%. The more these sales reps were perceived as “Trusted Resources,” the more people trusted them...eventually enough to do business with them.
It really is true: "The more you give, the more you get."
The Four Horsemen of Expert-ness
Everything from multinational corporations to your local used appliance dealer understand that relationships potentially equal money. Once a relationship is established, it's simply a matter of keeping that relationship alive in order to enhance the Customer's Lifetime Value (CLV). All of a sudden, that relationship money is becoming relationship monies. This is done in at least one of four levels of intimacy:
"Influencer Marketing" relies on celebrities and key leaders to drive your brand's message to the larger market. These people have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followers measured in the millions. So, the thought is that if you pay a celebrity, say, $10 million to promote your product, you'll get $15 million in sales. Unsurprisingly, Business Insider Intelligence estimates the influencer marketing industry's worth is on track to go from $8 billion (2019) to $15 billion (2022). A 2018 Neoreach study of over 2,000 campaigns run in 2018 and found that for every $1 spent on an influencer, brands earned $5.20 in media value.
Still many experts are predicting a different trajectory -- the demise -- of influencer marketing. This is because influencers are expensive and a solid ROI isn't promised. Yes, an influencer can mention your widget or service to their gazillions of followers, but if their gazillions of followers aren't naturally inclined to want or need what you're selling, it'll be a waste of money. This may be why the aforementioned Neoreach study found that only 25% of the influencer marketing campaigns they evaluated had a positive ROI.
Thought leaders/influencers are uber authorities -- those who, based on their expertise and perspective in an industry, offer unique guidance, inspire innovation and influence others. They are visible (by consistently creating and publishing content), influential (by constantly gaining access to new audiences) and validating (by having a body of published work). They are worldwide or nationwide industry go-to resources.
But just because someone is a thought leader doesn't mean they have anything to do with relationships. In fact, because of their mere title, thought leaders logically struggle with developing local, intimate business relationships. Remember: they are nationwide/worldwide. And this lack of personal knowledge means you, as a business owner, may be able to trust their business insights, but don't expect much more in terms of relationships than that.
Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)
Unlike Thought Leaders, "some of the world’s greatest SMEs are unknown people toiling in the corner of a lab somewhere. They aren’t leading anything or anyone. However, they may be blazing trails in science or technology that very few people will ever know about." They may not be on a YouTube channel with dozens of videos, found on a stage or interviewed every other week on a different podcast, but "Most people don’t know what these quiet SMEs are thinking or even know who they are. And for the purpose of being a SME in their corner of the world, the concept of thought leadership is irrelevant."
Not all SMEs are thought leaders. Some choose not to be leaders, and that's OK. Conversely, not all Thought Leaders are SMEs. But when you find that SME who's also considered by others to be a Thought Leader, then hey, you've found someone special.
Take, for example, Mandy McEwen, a Sacramento-based marketing expert who knows her stuff when it comes to generating leads and effectively marketing a small business. The 'Thought Leader Mandy" is often asked to participate in nationwide webinars in how to use LinkedIn to its fullest potential. Simultaneously, the "SME Mandy" can be found every Thursday in smaller, more intimate webinars with marketers whom she all addresses on a first-name basis, answering their impromptu questions about all things LinkedIn and marketing. (But take note: Mandy's a pretty unique case, because not all Thought Leaders/SMEs are that approachable).
Unlike SMEs and Thought Leaders, you'll find your trusted experts within a hundred or so miles of your business. They keep close tabs on what the Thought Leaders and SMEs recommend, and beyond. They then transfer their cutting-edge knowledge to those within their local sphere of influence. Remember those sales reps I mentioned up above, who act as "unbiased information connectors"? They're trusted experts. And because potential and existing customers know these experts, their cell phone numbers and maybe more, they're more apt to engage with the expert in a business relationship.
The Best Marketing
Yes, "content marketing," "search engine optimization" and "advertising" are all very important. But they are all tools. Yes, they are huge, but relationship marketing is bigger and better. It trumps any old-school or digital marketing.
I'll be blunt: No marketing expert worth their salt should identify their business mission, vision and values with the tools they use. What carpenter advertises themselves as "I'm John Smith, and I use hammers and nails" or "I'm Celine, and I work with ladles and spatulas"? No! They are "Harold, and I make people insanely jealous of our clients' lawns" or "I'm Shannon. I turn events into lifelong memories."
Business owner: Seek out and get to know your local Trusted Experts. You have business challenges; Trusted Experts likely have the answers. Seek and reach out to them. It'll be well worth your effort.