Every time Google rolls out another Panda, Penguin, or (insert animal here) update, the Internet goes wild with speculation on the best way to come out on top in search rankings. We saw this most with Panda 4.0 and the chatter gets louder as a new Internet marketing genius explains the new secret sauce to make sure that Google holds your website high on the podium of web results. Usually the message is: do this or suffer the consequences. I hear the noise like everyone else and what’s interesting is that there is only one message that resonates with me, one that I convey in almost every client engagement with positive results: Educate your audience.
Now don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not saying to educate your prospects on how great you are at what you do. Your body of work will probably do that for you. What I AM saying is to take every engagement and make sure that your prospects have a competent level of understanding about what you do, and why you do it, to have a solid feel for the VALUE that you bring to the proverbial table. Sometimes, blinding them with science is a great way to show off your chops in a room with your peers, but that’s because the audience has a functional understanding of the subject matter. I’ve taken this approach in the past, and I usually don’t end up with a long-standing client relationship as a result. There’s a lot of head nodding, but the client is not engaged, which means my message has fallen on deaf ears. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like speaking for my own entertainment. None of us have time for that.
Getting on the Same Page
The messaging strategy that I have found connects the most is to take the time to educate your clients on digital strategy at a broad level. Then refine your discussions over time as the level of understanding of the subject matter improves. That usually allows you to get to a point where your clients will be able to communicate new ideas on the topic matter, further deepening a position as a trusted advisor/partner in helping your client find success in their company’s digital strategy. This approach can also serve you well in determining an optimization strategy for all of your clients. The concept of educating, rather than selling, your way to success is in line with the ‘rules’ that Google places in front of you after each new update. Of course, there’s a catch…
When I spend the time to educate my audience on a particular subject related to online strategy, there’s an uncomfortable punchline: Create a lot of new content. This can be a scary proposition for businesses that don’t make their money from publishing online. It’s a hard for someone who’s been selling widgets for decades to understand why they suddenly need to validate their business all over again in a completely different medium.
Owners of businesses of all sizes are experts in their industry (well, most of them anyway). But what does that expertise look like? What does an expert in a particular industry do to make them a leader? Filling in the knowledge gaps is what a prospect needs to commit to what you’re offering. There is already a fundamental need, or else they wouldn’t be in front of you. Our clients that enjoy the most success are those that commit to creating engaging content.
You either commit to becoming a publisher to be taken seriously in your industry, or you have to brush off your used car sales techniques to close the deal. The hard sell is something that I can’t stand as a consumer, and I’m not going to use those techniques to gain clients. There’s also another hard truth: the public is primed for it. The education system is built on the teacher/student model. If your customer is more than likely accustomed to this model, why change it? If it works, use it and become the teacher.
Where’s the ‘Easy’ button?
I invariably get asked, “Isn’t it easier to just pay to advertise?” Yes, it’s easier to buy advertising, and there’s a place for paid advertising in a complete web marketing strategy. However, making ad spend a sole pillar of your strategy is focusing on short term gains. It’s a far more effective advertising model to publish once and gain prospective customers in perpetuity, rather than having to reset the budget at the end of each month. Again, in order for a client to understand this reasoning, they need to understand the value and power of a published web page through knowledge share.
So, the next time that you get that deer-in-headlights look from a client, don’t go into hyper-drive with your infinite amount of subject matter expertise. Step back and take a temperature check for what level of understanding your client has and meet them there. It’s a long road ahead, and it’s always best to have company.