Branding is Telling Your Story

A storyteller.

That’s what I am.

That’s what I’ll always be.

I didn’t choose that role. It’s something I was born into.

Long before the word, “storyteller,” became a buzzword and way before the whole “marketers are storytellers” thing became a cliche, I was telling stories. Whether it was making up games and writing short stories and manuscripts as a kid or creating content for brands and communicating their message, it’s all from that same place.

While writing is my primary passion, and it may be yours as well, there are many ways to tell a story — Film, pictures, audio etc. We’re living in a time where content creation and distribution is democratized and cheaper and easier than ever before. That also means there’s more competition. But if you’re talented and you’re persistent, and you pay attention to the needs of your audience, you’ll break out of the noise.

So, start that podcast or that blog or that vlog or whatever suits your communication style and start communicating your story — your truth. When you tell a story that has people’s attention, countless opportunities will open up for you in life and in business.

Building a brand is ultimately what will help you differentiate and stand out in a crowded market.

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Sell to the Sold: Who am I selling to?

Over the weekend, I had a lively chat with a friend and businessman who is a distributor of snacks, tea, and coffee.

His products are tasty and low-cost and while his sales are decent, he has not done much in the way of branding. Many people consume his goods without being familiar with the name and would purchase similar commodities at a lower price when presented the opportunity.

As he lamented the fact that his brand is basically invisible and he lacks a loyal customer base despite the extensive distribution of his goods, I mentioned that social media and Facebook ads, in particular, could help him grow.

“Ah, remind me of what you do for a living?” he asked sarcastically with a smirk. “Listen, you sell to nerds, but, my customers aren’t on social media.”

While it’s true that his largely Orthodox Jewish customer base is less engaged with social media relative to the wider population and many of the more stringent members of his target audience eschew smartphones, he definitely doesn’t have his finger on the pulse. Living in Brooklyn, I can assure you that a wide swath (the vast majority) of his kosher customer base does use smartphones and social media, particularly Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram and they do so with the same gusto as the rest of the population. Not to mention, there are other markets who also enjoy his products, which he could be doing a better job of reaching.

He wasn’t done beating me up. “You understand the virtual business world. In the real business world, people aren’t using this stuff.”

I nodded. “Sure, many businesses get by with minimal social media presence,” I accepted. “But businesses who aren’t building a brand on these platforms will be totally irrelevant in 5-10 years from now and are becoming increasingly irrelevant today.”

“Your sales pitch is terrible,” he mocked.

Ouch. He obviously isn’t able to see the writing on the wall and he doesn’t want to hear the truth.

It’s kind of funny when a business owner acts as if there is a major world of difference between the online business world and the physical one. As if digital marketing is only effective with, as he puts it: “nerds.”

I’ll admit I was surprised to hear this talk from someone under 40 years old. While that line of thinking was understandable in the late 90’s and early 00’s at the dawn of ecommerce or ten years ago when social media was just getting started, it couldn’t be more out of touch with the current times.

Nerds and teens are not the only ones spending an inordinate amount of time using mobile technology. In March of 2017, it was reported that the average US consumer is spending over 5 hours a day on mobile devices.

As I pointed out to him in our brief exchange, people aren’t turning to page 8 to see his ad in a magazine or looking up at billboards or paying attention to TV and radio commercials. Their eyes and ears are glued to one thing — the little smartphone in the palm of their hands. In any other context, say if we weren’t talking about business or marketing, but the state of American youth, he would readily agree.

What kind of world do you think we’re living in? We already live in a virtual world. Thanks to smartphones, the lines between the virtual and the physical are becoming more and more blurry. And, this will only continue as AR, VR, iOT, and audio technology picks up steam. Anyone who is not paying attention to where their customers are increasingly devoting their attention is leaving money on the table and risks getting left behind.

People have options now, which leads to a more divided attention span across multiple devices (laptop, smartphone, tablet, Amazon echo dot, Google Home) and platforms (email, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Alexa, Instagram, review sites, and podcasts) and they can fast-forward or do something else during commercials. The old days of a captive audience willing to hear a pitch from a brand name they do not yet know or trust are gone.

But, I didn’t belabor the point. I was not trying to sell him, because I would never waste my time. I don’t try to sell to people who do not understand or appreciate the value of the service I offer. If the deliverable isn’t something they believe in, and sadly most of corporate America, as well as many small businesses, are still slow to get the memo about the importance of social media marketing, then I don’t waste my breath.

One of the most important rules of sales: Sell to the sold.

Tweet: I don’t sell people on what I do. I sell them on why they should hire me to do it.

It’s counterproductive for me to sell someone on what it is I do. If they are not sold on the service itself, then I can talk until I’m blue in the face, but they will not likely change their mind or, if they do, they won’t stick around for long. However, if they are in the market for social media marketing or content marketing and need the direction of a professional who can help them strategize and execute, now we’re speaking the same language and we can have a conversation. And, it will be a conversation based on mutual respect and understanding, even if it doesn’t lead to a transaction in the short-term. I’ll all for educating the prospect, but I don’t believe in trying to force them to see the value of my industry.

Identify those who would be receptive to the message before you start pitching and don’t waste time on those who don’t even respect what you do for a living. Don’t bother trying to convince them that they need your product or service. First, find out if they have a need or a pain point that you can solve and then respond with your solution. An important part of marketing and communicating with people in general is paying attention to the other party’s needs and responding accordingly.

What are they paying attention to? What do they care about? What are their problems, concerns, or desires?

Listen before you speak.

I think this is one of the most important rules of prospecting and selling.

Keep At It! Building Your Brand Takes Time.

Becoming known or developing a brand online takes time.

And a whole lot of effort.

Some of the people with the biggest audiences whom we all admire today were active for YEARS, steadily putting out content and engaging with others before anyone noticed.  If your content is quality, you’re careful to engage authentically in a human way with others, and you post consistently, you’re more likely to have success.

Of course, you have to also have a) the talent and b) learn how to hack distribution.

A) is pretty much in-born (although it can be improved upon).

B) will require you to learn how to use these platforms effectively.

Google how to do things, test, learn, Google again, practice, over and over.

But, don’t give up. Especially, if you’re starting to notice any of the following:

1) Increased page views

2) More engagement i.e. increasing number of likes, comments, shares, and mentions

3) Link-backs

These are all signs from the Universe and the market that you need to keep pressing on. Use these KPIs and metrics as benchmarks of success and let that propel you forward.

What you’re doing is penetrating the noise, but you need to keep going and building momentum.

I’ve been putting out content for years now. On a frequent and consistent basis, only in the past two years and even more-so in the last 6 months.

Only now am I starting to see a steady trickle of interest building.

So, keep at it! And pay attention to those indicators, which are showing you what is working. If you’re not seeing any of those things after consistently posting for a year or so, it might be time to pivot.

But, if you are seeing those results, persist and don’t get discouraged.

You’ll get there in time.

Overcoming Fear of the Ask: Approaching Prospects for the Sale

Like some of you who read this blog, I’m a marketer.

More specifically, I’m an inbound marketer. This means I don’t interrupt people from what they’re doing to hoch my products and services. Rather, I throw out some tasty treats that I know my audience will love and then I lie in wait like a tiger for them to arrive.

It’s “pull” marketing (pulling the audience in) as opposed to outbound “push” marketing (pushing messages out in front of people’s faces).

And within inbound marketing, I am involved in the softest, most subtle yet effective type of marketing of them all — branded content creation and social media marketing.

And yet, I faced a dilemma. Do I persist solely with content marketing or do I try other approaches to grow my business as well?

Zev pondering

For all of you marketing nerds out there, most of what I do corresponds to the “top-of-funnel” brand awareness, which can be nurtured into leads and sales. It also engenders loyalty among current customers. Building brand takes time and effort, but brand equity is the magic that gets people to buy your product or service without you having to deliver a sales pitch or lower the price tag. You buy a brand almost without thinking. You don’t need to be sold because you’ve already bought.

I don’t sell anything I don’t believe in. I would never expect someone else to buy if the provider doesn’t believe in or use their own product.

That’s why I’m careful to make sure that my own content marketing efforts are strong. I blog regularly, contribute to the Huffington Post, and post every day on various social media platforms. Creating content, sharing it on platforms that have consumer attention, and engaging with people on social media is a fantastic way to attract people to your business. This is the service I provide to clients and because I am such a big believer in my own “product” so to speak, I put my money where my mouth is and test it on my own business.

Thankfully, my content marketing efforts have paid off and my online presence has helped me attract many leads and clients. In fact, the vast majority of my clients come from inbound.

Eschewing interruptive and outdated forms of outbound marketing that annoy customers rather than provide them with value, such as cold-calling, the only outbound marketing I was doing to grow my business was attending networking events, mainly in New York City. Although I am digital marketer, I still believe in the power of face-to-face interactions. Nonetheless, as an introvert, I much preferred to share content online and pull people in rather than to go out and pitch myself.

The great thing about content marketing and branding is that when you do it right, you tend to attract more qualified, targeted leads than you do by reaching out to people at random or pushing a sales pitch on somebody who might not want it as per direct marketing tactics. Most of the inquiries I received were on target, which helped me have a high close rate of over 50 percent. It also helps that I’m quick to write up and send proposals and contracts. This netted me approximately one new client a month.

However, there was one major problem preventing me from growth: My lead pipeline was not even close to big enough! I still had too much time on my hands after doing my client work and creating my own content and sharing it to my own networks.

I began to ask myself the same question my clients ask me:

How do I get more leads and clients?

I was in a predicament. I wondered if by resorting to any outbound tactics I would be betraying my “religion” and tacitly admitting that content marketing doesn’t work or that I’m no good at it. Perhaps, even by seeking any outside help for marketing whatsoever, I would be undermining my own abilities. Would I be a hypocrite? A phony? I was suffering from a major case of “impostor syndrome.”

I’m adamantly against cold-calling and spam. I wanted to reach out to people in a way that would still provide value and be empathetic to the time and needs of others. But how would I get more leads in the pipeline? Do I focus more on branding and content or sales?

I learned that the answer is both.

Building a brand and sharing content on social media is a highly effective form of marketing (so long as your content is good). However, building a brand either for a company or a personal brand takes a lot of time and work. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes time to gain an online presence with an engaged following large enough to matter and sustain your business. Your efforts to build lasting relationships will pay off in the long-term by getting you more leads and sales than other types of marketing or advertising ever could, but in the meantime, you need to generate consistent cash flow.  The sales you make act as fuel to keep your business afloat and some of the cash you earn should be allocated toward branding and improving your content marketing so that you can attract more business.

I realized that it is not at all hypocritical to do both long-term branding and relationship-building as well as direct, outbound lead generation and sales. Nor is it a sign of weakness for a marketer to delegate some of that responsibility to others or use certain tools to help.

Two Outbound Tactics I’ve Adopted:

1. LinkedIn DM (direct message)

LinkedIn DM

Over the past two weeks, I’ve grown my LinkedIn connections from 1200 + to 1808 and counting. My profile views are up 20% from last week at 493 profile views.

I’ve been sending connection requests to all kinds of people on the platform. While some may object to this practice, I don’t think many people on LinkedIn mind accepting requests from people they haven’t met. After all, it builds their own network as well. It’s become common practice at professional networking events, such as the ones I attend in Manhattan, to simply add people on LinkedIn who you only spoke to for a few minutes — sometimes in place of exchanging a business card!

At times, I add people at random who are suggested to me from my LinkedIn network, but I also search for people by job title e.g. CMO, marketing director, marketing coordinator, CEO etc. and send requests to people with those positions. Some of the people I message are decision makers and others are people who are close to decision makers and tasked with hiring outside marketing firms.

After linking in with someone, I send them a personal message. Yes, it’s often taken from a list of about five prewritten responses, but I address each person by name and send a message that matches the person’s job title or area of specialty. Occasionally, I tailor it to be more specific to the individual.

I’m not a fan of automating human interaction, but I try to scale while still remaining human. Every day, I spend time going through all my new connections and send them these messages one-by-one, sometimes to over a hundred people in one sitting. If they reply and express interest, I send a follow-up message that is personal and crafted specifically for them.

Since I started doing this a couple weeks ago, I’ve received a number of inquiries, one solid lead for whom I’m writing up a proposal, and about a dozen meetings with people who I can potentially collaborate with or hire.

LinkedIn direct message is an extremely smart tactic for any B2B business or sales professional (Instagram DM and Facebook messaging is great for B2C). As long as you demonstrate awareness of who the person is and what they do and don’t open the conversation with a sales pitch, LinkedIn messager is a great way to network and gain access to people who can help you grow. It’s a direct form of communication tat doesn’t interrupt someone from what they’re doing.

LinkedIn has introduced a cleaner UI and various features, such as video, to become a “stickier” platform enticing users to increase the amount of time they spend there. LinkedIn is quickly becoming an engaging and interactive content-rich platform that’s very similar to Facebook. If you’re not already using LinkedIn DM and the social network as a whole to build your brand and grow your business, then I highly recommend you start becoming more active there.

If you’re scared to slide up in the DM, I urge you to get over it. Sure, you’ll get a lot of no’s and responses saying something like: “Thank you, we’re not interested at this time,” but every now and then, you will get a yes or a warm lead and potentially a new client, customer, or valuable relationship.

2. Outsourcing a lead generation service

This tactic costs a little money depending on how you go about it. As a marketer, you may feel funny about the idea of outsourcing some of your own marketing, but if you want to grow and remain focused on your own clients, don’t be afraid to receive assistance that complements your current marketing efforts.

While the idea of using a lead gen service or utilizing any form of outbound marketing kind of turned my stomach at first, I’m excited to see where it will go. I commissioned a friend who used to work for Salesforce and now does this sort of work on a freelane basis. He was nice enough to give me a huge discount and introduce me to an app that uses analytics and certain metrics to score the online presence of different businesses and helps me find ones that the app determines are lacking in their social media marketing. Until I see results, I will refrain from recommending it, but if it’s any good, I will let you know!

If you’re starting a new business, don’t be afraid to try a wide variety of marketing strategies and tactics that will help you get in front of your target audience and attract new clients or customers. Obviously, do your research so that you don’t waste money or time on things that have little chance of succeeding, but don’t hold back.

Exhaust every avenue. Try things. Deploy a mix of branding and marketing. Create content and also pursue direct sales. Don’t discount something without first learning about it or testing it. Your business depends on it!

 

To Win, You Need to Make the Time

You want your brand to get noticed?

You want the leads to come to you?

You want to grow your business?

Then you need to create content.

You need to create quality content that provides value to your target audience on platforms that have your audience’s attention, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter frequently and persistently.

Depending on your brand, your content might be entertaining, educational, or inspiring. It might be helpful, motivational, or funny. But, it must provide value to your audience and the content must be in the right context — shared at the right time, for the right people, and created in a way that it appears native to the platforms on which it appears.

Sunday-well-spent-life-quotes-sayings-pictures

You will only succeed once you commit yourself to creating content on a consistent basis and sharing it with the world. There is enough time. But you have to be willing to sacrifice some nights and weekends or times when everybody else is enjoying their leisure.

Most of your content creation is not going to take place during your traditional work hours. You’ll never get the time. You have to make the time. Set aside a block of time each week for creating content or working on your content distribution strategy. A little planning will take you or your organization a long way.

In a world where there is so much competition for consumer attention, it takes a great deal of effort to get the market to care about what you’re doing. Content marketing is not a short term marketing strategy. Even if you create good content, you need to earn audience engagement consistently. It takes many interactions before a purchase is made. But, if you stick with it, focus on the needs of your audience, and commit to providing them with as much value as possible, you will eventually build a brand and earn your audience’s trust. Once you have their trust and their attention, your hard work will pay off.

It takes a lot of time and effort to amass brand equity, but once you have it, you can leverage it to advance your business objectives. However, to stay on top, you will need to continue putting out content and keep the momentum going.

Content marketing cannot be seen as something “extra” for whenever you get around to it. As entrepreneur, vlogger, and marketer, Gary Vaynerchuk so aptly puts it, most brands are playing it “half-pregnant” and that’s why they never see results. You need to invest the time, money, and people to create and distribute content effectively. If you want to reap the rewards of content marketing, then you need to understand that it doesn’t happen overnight. To break through the noise, it takes a ton of patience, grind, and scaling the unscalable.

If you’re not ready to do the work and you can’t afford to invest the resources necessary to make it happen, then you’re not yet ready for branding and content marketing. To succeed with content marketing, you need to go all in and stay focused.

Don’t Underestimate the Value of Attention

“Isn’t there a way to narrowly target only the people who will buy from me without our content being seen by anybody else?”

This is a question I’ve received several times in my role as a social media marketer.

The answer is no, but it’s interesting to analyze what lies behind the question. Often, the asker simply doesn’t understand how social media works or doesn’t fully appreciate the interconnectedness of the Internet as a whole. More importantly, this question reflects a lack of appreciation for the value of attention. It also reveals a misunderstanding of how marketing and sales work together to drive prospects from brand awareness to purchase.

Now, it’s true that smart marketers aim to target their efforts toward a specific and well-defined audience. This helps them determine their strategy, tone, style, and which channels and tactics to use. Marketing for “everybody” is marketing for nobody.

However, while an overly broad approach is counterproductive, so is an approach that is overly narrow.

Attention is a very precious commodity. With so much competing for our attention spans, it’s more precious than it ever was before. Attention is also extremely valuable. If you don’t have it, you stand little chance of becoming known or found by your target audience. However, if you do have people’s attention, then you can leverage it for greater opportunities.

Many people question the ROI of social media marketing. How does building a following or getting likes, comments, and shares boost my bottom line? And yet, most of those same people completely see the value of appearing on a popular talk show, running a television advertisement during prime time, or appearing in a prestigious or widely read magazine. Social media doesn’t deserve to be judged with an unfair double-standard, especially when it has a unique ability to target effectively and provide data analytics reporting in real time — things traditional channels cannot do.

Getting the exposure, the eyeballs, the attention is the first step. Even the most targeted digital marketing campaign can’t and shouldn’t avoid attention from those who may not buy anything — right now.

sales funnel hubspot
HupSpot

Marketing is like a funnel, which can be sifted and segmented from the widest to the most narrow. Awareness sits at the top of the funnel. A small subset of those at the top will become leads and a small subsection of those leads will be nurtured into sales or “conversions.” Depending on the particular campaign, a conversion might mean a monetary sales transaction or it might mean a sign-up or a subscription. Either way, getting attention and establishing a relationship with prospects is the key to garnering more sales as well as loyalty that keeps your clients or customers coming back for more. Attention can also lead to other good things, like a job offer, a book deal, a speaking engagement, and more.

The way you get attention is by providing value. This could be accomplished by sharing content that educates, entertains, or empowers your audience. By providing value through your content, you earn your audience’s attention and give them a reason to care. Too many people undervalue or underestimate positive attention because it’s part of long-term branding rather than short-term sales. Therefore, it’s super important to be able to maintain perspective and put every part of your marketing strategy in its appropriate place. Knowing where everything belongs will also help you contextualize and personalize your content for your audience throughout each stage of the sales funnel or buyer’s journey.

Before you can get your audience to buy anything, you need to have their attention. Word of mouth — friends telling friends — is often the best way. Most people tend to value the recommendations of trusted experts, friends, or family than they do an advertisement from a company. Social media marketing allows you to further amplify and leverage word of mouth to get the attention you need like never before. Take advantage and utilize this technology to the fullest.

Don’t Give Up: You Never Know Who You May be Inspiring with Your Content

Feedback

When you write a #blog and put content out on social media day in and day out there are times when you may feel discouraged or ask yourself: Am I really making a difference? Is my work actually making an impact on people? And, then you get an amazing message like this!

It’s messages like this that inspire and encourage me to keep on going. Even if you only get a small number of views, you never know who may be positively affected by your online content. And, while I obviously do like making money💰(who doesn’t?), feedback like this makes my day like no paycheck ever could.

Ultimately, building an online presence or a brand or a business takes a great deal of patience. In the beginning or even for the first few months or years, it may feel like things are moving too slowly or nothing is happening, which is why it’s so crucial not to give up too soon. And, don’t knock that one or two views or those five or six followers, because you never know whose world you may be changing for the better.