Few enterprises that have achieved online marketing success are really “selling” their wares in any traditional sense.
I don’t mean they don’t have sales pages. And I don’t mean they don’t publish or distribute collateral that specifically calls on readers to take action.
What I mean is that the way they approach marketing online is distinctly different from what everybody thought was working as recently as a few years ago.
It’s a pull approach – not a push approach.
Instead of pushing products or services on potential customers, these organizations do the following:
- Demonstrate superior knowledge in their niche
- Show that they care about customers’ problems (and can solve them)
- Establish thought leadership among similar organizations
- Offer high-quality information that helps readers (and offer it frequently)
These successful companies don’t have to send out a bunch of sales-y emails to their lists because their readers already respect them as an authority source. When those readers are ready to buy, it’s a no-brainer who they’re going to buy from.
Here are two kinds of material these companies publish to help them achieve the above objectives:
This is the biggest one. If you’re not publishing content – and lots of it – it’s time to start.
Let’s look at 37signals, creators of Basecamp and other project management applications that help organizations collaborate with disparate parties. They’ve got a blog that their audience can’t help but pay attention to (I’m using comment counts as evidence), and they update it every other day.
They’re writing mostly for designers and developers, and they know their audience well. To see how they’re nurturing this audience, here’s a run-down of the five most recent post topics on the 37signals blog:
- Color patterns in graphic design
- Productivity trends in office environments
- A new product feature and how it benefits customers
- Potential network connectivity issues
Note that none of these items is a sales pitch, but instead addresses an issue or issues that matter to readers. The only possible exception is the update about a new product feature, although you’ll see that it doesn’t come across as a marketing piece.
37signals doesn’t appear to publish a lot of direct sales literature, yet they’re still one of the world’s most recognizable tech brands.
To cite a non-tech example, consider Zappos. These guys sell shoes over the Internet.
Zappos publishes new content nearly every day, and it’s a healthy mix of tips and news their audience cares about as well as product-related articles that aren’t at all structured like a piece of traditional sales copy.
And Zappos has helped make buying shoes you’ve never even tried on a pretty normal thing to do. Funny how that works.
If you’re sending periodic marketing emails, I won’t tell you to stop.
But if you’re not sending them out in conjunction with a newsletter that isn’t sales-oriented, it’s time to stop the presses until you’ve got a newsletter “plan” in place.
If you’re only emailing sales pitches to your list, get ready to watch your unsubscribe count go up. And keep going up. And keep going up.
Instead, send out a monthly newsletter that covers some combination of the following:
- Tips for your readers
- Industry news
- Case studies
- Product news and updates (but not sales pitches)
Here’s a newsletter I receive that does all of these things right. It’s from SEOMoz, one of the more well-known (if not most well-known) SEO software companies for small to mid-size businesses.
See how it tells you from the get-go what’s going to be in the newsletter – and that it’s obviously not full of sales pitches? This is the type of newsletter your company should be aiming for.
And be sure to include lots of links to your site. One of the most successful newsletter models I’ve personally gotten to work on included nothing but article teasers with “Continue Reading” links pointing to the client’s site.
Readers would begin reading an article in the newsletter and click through to finish it on the Website – a winning formula that got us upwards of 50% of readers clicking a link!
It was simple, but it worked.
It worked because people don’t like being sold to. Put a muzzle on your selling, and you may actually see sales increase.
Ironic? Sure. But the results will speak for themselves.
image via Pete Simon