As a community manager and a marketing professional working with many start-up companies, I often encounter the terms “problem” or “pain” in business plans, executive summaries and one pagers, or just in the day to day discourse. I am not sure whether it is a template they all use or a habit, but there is something that makes me cringe every time I see the title “the problem” or hear this term. I am not running away from reality and yes, I know, people have problems and the mother of all inventions is necessity. Those Start-ups are indeed creating solutions to common problems and answering needs. Classic marketing communications may have been teaching us that good marketing (and the sales that follow) happens when you identify a “problem” and create the “solution”. Modern day marketing is a little different… it’s no longer about you, it’s about the story you tell and who you are telling it to.
In other words, I look at marketing from the community manager’s point of view, or from the potential customer’s point of view. People know they have problems. They do not need a constant reminder of that. They don’t need you to tell them over and over and again that they are in need, miserable, lacking…. And they sure as heck don’t need you to rub it in their faces with your solution, no matter how unique, advanced or good it is.
Still, you need to get the word out there that you do have the solution… the answer to their prayers, needs and questions. So how do you do that? Easy (well at least conceptually)! You humanize the way you do business!
Understand the difference between “sales” and “marketing”
Many people confuse the two terms, even though it should be clear that they are different. Classic terminology sometimes refers to “sales” as “outbound marketing” and to “marketing” as “inbound marketing”. I say, look at it from the receiving end’s point of view. When you “sell” you go out to the potential customers and you push your product or service, emphasize their problems and needs, rub it in their faces and then present the solution clad in angelic aura. When you “market” you stay within your territory, tell about your product or service and create a magnet that attracts potential customers, who are looking for a solution to their need. Up until recently, marketing language and cultural discourse were almost identical to sales, just done in a different place (e.g your website instead of tv commercial or flyer or billboard). Nowadays though, the crowds are getting more sophisticated, wiser and with social media – more connected. Crowd wisdom is not to be underestimated! People learned to identify the “sales pitch” content and filter it.
Bottom line – even if you have a great website and people find you on search engines easily, if your content is sales and problem oriented, they will not stay, they will not read and then they will not buy.
Know thy community
Knowing your community is not as easy as it reads. There are several layers to this knowledge that you need to muster and master. First, you need to understand that you have more than one community. The most obvious community everyone thinks of is naturally – client. But what about your investors? Your strategic partners? Your business partners? Your co-workers and employees? These are all people who are connected to you, involved in your business on a daily basis and who share your successes and your failures. These are all communities you have to take into account when you design your market strategy. I deliberately say communities (in plural) because each of those groups of people has to be approached with a different attitude and language. The content that interests them is different and, while their goal is the same – your success, because they gain from it – the way for them to achieve that goal is different.
Bottom line – invest in research, study the people around you and involve them in the process of defining and building the communities around you and your business.
Change your mindset – from problem to challenge
Start thinking in terms of challenges and meeting them or rising to them. “Challenge” is a word that holds much more meaning than “problem”. When someone in your community has a problem it’s a bad thing. They’re in a bad shape and they need help. When they are faced with a “challenge” it’s a good thing! It means they have the opportunity to learn and grow, you have the opportunity to lead, teach and motivate and this is a setting in which both parties gain from the interaction.
Bottom line – words have strong meaning. Be mindful of the words you use when you communicate with your community.
Be genuine and personal
Just be yourself. When you communicate, and your marketing content and messages are definitely a form of communication with your community, you have to show them who you really are. People like doing business with other people and they like to know who it is they’re dealing with. Let’s go back to the hand-shake system of the old days, when business used to be done in person. Whether the sales person knocked on someone’s door or the potential customer walked into a car dealership, business was done in person, with eye contact and handshakes. The media and technology may have opened up borders and opportunities but they didn’t bring people closer together. They caused alienation. When you need support you send an email, you chat to an online representative (which many times is an automated bot service) or you send a message on the brand’s Facebook page. Even if you can call customer service on the phone, you never know who you are talking to and you often deal with outsourced customer care representatives who don’t even live in the same country as you do.
Bottom line – let your community know who you really are, who the person behind the brand and service is. Make yourself approachable and available.
Be open and transparent
Always speak the truth. This may sound like a no-brainer but it is a big deal indeed. Tell your community about the challenges you face as a business owner, as a brand, as a service provider. Let them know it is not all roses and daisies and picnics in the sun to be able to provide them the best service you can. Tell them that, not to show a weakness but to show a strength. Show them you care about them so much that you let them in on some of the less than pretty things and that you embrace the challenges in order to be able to do better – for them!
This is especially true if you are faced with a challenge that directly affects your clients. If you are missing stock, if you have delays in shipping, if you found a bug in your products or if you’re backlogged with orders – let them know about this before they start complaining. People would always rather know the truth, no matter how unpleasant it is, than be buttered up with lies.
Bottom line – always speak the truth to your community. Be transparent and let them feel they’re part of your business process.
Tell an interesting story
Story telling is not only for the camp fire. Tell an interesting story that your community will want to listen to. The story of your service and product, how it came about, how you became the person you are today and how you decided to do what you do today. Tell stories about the challenges your community is faced with and how other people rose to them and conquered them. Tell stories about colleagues and even the competition. Yes, I said competition. When you tell their stories you give relevant interesting content and you show your community that you have nothing to fear at the same time. When you show respect to others, be they your competitors or your community, they will show respect back.
Bottom line – ask yourself what added value you have to provide to your community. Make sure you always give them something to learn from and grow with.