We get a lot of questions from clients asking whether or not they should hop on the bandwagon for some new marketing initiative that, by all rights, seems to be a Legitimately Big Thing.
The question is essentially “Should I put all (or most of) my eggs in this basket? It seems to be extremely popular, and a lot of people say I’m missing out if I don’t get on this now.”
The answer is – well, it’s what we always say. It depends.
Why this choice is difficult in the first place.
When something seems to be extremely popular right now, it’s really difficult to figure out whether it will STILL be popular in the future. And when you can’t know something up front, well, that’s risk.
And we get a bit tetchy when it comes to risk. When the risk seems too high, we hesitate before taking action.
(That’s generally a good thing, by the way. It’s kept the human race alive for a good long while now.)
But when you’re wondering whether New Technology A or New Technology B is going to be a marketing channel worth pouring time and money into, the only thing that can truly take that risk away is a crystal ball.
Lacking one of those, we have to move away from risk elimination all the way over to risk management. And there we can give you some guidelines.
A few questions to ask before embarking upon a new marketing strategy.
When your best internet friend Janet says you should really start running ads on FaceBook / showing up on Twitter / running lots of webinars / whatever, because “that’s where the money is these days”, you need to step back and ask yourself a few questions to see if it’s the right idea for your ittybiz.
#1 – Is this new marketing strategy really working for the masses, or is it really just a subset of people?
Remember that you are not your customer. As a seller, you probably hang out in different circles than your customers are, and you’re going to be biased based on the people you’re exposed to.
When you hear “everyone’s on Twitter,” you have to ask yourself if everyone really IS on Twitter. Is everyone really spending a lot of time there, or are all of your industry colleagues and marketing gurus hanging out on Twitter, so it only feels like “everybody” because of that?
(Keep in mind that the people who you are exposed to on a daily basis are only a small slice of the world. But because they are your whole world, it’s easy to imagine that they’re the whole world.)
Now if Janet says “everybody’s on Facebook,” then you can ask the same question. Is “everyone” really on Facebook? I’m not – I barely ever log in. But my mom does. And my teenage son does. And my 37 year old brother does. And my 50+ year old aunts do, along with every one of their twenty-something kids.
All. the. time.
So I can easily picture almost everyone I know – generationally, everyone – using Facebook, so it stands to reason that the average customer might be. So “everyone” isn’t really a stretch there.
However, the “hot new marketing channel of the day” doesn’t necessarily pass this test.
If you can picture the “type” of person who uses a technology, chances are it’s a smaller segment than you think, and more likely to be a potential fad or popularity bubble.
But if my mom AND my son are both using it, that’s a different story, because they’re certainly not the same “type.”
#2 – Is it “installed,” or could it easily be replaced?
People use the term “ubiquitous” as if it implies some sense of permanence. Ubiquitous means that it is present, appearing or found everywhere. It doesn’t mean it’s staying.
It’s easy to forget that when something is very popular, though. We have this tendency to believe that when things are popular, they are enduring, but that’s not remotely true.
At one time, blog commenting was a major marketing strategy, and it was very effective. A service called StumbleUpon was popular too, and Digg.com seemed to dominate the internet landscape. However, today … not so much.
Yes, they were ubiquitous. But they were not lasting.
A flashy new competitor took all they eyeballs away, or it was just something that was successful because it was novel. Just because it was popular, doesn’t mean it has sticking power.
You know something has a chance of lasting when it’s installed, which means it’s firmly entrenched enough, with enough people, that it’s not going anywhere without a fight. People aren’t just using the platform, they’re invested in using it.
Email is installed. It’s very difficult to imagine that the world will stop using email, no matter what competing technologies come into play. It’s too integrated. My mom uses it, my son uses it. Gmail has eclipsed Hotmail, and something may come along to pull everyone off of Gmail, but email itself is pretty stable.
So as a marketing channel, email seems like a pretty good place to invest your time and effort. It’s difficult to imagine another technology – even a better technology – making people stop using email. They’re just too invested.
Generally, the less flashy / sexy / trendy something is, the more potential it has to last, because if people use it, they’re using it because they want to – not because it’s trendy.
So before you invest your time and energy in a new marketing channel, ask yourself how easy it would be for that channel to go away.
Also, think of all the things you’ve seen come and go and ask yourself if you see any similarities between those and the channel you’re considering.
(By the way? This is the reason that Warren Buffet invests in things like Gillette, instead of Microsoft. The chances of a razor company still being around thirty years out is a lot higher than a tech company.)
#3 – Can someone else change the rules?
This is probably the most important question you can ask, because this will reveal where the biggest risk is.
If a third-party company can change the rules and make all your hard work go away, or severely impact your investment, then you’ll want to be very careful.
Facebook can change its layout /interface / terms at anytime it wants and wipe out your carefully crafted marketing plan, or start charging for something that used to be free.
Google can start putting more paid search results at the top of the page, as well as results from Google Plus users, meaning all your hard work to get at the top of the search results puts you, well, not at the top.
Amazon.com can shut down its affiliate program in any state it chooses when it doesn’t want to deal with a political fight in that state over taxes.
Now, it doesn’t look like Facebook, Google or Amazon.com are going anywhere anytime soon, but you need to be aware that if you’re putting all your eggs in the Facebook Ads basket, or the SEO basket, or the Amazon Affiliate basket, that you are not the ones setting the rules of the game.
Which means the rules can change at any time in order to suit the business owner and not the users, and you generally have zero in the area of recourse.
So ask yourself if how much you want to invest in those areas, since you’re looking at a situation that may change drastically and without warning.
#4 – Does my most likely buyer care about this? Does it even make sense for them?
This is kind of like item #1. Just because it’s popular with a lot of people doesn’t mean it’s going to be popular with the people who are buying your products or services.
Millions of people use Twitter, and it’s really really good for marketing, right? Well, it depends.
We’ve run through our customer records, and a very large percentage of the people who give us money don’t use Twitter and are not interested in social media at all, and we are an online marketing training company.
We tend to attract people who aren’t into social media – or who target customers who can’t easily be accessed that way. (Are you going to find a dentist via Twitter? A tow truck through Facebook? A chiropractor on Pintrest?)
Think about your customer. Really, really think about them. And ask yourself if they’re going to respond to the particular marketing channel you are considering.
Do they go for the bright and shiny? Do they have time on their hands? Then webinars might be a good channel for you.
(If they’re likely to be busy, or an advanced market, then not so much.)
Do they fool around on Facebook all day looking for things to click on? Then Facebook ads and a lot of time schmoozing there might pay off.
(If your customers are only logging on to Facebook to tell their kids they don’t call often enough, and why can’t they be like their brother – the DOCTOR – then not so much.)
Do they spend hours and hours searching the web for extremely specific answers to extremely specific questions? Then SEO might be a good place to put your focus.
(If your products and services solve a problem they can’t easily put into words, or isn’t a “must fix” pain point in their life, then not so much.)
We can’t tell you what to do when it comes to choosing the right marketing strategy.
These questions can help you from putting too much time and effort into the wrong ones.
No marketing advice – even from us – is guaranteed to work for your ittybiz, and your customer base.
Next up, we will be talking about the Cereal Box, and how it can help you figure out what to do.
Until then, join us on the IttyBiz Newsletter. It’s very good.