(Note: This post is part of The Word Chef blog carnival for July. See Tea’s post for more details on how to win the Amazon gift card!)
It’s the age-old question.
(Well, if you count an age in digital years, anyway.)
Why aren’t your prospective customers and clients responding to all that juicy awesomeness you keep putting out there?
You blog your heart out. No comments.
Your tweets go unretweeted.
Your autoresponder emails go unopened.
Your list? Empty.
You feel like you’re content-creating your heart out, and … nada. Nothing’s coming back to you.
Well, there are a few possibilities:
One: You’ve picked an overcrowded niche and you’re not distinguishing yourself sufficiently from all the other awesome content creators out there.
Two: All that awesome content, despite its awesomeness, is not what your prospects want or need.
Either way? It IS you. And your content. But mostly you. (Harsh, I know. But sweetie, that’s why I’m here — to give you the unvarnished truth and help you over the humps. Um, so to speak.)
So, if your prospects just aren’t that into you? Well, assuming you haven’t just picked a completely unworkable niche, a fresh approach to your business is in order, as opposed to a radical reworking of your biz.
And the solution will depend on which problem you’ve got. (Note: you may well have both problems. It’s not uncommon. Read on …)
Solution #1: Give ‘Em What THEY Want — Not What You Want to Give ‘Em
This is probably the most common mistake new biz owners make. They’ve got awesome ideas. Ideas that will make even the most jaded venture capitalists raise an eyebrow and think, “Hmm…”
But if that idea doesn’t connect with a group of people who need that idea and are willing to pay for it?
That’s all it is, and all it will ever be. An idea. A possibility. A premise. Nothing more. And not one plug nickel will you ever see from this most excellent idea.
Remember First Principles: to rock a business, you gotta have (1) a group of people who are willing to spend money to buy (2) something you can provide that (3) these folks need.
Focusing just on #1? Well, obviously that won’t work. Focusing just on #2? Again, this means failure, full stop. You have to have all elements three working together in sync to have a successful online business.
Look, great ideas are a dime a dozen. But if you’re not targeting your customers where they hurt — their crises, their unfulfilled dreams and the stuff standing in their way — then you’re failing as a business owner.
So how do you find out what those customers want? Well, there are basically two approaches. You can play detective, or you can take the direct approach. I recommend you do both, to get as much good data as possible.
You can play detective by scouring the web and looking for places where your customers are hanging out, then examining those other sites for clues. Check out the top blogs in your niche, as well as popular blogs that may cover different subjects but target the same kinds of people you’re targeting. Read the comments on those posts and look for questions and complaints.
You can do the same thing on Twitter. Do a search based on keywords — what are people asking relative to your niche? What complaints do they have? What are they whining about? (Hey, I am notorious for using Twitter to whine, and I can’t be the only one…)
Other possibilities: Linked In groups and exchanges; Facebook pages for brands that share your targeted demographic; letters to the editor for any print or online publications that cover your subject; message boards and forums for or about your niche or your targeted customers. Get creative!
The second approach — the direct approach — is really simple: To find out what’s keeping your targeted customers up at night, ask ’em. You can do this on Twitter fairly easily. Do a keyword search to look for people who are talking about your topic. Follow them. Ask them directly.
You can also email people who have commented on your blog – you have their email addresses right there. Thank them for visiting your blog, and ask nicely if they’d be willing to help you out by answering one simple question: What’s their biggest problem or challenge?
Finally, there’s the old standby- the survey. Check out SurveyMonkey (it’s free at the basic level) and create a very simple two or three question survey. Copy your survey’s URL, then tweet it, post it on Facebook, and put it on your site.
Tip: If you want to encourage participation, I recommend a simple giveaway — a $20 Amazon gift card, for instance, will motivate many folks to answer a few questions where they otherwise might skip it. (Don’t forget to ask for their email addresses, and reassure them that those addresses will only be used for the giveaway.)
Use a combination of these approaches to get good information from your targeted clients or prospects, and then let that information inform and flow through your content. Start with content you’ve already written that’s already popular (check your Analytics for this) and revise a few key pieces to more specifically address the common points of concern you’ve identified.
Solution #2: Distinguish Yourself From All the Other Geniuses Out There Crowding Your Niche
The marketing pros call it differentiation — a big word that basically means “why I’m better than all the rest.” And in my view, it’s inexorably tied to your marketing story.
See, my story is what makes me different. My story — revolving around massive failure and my innate laziness (and how I made it work for me) — isn’t like yours, and yours isn’t like anyone else’s.
So if you suspect this is a problem for you, start by telling yourself your own story. Write that sucker down. Longhand, in a computer text file, whatever works for you — don’t leave anything out, no matter how small or insignificant it seems. At this stage, you want to get it ALL down. What led you here? What series of experiences helped you evolve into the rock star you know you are deep down?
After you’ve got it down in writing, go back over it and highlight or circle in red ink the parts that prompt an emotional response in you. Then ask a few close friends to do the same (because you know your story so well, your reaction might be less intense or completely different than others’ responses). Review those answers — where a consensus develops, you know you’re on to something you should pay attention to.
Those points of impact — the parts that make you and others cringe, cry, laugh, or gasp — that’s where your story really has power. And it’s emotional impact that prompts people to act.
Think about it, and you’ll realize you already know this to be true. I use the analogy of the massive natural disaster: we don’t open our wallets (well, most of us) when we hear the mind-numbing statistics — 2000 killed in a tsunami doesn’t have as much impact on us as the little girl who clung to a tree and lost her entire family. That’s just hardwiring — it’s what makes us human.
Now that you understand where your story has the potential to move your prospects, edit the story down to focus on those points. That’s your marketing story.
Tip: your story doesn’t have to paint you in the best light, by the way. Mine certainly doesn’t. In fact, it might be better if it doesn’t — prospects, like most humans, respond well to other humans. And humans make mistakes.
And then what? Well, just as the folks who follow Solution #1 (above), you want to let that information flow through your content. Check out your site for good spots you can share that story. Your About page is a must — make sure your bio tells your story, hitting the emotional points of impact with additional stress.
Also review your home page — what can you do to communicate your story briefly in spaces above the fold (i.e., the top part of your page that loads, before your reader has to scroll down to read more)? Check out your sidebars, your feature box (if you have one), and your header — are these spaces working as hard as they can to communicate who you are and what makes you different from all the others?
Then check out your past content, especially your most popular pieces. Can you revise these pieces to include references to your story and make that piece even more compelling?
Keep your story in mind as you create new content, too, and let it come out explicitly from time to time. Remember: humans love other humans who admit that they’re … well, human.
Be Exceptionally You and Give ‘Em What They Want
That’s really all there is to it. Embrace what makes you different. Make it work for you. And always, always, always keep in mind that your job (no matter what your niche) is to solve your clients’ most pressing problems.
So, take these suggestions, jot down this code — PJ1001001 — and go forth to be exceptionally you, you rock star, you. That’s all we really want, anyway. (Well, that, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and a really good antiperspirant that truly does NOT streak on black clothing. But that just might be me.)
(PS – if you don’t know what to do with that code? Here’s a hint.)