Tag Archives: smallbiztrends

Social Media Marketing Earthquake, Content Tsunami

(My latest column in the Eugene Register Guard. Click here for the original. Reposted here with permission)

content marketing tipping pointSocial media marketing earthquake

The social media marketing earthquake is already here. And, in keeping with the forecast theme in this month’s blue chip, here’s a prediction: content marketing tsunami.

The shaking started as social media took off with Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and early blogs. It continued with Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

So-called content marketing emerged. Marketing is getting people to know, like and trust you. Content marketing does that with blogging, online videos and other online content that businesses offer to people for free, through social media. Content marketing is theoretically free to businesses because they don’t pay for space, like they do with traditional advertising. But what isn’t free is the production of content that is interesting, useful, funny or just plain not boring on social media and blogs, as an alternative to advertising.

You can find examples of successful content marketing on the Web. Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends turned a thoughtful blog into a multi-million-dollar information business. John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing turned a book into a multi-million-dollar blog, consultant network, and speaking business. Gary Vaynerchuk of VaynerMedia made a fortune in writing and speaking. They were individual experts, but these businesses grew because people found their content interesting and useful. Readership became relationship, which led to customers.

This earthquake has already changed the business landscape. Marketing stories are more important than ever. Smaller companies with good stories can compete effectively against big brands. Advertising is no longer as simple as value proposition message repeated in media. The bigger budget doesn’t always win.

Content marketing tsunami

And the tsunami? Billions of dollars that have been flowing into big-brand advertising budgets are now going into social media and content marketing. What we’ve seen so far, however, is a trickle compared to what’s coming.

Those big budgets are managed by a generation that grew up with advertising as the key to big-brand marketing. Those people are being dragged, kicking and screaming in many cases, into this new world. They may not like it. It’s not what they grew up with. It’s not what they came to power with. But these are smart people and more of them get it.

For example, Target created a free iPad app, “Made For U College Styler,” that helps college students design their dorm room decor. It gathers information from their social media accounts to guess at style, then suggests items they can buy at Target. They want loyalty so they offer utility. Zappos, originally an innovative online shoe retailer, rode social media to a lucrative sale to Amazon and big-brand success. One of Zappos’ biggest successes was a Pinterest page that posted pictures of free products. Burger King, Snapple, Red Bull, and BMW are offering brand-related content on multiple social media sites.

The big-budget attention is going to create increasing competition in content marketing. The innovators had the field to themselves when it started 10 to 15 years ago. Not so much in the future.

Yet few people understand how evolving social media and content marketing will carry an implicit trade-off­ between short- and long-term success. The kind of tactics that might generate immediate business leads won’t work for the long haul. Long-term success in this new world is about legitimately helping people, offering useful information and being interesting — or at least not boring — to establish long-term relationships with potential customers.

Long-term success will be won by people and businesses that create, curate, and share legitimately good content, not self-serving, thinly disguised infomercial-like content. New technology has leveled the playing field in ways that neutralize advertising budgets and reward real sharing.

It’s going to take work and patience. But here’s the good news: Business owners who stick with it will be rewarded through long-term relationships with customers, which, by the way, is what marketing is all about.

Can You Define Good Management Technique?

With due respect to some of the great thinkers who have, I don’t understand how anybody even tries to define, teach, or even predict good management technique.

Even if it’s just one manager and one person being managed, there are already three huge factors: the manager, the other person, and the situation. Both the people involved have their strengths and weaknesses and all that. And the situation itself, what’s going on, is an entire additional set of factors. Then there’s baggage from the past, and, well, it becomes an infinite problem. Higher math. Condemned to infinite case-by-case analysis. screen shot

I think about what I’ve heard about coaches in professional athletics. Sometimes a supposedly hard-nosed, tough coach will win the championship, and sometimes a supposedly “people person,” softer coach, will. And occasionally you hear about a coach who is either hard or soft to each individual player, depending on his sense of how that specific player responds. There too, though, with coaching, it’s a pretty complex problem, because it’s about the nature of the coach, the nature of the player, and the nature of the situation.

So too with wielding authority in your own business.

What reminded me today was Karen Hough’s Handling Tough Conversations in 3 Simple Steps, on Small Business Trends. She’s sharing data from interviews with more than 1,000 of managers in larger companies. She found that the hardest part of their job was “tough conversations.” Here’s a quote:

Conflict makes most people nervous, so we avoid having those tough conversations, even if we know it may produce a better outcome. A study of more than 1,000 project managers across 40 companies found that if project leaders were willing to break a code of silence, they could substantially improve their ability to execute on initiatives.

Although that study was done with middle managers in larger corporations, I know that it applies very well to small business and entrepreneurship. The code of silence is a reluctance to deal with poor performance, bad news, and negative feedback. It’s certainly a problem every manager has to face.

In her post, Karen shares is three-pronged strategy to break what she calls the code of silence, changing the motif from authority to coaching. It’s not a cure-all by any means, but it could help. And I wish I had a better solution to offer, but I don’t.

Politicians vs. Small Business vs. Truth

On Monday I posted True or Not? Top 10 Election Talking Points on Small Business, a slide show with reader voting, on the Huffington Post. Here’s how that turned out – the talking points listed in order. A score of 1 would have been all true, and 10 would have been all false.

1. The government favors large business over small 3.8
2. The government can keep U.S. jobs at home. 4.2
3. Raising minimum wage helps struggling families 4.4
4. Small business drives economic recovery 5.4
5. Government policy makes or breaks small business 7.0
6. The government protects U.S. business from foreign competition 7.1
7. Hiring goes up when taxes go down 8.1
8. Small business owners vote as a block (bloc) 8.1
9. The government gives free money to start a business 8.5
10. Immigration hurts small business 8.6

I notice the imbalance in the results. People leaned a lot more towards false, the high numbers, than true. I managed to catch myths that nearly nobody believes – those four bottom points ranked higher than 8 of 10.  I think that’s because I set the points up with a high degree of skepticism from the beginning.

The closest statement to truth, as voted by Huffington Post readers, was that the government favors large business. Frankly I was surprised to see so many people thinking points two and three were true; I don’t.

The biggest surprise here, in my opinion, is that slightly less than half the readers believe small business drives the economic recovery. I would have thought that was true. I’ve seen research showing that small business generates most of the new jobs in our economy.

Another thing that interested me about this post was a pair of comments asking for the facts. One said:

No links to hard data on each issue? Facts are not a matter of ‘HOT’ or ‘NOT.’

And the second:

some good questions, some questionable presuppositions, and no information, not even links to research

They are right, there are no links to data. That is on purpose and by design. Because, if you think about it, supposed facts and data are the first victims of politics the way we do it in this country. Here’s what I answered:

what makes you think we live in a world where the facts or the links to facts come riding into the scene like the cavalry in bad movies, to save us all with the actual real truth? More and more now, in our public political debates, slogans and half truths are presented by both sides as facts, and, worse yet, facts are virtually manufactured to match slogans. All the talking points, on both sides, are backed by alleged research. Which side do you like? You can find research to support it. That’s one of the points I wanted to make.

So much for getting the facts straight.

(Note: if this looks a lot like what I posted on Small Business Trends yesterday, I apologize for the redundancy. I started with the same list, but I’ve had time to reflect more on those comments about facts and links; that wasn’t in yesterday’s post.)

True Story: Do Entrepreneurs Like Risk?

The answer to that question is: no. Not any more than the next person. They just like their business better. They took risks because they saw the goal. It was the dark side of building the company. They had to. But when it comes to savings and investment, no.

Well, actually, the most correct answer to that question is:

You can’t generalize. Some do, and some don’t. Entrepreneurs are a bunch of hard-to-categorize individuals, and who has good data, because all we really get are successful entrepreneurs.

True story: An investment advisor noted once that my wife and I have the most conservative portfolio he manages. He thought for just a second that might be odd for an entrepreneur. But then he thought about the risk we’ve taken over 30-some years of building our own business, financing it at times with multiple mortgages and credit card debt, signing owner guarantees all the time, raising children, paying colleges … walking around for years with the knowledge that something as beyond our control as one of the major software distributors going under, not to mention a software giant accidentally rolling over us,  could kill the business and leave us with a lot of debt and no house.

And it was suddenly clear to him. No wonder we don’t want to prospect now with what we’ve managed to save through the years. It was clear on his face, he understood. Capital preservation is what we want, now, not more risk. We’re safe now, at least to some degree, because of savings not dependent on the business. But we don’t want to lose those savings.

Yesterday, meanwhile, I read Are Business Owners Risk-Takers? Not When It Comes to Their Finances by Rieva Lesonsky on Small Business Trends.  It turns out, as Rieva points out while summarizing research, that the story above is a good example of exactly what she’s talking about in that post.

(Image credit: Ruslan Grechka/Shutterstock)

Can You Do It: Business Pitch in 140 Characters

Brevity is good. Brevity for business pitches is good too. The idea of pitching a new business in a single 140-character tweet (pardon the expression) is intriguing to me. Do you think you could do that?

Celebrity entrepreneur Richard Branson is pitching a Twitter pitch contest as part of a startup training program he’s involved in.

That idea’s intriguing, but not completely new. I thought I’d heard of something like that before so I Googled it and discovered that none other than my friend and world-renowned blogger Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends (@smallbiztrends on Twitter) won a Twitter business plan contest last year, with this 140-character business plan:

Monetize answering research questions for readers on a section of my website – ad supported – listing fees featured research

And the runners-up were pretty good too, in my opinion:

  • zackgonzales @hoovers pink eraser scentd cologne in pink parallelogram bottle, distro thru urban outfitters, archie mcphee, and scholastic book fairs
  • AndyBeard @hoovers Business plan by tweet? Sim Startup (All formats – I am sure I could get Activision to publish)

I think every business owner, operator, and manager should be able to boil the core of a business down into 140 characters. Can you? Can you do that for your business?

Here are some of my favorite businesses, in 140 characters (and, to keep it honest and because I included that “hard sell” jab above, I’m skipping Palo Alto Software and/or our products). All of these are less than 140 characters. Most of them leave 20 or more characters for retweeting:

  • Trunk Club: good-looking men’s clothing with personal online service for men who need clothes but hate shopping.
  • Cafe Yumm: Really healthy really tasty fast food with slow food values in Oregon. Franchisor too.
  • Mini-Cooper-S: bite-sized transportation for one or two with a kicker: unbelievably fun to drive.
  • Klymit: simple knob insulation adjustment in high-tech sports clothing.
  • Zapproved: Add-on magic to untangle email threads making group decision making faster, easier and more accountable.
  • Java Juice: easily transportable high-quality great-tasting condensed coffee for coffee lovers who travel or backpack. Just add hot water.
  • In Context Solutions: amazing 3-D retail modeling revolutionizing consumer in-store on-shelf research in an online virtual model.

And that, doing it for these seven companies I happen to like, was fun and easy. What would your 140-character pitch look like? Could you tell your company from your competitors, with that limit on the text?

(Image by Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten via Flickr)