Question #56: Should I blog?

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Always do your best. What you plant now, you will harvest later.  Og Mandino”

James Altucher is an investor, programmer, author, and serial entrepreneur who recently shared his  “Ultimate Cheat Sheet to Starting and Running Your Own Business.”  It’s presented like an FAQ for people who want to start their own business.

Probably the most powerful tip was the final one:

RULE #infinity:
You create your luck by being healthy and not regretting the past or being anxious about the future.

Inspired.  There are 101 other great questions and answers in the blog post.   One that caught my eye was this one:

56) Should I blog?
Yes. You must. Blog about everything going wrong in your industry. Blog personal stories that you think will scare away customers. They won’t. Customers will be attracted to honesty.

I won’t dispute the truth of the statement, however I’ve worked with enough business bloggers to want to raise my hand and offer a bit of advice on the subject.

You must blog: Check.

Don’t be afraid to blog about what’s wrong in your industry.  Check.

Angela Hoy of  the self publishing company Booklocker shares her concerns about how many self publishing houses engage in less than ethical tactics in the weekly newsletter.  She  and her husband also maintain a forum – the “original” web 2.0 app – which includes a “whispers and warnings” section.

Blog personal stories that you think will scare away customers.  In the words of Ralphie’s mother in “A Christmas Story” when her husband set up the leg lamp in their front window – “Ahhh, ohhh, uhhh…”

I’ve worked with business bloggers since 2006, and I feel I need to add this disclaimer to this bit of advice.

If you’re in the business of solving problems, it’s not a good idea to blog about how you can’t solve your own current problems.  For example, if you’re a marriage counselor, it’s probably not a good idea to blog about your own personal issues with infidelity.

There is of course and exception to the exception and that’s creating a “here’s how I’ve overcome this obstacle, I can help you overcome it as well” style blog post.   Even better is to create a series of  “I overcame this obstacle,  I’ve helped others overcome it as well” style blog posts. These types of post are by far the most powerful “marketing tool” you can create for your business.

Customers will be attracted to honesty.  Double, triple, quadruple check!

Another word for honesty is authentic – and this is where business blogging can get ugly for some people.  If you think your customers are mindless sheep then it’s probably best if you don’t blog because for some reason, blogging tends to put your “shit on blast.”

Instead of being afraid of the “putting your shit on blast” properties of business blogging, get your attitude adjusted then put on your big boy (or girl) pants and start blogging.

 

Passion + Strategy = Success

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You might have passion to spare when you start your practice – but passion alone won’t get you to your ultimate goal of success.  

To achieve success, you have to have a strategic plan in place.  

A while back, I was contacted by a client who had fired me a few years earlier. We had worked together for about 10 months but we never really accomplished anything.  We spent most of our time debating the importance of achieving a #1 organic SERP on her desired keyword.  She thought it was a top priority – while I wanted to focus on creating a lead generation process.

 The client is always right – so I focused my efforts on her desired objective.  We parted on good terms when she claimed she couldn’t “afford” to work with me anymore – and I left the door open for her to return when the circumstances changed.

Over the next few years, my efforts on her behalf were rewarded.  Her site rose to a #1 organic position on her desired keyword but despite that “success” – her practice wasn’t succeeding.

Her next contact with me was after she had emptied her savings and been forced to go to work 40 hours a week.  She sent me a link to a competitor’s website – one who is offering EXACTLY the same service she offers on her website with the comment , “This is the kind of practice I want to have!”

In my reply, I pointed out that this competitor was simply copying her website – sans the graphics but right down to her tightly targeted, carefully crafted keyword phrase.

When we were first working together, she had carved out a unique niche in her field.  Today she has a myriad of competitors – all chasing this tightly targeted audience which we had identified as under-served  years ago.

The key takeaway is this: my client had passion to spare when she started her practice. However, passion couldn’t take her all the way to achieving success.

During our first go-around – she didn’t see the value of putting together a cohesive marketing strategy – which in my world includes a lead generation process.  Instead  the “shiny” marketing tactics which promised a “softer,cheaper, easier way” to build her practice had let her down.

For some reason, many of my clients resist digging in and developing a strong lead generation process.   This former client in particular didn’t view developing such a process as necessary – until she had to get a “real” job to support herself.

Creating a solid lead generation process is hard work – but it’s hard work that pays HUGE dividends in the long run!

Branding elements are a commodity – the art of branding is not

business blogs and brandingBranding is something that consumers DO to your business however, by using the right “branding elements” – you can provide much needed “direction” in building that consumer perception. Since acquiring branding elements – like a logo, a website design, a facebook page or a twitter account – are all dirt cheap – what’s your excuse for not building a powerful brand?

There’s a great article over at Fast Company by Heath Shackleford Why Fast, Cheap, and Easy Design Is Killing Your Nonprofit’s Brand

It’s not a question of whether you can get quality design from cheap (or free) apps and services. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. The real question is a fundamental one: Do you have a strategy for what you’re creating?

For 8 out of 10 nonprofits, the answer to that question is no. Only 20% of causes report having a formal, written marketing strategy. Meanwhile, 100% have logos, websites, and donor communication vehicles. That’s less than ideal when you consider:

  • A logo does not equal a brand.
  • A website does not equal a digital presence.
  • A Facebook page does not equal an engaged community.
  • A press release does not equal press coverage.

 
Strategy leads to things like a distinctive and authentic point of view, the creation of compelling content, and the development of engaged communities. Without strategy, you are just making stuff that may or may not “look pretty.”

I stand and salute Heath on everything he wrote with exception of the statement about strategy which I italicized. Here’s where we differ: I believe it’s possible for a business to fail in developing a distinct and authentic point of view despite having a sound strategy in place. I have seen companies fail to create compelling content and engaged communities even though they have developed a cohesive marketing strategy. Admittedly, more often than not – in cases where the company fails to connect on these “branding precepts” there is a gaping chasm where “insert marketing strategy statement” goes.

Often times at start up – the passion of the founder “infects” the business at the cellular level. This infection leads to the distinct and authentic point of view which in turn leads effortlessly into created compelling content which has as its end result an engaged community. However, it’s the passion of the leader(s) – not the lack of marketing strategy – which lies at the root of this success.

It’s possible to have a marketing strategy without passion – and it’s equally possible to have passion without a marketing strategy. So if you have passion – do you really need a marketing strategy?

In the end, I’d have to say strategy trumps passion every time. Combine the two – and you have a powerful force which will fuel the engine of your successful business. However, if someone held a gun to your head and forced you to choose just one of the two – choose strategy over passion every time.

Why choose strategy over passion?

Strategy plans for the obstacles ahead – the incessant, relentless obstacles that can quickly “drain” every ounce of passion from most hearty and enthusiastic of mortal beings.

In the end, creating a cohesive marketing strategy is like creating an acrylic housing for the passion upon which you’ve founded your business. Not only can it protect your passion – it can also direct your “branding” efforts as well.

You’re not in control of your “brand”

business blogs and brandingIt amuses me when people start talking to me about “branding” their business because often it’s portrayed like it’s something that the business owner “does” to his or her business.

Oh nay nay – branding is something your CUSTOMERS DO TO your business.

You may be able to exercise some control as you “guide” their hand as they wield the blazing hot iron rod and take aim – but your control of the entire “branding” process is limited because branding takes place entirely inside the mind of consumers.

The Twilight movie saga is an exceptional example of how “branding” can go totally awry.

When you saw “Twilight” reference above – did you wonder if I were “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob”? That my friends is an example of how consumers helped to craft a “brand” for the movie franchise – one that has attached itself to the movie franchise and inspired everything from t-shirts to SNL skits. However, there’s another side to this “branding love story” – a story of branding gone horribly awry.

When it comes to what “team” I’m on – I’m on a third hereto undefined team – I’m on “Team Rifftrax”. If it weren’t for Rifftrax I would have never been able to sit through this insipid movie – let alone enjoy it as thoroughly.

Watch the Rifftrax Twilight synopsis here.

Thanks to the ruthless and brutal commentary provided by Mike, Bill and Kevin, I am truly a fan of RiffTrax and by extension – the Twilight saga.

The RiffTrax brand is strong – very strong. Jedi mind power strong – oh don’t get me started – they’ve riffed the Star Wars saga as well. “We don’t make movies – we make them funny” is their branding statement and they follow through on that promise with surprising regularity.

Which is where the whole “you’re not in control of your own branding” thing comes into play.

Yesterday I got an email from Rifftrax introducing their Kickstarter campaign to do a live Riff of the original movie in theaters this summer. (Note: Rifftrax emails always get my attention because they are used to share important information like this and not spammy shit like so many email campaigns do these days.)

I logged on to Kickstarter 22 hours after that email was sent and saw that $136,000 had already been pledged to the project, which is well in excess of the $55,000 original funding goal.

On one hand – this is the story of a strong brand – RiffTrax – asking their “brand advocates” for support – and the enthusiastic response. How did this happen? Through five years of delivering on their branding statement – regular customer contact – and quite honestly – respect for their audience and customers.

On the other hand (the Twilight end) – this is a story about “branding” gone horribly awry. Sure – millions of “fans” adored the movie when it was released- but the movie quickly found its way into the discount DVD bin at various superstores.

Meanwhile there are obviously a much greater number of un-fans who dwell on the dark side behind our leaders (Mike, Bill and Kevin). The difference between the two is the Team RiffTrax crowd are brand enthusiasts – while the “Team Twilight” fans are a fickle bunch.

Building a brand takes years – not days – and is a never ending process for your business. For an example of a movie studio that has taken building their brand seriously, read about Pixar’s brand building activities in the days BEFORE they were a Disney property.

The best way to build and control your branding message is to stay “on target” and deliver exceptional quality – unless you’re a movie studio and want your movie franchise to become the next target of team RiffTrax.

Speaking the Language

If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign land, you know how important it is to “speak the language”.  When I was in college, I spent a winter term in Japan where I not only didn’t speak the language – but I couldn’t even attempt to read the signs that surrounded me.  Fortunately or maybe foolishly, I was young enough and naive enough to not recognize how truly terrifying an experience that SHOULD have been for a 21 year old woman abroad.

In Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox for February 4: Teenage Usability: Designing Teen-Targeted Websites, web developers and marketers alike are warned that “speaking the language” isn’t enough to get the job done when it comes to connecting with teens via the web.

This is why I am a strong advocate of the “tightly targeting your niche market” strategy for my blogging clients so that when you’re blogging you can communicate effectively with your audience.  However, when you “don’t know what you don’t know” – that’s often when the truly EPIC mistakes are made when you don’t speak the language.

I spend most of my time within my practice translating “geek” into “English” for my clients.  Translation is just as much an art as it is science..  If you don’t believe me, just try running phrase you’ve entered into a translation program by a native speaker of the language.  It’s positively alarming how distorted a message can get when it’s run through one of the many “free” translation programs available online.

Case in point, trying to translate English into Hebrew.  There’s a site devoted to just such faux pas called Bad Hebrew.  One of my favorite posts is this one, Bad Hebrew Tattoos.

For all intents and purposes, we have here some kind of pagan male pregnancy totem.

First, there is the writing, a declaration, “He Shall be Pregnant!”, in Hebrew, permanently tattooed on our subject’s limb.

You can also see a bush, obviously representing an invitation to the spot at the local gay cruising park, where this guy conducts his baby making attempts.

Since this isn’t tattooed on myself or a loved on – I can laugh.  However, the point is – translation involves a lot more than simply using the “right words” to convey a message.

Big brands have been making these kinds of mistakes for decades – but now the web affords the same “equal opportunity” to small and medium sized business owners as well.  The lesson to be learned is this: If you don’t know your audience – if you don’t speak the language – nothing beats consulting a “native” to make sure you get the right translation.