Unlearning Marketing Theory

As I was preparing to write this post, I did a cursory search of marketing topics and among them I found buzzword terms like:

  • Empathy marketing,
  • Social marketing,
  • Content marketing,
  • Relationship marketing.

As marketers, it’s no secret – we really like our marketing theory. We get excited over the newest research, we pore over best case practices and we tattoo our notebooks with the latest marketing theories, but sometimes, in our constant quest to understand our customers, we get a bit, well… lost. We start calling our people by funny names like “users”, “contacts” and (best of all) “followers”. We forget that they are people with problems (just like us). We forget that our job as marketers is simply to help our people find solutions to their problems. Now, before you accuse me of oversimplifying a topic as massive as marketing, let me just say: Helping people find solutions can be hard. But hard doesn’t also have to be complicated.

Why Only Doing SEO Isn’t Enough Anymore

Let’s say you have done the really hard part and discovered exactly who your customers (a.k.a. people) are. You know what age bracket they fall into, what positions they usually hold as well as what motivates them, what they aspire to and what causes them to lay awake at night. You get particularly excited when you meet these kinds of people because you know instantly that you have a way to help them. (And helping people always feels good, right?) But maybe that person is not ready for your help at that time or perhaps that person doesn’t know you and needs to feel a certain level of trust before confiding their problems to you.

This is where marketing usually fails, because instead of respecting our customers’ time and space, we find a way to push our solutions in front of them despite the fact that they are not actively seeking a answer to their problem.

Until now, SEO has served us well in these situations because it created a way for people to find us when they needed us. SEO is a beautiful thing, however, it’s just not enough anymore. Whether we want to accept it or not we are living in the Era of Google (and Beyoncé – but that’s a post for another time) and Google has decided that companies have to do more than optimize their websites for search engines. Love them or hate them, the powers that be at Google are just like us marketers; they too are striving to find solutions that best meet their customers’ needs and right now that means content.

What “Content Is King” Really Means

You may be familiar with the phrase “content is king”. If you’re connected to the online marketing world at all, you’ll have heard that phrase more times than you heard Call Me Maybe, but what does “content is king” really mean?

It means search engines (a.k.a Google & friends) love content because people love content, but not just any content: high quality, unique, immensely useful, “customer-focused” content. That last requirement is perhaps the most important because your content absolutely needs to resonate with your customers. That’s a given. But the best part is, if you can create good quality content that answers your people’s questions and also touches on the new, the uncommon, the strange – if you can do all these things – you will win the hearts (and dollars) of your people. Also, Google & friends will be very happy with you and that’s never a bad thing.

Forget YOLO. ABH (Always Be Helping) Is Your New Motto.

How can marketers delight their people? It seems like this question has been asked many times, but never have I found a more succinct answer than the one I heard at INBOUND 2014. I had the opportunity to go to Boston this past September to attend INBOUND 2014, a large marketing conference put on by HubSpot for SEOs, online marketing geeks and inbound marketers who are seeking new ways to delight their people.

During Brian Halligan’s keynote (Brian is one of the co-founders of HubSpot) he began talking about the age-old salesperson’s adage “ABC – always be closing” and how the phrase is reminiscent of a by-gone “buyer beware” era when salespeople held all the power and consumers had little information to help them make their buying decisions.

He talked about the rise of the internet and the evolution of technology and how these phenomenons have influenced the relationship between buyers and sellers. Thanks to the internet, we have more information than we could ever consume right at our fingertips and buyers can rate and review businesses at the tap of a smartphone. Ultimately, buyers have the power now, so sellers beware!

But he didn’t say: “sellers beware!” He said something infinitely more positive and enlightening; he said instead of freaking out over our loss of power, we just need a new motto. Instead of obsessing over “ABC – always be closing” we need to think about “ABH – always be helping”. ABH means applying as many resources as you can towards helping your customers solve their problems. ABH means developing a reputation in your community for being helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. It means choosing to allocate real money towards helping people instead of throwing more money into advertising. How do you do this? How can you adopt an ABH outlook on your marketing? By helping your customers at every turn and by offering them helpful content aimed at solving their problems. Now, if you’ll indulge me a moment, I want to offer some basic marketing theory. (See? Even I can’t help it. Old habits, you know?)

How to Delight Your People With Custom, Quality Content

The following chart from HubSpot outlines the 3 stages that buyers go through when facing a problem.

The Buying Process

The Buying Process Chart
Courtesy of HubSpot.

1. The first stage, the AWARENESS stage, is when a person is just becoming aware that they have a problem. During this stage, people tend to focus on gathering general information about their symptoms or “pain points”.

2. Once they have given a name to their problem, they move into the CONSIDERATION stage where they will start researching ways to solve their problem. This involves understanding all the options available to them and comparing alternative solutions.

3. Finally, once the person has chosen their solution, they progress to the DECISION stage which is when they will look for information to reinforce or make a final decision.

Let’s apply this model and the ABH-approach to content to a common problem faced by North America: childhood obesity.

ABH, Content & Childhood Obesity

Imagine you’re the parent of a little boy and you’re concerned about his weight. You go to Google and type things like:

• “Is my child overweight?”
• “How much should two year old boys weigh?”
• “How many snacks does my child need?”

The first result you click on is for a company offering nutrition plans for kids. You read a little, but inevitably click back because you are still just gathering information about your child’s weight. Imagine the next link you click on is an article titled Is Your Child Overweight?

Is My Child Overweight

This article helps you determine that your child may actually be a little heavy for his age and offers you another article to read related to nutritious and delicious foods for kids. You come away with some healthy, kid-friendly recipes for your son and share what you learned with your spouse that evening.

Now that you’ve identified the problem, you begin to look for other ways to help your son get to a healthy weight. Over the next few weeks your Google search queries look something like this:

  • “How can I curb my kid’s sweet tooth”
  • “Indoor exercise activities for kids”
  • “Healthy family habits”

Based on your research, you realize you need to cut down on the amount of sugary snacks that you buy for your family and you need to make an effort to do something active (like going to the park or playing hide and seek) with your son every night after dinner.

About 6 months pass and at your child’s next checkup your pediatrician commends you on your efforts because your son is now within the healthy weight range for children his age. Relieved that you were able to help your child get to a healthy weight, you make a commitment to help your son continue these healthy habits from now on. You and your spouse commit to cooking healthy homemade meals 6 nights a week and getting active as a family for at least 30 minutes every evening.

You decide that some cooking classes might help you stick to your goal of providing your family with healthy homemade meals 6 nights a week so you go to Google and search:

  • “Healthy cooking classes Edmonton”

You click through a number of results until you find a business that offers cooking classes for busy parents of young children. You notice that they even offer free samples of their recipes so that you can “taste-test” them with your family. As you look through the site you notice it is the same site where you read that first article about how to know if your child is overweight. You are very impressed with the site’s organization and helpful content, so you jot down the number to register yourself and your spouse for the next available class.

Although idealized, this story is an example of how people’s search behavior can (and should) be reflected by a company’s content. It’s an example of the power of helpful, customer-focused content and how brands can appeal to their people at every stage of the buying process.

So, Remember!

The next time you have the opportunity to create content think about:

  • Which group of customers are we addressing with this content?
  • What stage of the buying process are we offering them support for?
  • Are we answering their questions? Is what we are addressing a common question asked by our people?
  • What are some other ways we can help our customers? Can we make ABH a company-wide trend?

Come on, YEG! Let’s find ways to ABH our customers and watch in amazement as they rename Edmonton The City of Champions Helpful Businesses! I’m only half joking. We do need a new tagline though.

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