Competition, Selection, and Real Results

A well run, business oriented blog, will change your company's image
A well run, business oriented blog, will change your company’s image

The last post on updates from recent engagements brought two interesting questions:

  • How do I deal with competition? or How do you select from multiple offers? (depending what side you are on)
  • How do I assure real results from all this work? What can I expect to see? how soon? how to improve?

These two questions probably encapsulate the most useful marketing management issues in content, promotion, and overall use of the web: Does it work? What do I get out of choosing the best supplier? AND getting something done? It seems like there are two polar opposites answers: statistics vs. quality content. On one side, competition simply comes down to measured results: sales, clicks, conversions, etc. Essentially, what you get out of your work right now and in the long run? If you need sales, do you get interested buyers? On the other side is the “message” or soft marketing position: how do you quickly and effectively make something vague or complex easily understood. Essentially the question of how to market perfume, or music, or heat, or knowledge? There are endless positions between these two opposites. When competing for business, you need to quickly assess a client and see how your services match his needs and expectations. As a buyer, you do the same assessment with a supplier. Now back to the questions:

How Do I Deal With Competition?

The other end, from the buyer perspective: “How do I select between similar professional services?” I tell customers to find the best fitting provider. Sometimes that means finding the least expensive one, since the budget is either undetermined or small. This does not leave much room to see what you get, but you will get words on your site. When you really need to do specific work and market a new product or have your service noticed. when you need to expand your sales or compete with similar products. Usually you start with someone who knows your domain: electronic components, retail sales, hotels, or legal services. Someone with an example of a similar product already understands your business. Another first step is to go to someone who has a portfolio with content or sites similar to your needs. A blogger already writing for a Linux (operating system for large PCs) site would be a good one for an application or a tool used in software development. A photographer or SEO experts will be better suited for bras or cosmetics than someone who focuses on trucks and building equipment. Another way to choose a freelance expert is thought working style or simply by general “gut feel”. This is what most hiring managers go by with inexperienced new workers. Sales people and professional PR suppliers will tell you to “always be nice”. This helps if the potential client goes by personal feel in selecting a supplier.

Is It Just Clicks? Quality Results Count

When you just start out with marketing content, it seems like all you need is clicks (visitors, page views in analytics terms). Yet very quickly you may realize that just clicks is not enough. When your message involves an important explanation, you need to formulate a strategy and get the message out clearly. Then you need to promote the message in places where interested readers are found. If you are selling a product, you need to convince buyers to buy. This could be with offers or a “sales funnel”. In this case you may also need content, but of different kind. Content and copywriting for sales sites is an art by itself. It is also work that requires refinement and experimentation. That takes time and work, which not many people are experienced with in many domains. This means working with someone and testing the water and then trying someone new if necessary. While the world of web marketing seems exciting at first, to many results are not easily gotten.

When quality counts and you need to build a brand name or increase consumer awareness, how do you measure results? I get feedback from customers: “very good writing but not the style we need for our blog”. I also see other writers complaining about customers who are too conservative or not technical enough or don’t have a sense of style, context, topic selections, or even marketing message. It is not a simple affair to rate or even define message quality. But you can get a good sense by looking at comments. Feedback from other sources is also useful. If you have colleagues, ask what they think. They will give you at least a top level view. If you have enough time, statistics through analytics can be used to track “returning visitors”. These are people who keep coming back when you post a new article. Remember that analytics can be misleading, because returning visitors could be for many reasons, not just quality writing.

Results, Expectations, and Reality

Finally, what can you expect? What do you get when all the work is done, and it works? What is a well understood message? What is a community? A site (or blog) with good content is not only useful, it tells your story and maybe even delivers a message. Each article (or page) tells a little bit of the story. Sometimes there are series of articles which go together. If your message is complex or abstract, the writing makes these ideas simpler to understand or more concrete. Clear and useful writing will help potential clients understand what you have to offer. Starting out by explaining the basic features, then helping with benefits of your product is usually the way new marketers start out (feature & benefit story). If you have a big advantage over competitor products, you may want to make that your first impression. If your product is completely new, you may want to either show how it works (and explain the features in words and pictures), or tell people how to see it in person. Essentially you are getting people to understand something that is important for you to say. If your message is understood, you will get feedback on how good or bad the product operates. If your message is not easily understood, the feedback will be request for explanations or clarifications. A good message does not always comes at a first try. This is especially true with new products. If you are new to a market, you also need to work on a clear and effective message. This does not mean that first results are not going to help your business right away. But it does mean that at first you may not get effective results. It also means that some potential clients may not “get” the benefits of your product when they see your site the first time. You may lose them forever, or they may come back again if you continue to write and attract them.

You want to end up with something the you can work with. If you are a marketer, something to send potential clients. Pages or posts that you quote and send links to answer questions. If you are a sales manager you need something that will help you sell: examples of other customer uses, benefits that sell the product without any more help, etc.

Will you get a great site or content that will increase sales by 700% in a month? In most cases, no. But you should see interest to the point where you get your results. If you want people to understand the benefits of your products, that should be made clearly. The content should speak for itself. You should see results quickly, the web is a fast communication media. If you are not getting interest in your product and can’t sell better, step back and go at it again. Some times I have seen results in days.

Do you HAVE TO GET THE ABSOLUTE EXACT DOMAIN EXPERT OR TASK FIT? I get this question all the time. A technology company tells me that my writing is too targeted at technical clients and they want a business approach. Sometimes I get a board manufacturer that does not choose me because I work on integrated systems. My absolute opinion is “absolutely you don’t” (have to get someone with exactly the same experience as your needs). The same applies to writers and editors who are too narrowly focused. Just take an example from the traditional professions. Would you pick a physician that only knows the disease you have? Would you pick a lawyer that only understands the traffic ticket you got? Probably not. There are professional specialties, but they are not that narrow. A heart specialist treats hundreds of conditions. You would not choose one for a skin condition. But a good heart specialist does not have to have seen your exact condition 100 times to be the best fit for your illness. You pick a service provider based on a few main qualifications. By all means, make a short list and even write down what you need. Then have each service provider give you their offer. You can even try and test their ability by giving them a small task. It could be a temporary assignment or a simple task you need done. If they don’t work out, keep on looking.

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